Saturday, October 29, 2016

Rod Serling's Night Gallery: 'House—With Ghost'

Night Gallery painting for
"House—With Ghost"
Nearly everyone I know likes a good ghost story (some more than others!). This is particularly true in the month of October as we build up to the scariest night of the year, Halloween. During this time, our fears of the unknown are heightened, and we're more acutely aware of things that might go bump in the night.

People are naturally intrigued about the Afterlife. What happens to us when we die? Do our souls live on in another dimension? Do some spirits hang around to either help or torment the living? Do ghosts really exist? We may not have the answers to such questions, but Hollywood certainly provides us with scores of chilling entertainment to feed our morbid curiosity.

Rod Serling successfully explored the supernatural and other elements of horror throughout his career, and his Night Gallery series (1969-1973) continues to send shivers down the spines of millions. Each painting on display in the Night Gallery has a tale of terror to share, and separately, these pieces of art correspond with their own segment in every episode. (Check out the paintings for yourself here.)

On November 17, 1971, Bob Crane guest-starred in the first segment of a Night Gallery episode: "House—With Ghost." In this segment, Bob played Ellis Travers, who is unhappily married to his wife Iris (Jo Anne Worley) and living in London. It just so happens that Iris has a peculiar hobby: conducting seances during dinner parties and playing with Ouija Boards in the hopes of making contact with restless spirits. This gives Ellis an idea. 

With the help of Mr. Chichester (Eric Christmas), a local historian and realtor of sorts, Ellis decides to find a house in the English countryside, and to please his wife, he wants one that is haunted. After describing to her what he considers the perfect house, Iris is convinced. They soon move out of their apartment and settle into their new home.

Ellis Travers (Bob Crane) comforts his wife, Iris (Jo Anne Worley),
after she is frightened by a menacing spirit.

But Ellis has more on his mind than just owning a haunted house. He's staging an elaborate plan, where Iris will eventually appear to become besieged by an unfriendly ghost, and after losing her mind and then her balance, will fall down the spiral staircase to her death. With Iris out of the way, Ellis will be free to move in with Sherry (Trisha Noble), a woman with whom he is having an affair. 

As Ellis hoped, they are not alone in their new house, and their ghost—Mr. Canby (Bernard Fox)—soon makes his presence known. And over time, his paranormal activities become increasingly more harrowing.

Ellis Travers (Bob Crane) feigns sadness after receiving bad news
from his wife's doctor (Alan Napier).

As part of his scheme, Ellis also talks to a doctor (Alan Napier) and asks him to examine Iris. But the doctor brings bad news: Iris has a rare medical condition and doesn't have long to live. Ellis, however, feels better than ever about his wife's impending demise. Now he doesn't need the unsettled spirit of Mr. Canby to do the dastardly deed for him; he can let nature take its course.

Mr. Canby has other ideas. He continues to torment Iris, eventually pushing her down the staircase to her death. Angry, Ellis confronts Mr. Canby, claiming he had changed his mind because she would have died of natural causes soon anyway. Mr. Canby is unaffected, and he presents Ellis with a bill for services rendered. For the rest of his life, Ellis must pay Mr. Canby's still-very-much-alive mistress a hefty sum to keep her happy—or else.

The ghost of Mr. Canby (Bernard Fox) presents Ellis Travers
(Bob Crane) a bill for services rendered.

I enjoy this episode for many reasons. First, I am one of those people who loves the Fall season, Halloween, and all the frightful festivities and entertainment that go along with it. And of course, that includes a good ghost story! Bob Crane also enjoyed Halloween, and each year, when his kids were little, he took them Trick or Treating around the neighborhood.

I also love that Bernard Fox costars with Bob in this episode. These two actors and friends worked alongside each other often. Fans of Hogan's Heroes know Bernard Fox as Royal Air Force Colonel Rodney Crittendon, one of the few who kept Hogan off balance. What a lot of people don't know, however, is that throughout the 1970s, Bernard Fox worked with Bob on stage in many productions of Beginner's Luck (they both starred in its initial 1970 run in Chicago), and the pair received rave reviews in the press for their theatre performances. Bernard Fox genuinely liked "old Bob," as he called him, and was greatly saddened by the news of Bob's death.

Bob Crane with Bernard Fox in
Beginner's Luck.

This episode of Night Gallery is also one of Bob's first performances following the cancellation of Hogan's Heroes, which ended after six seasons on April 4, 1971. Originally scheduled to go one more season, Hogan's Heroes fell victim to what became known as the Rural Purge—a sweep of series cancellations by networks to clear the way for television shows that dealt with modern issues rather than just provide light humor.

In my opinion, Bob played Ellis Travers, who is a despicable character, quite well. This episode of Night Gallery marks the start of Bob's decision to play characters that were out of his comfort zone (those that were not comedy roles). Bob often appeared as the villain when guest-starring on various series, including Police Woman, Ellery Queen, and Gibbsville, to name a few, and this was a far cry from the United States Army Air Force hero for which he was best known. But most could only view Bob as Hogan—and nothing else. Many years would pass before directors, critics, and the public would begin to see beyond his Colonel Hogan persona and accept Bob as a versatile actor. His role on The Love Boat in January 1978 may be his best dramatic performance. However, his murder a few months later cast an eerie shadow over his Love Boat performance, and as a result, he does not receive the proper credit he rightfully deserves.

It's worth taking a second look at Bob Crane's acting roles post-Hogan's Heroes and viewing his performances with an open mind, minus the stigma of June 29, 1978, and the media blitz that followed. Rod Serling's Night Gallery: "House—With Ghost" is a great place to start!




This post is part of the Terror TV Blogathon hosted by the Classic TV Blog Association.
Click the image above for more fabulous entries in this blogathon.