Sunday, July 18, 2010

Mrs. Gibbs , a 1930’s Vender Front Watling Rol-A-Top that talks just killed your husband…

Rod Serling In Front Of A 50c Rol-A-Top
One of my favorite shows of all time is the classic Twilight Zone hosted by Rod Serling. While there are many episodes that are truly classic, one of my favorites is titled The Fever. While some consider it one of the more forgettable shows in the first season, I have other reasons for ranking this one in my top 5.

With my profession and passion in vintage slot machines I’m always watching for slot machines in the background of old movies and shows. Typically westerns will have some slot machines situated in a saloon and typically used as background props. Gangster movies from the 30’s and 40’s will show slots in bar scenes, etc. The classic Oceans 11 with Frank Sinatra shows lots of them in each casino! However, I don’t recall the slot machine(s) ever playing a leading role in a show, until The Twilight Zone.

The ever cool Rod Serling starts out the show by giving us a brief synopsis of what we are in for;

“Mr. and Mrs. Franklin Gibbs, three days and two nights, all expenses paid, at a Las Vegas hotel, won by virtue of Mrs. Gibbs' knack with a phrase. But unbeknownst to either Mr. or Mrs. Gibbs is the fact that there's a prize in their package neither expected nor bargained for. In just a moment, one of them will succumb to an illness worse than any virus can produce, a most inoperative, deadly, life-shattering affliction known as "The Fever".

As we find out, “The Fever” is Franklin’s sudden addiction to a slot machine after initially not wanting anything to do with them. While the premise is entertaining the show gets a little goofy towards the end. However, as a slot machine historian – looking at all the slot machines in the casino is truly fascinating and also raises questions.

While I’m not old enough to have visited Vegas in the early 1960’s my research and period photos have given me a darn good idea of what kind of machines were operating in the casinos during that time. Suffice to say, the star machine in the show (and killer), the Watling Rol-A-Top, was not at all a standard machine used then, especially by casino’s!

After stopping and starting the Twilight Zone DVD a few times I was able to identify all of the machines in the casino set. There is quite an eclectic collection of machines dating from the early 1930’s to the late 1940’s. The first machine that got my attention other than the murdering Rol-A-Top was a really rare AC Multibell. Those rarely come up for sale today and are very unique. A mix of Mills Black Cherry and Golden Falls machines can be seen lined up a few times. A Mills Extraordinary and Mills High Top machines are also in the room. Another interesting machine is a Mills jackpot revamp sitting off the side in a number of scenes. Watling Rol-A-Top’s in various forms are sprinkled in the background as well.

The primary Rol-A-Top that somehow follows Mr. Gibbs to his room is actually quite rare. By rare I don’t mean the flashing bulb at the top that covers the escalator either – ha ha. The Rol-A-Top that figures out how to belch out “Franklin” throughout the show appears to be a $1 Vender Front. I’ve had a number of rare Rol-A-Top machines but I’m actually not aware of real $ Rol-A-Top machines. During the show Mr. Gibbs is dropping them in and he also screams at the end of the show after knocking over the machine “Give me back my dollar”. I’m guessing that this machine could have been modified by an operator before the police confiscated it. By accepting dollars, I’m sure the escalator was modified or even removed, which is possibly why the white lens was placed over the top as well. The machine could be a real half dollar and the show simply implied it was a dollar – silver halves and dollars do look similar from a distance.

Regardless if it’s a 50c or $ machine it is quite odd that a large denomination machine has the mint vending columns on it. It’s possible that this machine was modified somehow for the show or the mechanism was switched out. I’m sure the shows director or prop department did not even know the machine originally vended mints. After finding some cool software on my computer I was able to freeze a scene from the shows trailer (image above). Mr. Serling is standing in front of a similar but different Rol-A-Top. This one is also a rare 50c machine with the escalator window covered, but it is not a vender front. I also have a shot of Franklin standing in front of the Rol-A-Top above as well.

A book titled The Twilight Zone Companion by Marc Scott Zicree has a brief background history of this show, which is really fascinating. In the 1960’s, slot machines were illegal to own in California. So, the only way to get a bunch of machines was to contact the police department where a number of them were impounded. For the filming of the show the police supplied all of the machines and kept an officer on set the entire time – apparently to make sure no one appropriated one of them. This behind the scenes trivia explains why the casino set has such an assortment of different machines not likely found in a real casino! It also explains why so many slot machines are hard to find today, with the police snatching them up. See my previous blog of where some of those machines ended up after the police snached them.

I’ve had a number of Rol-A-Top’s over the years. However, the next time I find a 50c Rol-A-Top it’s going to be hard not to stick a flashing plastic lens over the escalator and a cover over the jackpot with a white box and evil smile on it. Hopefully I won’t wake up in the middle of the night with the machine somehow wobbling towards me as I fall backwards out the bedroom window.


  1. Your passion for vintage slot machines are great, I've read about it and it was very interesting. The host in Twilight Zone, he's cool in mens suits, well, I guess you've been creating posts about slot machines for few years already.

  2. Great article just saw this episode on TV.

  3. I just watched The Fever episode of Twilight Zone, and for the first time I noticed the name "Rol-A-Top" on the machine, and I did a search for it -- and up popped your blog! I found your post fascinating, as this kind of trivia really interests me. You said that some people find this episode of Twilight Zone to be forgettable, but I disagree. What bothers me, however -- and this bothers me about a lot of movies and TV shows -- is this business of people just falling through windows as if they were made of balsa wood and rock candy. In actuality, most windows are very strong, and they would stop a person cold who fell against them.