Ray Bradbury and the Twilight Zone

Ray Bradbury had made his name fusing science fiction with an abiding concern for humanity. What he had done in print, Rod Serling brought to early television. The anthology series The Twilight Zone often worked a Bradburian side of the street and added a potent dose of the realism that had earned Serling accolades and Emmy Awards throughout the 1950s.

From the start, Serling acknowledged the influence of Bradbury on the show, and naturally sought him out to contribute scripts. Bradbury’s first attempt, “Here There Be Tygers,” about a planet that turns explorers’ fantasies into reality, ran aground due to a need for expensive special effects. Not long after, Bradbury came to believe Serling had gone too far in appropriating others’ ideas and situations (his own in particular), a belief shared by a number of Serling’s other contributors.

The pair patched up their differences, but the relationship would not end well.

After preproduction problems snared another script, Bradbury substituted “I Sing the Body Electric!” Based on an unpublished story, “Electric” told the story of three children placed in the care of a robotic “grandmother” after their mother’s death.

The episode became a classic. But, as Jonathan Eller writes in his biography Ray Bradbury Unbound, the writer found both process and product unsatisfactory:

[D]uring October the first attempt to film the episode was not successful. Houghton arranged to have most of the scenes reshot during February 1962, and this attempt proved much better. Nevertheless, the process caused more strain in the Serling-Bradbury relationship. The reshoot required a short-notice request for Bradbury to revise the script; Bradbury told Congdon that the call had come the night before shooting resumed, just as he was in the midst of difficult revisions to Something Wicked This Way Comes: “I asked them why they hadn’t asked me to do the revisions some time during the 8 previous weeks, and they merely shrugged and toed the floor.”

Most of the complexities of revising and reshooting “I Sing the Body Electric!” were eventually worked out, but one very short editing cut in the May 18 broadcast version proved a lasting disappointment to Bradbury. It eliminated the crucial moment when the electric grandmother, played to great effect by Josephine Hutchinson, reveals her mechanical nature to the children. There is no loss of continuity, but for Bradbury the cut diminished the essential difference between human and automaton on which the story hinges. The fact that he had invited a number of friends to his home for the broadcast only served to magnify his disappointment. He felt that he should have been consulted, and this more than any other incident convinced him that he could not work any further on the series.

Growing anger over what Bradbury considered wrongly appropriated ideas, particularly the George Clayton Johnson penned “Nothing in the Dark” (with Robert Redford as Death), plus some old wounds, led to a break Serling always regretted. Bradbury wrote:

As for our friendship, it is, of course, now officially over. I’m sorry I was a hypocrite, but I actually thought I could get over all the bugging things, and that we might finally come to some peaceful equilibrium. It seems that is not fated to be. I can only hope and promise no one will, in future, ask me about the Twilight Zone. I will try to keep my mouth shut. But if it opens, you can be sure I will try to tell the truth and not lie.