The Twilight Zone Mystic Seer

Nick of Time – One of the best episodes of the original Twilight Zone, it starred William Shatner and Patricia Breslin as a married couple who discover a fortune telling machine that seems to predict the future.

Written by Richard Matheson, the Shatner character becomes obsessed with the machine and can’t make a decision without it. It’s only with the support of his wife that he is able to break free of the machine’s spell. As we learn at the end of the episode, another couple isn’t so lucky.

Original Twilight Zone props are difficult to find, as MGM routinely destroyed their props after use. So far, no one has come forward with an original Mystic Seer, so the best I can do when recreating it,  is to rely on my screen captures.  In fact, no one is sure what color the Mystic Seer actually was!  Even William Shatner doesn’t remember, as it was almost 50 years ago.

This particular prop has been a very popular piece for fans to recreate – it’s become part of Americana. You can even see it at Disney’s California Adventure ride, Tower of Terror. It’s on a shelf in the library room.

Whether you want a really good replica, a limited edition signed by William Shatner, or just a plain old bobblehead, you can find them online.

In fact, The Mystic Seer has become so ingrained in American culture that it’s even available as a free iPhone app.

In order to recreate the prop, I needed several clear screenshots of the Mystic Seer.

Luckily, every year one of the cable channels runs a Twilight Zone marathon, and I was able to TiVo the episode and create some very sharp pictures.

Next, I would need the actual mechanism for the Mystic Seer. The prop was based on a real fortune teller machine called a Swami. The Swami company agreed to customize one of their models for use in the episode.

A working Swami machine sells for about $250 (US), so I really didn’t want to buy one and then destroy it for a prop. Instead, I am looking for a “fixer upper”. So far I have not been successful, but I am still looking.

While searching for a Swami, I did manage to find a pretty good recreation of the Devil’s head, which I purchased. The real version is shown next to it.

I located a prop site that had instructions for creating a Mystic Seer – and armed with these instructions, I purchased the necessary materials.

The signage came first. I recreated the original signage using pics from the Internet, but they were low quality and never looked quite right. But they would do for now. I purchased PVC  sheets to use for the box itself, but found them difficult to cut with a circular saw. Even though the cuts looked straight to me, they never fit together with precision. The front piece was curved and I had to heat up the plastic to create the curve, but again, it never looked quite right, plus I burned several areas. Cutting the slots was not difficult. For the lever on the front,  I painted a Popsicle stick black and then put a red rubber cover on one end.  I assembled the frame with PVC cement, and while it looked like a Mystic Seer from a distance, up close, it looked terrible. I never put together the insides or finished it up. I decided to buy a pre-made kit from the Internet, and had it in my hands a week or so later.

I assembled it following the instructions, and it looked perfect- straight edges, no gaps, and everything fit together perfectly. Plus it had EVERYTHING I needed- no extra parts to buy.

Once the cement had set (24 hours later), I sanded it down, and primered it for painting.

Next I painted it red. I installed the two inner walls. Each inner wall had two large bolts and two large springs on it attached to a rectangular piece of plastic.  This spring-loaded piece of plastic would push the napkins outward. The lever attached easily and worked properly. You can see the horizontal spring in the left picture. I then glued a key-lock (also included) into the round hole and added the heavy spring to the top.

Lastly, I affixed the signage (the ones that came with the kit) using spray adhesive, and then painted six yellow (very sad) stars on the front. Below is the final product. It came out pretty well.

Save yourself some frustration and buy the kit. HA! It’s definitely worth the money.

One day I will get around to making the functional model. 


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