There is no Twilight Zone without Rod Serling. From 1959 to 1964, the prolific television writer pulled double duty as host of the CBS fantasy anthology series he created. His clipped manner of speaking and an omnipresent cigarette made him the one constant in a show with a revolving door of actors—the viewer’s escort into a fifth dimension.
But Serling wasn’t originally the man for the job. The voice of The Twilight Zone pilot was the incredibly named Cornelius Westbrook Van Voorhis, and you can hear this alternate dimension narration in the video below.
Van Voorhis was a longtime voiceover artist and broadcaster who had used his impeccable diction and authoritative delivery to narrate everything from wartime newsreels to commercials for Life cereal. He seemed the ideal choice to set a foreboding tone for the show’s often-eerie atmosphere.
But CBS executives and the show’s producers weren’t so sure after hearing his delivery. According to MeTV.com, Van Voorhis came off as a little too pompous. And indeed, Van Voorhis did have his critics.
“The voice of doom” is how Tucson Citizen columnist John Crosby described Van Voorhis in 1954. Under an illustration of Van Voorhis was a caption: “The epitome of pretentious utterance.”
(Van Voorhis did, however, have his share of admirers. One woman became so enraptured with him during his reporting of the Lindbergh baby kidnapper Bruno Hauptmann trial that she convinced herself the two were destined to be wed and actually sued him for breach of promise when that failed to materialize.)
With Van Voorhis out and the network’s other choice, Orson Welles, too expensive to hire, options were limited. So Serling volunteered to do the job himself. He narrated all of the show’s episodes, though he didn’t actually appear on camera until the first season finale.