Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Submitted for your approval: Rod Serling's hometown celebrates the 50th anniversary of "The Twilight Zone"

There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call The Twilight Zone.
— Rod Serling

The Twilight Zone was aired for five seasons from 1959-1964. Rod Serling wrote an astouding 92 of the show's 156 episodes.

The U.S. Postal Service recently had the good taste to put Rod Serling on a stamp.


"A Stop at Willoughby": An advertising executive (James Daly) who has grown exasperated with the stress of the business life longs to get off a train at a stop called Willoughby. "Mad Men" has got nothing on this. "Push, push push!"

"Long Distance Call": A boy (Billy Mumy) receives phone calls from his recently deceased grandmother on the toy phone she gave him. Danger, Will Robinson!

"Nightmare at 20,000 Feet": A man (William Shatner) recovering from a nervous breakdown sees a creature on the wing of the airplane he's on. Beam me up, Scotty!

"To Serve Man": An alien race arrives on earth with a promise to help solve mankind's problems. And they'd just love to have you for dinner.

"Time Enough at Last": A man who loves to read (Burgess Meredith) survives a nuclear explosion. One of the best ironic Twilight Zone endings ever.

"The Eye of the Beholder": A disfigured woman (Donna Douglas, voice of Maxine Tyler) undergoes plastic surgery in order to look more like everyone else. Elly Mae Clampett's worst nightmare.

"Walking Distance": While visiting his boyhood hometown, a middle-aged executive (Gig Young) finds himself in the past. The carousel that inspired this episode still stands in Serling's Binghamton, New York hometown. Great score by Bernard Herrmann on this one, too.

(I got some help with the episode descriptions here.)

Fifty years ago, CBS aired a TV series unlike any other before it. That series was "The Twilight Zone" and there hasn't been a TV show quite like it since, either. Its writer and creator, Rod Serling, invented a genre, a catchphrase, an experience. If something unexplainable or otherworldly happens to you, you might say "I feel like I'm in The Twilight Zone" and everyone will know what you mean. In fact, all you need to do is hum the first four notes of the theme song, and people will get your drift. Serling took difficult topics like war, racism and McCarthyism and put them in science fiction morality play context. Intelligent writing, great acting, great directing, and great musical scores were in every episode. But the best part for me was always Serling's introductions and narration. Was there ever a cooler guy? That voice, that demeanor, that cigarette. He actually made the writer the star of the show, something that has never happened since.

Rod Serling was very loyal to his hometown of Binghamton, New York. He named his production company Cayuga after nearby Lake Cayuga and Binghamton was the inspriration for some of his more nostalgic episodes. Now Binghamton is doing Serling proud. The Twilight Zone 50th year celebration is a four-day event that will kick off October 1st at the Holiday Inn – Triple Cities Ballroom in Binghamton. The opening ceremonies will include the Serling family and local dignitaries, proclamations and presentations as well as guest speaker Tony Arabella, who has chronicled the works of Rod Serling in a number of formats and is currently editing a ten volume book series titled As Timeless As Infinity: The Complete Twilight Zone Scripts of Rod Serling. The evening will conclude with a screening of the PBS American Documentary, Submitted for Your Approval: Rod Serling which chronicles Serling’s life and was filmed, in part, in and around Binghamton. They're also unveiling a Serling statue and having a special ceremony in honor of the new Rod Serling U.S. postage stamp. Click here for all the details.

Willoughby? Maybe it's wishful thinking nestled in a hidden part of a man's mind, or maybe it's the last stop in the vast design of things, or perhaps, for a man like Mr. Gart Williams, who climbed on a world that went by too fast, it's a place around the bend where he could jump off. Willoughby? Whatever it is, it comes with sunlight and serenity, and is a part of the Twilight Zone.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Ollie-lujah! Harlem, Georgia: birthplace of Oliver Hardy

They're proud of Ollie in Harlem.

They've got a nice little Laurel and Hardy Museum there.

They've got Ollie's fez from the classic Sons of the Desert...

...and a pith helmet he wore in Bonnie Scotland.

Stan and Ollie appeared together in 106 films. 106!

Linda and Nancy kept the museum open past closing time for us so we wouldn't miss out. Thanks Linda and Nancy!

The house where Ollie was born is no longer standing...

...but there's a nice laundromat there named in his honor.

They've been sprucing up the town theater for the upcoming Oliver Hardy festival.

Check out those murals on the side.
Oliver Hardy was the rotund half of Laurel and Hardy, one of the most beloved comedy teams of all time. He was born in the little eastern Georgia town of Harlem, not far from Augusta, and they want you to know about it. They've got his picture on the water tower, a laudromat named after him on the site of his birth address, murals of him and Stan on the side of the movie theater, and best of all, a little gem of a Laurel and Hardy museum in the center of town. In it you'll find lots of figurines, photos, posters, scripts, and other Stan-and-Ollie-abilia, all under the watchful eye of two of the nicest Southern museum hostesses you'll ever meet, Linda and Nancy. They will play Laurel and Hardy movies and shorts for you in the screening room, too. My personal favorite is "The Music Box," where our two heroes have to deliver a piano up a very long set of steps. Ollie's pain in this film is exquisitely funny. Those very steps are still standing in Hollywood and we were lucky enough to see them on one of our recent trips there. Harlem's biggest event of the whole year is just a few days away. Every year since 1988, they've held an Oliver Hardy Festival on Main Street, with a parade, 350 craft booths, a barbecue, film showings, and look-alike contests. Harlem's population of about 1800 swelled to 35,000 hearty Hardy partiers in 2008 and this year's event is this Saturday, October 3. On Friday night Harlem hosts the Sons of the Desert reception, in honor of the L&H fanclub members that go by that name that will be coming in from all over the world. So if you're in the area, check it out. There's no place like Harlem for the Ollie-days.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

CNN-gaging: Atlanta's CNN Center

The CNN Center originally housed an indoor amusement park
called The World of Sid and Marty Krofft. No kidding.

They've got the world's tallest escalator.

They've got a CNN-terior decorator.

I can't picture Lou Dobbs wearing these.

We didn't see Anderson Cooper but they had a nice cardboard cutout of him.

We were lucky enough to visit the great city of Atlanta a few days before the terrible floods hit and our sympathies go out to the nice people in the area who have been suffering. A highlight of our stay was a visit to the CNN Center in the heart of downtown Atlanta. CNN's world headquarters are located here and the building houses its newsgathering departments as well as Turner Broadcasting's other network offices. In 1976, a developer asked Sid and Marty Krofft, creators of the television series H.R. Pufnstuf, to develop an amusement park for the new Omni International complex in downtown Atlanta. The World of Sid and Marty Krofft was the world's first indoor amusement park, but due to poor attendance it was closed after just six months. The Omni International building that contained the amusement park was renamed to the CNN Center when the site was converted to the present CNN headquarters. Seems like a rather incongruous transition to go from Witchiepoo to Wolf Blitzer, but there you go. They kept one unique feature: the world's tallest escalator. It stretches eight stories and descends into a giant globe. You can take a really great tour of CNN for $15, where you'll see the newsroom, its staff, and anchorpeople reading the news live off teleprompters. An amusing sign on the glass corridor overlooking the newsroom read "Please do not tap on the glass." They're journalists, not monkeys in a cage, you know. There's a CNN gift shop too, to remember all your friends by with swell souvenirs. The CNN Center gets our CNN-dorsement.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Foam Here to Eternity: Natural Bridge, Virginia's Foamhenge

It's styrofoam. Really.

You get a nice view of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Sculptor Mark Cline based his statue of Merlin on his late friend Jamie Jordan.

This is me at Foamhenge...

...and me at the real deal. Pretty good resemblance, I'd say.

Foamhenge isn't quite as wacky as Carhenge but it's still pretty awesome.

The town of Natural Bridge, Virginia has a built-in roadside attraction, 20 stories of solid rock carved by the fingers of nature, that is so impressive, they named the town after it. The Bridge is quite impressive and definitely worth seeing, but it pales in comparison to the eccentric man-made wonder just down the road that is Foamhenge. That would be a replica of the famous Druid stones of southern England's Salisbury Plain made out of styrofoam by eccentric wunderkind Mark Cline. As the visionary behind Virginia attractions The House of the Living Dead, The Scare Witch Project, and Professor Cline's Time Machine, he worked out a deal with the town to put up his creation on a Route 11 bluff overlooking the pretty Blue Ridge Mountains in 2004. Great pains were taken to get each stone as exact as possible by consulting English experts. The "stones" are anchored to the ground by pipe and concrete and do require periodic upkeep and replacement, but they really have the feel of the actual place. Cline offers two theories of the real Stonehenge's origin: ancient workers using miraculous ingenuity, or the magic of Merlin, complete with a statue of the sorcerer based on the death mask of a friend. Having been to the real Stonehenge in England and Carhenge in Alliance, Nebraska, we can say Foamhenge left a foam-idable impression. Check out these sites for more in-foam-ation: and

Friday, September 11, 2009

The whole kitsch and caboodle: The Allee Willis Museum of Kitsch to open September 14th

Everything but the kitsch-en sink: artifacts from Allee Willis' kitsch collection (photos from

The great Allee Willis at the Ghettogloss gallery in L.A. (photo from Ghettogloss)

We received word that there is a kitsch museum opening and it looks to be a real doozy. Allee Willis has written songs that have sold over 50 million copies, including "September" and "Boogie Wonderland" by Earth Wind and Fire, "Neutron Dance" by the Pointer Sisters and the theme from the TV show "Friends." She also collaborated on the score for the musical "The Color Purple". She's been a cyber pioneer and is also a talented multi-media fine artist and has rubbed shoulders with all kinds of showbiz luminaries. This is all well and good but what really impresses us is the fact that she has what's billed as the world's biggest collection of kitsch memorabilia. She blogs about it in her Kitsch O' The Day column at and is preparing to open the Allee Willis Museum of Kitsch on September 14, with an exhibit at Los Angeles' Ghettogloss art gallery on Melrose in Los Angeles. Allee will be displaying hundreds of amazing artifacts from her rarely-seen-in-person kitsch collection and will frequently be on hand greeting visitors and discussing the Allee Willis Museum of Kitsch. We at Eccentric Roadside could not be more thrilled. The world needs more kitsch and patrons like Ms Willis. If you're in the area, you must check it out (we wish we could). Not to do so would be in very bad taste.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The original Hole Foods: Randy's Donuts of Inglewood, California

Time for one of the eccentric roadside all-time greats. Randy's Donuts is not far from the LAX airport in Inglewood, California, and started out as part of the Big Donut chain of 10 donut drive-ins in 1953 (four of the buildings remain today under different names). "It's a classic example of mid-century programmic architecture, where the shape of the building represents the product sold within," says the Los Angeles Conservancy, and they ought to know. It's been featured in the movies "Mars Attacks" and "Earthgirls are Easy" as well as Randy Newman's "I Love L.A." video. The Simpsons have also paid loving homage to Randy's. There's something about an eatery with a 32-foot steel and gunnite orange deep-fried pastry on top of it that makes you feel like like is worth living: Your eyes glaze over. Things that were frosting you before somehow donut seem to matter. You realize this tower of powder is a horse of a different cruller sprinkled with love. And that's the hole truth, I eclair, so help me carb.