A Stop at Willoughby
“A Stop at Willoughby” starring James Daly is Twilight Zone episode 30 of Season 1. It first aired on May 6th, 1960 on the CBS TV network. The nostalgic theme of this classic episode is a favorite for many Twilight Zone fans.
A Little About Rod Serling
Before we explore the episode “A Stop at Willoughby”, we’d like to share some facts about the wonderful writer and creator Rod Serling.
Rod was a huge fan of Pulp Fiction stories and gobbled up any books and articles he could find. At the same time, he was incredibly interested in themes about social issues such as racism, society, war, psychology and government. All of these ideas combined made his writing immensely deep. It’s very hard to find any writers who were as creative in this way.
“A Stop at Willoughby” – 1960
This is Gart Williams, age 38, a man protected by a suit of armor all held together by one bolt. Just a moment ago, someone removed the bolt, and Mister Williams’ protection fell away from him..and left him a naked target. He’s been cannonaded this afternoon by all the enemies of his life. His insecurity has shelled him, his sensitivity has straddled him with humiliation, his deep-rooted disquiet about his own worth has zeroed in on him.. landed on target.. and blown him apart. Mr. Gart Williams, ad agency exec… who in just a moment will move into the Twilight Zone—in a desperate search for survival
Our story begins with Gart Williams taking his daily train ride to and from his stressful job as an advertising executive. As he tries to catch a few winks, all he can picture in his mind is his boss’ face ridiculing him over and over. It’s obviously taking a toll on Gart and an ulcer can’t be far behind!
Gart Williams has more problems than you can imagine. On top of his incredibly stressful work situation, he’s got an unsympathetic wife named Jane who constantly berates him. Looking at their beautiful home, it’s obvious they can’t afford to lose Gart’s sizable income. The look of horror on Jane’s face when her husbands tells her he can’t take his ad exec job anymore says it all. Just when Gart needs some support in his life, Jane leaves him. Our hero Gart Williams needs an escape!
Oliver Misrell: “It’s a PUSH PUSH PUSH business, Williams!”
Gart Williams: “Fat Boy, why don’t you shut your mouth!“
On one of his humdrum train rides, Gart dozes off and enters a dream in which he travels back in time to 1888. He can hear the conductor yelling “Willoughby…this stop is Willoughby”. He looks out of the train window and sees a large WILLOUGHBY sign.
It’s summer and it’s a beautiful scene with people enjoying the day. A band is playing in the bandstand, two young boys are going fishing and a man is riding a PennyFarthing (old style bicycle with a giant wheel in the front). It’s a scene right out of Mark Twain’s “Huck Finn”
“Willoughby?” , says Gart. “There’s no stop on this line called Willoughby…and look at it outside…it’s November, not summer!” The old-time conductor assures him that it is in fact Willoughby but at that moment Gart awakens to find he’s back on the cold, dark train traveling through the snow in 1959. Gart asks the modern day conductor if he’s ever heard of Willoughby. The conductor (played by Jason Wingreen, who you may remember as “Harry” on All in the Family and Archie Bunkers Place) gives it some thought before saying “No”.
Next Time I’m Getting Off At Willoughby!
As the pressure builds in his business and personal life, Gart convinces himself that the next time he enters that dream, he’s getting off at Willoughby!
Sure enough, he dozes off on that snowy train and wakes up to another sunny day in Willoughby. After stepping off the train, a number of citizens greet him warmly and he tells the two boys with fishing poles that tomorrow he just may join them. “There’s plenty of room and lotsa fish”, one of the boys proclaims
“Willoughby, a place where a man can slow down to a walk and live his life full measure” – Old-time train conductor
A Stop at Willoughby: Final Scene
As Gart Williams makes his entry into the dream world of Willoughby, the next scene shows something quite grim. The cold body of Mr Williams is being loaded into a hearse. The train conductor tells the police, “He shouted something about “Willoughby” and just stepped off the platform”. “Must have died instantly”
The camera then cuts to a sign on the door of the hearse. It reads “Willougby & Son Funeral Home”
A Stop at Willoughby – Closing Narration
“Willoughby? Maybe it’s wishful thinking nestled in a hidden part of a man’s mind…. or maybe it’s the last stop in the vast design of things..or perhaps for a man like Mr. Gart Williams who climbed on a world that went by too fast, it’s a place around the bend where he could jump off. Willoughby? Whatever it is, it comes with sunlight and serenity and is a part of The Twilight Zone”
A Stop at Willoughby Cast:
- James Daly – Gart Williams
- Howard Smith – Oliver Misrell
- Mavis Neal Palmer – Helen
- Patricia Donahue – Jane Williams
- Jason Wingreen – Train conductor
- Ryan Hayes – Engineer
- James Maloney – 1888 Conductor
- Billy Booth – Short Boy
The final moments of A Stop at Willoughby leave viewers with a haunting sense of the power of our dreams and the desperation that can drive us to escape our current reality. The talented cast of this Twilight Zone episode brought Rod Serling’s script to life in a way that resonated with audiences then and still captivates viewers today. James Daly gave a powerful performance as Gart Williams, the man who longed to escape to Willoughby. Characters like the conductor played by Howard Smith and the friendly citizens of Willoughby were portrayed with nuance and energy by actors like Jason Wingreen and Mavis Neal Palmer. Together, this cast and crew created a timeless tale that reminds us of the importance of finding hope and joy in the present moment, even amidst struggle and sadness.
The Twilight Zone Trivia
- A Twilight Zone movie was produced by John Landis and Steven Speilberg in 1983. The great actor Vic Marrow lost his life after a helicopter blade decapitated him. The film was narrated by Burgess Meredith
- Producers tried to revive the series in 1985 but after 3 seasons, it was canceled. It just wasn’t the golden age of sci-fi TV any more
- In 1993, a made-for-TV movie called Twilight Zone: Rod Serling’s Lost Classics was released. It featured two of Rod Serling’s works. The narrator was the great James Earl Jones, who also hosted the movie
- Mr Serling invited viewers to submit scripts and he receive over 1,500! He read over 500 of them and two were actually used
- Rod Serling wanted voice actor Richard Egan to do the narration but when Egan reported that he was not available, Rod did it himself
- After naming his show, Rod found out that “The Twilight Zone” was a term already used by US Air Force pilots. It means crossing over from a day sky to a night sky above the earth
- Desi Arnaz was technically the first host of The Twilight Zone. It was DesiLu Productions that produced the show. Thank goodness Rod Serling took control and hosted himself