|“||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 innocuous appearance and nightmarish abilities.
He was portrayed by Bill Mumy.
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. Anthony 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 from the rest of the world. (Whether the town was removed or the entire world around disappeared is not explained.) 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 pre-industrial way. 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 decides everyday what goods are available at the grocery. Anything and anyone who displeases or annoys him either suffers an awful transformation or is "wished away to the cornfield". In the original story, this meant death and burial in a literal cornfield on his parents' farm. In the Twilight Zone adaptation and sequel, the term is treated as a euphemism for exile to some mysterious other realm.
The short story describes Anthony with an "odd shadow" and a "bright, wet purple gaze", hinting a supernatural origin. The worst of all this is that how and why he is this way is never explained in any shape and form. In the adaptation, dogs keep barking at him, as if they could sense how eldritch he is.
Anthony is nothing short of omnipotent. He can do absolutely anything, even resurrecting the dead or bending the laws of physics to his will. Apparently, the only things he cannot do is to revert something he did, or make something he does not understand. To put it simply, Anthony controls everything, he decides everything, and those who disagree with him, or whose thoughts merely annoy 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.
Despite Anthony's absolute power, it is hinted that he is as vulnerable as any child and could be killed, as one of his soon-to-be victims exhorts the crowd to gang up on him while he is focusing on him alone, but people are so terrified that they never dare to. And with his permanent mind-reading, a surprise attack is out of question. The adaptation's sequel shows him aging like anyone else, hinting that he might die of old age, but whether his magic will be undone after he is gone remains unknown.
Anthony is not malevolent, but rather a capricious and short-tempered boy, who never realizes the full extent of his actions. He is a child, with the same limited grasp of the world than anyone his age. As such, he tends to follow his whims, to consider things from his perspective alone, to lose interest quickly and to hold childish grudges. However, given his incredible power, his whims and grudges have much direr consequences than any other child's.
He genuinely likes the townspeople though, and he loves his relatives. As long as he is in a good mood, and even when angry sometimes, he will listen to them. In the short story, he earnestly wants people to be happy and tries his best to help them. But since he does not fully understand how the world (let alone other people) works, it always ends badly. Something atrocious but never described happened when people convinced him to create some goods for the town to use. Even when he does regrets what he has done, he cannot fully undo it, and whenever he tries to, things go awry. However, the adaptation focuses solely on his worst aspects.
Anthony likes to play with other children but he often wishes them away when he is done, so no child in town will 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. He prefers animals to humans, as they are not scared of him.
Anthony loathes bad thoughts. In the story, he genuinely dislikes people being upset, and wants them to feel better, in the adaptation he just cannot stand negativity. He has a short temper and dislikes contradiction, violently lashing out when anger gets the best of him, 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 after she got angry that the turned her cat into a monstrosity, he turned her into a mute and nearly vegetative woman. (In the adaptation, he did it when he heard her singing carelessly, as he cannot stand songs. He later banishes all dogs one by one, as they keep barking at him and he hates their open hostility.)
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 stunted, resulting in a selfish, self-centered and uncaring behaviour.
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. Dan 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.
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", not wanting to attract his attention. 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 teleports in, having perceived Dan's "bad thoughts" and turns Dan into an unfathomable and indescribable horror, which he then wishes away at the request of the attendance.
The hapless citizens can only resign themselves to enduring Anthony's tantrums for the rest of their lives.
In the adaptation, Anthony forces everyone to watch television, showing dinosaurs fighting. Everyone but Anthony finds it boring, but no one dares say so and they congratulate him for making it so much better than before. Anthony then requests that someone play the piano, much to Dan's displeasure.
Dan starts drinking and singing "happy birthday" alone, indifferent to Anthony's mounting fury. He openly insults the boy, calling him a "monster" and a "murderer". He implores people around to do something and kill Anthony, who is too outraged to register them, but while tempted, no one dares to make a move. Anthony transforms Dan into a jack-in-the-box retaining his face, and later wishes him to the cornfield upon his father's pleas. In his rage, he causes a snowstorm 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!"
The Twilight Zone sequel
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. The three of them live in Anthony's mother Agnes' house, given that Anthony's whim did not even spare his father, much to Agnes' resentment.
Even as an adult, Anthony remains emotionally and socially stunted and demanding, unable to vent out frustrations in a healthy way, though he is a caring father to Audrey. Audrey on the other hand seems well-adjusted enough, having a normal relationship with Agnes. She harbours a strong desire to see the outside world that Anthony made disappear, after Agnes showed her pictures. Audrey is torn between her father, her friends and her grandmother, whom she all loves dearly. But Anthony is far too protective, setting ablaze one of her friends' father for a petty dispute. Eventually, Agnes tries to push her to end Anthony's reign by sending him to the cornfield. Distraught by her grandmother's betrayal of her father, Audrey banishes all of the townspeople, leaving only herself and Anthony. However, Anthony soon starts feeling lonely, fully realizing the loss he inflicted on people for the first time in his life.
Audrey then returns Peaksville to the normal world, presumably with anyone and anything that Anthony erased from existence, and convinces her father to travel the world with her, starting with a visit to New York City. Whether Anthony will be able to better reign in his temper remains unknown, but his daughter's positive influence seems to mellow him out.
Twilight Zone: The Movie
It's A Good Life was re-adapted, though with notable differences from the source material, in the fourth segment of the 1959 anthology film. There, a young and bored teacher named Helen Foley meets a young boy named Anthony Fremont playing an arcade game at the local pub and defends him from a bully. After accidentally destroying his bike with her car, she offers to bring him back home.
There, she meets Anthony's parents, his uncle Walt and his older sisters Ethel and Sara, the latter being recluse after being crippled in an accident, or so it seems as if fact Anthony vanished her mouth shut for talking too much and too loudly. The house seems normal at first glance, but it soon appears that it has been warped by Anthony's godlike power and is under his complete control.
There is a TV endlessly showing cartoons in each room (which Anthony creates), the upper floor is grey, and there is a gloomy picture representing a family of faceless people, later revealed to be Anthony's real family whom he erased from existence, each dinner is a birthday party full of sweets and horrific "magic" hat-tricks producing horrifying creatures, and no one can exit without being blocked by a monstrous giant eye.
Like in the original, Anthony's family cannot express negative thoughts, lest he perceive them and punishes them, they are his prisoners suffering his tyranny, they are too afraid to reign his atrocious temper, and he banishes people to a fate worse than death if incensed enough. Helen eventually discover that Ethel secretly placed a written S.O.S in her purse.
Ethel then reveal that he abducted them as a replacement for his real family whom he killed, and that Helen is his next target. Enraged, he banishes her in the cartoon world displayed by his tv sets to be devoured by monsters. Distraught, Anthony makes the entire world disappear, leaving him and Helen outside existence. He rants that all he wants is being a good family boy and give people what they want, but that nobody likes him.
Helen persuades him to restore everything and everyone back to normal, and offers to be his tutor, to teach him to reign his temper and to control his power and find use for them, promising to always be there for him. The two depart in her car through a desert landscape which Anthony fills with flowers, towards a much brighter future than the original.
References in Other Media
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.