As we ring in 2013, I have two small announcements and a short topic to discuss.
Now, on to today’s topic…
Most readers probably recall that I am fond of the 1970s horror anthology series The Night Gallery, whose cancellation was indirectly responsible for both the popularity of the ancient astronaut “theory” and also the rise of the 2012 Maya apocalypse myth.
Did you know that Night Gallery adapted H. P. Lovecraft’s short story (ghostwritten for Hazel Heald) “Out of the Aeons”? No? Well, it shouldn’t surprise you. The adaptation went so awry that the final product had nothing whatsoever to do with the Lovecraft tale. In fact, the final product is so different that I failed to recognize it at all even on a recent repeat viewing, and that’s despite the fact that I must have read about the adaptation in Scott Skelton and Jim Benson’s Rod Serling’s Night Gallery: An After-Hours Tour (1999) the first time I read the book!
As Lovecraft wrote it for Heald (who contributed nothing more than the briefest story idea) in 1933, “Out of the Aeons” told the story of a strange mummy and a mysterious scroll found on a newly-risen ancient island that was part of Mu. This mummy and the scroll were transported to the Cabot Museum in Boston, where a series of strange incidents, some involving a sinister cult, and the discovery of references to a battle between an ancient priest and an alien entity 175,000 years ago in von Juntz’s Nameless Cults suggest that the mummy is the petrified but still living remains of the long-dead wizard-priest. The mummy springs to life, and, suffice it to say, investigation proves it to be the wizard in living death. The story was published in Weird Tales in April 1935.
In 1971, Night Gallery producer Jack Laird charged Robert Bloch—the Lovecraft correspondent, Weird Tales author, and Psycho scribe, with the task of adapting “Out of the Aeons” as one of the Night Gallery’s several Lovecraftian adaptations planned for the show’s second season. Bloch had also adapted a 1939 story by the Arkham House publisher of Lovecraft, August Derleth, called “Lagoda’s Heads,” for Night Gallery that same year. Bloch gamely wrote a draft, but the complex nature of the Lovecraft story seemed custom-made to blow the show’s always-meager budget. For whatever reason, Laird didn’t care for Bloch’s draft and it was never produced.
Laird turned the script over to Alvin Sapinsley, a once blacklisted writer from Lovecraft’s hometown of Providence, R.I., who had previously scripted the adaptation of Lovecraft’s “Pickman’s Model” for Night Gallery. Sapinsley quickly realized that a straightforward adaptation would be very difficult, and it isn’t clear that he ever read the original story. Sapinsley, in an interview with Skelton in 1994, confessed that he had no memory of the story, or any knowledge of who wrote it. (He died in 2002.)
Feeling no loyalty to the source material, Sapinsley jettisoned everything except for the sinister cult activity—now changed to the Druids—and the idea of a petrified wizard-priest—now an evil Druid. He based the petrified Druid on a statue in his backyard garden. Around this core, Sapinsley created a darkly comic horror story about a woman (Carol Lynley) who buys a statue of a screaming man—the titular Druid wizard named Bruce the Black—that she thinks resembles her husband (Bill Bixby). The statue exerts an evil influence over the husband, who is driven to ever more extreme actions, including sexual aggression toward his wife’s best friend (Donna Douglas), in an unconscious attempt to revive the Druid, leading ultimately to his own petrifaction when the Druid springs back to life.
The new story was fun, entertaining, and of absolutely no connection to the source material. Laird loved the script, but he decided it would be misleading to claim it was an adaptation of “Out of the Aeons.” He therefore labeled it a Night Gallery original story, and he changed the title from Sapinsley’s suggested “Silent Partner” to “Last Rites for a Dead Druid.” The segment aired on January 26, 1972, but one scene was removed to shorten the segment so it could be paired with another segment called “The Waiting Room,” starring Buddy Ebsen, to create a marketing opportunity to promote a Night Gallery hour featuring two stars of the recently-cancelled Beverly Hillbillies, Ebsen and Douglas.
I, for one, would have loved to see how Night Gallery would have tried talking with a straight face about the wizard-priest T’yog battling the alien monster Ghatanothoa from Yuggoth on the lost continent of Mu. After the Gallery segment “Professor Peabody’s Last Lecture,” an unfunny “comic” take on Lovecraft’s alien gods, I’m pretty sure they must have realized there isn’t any way to say Lovecraftian entities out loud with causing giggles, especially with bad 1970s special effects and monster makeup.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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