Early in his career as a television actor, William Shatner had a co-starring role in the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode, “The Glass Eye,” which was the first episode of the series’ third season. Broadcast on Sunday, October 6, 1957, at 9:30 PM over the CBS network, “The Glass Eye” was adapted by Stirling Silliphant from a short story of the same name by John Keir Cross. The story was first published in Cross’s collection, The Other Passenger: Eighteen Strange Stories (1944).
This little tale of horror is told in the first person by an unnamed narrator who relates the story of a woman named Julia: “gaunt,” with a long nose and an “uncanny genius for saying the wrong thing”—a spinster at age 42. She lives in a “little flat in West Kensington”—a section of London—and on her mantelpiece is a glass eye on a bed of black velvet. Five years ago, she lived in a small room in a house between West Kensington and Fulham (another part of London); her room had “yellow wallpaper” and her life was lonely and desolate.
|Max and George|
Julia excitedly prepares for and attends the meeting, where Collodi sits facing her “behind a large mahogany table,” his dummy George “lolling grotesquely on a chair to his left.” Overcome by the desire to touch her idol, Julia approaches him and touches his cheek, causing him to fall over sideways from his chair. The dummy, George, screams and stands up on his chair, “his hideous painted face twisted with rage and fear and sorrow.” Julia laughs, screams, and kicks the figure on the floor; a glass eye pops out and rolls toward her. She picks it up and runs from the room, having learned the secret of Max and George—the “dummy” controlled the larger figure “by means of small pneumatic bulb controls.”
|William Shatner and Rosemary Harris|
“The Glass Eye” is a clever tale that asks the question, who is the gentleman and who, the dummy? Julia is described as ugly and she is an aging and lonely spinster. Max, the small man who pretends to be a dummy in order to survive, is intelligent, with a beautiful voice and enough talent to fool the public night after night. Yet when Julia discovers that the object of her affection is a fake, she is unable to see beyond the shallow appearance and into the heart of the man who possesses all of the qualities she truly desires. Why does Max wear an eye patch later on when traveling with the circus in Scotland? Perhaps it is in memory of the chance at love that he lost, when he almost took the bold step of revealing his true self to a woman and was jeered at in return.
|George is revealed|
|The expressionistic camera angle shows Julia's inner turmoil.|
Jessica Tandy, as Julia, also gives an outstanding performance, dramatizing what Jim’s narration describes. She often acts silently as his voice provides the details; as usual with this series, she is much more attractive than her character as described in the story, but she convincingly portrays a spinster who lives a life of loneliness. The most memorable shot in the episode is of George standing on the table in the hotel room, stamping his feet in anger and shame and yelling at Julia to get out. He then removes his grotesque dummy mask to reveal a small, aging man, with a look of sadness on his face that parallels that of Julia. In an incident absent from the story, he hops off the table and searches for the missing eye on the floor, as the camera fades from a close-up of the dummy’s head back to the framing narrative.
|Hitch has a glass eye of his own!|
Other pieces of the story left out in the TV version include literary devices such as a four-stanza poem written about Julia and a legend about a philosopher and a beggar; these serve to broaden the tale into one telling a universal truth, while the TV show is more narrowly focused on the story.
|1st US edition|
Stirling Silliphant (1918-1996), who adapted the story for TV, was a prolific writer of television shows and movies. His credits include co-creating the series Route 66, creating the blind lawyer series Longstreet, and writing or co-writing films such as 5 Against the House (1955--from the Jack Finney novel), Village of the Damned (1960), The Towering Inferno (1974), The Poseidon Adventure (1972), and In the Heat of the Night (1967), for which he won an Oscar.
“The Glass Eye” was directed by Robert Stevens (1920-1989), who directed 44 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and five episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, as well as two episodes of The Twilight Zone. Previous episodes helmed by Stevens that I have analyzed include The Dangerous People and The Greatest Monster of Them All. On April 15, 1958, he was awarded the Emmy for Best Direction for a Television Series for "The Glass Eye"; this was the only Emmy won by a single episode of the Alfred Hitchcock Presents/Hour series in its ten-year run.
Jessica Tandy (1909-1994), who plays Julia, had a long career on stage and screen, appearing three times on Alfred Hitchcock Presents as well as in Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963). She won an Oscar for Driving Miss Daisy (1989).
Tom Conway (1904-1967), who portrays Max, was the older brother of George Sanders and shared his mellifluous speaking voice. Born in Russia to English parents, the family moved back to England when the 1917 revolution broke out. Conway had a long and wonderful career in film, playing The Falcon in ten films and appearing in three classic Val Lewton chillers: Cat People (1942), The Seventh Victim (1943) and I Walked With a Zombie (1943). He can be seen in three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
Rosemary Harris (1927- ) has the small role of Jim’s companion in the framing sequence; she also went on to a long career on stage and screen, including three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. She appeared in three Spider-Man films as Peter Parker’s Aunt May.
Billy Barty (1924-2000) stood three feet, nine inches tall and had a long career as an actor, from 1927 until his death in 2000. He formed The Little People of America, Inc., and also appeared in “The Jar,” one of the best episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, as well as an episode of Thriller. A website is devoted to Mr. Barty.
Paul Playdon, who portrays the boy who Julia takes to the music hall, was a child actor who grew up to write for TV; he penned the teleplay for the Kolchak: The Night Stalker episode, “The Werewolf.”
Finally, William Shatner (1931- ) is Our Greatest Living Actor. Born in Montreal, Canada, he has starred in such series as Star Trek, T.J. Hooker, and Boston Legal. A true renaissance man, he has won Emmys for his TV work, written numerous books, and sung on record albums. His movie and TV performances are legendary and he is still performing regularly at age 81. He has an extensive website. I also recommend a visit to this website, which uses “The Glass Eye” as the basis for a study of Shatner’s use of a toupee.
“The Glass Eye” is available on DVD and can also been seen online.
Cross, John Keir. "The Glass Eye." Timeless Stories for Today and Tomorrow. Ed. Ray Bradbury. New
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"The Glass Eye." Alfred Hitchcock Presents. CBS. 1957 Oct. 6. Television.
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