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If you’re a serious, all consuming fan of Rod Serling’s
powerful and influential THE TWILIGHT ZONE (1959 – 1964, CBS) then you feel ,
as I do, that there were no bad episodes in its five season run. Certainly,
some were stronger than others, but even at its thinnest, the dark,
fantastical, moral and melancholy world sculpted by Serling and his stable of
creative collaborators was infinitely superior and ahead of anything else on
television at that time—and arguably, anything since its demise.
But controversial even among ardent ZONEheads is the entire
duration of the fourth season, one in which Serling, under pressure from the
network to reach a bigger audience, needlessly altered his crackerjack three
act half hour formula to accommodate a 60 minute timeframe. The added running
time often felt labored, and diluted much of the compact sting that made The
ZONE so addictive and eerie.
But that’s not to say that season four was without its
masterpieces. Some of the shows took advantage of the extra space and took on a
more cinematic heft. Among the gems was legendary writer and major ZONE
contributor Richard Matheson’s sensitive and scary drama MUTE, starring a child
actress by the name of Ann Jillian as an orphaned little girl named Ilse, who
is rescued from a burning blaze and soon discovered to be, yes, mute. Even more
alarming, she may be the key to a cabal of secret mediums groomed to
communicate with the dead.
It’s a classic piece of Matheson existential supernatural
fantasy, fueled by Serling’s morality tale spine and directed with detail by
Stuart Rosenberg (COOL HAND LUKE). But its real power lies in the performance
of young Jillian, a child who would grow to become a celebrated actress in film
and television (she even played a ghost in the short lived early 80s sitcom
JENNIFER SLEPT HERE), as well as a beacon of strength to women worldwide after
she underwent a double mastectomy during a battle with breast cancer.
Jillian spends most of her time as a motivational speaker
these days but takes time to discuss her varied body of work with her fans and
was more than receptive to hearken back with me to that fifth dimension, vast
as space and as timeless as infinity.
Here is Ann Jillian remembering a moment in childhood spent
walking with genre giants in THE TWILIGHT ZONE….
FANGORIA: MUTE is a deceptively simple role—especially for a
young actor— yet you give a fully fleshed performance without dialogue, all
inner voice. Do you have any memories of how Stuart Rosenberg directed you?
ANN JILLIAN: I have a recollection that Stuart Rosenberg's
direction was quiet and encouraging. I suppose that, as a child, I would
naturally gravitate toward what I needed, as a young person and as an actress.
So, if I remember "calm " and in addition, what I best can describe as
"trust", it's probably what I needed then. So he was intuitive as to
what a child actor needs. I appreciated that. He liked to take an actor off the
actual set, away from the camera and lights, and talk to him or her privately.
That was another thing I appreciated. In later years I looked for that in a
director. I have only positive memories of that episode.
FANG: The story stems from the pen of the great Richard
Matheson. Do you recall ever meeting him?
JILLIAN: I met a number of people at the interviews/readings
for the part of Ilse. Richard Matheson and Rod Serling were among them. These
meetings were usually courteous and somewhat lighthearted (to keep it from
being too intimidating for kids). I grew up with older parents and I liked their
company. So speaking to adults was not something I needed to get used to.
Because my performance would require mainly reactions without dialogue, the
interview was mostly to see how expressive I was.
FANG: Was Rod Serling kind to you?
JILLIAN: Rod Serling, Stuart Rosenberg, and all of the
people connected with the episode (cast and crew) were all kind. I rarely had a
bad experience. Parley Baer, a fine veteran actor whom I've worked with in
numerous projects throughout my long career—GYPSY, KILLER IN THE MIRROR, WAGON
TRAIN, WINNER TAKE ALL; to name a few—was very kind to this young actress.
FANG: Did you have a full comprehension of this character
and the story itself?
JILLIAN: Yes. I
remember thinking it was an awesome and mysterious concept. I was a smart and
curious child and looked up anything I needed to know. While I was, and still
am, a private person, I wasn't shy about asking questions. I wouldn't describe
myself as "ultra precocious", but you can't do well in this industry
if you are truly withdrawn.
FANG: How long was the shoot?
JILLIAN: I want to say the shoot was about one, or two weeks
long. I recall that was the norm for a "principal" player in a half
hour to hour television show, respectively. I don't think that has changed much
over the years. Made-for-television movie shooting schedules have become
shorter over the years (even during the time I was making them), but the series
shooting schedules stayed pretty much the same.
FANG: As a child actress, was it hard being a
"normal" child—if there is such a thing—when all of America could see
you in their living rooms?
JILLIAN: Normal? Aside from the fact that I would
occasionally work in front of the camera, I would say I had a very normal
childhood. My parents were old-fashioned and old enough to be young
grandparents, and their good sense and values kept me grounded. They instilled
the gift of faith in me at an early age, as well as a good work ethic. I view
that as being normal, very normal. Love of family, respect for elders, the
understanding of the pure joy of being alive and free and, perhaps as important
as all, the preceding was the gift of living around their great sense of humor.
All helped to prepare me for the future that was ahead of me.
Now, there were some people around me, some contemporaries
at school and even a teacher or two , that didn't see it that way, but they
didn't live with me or know my heart. I'm in my 60s and I can say over all
these years that envy and jealousy still are useless and not very attractive
characteristics, wouldn't you say?
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