|“||Oh yes, I did forget something, didn't I? I forgot to introduce you to the monster. This is the monster. His name is Anthony Fremont. He's six years old, with a cute little-boy face and blue, guileless eyes. But when those eyes look at you, you'd better start thinking happy thoughts, because the mind behind them is absolutely in charge.||„|
|~ Anthony's presentation during the introduction speech by Rod Serling.|
Anthony Fremont is the antagonist of the short story It's a Good Life, which was adapted in an episode of the television series The Twilight Zone in 1961. He is a three-year-old (six-year-old in the TV adaptation) child with unlimited powers, which he uses to dictate his law to his entire town. He is referred to as a "monster" in the episode's introduction, highlighting the contrast between his unthreatening appearance and nightmarish abilities.
The short story explains that when Anthony Fremont was born, the obstetrician who helped his mother to give birth screamed and tried to kill him, only to meet his own demise. He was born in the little town of Peaksville, Ohio in the USA, and soon displayed unexplained god-like powers, making the life of everyone there a living nightmare. First, he isolated the entire town and its immediate surroundings in another dimension. (Whether the town was removed or the entire world around disappeared is not explained, though both are possible.)
Then he banished automobiles, machines and electricity itself, simply because he did not like them, forcing every citizen to work and to live in a nearly Middle-Age fashion. The radios and TV sets still exist but they work only when he wants them to and broadcast only what he wants them to, unleashing his wrath on anyone who does not follow the broadcast with the utmost attention. He controls the weather and he decides everyday what good will be available in the town's grocery. Anything and anyone who displeases or annoys him either suffers an awful transformation or is wished away to the cornfield, which can mean that they find there a very painful demise, or more likely that he merely erases them from existence.
Anthony likes to play with other children but he often wishes them away when he is done playing, so no child in town is allowed to come near him. He also entertains himself by creating strange creatures, like a three-headed gopher, or more often by transforms existing things or animals to give them a "funnier" appearance.
The short story describes Anthony with an “odd shadow” and a “bright, wet purple gaze”, hinting a supernatural origin. He is nothing short of omnipotent. He can do absolutely anything he wants, even resurrecting the deads or bending nature and the laws of physic to his will. Apparently, the only thing he cannot do is to revert something he has done. To put it simply, Anthony controls everything, he decides everything, and those who disagree with him, or who simply think about something that annoys him, can make their prayers, (if he leaves them enough time).
Even worse, he automatically knows what anyone around him has in mind, forcing all those who approach him to act positive, to praise what he is doing and to think they are happy all the time, concealing their true feelings as much as they can when this is not the case, because he HATES bad thoughts and being contradicted.
Personality wise, he is not malevolent, but rather a capricious and short-tempered brat, who never realizes the full extent of his actions. He is just a child, with the same limited grasp of the world than any other child of his age. As such, he tends to follow his whims, to see the world from his perspective alone, to lose interest quickly, to hold childish grudges and to imagine that someone unhappy with him or in his presence does not like him.
But given his incredible power, his whims and grudges have much direr consequences than any other child's. When irked, his anger gets the best of him and he unleashes it, no matter how much he cared for the person he "punishes". He loved his aunt Amy, who was said to have more control over him than anyone else, but he hates songs, so when he heard her singing carelessly, he turned her into a mute and nearly vegetative woman.
No one is safe from him, even his own family. As such, no one ever dared to scold him, or simply to set some limits or rules for him to follow. Because of this, he always did as he pleases and his development was rather stunned, resulting in a selfish, self-centred and uncaring behaviour, a bit close to sociopathy.
He genuinely likes the people around him though, and he loves his relatives. As long as he is in a good mood he will listen to them. In the short story, he earnestly wants people to be happy and tries to help the townspeople. But since he does not fully understand how the world (let alone other people) works, he almost always worsens the situation. Even when he does regrets what he has done, he cannot fully undo it, and whenever he tries to, things go awry. The adaptation however, focuses solely on his scariest aspects.
It's a Good Life
The first part of It's a Good Life presents the settings, the characters and the tyranny of Anthony Fremont.
Later the Fremonts throw a surprise birthday party for their neighbour Dan Hollis in their farmhouse. The guests first have to watch one of Anthony's compulsory TV broadcasts, showing a dinosaur fight. Everyone but Anthony find it boring, but dare not express it and, as usual, they tell him that it was much better than the TV from before. Dan then receives a bottle of whisky (from before Anthony's birth, as he banished alcohol) and a rare record, but they advise him to wait until he is away from Anthony to play it. Anthony then asks someone to play the piano, much to Dan's dismay.
Dan starts drinking alone and singing "Happy Birthday" to himself, annoying Anthony. Now drunk, Dan snaps and starts openly calling the boy a "monster" and a "murderer". He then exhorts the guests to kill Anthony from behind to end his reign of terror, but while everyone present is tempted to do so, they are too scared to do anything.Anthony turns Dan into a jack-in-the-box retaining his face, and wishes him to the cornfield upon his father’s pleas. In his rage, Anthony causes a blizzard that destroys most of the crops, much to the adults' despair. Everyone is horror-struck and grieving, but resigned to endure Anthony's tyrannical rule for the rest of their lives, and Anthony’s father tells him that he did well and that "tomorrow's gonna be a... real good day!"
In the short story, Anthony is not present at first during the birthday party, but the guests are too afraid to play the record and to sing "happy Birthday". Dan gets drunk and exhorts them to sing, before ranting curses about Anthony and angrily pleading his parents to get rid of him. An angry Anthony then enters the room, having perceived Dan's "bad thoughts" and turns Dan into an unfathomable, never-described horror, which he then wishes away. Once again, the citizens have no other choice than to resign themselves.
Sequel and References
In 2002, The Twilight Zone made a sequel called It's Still a Good Life, with the same actor. It shows 46 years old Anthony Fremont, who still dictates his rule to Peaksville, and his daughter Audrey, who is even more powerful than him and can bring back what he wished away.
Audrey is torn between her father, her friends and her grandmother, whom she all loves deeply. But when her grandmother tries to push her to end Anthony’s reign, she reacts by banishing everyone to the cornfield. Then, she returns Peaksville to the normal world and goes to see New York with her father.
It's a Good Life, (and especially its Twilight Zone adaptation) inspired many other works. Among which:
- In The Simpsons episode Treehouse of Horror II, Springfield and Bart are presented in the exact same fashion as Peaksville and Anthony Fremont. Bart uses his unlimited powers to bend reality (and school programs) to his will, dictate his rule to Springfield, and transform anyone with bad thoughts, ultimately turning Homer into a Jack-in-the-box. He later spends quality time with Jack-in-the-Box Homer and starts reining his temper.
- In the Episode Johnny Real Good, of the cartoon Johnny Bravo, Johnny babysits Timmy, a nasty, all-powerful, six-year-old brat, who punishes everyone having bad thoughts and tyrannizes his parents. Timmy make Johnny live a nightmare and often teleports him to the nearby cornfield.
- On an episode of Lost In Space, Young Will Robinson’s family and friends, start disappearing one by one. Will eventually finds the culprit: an entity who describes itself as a "bad little boy", who tapped into his resentment of being the youngest aboard. By fighting against his fears, Will defeats it and restores his family. Will Robinson was played by Bill Mumy, who played Anthony Fremont in The Twilight Zone.