18 Celebrities Who Appeared on The Twilight Zone

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Rod Serling's groundbreaking anthology series The Twilight Zone introduced some enduring science-fiction themes and one of the most iconic title sequences in TV history—not to mention a slew of famous guest stars.

1. William Shatner

A fresh-faced, soon-to-be Captain James T. Kirk stars in one of the classic episodes of the series, 1963's "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," as an unhinged airline passenger trying to convince everyone else that a monster is destroying the plane (an episode that was remade with John Lithgow for Twilight Zone: The Movie).

"The particular script by Dick Matheson was really inventive and very much a one-man show, really," Shatner told Entertainment Weekly earlier this year. "This young actor was pleased with that, to get all that attention and screen-time ... [The episode] touches another universal in the human psyche, and that is the fear of flying. Buried somewhere in all of us when the going gets rough up there is: If God meant us to fly, we’d have wings. Why are we up here? ... That’s the only explanation I can come up with that makes that particular episode as popular as it is."

Just as creepy is his role as a newlywed who comes undone by superstition, thanks to a fortune-telling machine in a small town diner in the 1960 episode "Nick of Time."

2. Cloris Leachman

With a near-70-year career (and counting), Cloris Leachman is still one of Hollywood's grand dames of drama. She played Mrs. Fremont in the classic 1961 Twilight Zone episode "It's a Good Life," which depicts a malevolent child with terrifying powers that are merely hinted at until his temper erupts. It was the inspiration for a segment in Twilight Zone: The Movie and got a semi-official sequel in 2003 with "It's Still a Good Life," which ran as part of the Twilight Zone reboot series.

3. George Takei

Two years before he joined forces with Shatner on Star Trek, Takei played an out-of-work gardener named Arthur Takamori whose mysterious past is brought to the forefront over a shared beer with a neighbor—and World War II vet—to whom he has offered his landscaping services in "The Encounter." "This particular episode, however, gained some kind of notoriety," Takei recalled to the Archive of American Television in 2011. The episode's racial overtones and allusions to Pearl Harbor caused a bit of an uproar, particularly amongst "Japanese-American and Asian-American civil liberties and advocacy groups," according to Takei. "So for that reason, CBS pulled that episode. And it has a unique distinction of being the only Twilight Zone [episode] that was aired only once. It's never been re-aired. It's never enjoyed a re-run. And shucks darn, I missed out on my residuals on that one."

4. Roddy McDowall

Before he charmed the world as the lovable Cornelius in the Planet of the Apes franchise (1968-1973) and horror TV host Peter Vincent in Fright Night (1988), McDowall was Sam Conrad, a biologist on a mission to Mars who discovers that the Martian people are not so different from us in "People Are Alike All Over," which aired on March 25, 1960.

5. Robert Redford

When attempting to imagine what the Grim Reaper might look like, Redford's face probably isn't the one you'd picture. But anything goes on The Twilight Zone and in 1962, just two years into his career, the future Oscar-winner played the incarnation of Death in season three's "Nothing in the Dark" episode.

6. Burgess Meredith

Depending on your age, you might remember Meredith as either Rocky's surrogate father and trainer Mickey in the film franchise's first three installments, or the dastardly Penguin to Adam West's TV Batman from 1966 to 1968. But before those roles, he appeared in a number of Twilight Zone episodes, beginning with "Time Enough At Last"—about Harry Bemis, the last man on Earth—in 1959, followed by "Mr. Dingle, the Strong" (1961), "The Obsolete Man" (1961), and "Printer's Devil" (1963). He also narrated Twilight Zone: The Movie.

7. Don Rickles

With a storied career in TV, movies, and comedy long before he gave Mr. Potato Head a voice in the Toy Story series, Rickles joined Burgess Meredith in the 1961 episode "Mr. Dingle, The Strong," in which an alien race bestows the strength of 300 men on a humble vacuum cleaner salesman.

8. Jack Klugman

The boozy, unkempt Oscar Madison to Tony Randall's Felix Unger in TV's The Odd Couple, and the crusading, crime-fighting doctor Quincy, ME, Klugman popped up in several episodes of The Twilight Zone, including 1961's "A Game of Pool" (with Jonathan Winters) and "In Praise of Pip" and "Death Ship" (both 1963). But none were more melancholy than his first appearance, in 1960's "A Passage for Trumpet," where he plays a depressed musician who finds himself in a Twilight Zone world where everybody is frozen apart from him—and his far superior musical rival.

9. Elizabeth Montgomery

In the 1961 episode "Two," Montgomery played half of a male/female duo who approach each other with suspicion and fear in the ruined landscape of an apocalyptic battle that seems to have wiped out the rest of humanity. (Her male counterpart? Charles Bronson.) A couple of years later, she took the role in another series about strange powers and the supernatural that would make her name famous: Samantha in Bewitched.

10. Kevin McCarthy

Most famous for running down the streets of a small Californian town yelling "You're next!" to warn us about the pod people in Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), McCarthy stars as an immortal being named Walter Jameson who's found out in the first-season episode "Long Live Walter Jameson." As an extra treat, he later appeared in Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983) in a remake of the episode "It's a Good Life."

11. Peter Falk

A decade before he assumed the role of the beloved shaggy detective Columbo, Falk turned in a delightfully campy performance as Central American dictator Ramos Clemente, a tyrant who finally cements his position but is then driven mad with paranoia by a magical mirror that reveals the traitors all around him, in the 1961 episode "The Mirror."

12. Lee Marvin

A longtime tough guy from Hollywood's Golden Age, Marvin features in two episodes. First is the haunting and scary "The Grave" (1961), in which a cowboy arrives in a frontier town to visit the grave of his fallen enemy, but meets destiny in the process. And there might be something familiar-sounding about 1963's "Steel," which depicts a future where humans control robotic boxers after the sport is outlawed; it was the basis for the 2011 Hugh Jackman hit Real Steel.

13. Carol Burnett

Five years before her eponymous variety show kicked off its 11-season run, Burnett played a down-on-her luck city girl who is trying to put her life in order with the help of an equally flighty guardian angel, only to realize that the life she has—flawed as it may be—isn't so bad. It's hardly surprising that the 1962 episode, titled "Cavender is Coming," was meant to be a comedic one, and as such is the only installment of The Twilight Zone to feature a laugh track. It was also intended to serve as a backdoor pilot for a new series revolving around Harmon Cavender, Burnett's hapless guardian angel (though it never took off).

14. Rod Taylor

Taylor was no stranger to the fantastic when he starred in The Time Machine (1960) and The Birds (1963). In 1959's "And When the Sky Was Opened," he played Colonel Clegg Forbes, an astronaut whose trip into space might just have rendered both him and his crewmates out of existence.

15. Russell Johnson

A science geek long before it was cool, Gilligan's Island's Professor starred in two Twilight Zone episodes about time travel. In the 1961 episode "Back There," he plays a young man who goes from discussing the realities of time travel with some of his cohorts to finding himself at Ford's Theatre on the night of Abraham Lincoln's assassination. In 1960's "Execution," Johnson is a scientist (and professor) who mistakenly brings a convicted 19th-century murderer into the present while attempting to perfect time travel technology

16. Vera Miles

Just as her movie star status began rising in Hollywood because of hits like Psycho and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Miles starred in the 1960 Twilight Zone episode "Mirror Image." She played a woman a little too in touch with her delusions when she imagines she's being haunted by her own doppelgänger.

17. Dennis Hopper

In 1963's "He's Alive," Dennis Hopper plays the leader of a floundering neo-Nazi group whose spirit is reenergized when he begins receiving visits and guidance from a shadowy figure who may very well be Der Führer.

18. Robert Duvall

In "Miniature," Duvall plays Charley Parkes, a man convinced that there are actual people living in a tiny museum dollhouse—a belief that eventually gets him institutionalized. But when Charley is nowhere to be found on the night of his release from the psychiatric hospital, his friends and family surmise that he has gone back to look at the dollhouse—only to discover something far more surprising. A lawsuit surrounding the episode caused it not to be released again until 1984, more than two decades after its debut.

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Karl Walter, Getty Images
When the FBI Investigated the 'Murder' of Nine Inch Nails's Trent Reznor
Karl Walter, Getty Images
Karl Walter, Getty Images

The two people standing over the body, Michigan State Police detective Paul Wood told the Hard Copy cameras, “had a distinctive-type uniform on. As I recall: black pants, some type of leather jacket with a design on it, and one was wearing combat boots. The other was wearing what looked like patent leather shoes. So if it was a homicide, I was thinking it was possibly a gang-type homicide.”

Wood was describing a puzzling case local police, state police, and eventually the FBI had worked hard to solve for over a year. The mystery began in 1989, when farmer Robert Reed spotted a circular group of objects floating over his farm just outside of rural Burr Oak, Michigan; it turned out to be a cluster of weather balloons attached to a Super 8 camera.

When the camera landed on his property, the surprised farmer didn't develop the footage—he turned it over to the police. Some local farmers had recently gotten into trouble for letting wild marijuana grow on the edges of their properties, and Reed thought the balloons and camera were a possible surveillance technique. But no state or local jurisdictions used such rudimentary methods, so the state police in East Lansing decided to develop the film. What they saw shocked them.

A city street at night; a lifeless male body with a mysterious substance strewn across his face; two black-clad men standing over the body as the camera swirled away up into the sky, with a third individual seen at the edge of the frame running away, seemingly as fast as possible. Michigan police immediately began analyzing the footage for clues, and noticed the lights of Chicago’s elevated train system, which was over 100 miles away.

It was the first clue in what would become a year-long investigation into what they believed was either a cult killing or gang murder. When they solved the “crime” of what they believed was a real-life snuff film, they were more shocked than when the investigation began: The footage was from the music video for “Down In It,” the debut single from industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails, and the supposed dead body was the group's very-much-alive lead singer, Trent Reznor.

 
 

In 1989, Nine Inch Nails was about to release their debut album, Pretty Hate Machine, which would go on to be certified triple platinum in the United States. The record would define the emerging industrial rock sound that Reznor and his rotating cast of bandmates would experiment with throughout the 1990s and even today on albums like The Downward Spiral and The Slip.

The band chose the song “Down In It”—a track with piercing vocals, pulsing electronic drums, sampled sound effects, and twisted nursery rhyme-inspired lyrics—as Pretty Hate Machine's first single. They began working with H-Gun, a Chicago-based multimedia team led by filmmakers Eric Zimmerman and Benjamin Stokes (who had created videos for such bands as Ministry and Revolting Cocks), and sketched out a rough idea for the music video.

Filmed on location among warehouses and parking garages in Chicago, the video was supposed to culminate in a shot with a leather-jacketed Reznor running to the top of a building, while two then-members of the band followed him wearing studded jumpsuits; the video would fade out with an epic floating zoom shot to imply that Reznor's cornstarch-for-blood-covered character had fallen off the building and died in the street. Because the cash-strapped upstarts didn’t have enough money for a fancy crane to achieve the shot for their video, they opted to tie weather balloons to the camera and let it float up from Reznor, who was lying in the street surrounded by his bandmates. They eventually hoped to play the footage backward to get the shot in the final video.

Instead, the Windy City lived up to its name and quickly whisked the balloons and camera away. With Reznor playing dead and his bandmates looking down at him, only one of the filmmakers noticed. He tried to chase down the runaway camera—which captured his pursuit—but it was lost, forcing them to finish shooting the rest of the video and release it without the planned shot from the missing footage in September of 1989.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the band, a drama involving their lost camera was unfolding in southwest Michigan. Police there eventually involved the Chicago police, whose detectives determined that the footage had been filmed in an alley in the city's Fulton River District. After Chicago authorities found no homicide reports matching the footage for the neighborhood and that particular time frame, they handed the video over to the FBI, whose pathologists reportedly said that, based on the substance on the individual, the body in the video was rotting.

 
 

The "substance" in question was actually the result of the low-quality film and the color of the cornstarch on the singer’s face, which had also been incorporated into the press photos for Pretty Hate Machine. It was a nod to the band's early live shows, in which Reznor would spew cornstarch and chocolate syrup on his band members and the audience. “It looks really great under the lights, grungey, a sort of anti-Bon Jovi and the whole glamour thing,” Reznor said in a 1991 interview.

With no other easy options, and in order to generate any leads that might help them identify the victim seen in the video, the authorities distributed flyers to Chicago schools asking if anyone knew any details behind the strange “killing.”

The tactic worked. A local art student was watching MTV in 1991 and saw the distinctive video for “Down In It,” which reminded him of one of the flyers he had seen at school. He contacted the Chicago police to tip them off to who their supposed "murder victim" really was. Nine Inch Nails’s manager was notified, and he told Reznor and the filmmakers what had really happened to their lost footage.

“It’s interesting that our top federal agency, the Federal Bureau of [Investigation], couldn’t crack the Super 8 code,” co-director Zimmerman said in an interview. As for Wood and any embarrassment law enforcement had after the investigation: “I thought it was our duty, one way or the other, to determine what was on that film,” he said.

“My initial reaction was that it was really funny that something could be that blown out of proportion with this many people worked up about it,” Reznor said, and later told an interviewer, “There was talk that I would have to appear and talk to prove that I was alive.” Even though—in the eyes of state, local, and federal authorities—he was reportedly dead for over a year, Reznor didn’t seem to be bothered by it: “Somebody at the FBI had been watching too much Hitchcock or David Lynch or something,” he reasoned.

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ZUMA Press, Inc., Alamy
5 Fascinating Facts About Koko the Gorilla
ZUMA Press, Inc., Alamy
ZUMA Press, Inc., Alamy

After 46 years of learning, making new friends, and challenging ideas about language, Koko the gorilla died in her sleep at her home at the Gorilla Foundation in Woodside, California on June 21, 2018. Koko first gained recognition in the late 1970s for her ability to use sign language, but it was her friendly personality that made her a beloved icon. Here are five facts you should know about the history-making ape.

1. SHE KNEW OVER 1000 SIGNS.

Francine "Penny" Patterson, then a graduate student at Stanford University, was looking for an animal subject for her inter-species animal communication experiment in the early 1970s when she found a baby gorilla at the San Francisco Zoo. Originally named Hanabiko (Japanese for "fireworks child," a reference to her Fourth of July birthdate), Koko took to signing quickly. Some of the first words Koko learned in "Gorilla Sign Language," Patterson's modified version of American Sign Language, were "food," "drink," and "more." She followed a similar trajectory as a human toddler, learning the bulk of her words between ages 2.5 and 4.5. Eventually Koko would come to know over 1000 signs and understand about 2000 words spoken to her in English. Though she never got a grasp on grammar or syntax, she was able to express complex ideas, like sadness when watching a sad movie and her desire to have a baby.

2. SHE CHANGED WHAT WE KNEW ABOUT LANGUAGE.

Not only did Koko use language to communicate—she also used it in a way that was once only thought possible in humans. Her caretakers have reported her signing about objects that weren't in the room, recalling memories, and even commenting on language itself. Her vocabulary was on par with that of a 3-year-old child.

3. SHE WASN'T THE ONLY APE WHO SIGNED.

Koko was the most famous great ape who knew sign language, but she wasn't alone. Michael, a male gorilla who lived with Koko at the Gorilla Foundation from 1976 until his death in 2000, learned over 500 signs with help from Koko and Patterson. He was even able to express the memory of his mother being killed by poachers when he was a baby. Other non-human primates have also shown they're capable of learning sign language, like Washoe the chimpanzee and Chantek the orangutan.

4. SHE HAD FAMOUS FRIENDS.

Koko received many visitors during her lifetime, including some celebrities. When Robin Williams came to her home in Woodside, California in 2001, the two bonded right away, with Williams tickling the gorilla and Koko trying on his glasses. But perhaps her most famous celebrity encounter came when Mr. Rogers paid her a visit in 1999. She immediately recognized him as the star of one of her favorite shows, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, and greeted him by helping him take off his shoes like he did at the start of every episode.

5. SHE WAS A LOVING CAT MOM.

Koko was never able to have offspring of her own, but she did adopt several cats. After asking for a kitten, she was allowed to pick one from a litter for her birthday in 1985. She named the gray-and-white cat "All Ball" and handled it gently as if it were her real baby, even trying to nurse it. She had recently received two new kittens for her 44th birthday named Ms. Gray and Ms. Black.

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