Harlan Talks About Writing 'Paladin' copyright 1995 by The Kilimanjaro Corporation.

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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 was wrong.

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.
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.
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:
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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