Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Return of Lorina Dunlop

I wouldn’t have ever found Night Gallery had it not been for Lorina Dunlop. And as you should expect from a story that involves Rod Serling, this one has a twist at the end.

More than a year ago, I wrote about a mysterious woman in a painting that I'd found at a thrift store. I didn’t buy the painting, but I did name the woman: Lorina Dunlop. It was hard not to invent a character for this spear tip of a woman who apparently commissioned a portrait and told the artist, “Paint me as I am. Paint my rage.”

In the end, someone else bought Lorina and took her home, where her disapproving eyebrows are surely darkening whatever corner he’s stuck her in. Through the magic of Google image search, Lorina’s owner actually ended up on my blog, where he told me in a comment that Lorina reminded him of a segment from Night Gallery, the macabre anthology series Serling did for NBC after the cancellation of The Twilight Zone. It’s the one that The Simpsons parodies in the fourth Halloween episode, where paintings introduce the various vignettes, and indeed, each segment of Night Gallery has Serling introducing a painting that somehow figures into the plot of the subsequent story. It’s all of the typical Twilight Zone-style, straight-to-the-camera narration — and, for the record, I love The Twilight Zone — so it’s all deliciously hokey, and meted out with every possible dramatic pause. (“A man on a train… who’s about to be confronted by the thing he fears most: A woman… who’s made of dogs… taped together… yet no one else notices. Now what happens when he finds out… he’s… a… robot. Here’s a painting of a creepy doll that we found.”)

Last night, I finally watched Lorina’s segment, “Eyes,” which starred Joan Crawford as Claudia Menlo, a cruel, rich woman woman who undergoes experimental surgery that can restore her sight — but for only twelve hours. In a traditional, Twilight Zone-y twist, there’s a citywide blackout at the moment she removes her bandages, and Menlo only sees a few fleeting moments of a sunrise before her time is up. She never gets a chance to gaze upon her extensive art collection, which, now that I think about it, is a strange thing for a blind woman to spend years amassing, and why didn’t she plan her twelve hours of eyesight so that it would happen during the daylight anyway?

The entire segment — which was directed by a then-unknown Steven Spielberg — is currently available on YouTube.

And here’s the painting of Claudia Menlo.

Funny how Claudia — a self-motivated harridan who doesn’t mind in the least that her procedure necessitates the donation of a living person’s eyes — still looks softer than Lorina, who presumably was not a TV villain in need of ironic punishments. I’ll continue to wonder why Lorina’s painter made the decisions he made, and I’ll continue to have a pretty solid hunch about how the final product ended up at a thrift shop in the first place.

This story about Night Gallery has a bizarre pop-cultural footnote. In its syndicated form, Night Gallery includes pared-down versions of its original episodes as well as the entire two-season run of The Sixth Sense, a completely unrelated, non-anthology ABC series about paranormal investigations. These episodes were themselves chopped down from sixty to thirty minutes. Rod Serling filmed intros for these segments too, as if they belonged in the original series, but as Wikipedia notes, “Serling's newly added introductions usually covered the introductory scenes and plot point set-ups that had been removed.” And if that weren’t confusing enough, there’s the awkwardness of tuning into an anthology series and sometimes getting the kind of Twilight Zone one-offs you’d expect and sometimes getting serial segments with recurring characters. Weirdest of all, however, is the question of Joan Crawford’s final acting role. A few sources note Crawford’s Night Gallery role as her last, but it's not. Her actual final acting role was in a Sixth Sense episode titled “Dear Joan: We’re Going to Scare You to Death.” (So I guess it worked…?)

So in the end, as the result of an inexplicable syndication packaging decision, Joan Crawford’s final acting role kinda-sorta was on Night Gallery after all. And if you click above, you’ll see Crawford four years older than she was in "Eyes," playing the innocent victim but looking oddly more like Lorina Dunlop than ever.

There’s one major plus to The Sixth Sense being rolled into Night Gallery, however: Anything airing after the Night Gallery opening credits instantly seems more appealing. They’re beautiful — straddling the line between creepy and weird, and perfectly capturing the transition from 60s psychedelia into a bolder 70s brand of supernatural.

Weird TV, previously:

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