CONFLICT. “The Man from 1997.” ABC/Warner Brothers, 17 November 1956 (Season 1, Episode 6). 60m. Jacques Sernas, Charlie Ruggles, Gloria Talbott, James Garner, Stacy Harris. Screenplay: James Gunn, based on the story “Of Time and Third Avenue” by Alfred Bester (F&SF, October 1951). [See comment #2.] Producer: Roy Huggins. Director: Roy Del Ruth.

   Conflict was an anthology series for ABC that generally provided straight dramatic shows featuring characters in “conflict,” for lack of a better word. One of these shows, however, was something special, at least for science fiction readers: a time-travel story that covers all of the tropes of that particular subgenre rather well, particularly when you consider how poorly SF stories were generally presented on TV back in 1956.

   The story begins as a young janitor (Jacques Sernas), only two months in this country, buys several large books in a used book shop, hoping they will help him learn English. When he returns to his basement apartment is that one of them is a comprehensive almanac for the year 1997. (A book published over 40 years in the future, I hasten to add.)

   He’s no dummy. He looks up to see which horse will win a race the following day, and he asks the brother (James Garner) of the girl of his dreams (Gloria Talbott) to place a ten dollar bet on the winner for him.

   Thinking that this is throwing money away, the brother bets on the favorite instead, which animal of course loses. But all this attracts the bookie’s attention, not one of the more savory of gentlemen in the world.

   In the meantime a mysterious man dressed all in white (Charlie Ruggles) is frantically trying the locate the book, naturally afraid that in the wrong hands, the future could easily be drastically altered.

   Since the episode is available on YouTube, you can watch it yourself from here. In your own time machine, in other words, without changing the past or present one iota. This is the thrust of the story, though: how to persuade the young couple to give up their dream of making a fortune from the book and do the right thing.

   Besides being a still entertaining relic from the past, also of note is the fact that seeing James Garner in this episode led producer Roy Huggins into casting him the very next year as Maverick, and the rest, as they say, is history.


UPDATE: David Pringle reminds me that “…the James Gunn who wrote the script is *not* James Gunn the sf writer, as some people might expect to be the case.

   “J. E. Gunn the screenwriter was born in 1920 and died in 1966, whereas J. E. Gunn the sf guy was born in 1923 and died, as many of us may remember, at the age of 97 in 2020.”