A Thrill Ride Into the Fifth Dimension: Rod Serling’s Impact on Disneyland
By: Chris Darkes - June 11, 2016
Imagine with me for a moment that we traveled back to October 2, 1959. You grabbed your glass bottle of Coca-Cola from the five-and-dime, and made it home just in time to huddle around the television set. For a moment the screen was blank. Then suddenly a black and white curtain backdrop appears in front of you. A distinguished man holding a smoldering cigarette appears and begins to speak with you. Conjuring up dramatic images and taking you into another dimension that — strikingly felt very present. Maybe it was the neatly pressed suit and tie— or how calm and in control he delivered these tantalizing stories that kept audiences glued to their television sets. That man obviously is Rod Serling.
With this past month coinciding with National Twilight Zone Day, I decided what better way to celebrate than to pay tribute to the man responsible for one of Disney’s most over-looked attractions, The Tower of Terror. Creating the pillars for a show that still survives today with its commentary on humans and ideologies.
Rod was a man who fought tooth and nail to deliver the purest form of what he wrote without the encumbrances of advertisers, producers, and networks. The results were incredible. So many knock offs, changes in television advertising, and nods have been made that it’s almost impossible to escape the impact the show had. Even so much that Disney decided to pay a tribute by creating their very own “episode” for their theme parks.
The Tower of Terror opened originally in 1994, and in Disneyland’s California Adventure in 2004. For our purposes we’ll keep it at Disneyland since that’s the one I recently visited. Standing at 199 feet, the ominous tower is imposing even looking at it from afar. We visited the park when my girlfriend’s parents flew out and decided to treat us to an all-day adventure. ( If you’re reading this thank you so much, again!) We toured the park and since her dad is a big Twilight Zone fan, wanted to see the attraction firsthand. Fun fact: if you decided to explore every single Disney park, you’ll find that each Tower of Terror is designed slightly differently.
California Adventure’s attraction starts with you weaving around the facade of the hotel with a few hidden things to keep you occupied before the real fun beings. This hotel is designed to be a 1930’s “golden age of Hollywood” sort of feel to it. It was originally planned to be an actual working Disney hotel and attraction, but plans were thwarted when it was deemed too complex to execute.
For inspiration, Imagineers poured through 156 episodes of The Twilight Zone to get the design, look, and feel of the attraction perfect. When you enter the intentionally dilapidated looking lobby of the Hollywood Tower Hotel, you can see a few nods to the series with the broken glasses Henry Bemis wore inTime Enough At Last, the golden thimble from The After Hours, and the Mystic Seer from Nick of Time. Im sure there are a ton of others that I simply missed.
After letting your mind wander around the meticulously placed props, you’re invited into a library room of sorts where a bellhop greets you as you turn your attention to the screen where the lights fade and the story begins…
Similar to the Haunted Mansion, Disney did an incredible job as usual immersing you into an original episode of The Twilight Zone. The plot takes you back to the time when the hotel was buzzing with Hollywood namestays and fancy cocktail parties when on Halloween of 1939, the elevator carrying these people suddenly plummets. Their bodies disappeared and you’re asked to ride the same elevator to see if you can discover what happened.
From there, you enter the tower through a service elevator and take a journey into the Fifth Dimension where the hotel guests were “lost.” So we enter through the backdoor boiler, where the elevator awaits you. We didn’t feel like taking the elevator down, so we requested to take the “chicken exit” as it’s called. Don’t let them give you any attitude, you can absolutely take this exit!
From there you’re escorted into a foyer where glorious props and artifacts from the different episodes are encased for your amusement. Then after that, it’s into the souvenir shop.
There’s recently been some chatter about Disney trying to capitalize on their Marvel acquisition by turning the Tower of Terror into a Guardians of the Galaxy attraction. There’s been a ton of backlash from diehard Twilight Zone fans. It’s one of the hallmarks of California Adventure and the Disney theme parks for that matter. Personally, I’d like to see an update to it -maybe a more expansive tour that takes you through a few episodes.
Regardless of what the future holds for it, we had an incredible time in the park. It’s great that Disney honored Rod Serling with one of the biggest compliments by inducting him into their theme park, introducing a new generation of fans. A sure testament to his impact on pop culture.
Also published on Medium.