Harlan Talks About Writing 'Paladin' copyright 1995 by The Kilimanjaro
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Harlan Talks About Writing "Paladin"
It began with Ellie Grossman who, in her letter of 17 October 1984, wrote, in
an offhand sidebar: "Go know where they hid that hour they lop off each
year for Daylight Saving Time . . ." When next we spoke, I began rambling
with Ellie about what happens to that "lost hour"; and so I
cobbled up the first rude plot structure that became "Paladin of the Lost Hour."
On 3 December 1984 I became Creative Consultant for CBS-TV's revival of
The Twilight Zone, and when executive producer Phil DeGuere and associate
producer Jim Crocker asked me for an original teleplay, I spun them my vague
storyline. But why this story?
Months earlier, the late Terry Carr had contacted me, soliciting a new story
for his next UNIVERSE anthology. In early November I suggested
"Paladin", which was still just a what-if. Terry said it would be perfect,
if I could have it to him by Doubleday's deadline, circa Thanksgiving.
I agreed to get the manuscript in by Thanksgiving. In some people,
optimism is contributing to a felony.
On 7 December 1984 Terry wrote me: "You drive me crazy. But don't worry
about that: I mean it in the good sense." Thanksgiving had come and
gone, and Doubleday was screaming; where the hell is the story I'd promised?
I'll tell you where it was. It was still almost entirely in my head.
I'd written perhaps four pages of the "Paladin" teleplay, intending to
complete it before doing the novelette, when I bogged down. I soon
realized I didn't know enough about my characters. Also, I wanted
one lead character to be black, the other white. But I was determined
not to reveal who was what. One nonsensical charge often leveled at
writers is that we don't write enough black or gay or female characters.
The proper response is that unless black or gay or female is a
character facet that functions in the story, it ain't necessary. If
a reader feels the need to see a character as black or gay or a man
or a woman, and nothing passim the work contradicts that
conciet . . . then go ahead. This was to be my attempt to say
that, in story form.
Clearly, this wouldn't work on television: the actors are right there
in front of you. But how would those roles be cast? WOuld
Gaspar be black or white? Is Billy Kinetta a white or black
Vietnam vet? To find out I had to write the story first.
Which fit in with Terry's by-now hysterical plea. On December 10
I began writing the story, and by the 12th it was done. By
the following June 24th, I had completed the first draft teleplay
that would eventually air on CBS, Friday 8 November 1985.
In August, UNIVERSE 15, containing the story, had been published;
but hardly anyone saw "Paladin" in its first appearance. That
September saw a second publication in The Twilight Zone Magazine;
it drew considerable attention.
In November, it aired. And I came to realize that I had written one of
the most important stories of my career.
When I wrote the script, my mind's eye saw only one actor as
Billy Kinetta: Glynn Turnman. To see that extraordinary talent
at work -- in The River Niger or Ingmar Bergman's
The Serpent's Egg, to name only two of his many roles --
is to perceive a sweetness of nature coupled with an underlying
toughness: a richness of depth the scenarist can only hope for.
So from word one of the screenplay I was writing for Glynn Turman; in
the end I got Glynn Turman, as fate and Art had ordained.
For the role of Gaspar, I wanted any one of the following: Hume Cronyn,
Burgess Meredith, James Whitmore or Jack Gilford.
They gave me Danny Kaye.
Cronyn was unavailable; Bud Meredith, an old friend, was not
well; James Whitmore was never even approached by CBS; and
Jack Gilford was still "unacceptable" to CBS, a despicable
holdover attitude from the days of the Blacklist.
But someone got word to Danny Kaye that a very special
script was circulating. Danny Kaye had only done one
television engagement since his retirement: the Movie
of the Week Skokie. For him to accept a role
in this segment of TZ was considered an indication
of its quality. And everyone was delighted.
I was not delighted.
Viewers of the show have raved about Mr. Kaye's performance.
While it contained much of merit, I do not voice my opinion,
suggesting only that they read the original story. Or
hear this recording. The interpretations are quite
different. But Glynn Turman so perfectly enhanced Billy
Kinetta that I now hear myself reading my own dialogue
in the way Glynn made it his own.
Those who attempt to follow the published version,
line-by-line, with this recording will be startled to find that
the penultimate scene follows the televised version. In that
scene occurs a pivotal bit of business that goes straight to the
heart of this story's theme: responsibility. In the novelette,
I saw that pivotal scene in a way I thought was correct. I
After I handed in the teleplay, TZ executive story editor Alan Brennert
(a fine writer in his own right) and Jim Crocker, the associate
producer (also a dandy writer whose talent I much admire), began
arguing with me about Gaspar's final test of Billy. In my
arrogance, I rejected their sensible and logical suggestion
that I had read my own material incorrectly, that my story-sense
had been dulled to the proper progression of Billy's and Gaspar's
decisions. For a week we argued hotly and without kindness.
After all, I said, posturing like the Great Artiste, am I not the
creator of this work? Am I not the vast and cool intelligence
who thunk it up in the first damned place? Who the hell do
you think you're talking to?! How dare you continue to
demand that I disembowel this sterling effort to satisfy your
boneheaded obeisiance to television simpicity?
At the end of that week, thank goodness, they did
not allow me to bully them; the light dawned, and I came to
realize that I had written the scene with exactly the opposite
interpretation it required. They were dead right; I was dead wrong.
I rewrote several pages from top to bottom, and the difference in
impact, the heightened humanity, the additional colors and tones
that had been absent, made the story more powerful than
in its book and magazine version. You will not often hear me
admit to not having understood the full potential in something
I've written, nor will you often hear me confess to others seeing
my work with clearer eyes than my own . . . but in this case,
"Paladin" would not be the story it is, were it not for the
artistry, clearheadedness, and real friendship of Alan and Jim.
(Real friends will go toe-to-toe with you, when they think you're
wrong, rather than just allow you to screw up, just to keep
peace at risk of offending you.)
For those who wish to follow this reading line-by-line, the revised
version of the story (now the preferred text) appears in
my collection, ANGRY CANDY (1988).
The published "Paladin" was a 1986 Nebula finalist. It won for
me my 8th Hugo. And greatest honor of all, it won the Writers
Guild of America outstanding script award for 1986 in the
category of Television Anthology Episode / Single Program.
My competition in that category was at the highest level: TZ
scripts by Alan Brennert and George R.R. Martin, and a
Richard Matheson teleplay aired on Amazing Stories, a
story which won John Lithgow an Emmy. To win an award in a
shoot-out with the best of your craft, is an achievement
that brings honor to everyone concerned.
"Paladin of the Lost Hour" is the capper of my preoccupation
with the themes of friendship, ethics, courage, responsibility,
and the getting us wisdom. Throughout the story, Gaspar and
Billy are merely men; simply two fallible human beings
who each carries the fate of the human race in his own life,
and who perceive that inevitably we are responsible not only for
ourselves, but for everyone. Billy and Gaspar do not
turn away from that responsibility. They know that the buck
cannot pass beyond them, that they must not only cope with the
wonder that befalls them, but they must transcend.
If there is a theme or message I would have posterity glean
from a lifetime of my work, it is that we must not only take on
the dirty job of preserving humanist values, but we must
prevail, must transcend or flaws. Otherwise, we are no nobler
than the driver of the Cadillac in this story.
Only one more thing needs to be said.
When "Paladin" aired, as Billy Kinetta and Gaspar
leave the cemetary at the end of the opening sequence,
the wonderful voice-over of Charles Aidman followed them
out of frame with these words:
Billy Kinetta and an old man with a fascinating timepiece.
Like all of us, Billy and Gaspar gain an hour every Spring,
lose an hour every Fall.
The opening narration is, I think, dispensible to a reading
in print. But the closing narration is not. Had I been alert
enough when I made this recording, I would have added the
closing narration. I know I want it included in all future reprints
of the story. It is printed here so you can hear it in the theater
of your mind:
Now, they meet between the heartbeats of the great clock
of time that tells time in eternities, not minutes.
A clock that springs forward and falls back in that timeless
abyss all men know as . . . The Twilight Zone.
Like a wind crying endlessly through the universe, Time
carries away the names and the deeds of conquerors and commoners alike. And
all that we were, all that remains, is in the memories of those who cared
we came this way for a brief moment.
(pause / pause)
A blessing of the 18th Egyptian dynasty: "God be between you and harm in
all the empty places you walk."
copyright 1995 by The Kilimanjaro Corporation.
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