The Night of the Meek
|"The Night of the Meek"|
|The Twilight Zone episode|
|Episode no.||Season 2
|Directed by||Jack Smight|
|Written by||Rod Serling|
|Produced by||Buck Houghton|
|Featured music||none credited|
|Original air date||December 23, 1960|
As snow begins to fall, a drunk and dejected Henry Corwin, wearing his Santa Claus suit, stumbles and half-falls at a curbside lamppost. He is approached by two tenement children pleading for toys, a Christmas dinner and "a job for my daddy". As Corwin begins to sob helplessly, the camera slowly pans to the right, revealing Rod Serling standing on the sidewalk, wearing a winter coat and scarf, with snowflakes settling on his hair and shoulders:
|“||This is Mr. Henry Corwin, normally unemployed, who once a year takes the lead role in the uniquely popular American institution, that of the department-store Santa Claus in a road-company version of 'The Night Before Christmas'. But in just a moment Mr. Henry Corwin, ersatz Santa Claus, will enter a strange kind of North Pole which is one part the wondrous spirit of Christmas and one part the magic that can only be found... in the Twilight Zone.||”|
It is Christmas Eve. Henry Corwin, a down-and-out ne'er-do-well, dressed in a baggy, worn-out Santa Claus suit, has just spent his last few dollars on a sandwich and six drinks at Jack's Place, the neighborhood bar. Bruce, the brusque bartender, throws him out after spotting Corwin, whose pockets now contain only a few meager coins, reaching for the bottle. Arriving an hour late for his seasonal job as a department store Santa, the visibly drunk Corwin is soon fired by Mr. Dundee, the mean-spirited manager, acting on a complaint from the overbearing customer who had, moments earlier, pushed her reluctant son, "Percival", to sit on Santa's lap. As Dundee orders him to leave the premises, Corwin pours out his heartache over living in a "dirty rooming house on a street filled with hungry kids and shabby people" for whom he is incapable of fulfilling his desired role as Santa. He declares that if he had just "one wish" granted him on Christmas Eve, he'd "like to see the meek inherit the earth". Still in his outfit, he returns to Jack's Place but is refused re-entry by Bruce, who explains to the inebriated patrons that "Santa's a lush".
Stumbling aimlessly into an alley, he hears sleigh bells and trips over a large burlap bag, overfilled with packages, which seems to have the ability to produce any item that's asked of it. Overjoyed at his sudden, inexplicable ability to fulfill a lifelong dream, Corwin proceeds to hand out gift-wrapped presents to passersby and then, upon entering Sister Florence's "Delancey Street Mission House", to derelict men attending Christmas Eve service. Irritated by the disruption and outraged by Corwin's offer to gift her with a new dress, Sister Florence hurries outside to fetch Officer Flaherty, who proceeds to arrest Corwin for apparently stealing merchandise from his former place of employment. Flaherty then contacts Mr. Dundee, who arrives at the police station exclaiming, "Ah-ha, here he is, and here we are, and there that is!". Calling Corwin a "moth-eaten Robin Hood", Dundee reaches into the garbage bag to display some of the purported "wholesale theft of thousands of dollars worth of goods" but, as he pulls out a couple of empty cans, and a cat emitting a meow emerges from the bag onto the precinct counter, Corwin interjects, "this bag doesn't know whether to give out gifts or garbage". Observing what just happened, Flaherty tells Corwin to "clean up this mess and get out of here", as Dundee, angry at having his time wasted, throws accusations of incompetence at Flaherty, who responds that "like Corwin says, we're dealing with the supernatural here". With sarcastic disbelief, Dundee then challenges Corwin to produce a bottle of cherry brandy, vintage 1903 and, as he turns to Flaherty and continues to berate him ("...how dare you drag me here at the busiest time of the year..."), Corwin comments "oh, that's a good year" and reaches into the bag to hand Dundee his exact request. Leaving the precinct, he continues to distribute gifts for the remainder of the evening until the bag is empty.
As he exits from one of the tenement building, elderly Burt, whose desired pipe and smoking jacket had come from Corwin's bag at Sister Florence's service, points out that there is "nothing for you this Christmas… nothing for yourself, not a thing" and Corwin replies, "you know, I can't think of anything I want", but if he had his choice of any gift at all, "I think I'd wish I could do this every year". Returning to the alley where the gift-laden garbage bag had presented itself, he encounters an elf (in the persona of an adolescent girl), sitting in a large sleigh hitched to four reindeer waiting to take him to his destiny as the eternal Santa Claus.
Emerging from the precinct, Flaherty and Dundee, now slightly tipsy from sampling Corwin's brandy, look upward upon hearing the tinkle of bells and confirm to each other that they have, indeed, in Flaherty's words, just seen Henry Corwin, "big as life, in a sleigh with reindeer, sittin' next to an elf", ascending into the night sky on Christmas Eve. Dundee invites Flaherty to accompany him home and share some hot coffee, with brandy poured in it, adding, "...and we'll thank God for miracles, Flaherty..."
|“||A word to the wise to all the children of the twentieth century, whether their concern be pediatrics or geriatrics, whether they crawl on hands and knees and wear diapers or walk with a cane and comb their beards. There's a wondrous magic to Christmas and there's a special power reserved for little people. In short, there's nothing mightier than the meek.||”|
The original narration, on December 23, 1960, ended with the words, "and a Merry Christmas, to each and all", but that phrase was deleted in the 1980s and is now excluded from reruns, VHS releases and the five-DVD set The Twilight Zone: The Definitive Edition. However, the phrase is heard in the Blu-ray release of Season 2 as well as the version streamed by Netflix, but with noticeably different sound quality from the rest of Serling's narration.
- "THE NIGHT OF THE MEEK"
- Directed by Jack Smight [third of four Twilight Zone episodes—see "Personnel and cast with multiple Twilight Zone or related credits"]
- Written by Rod Serling [thirty-sixth of ninety-two Twilight Zone episodes]
- Produced by Buck Houghton [forty-sixth of one-hundred-one Twilight Zone episodes]
- The Twilight Zone Created by Rod Serling
- Starring Art Carney as Henry Corwin [sole Twilight Zone appearance, but previously starred in Rod Serling's "The Velvet Alley" on Playhouse 90—see "Personnel and cast with multiple Twilight Zone or related credits"]
- John Fiedler as Mr. Dundee (the department store manager) [first of two Twilight Zone appearances—see "Personnel and cast with multiple Twilight Zone or related credits"]
- Robert P. Lieb as Flaherty (the police officer who arrests Corwin)
- Val Avery as the Bartender ("Hello. Jack's Place... No, Jack's not here. This is Bruce")
- Meg Wyllie as Sister Florence (who leads a rendition of "Joy to the World" at the Christmas service for skid row derelict men)
- Kay Cousins as Irate Mother (of "Percival Smithers", the ill-mannered kid who tells "Santa Corwin" that, for a Christmas present, he wants "a new front name")
- Burt Mustin as Old Man (Burt, who receives from Corwin a pipe and a smoking jacket) [first of two Twilight Zone appearances—see "Personnel and cast with multiple Twilight Zone or related credits"]
- Trains by LIONEL CORP.
Unbilled (in order of appearance)
- Andrea Margolis (little girl pleading with "Santa Corwin" for "a carriage and a dolly and a playhouse... a job for my daddy") [first of two Twilight Zone appearances—see "Personnel and cast with multiple Twilight Zone or related credits"]
- Jimmy Garrett (little boy pleading with "Santa Corwin" for "a gun and a set of soldiers and a fort... a big turkey pot Christmas dinner")
- Nan Peterson (blonde in the bar, sitting next to the sleeping drunk, as Henry Corwin knocks on the window glass of the entrance door) [second of four Twilight Zone appearances—see "Personnel and cast with multiple Twilight Zone or related credits"]
- Matthew McCue (Collins, one of the derelicts at the mission, who requests a sweater... "what size? who cares what size")
- Larrian Gillespie (adolescent elf who, along with a large sleigh and four reindeer, waits for "Santa Corwin")
By November 1960, The Twilight Zone's second season had already broadcast five episodes and finished filming sixteen. However, at a cost of about $65,000 per episode, the show was exceeding its budget. As a result, six consecutive episodes were videotaped and subsequently kinescoped to 16-millimeter film for TV transmission and future syndicated rebroadcasts. Total savings on editing and cinematography costs amounted to only about $30,000 for all six entries – not enough to justify the loss of depth of visual perspective, which gave those shows an appearance akin to that of stagebound live TV dramas, or even daytime soap operas which, at the time, were quickly and cheaply produced live on one or two sets. The experiment, which is considered extremely rare, if not unique, for episodes of filmed series, was therefore deemed a failure and never attempted again.
Even though the six episodes were recorded in a row, through November and into mid-December, their broadcast dates were out of order and varied widely, with this, the fourth one, shown on December 23, 1960 as second season episode 11. The first, "The Lateness of the Hour", was seen on December 2, 1960 as episode 8; The second, "Static", was shown on March 10, 1961 as episode 20; the third, "The Whole Truth", appeared on January 20, 1961 as episode 14; the fifth, "Twenty Two", came on February 10, 1961 as episode 17; and the last one, "Long Distance Call", was transmitted on March 31, 1961 as episode 22.
- Jack Smight (1925–2003), a director of numerous TV episodes, made-for-TV movies and theatrical films, helmed four Twilight Zone episodes, including three of the six videotaped ones, the other two being "The Lateness of the Hour" and "Twenty Two". His initial assignment was "The Lonely" which, shown as the seventh episode of the first season, was the first regularly filmed installment after the pilot episode.
- A character star, Art Carney (1918–2003) later appeared as Santa Claus in CBS' December 1970 hour-long Muppet special, The Great Santa Claus Switch, and in ABC's December 1984 television film, The Night They Saved Christmas. Best remembered by TV viewers from 1960 as Jackie Gleason's sidekick on Gleason's various 1950s comedy/variety shows, including his iconic portrayal of The Honeymooners' "Ed Norton", it was Carney who received the honors — six Emmies and a Best Actor Oscar (for 1974's Harry and Tonto) — to Gleason's none. This was Carney's only Twilight Zone appearance but, nearly two years earlier, on January 22, 1959, he starred in Rod Serling's semi-autobiographical story, "The Velvet Alley", the eighth of ten Serling teleplays featured on Playhouse 90, the most prestigious of the many live drama anthology series from the Golden Age of Television. Carney's role, that of an aspiring writer who sells his first teleplay to a major TV drama series, paralleled Serling's own career. Analogous to Serling's 1963 screenplay for the political thriller, Seven Days in May, in which the loyal and dependable head of White House security is named Art Corwin, the appellation of Carney's "Night of the Meek" character, Henry Corwin, is a tribute to Serling's idol, legendary television, film and, most memorably for Serling, radio writer Norman Corwin whose lengthy career, in contrast to Serling's relatively brief 50-year lifetime, had spanned over seven decades. Corwin died in October 2011, five-and-a-half months past his 101st birthday.
- Busy character actor John Fiedler (1925–2005) played usually bald and bespectacled officious types in hundreds of radio shows, TV episodes and movies starting in the 1940s. Appearing on TV from its earliest days, he was one of the cadets in Tom Corbett, Space Cadet from 1951 to 1954, had regular roles in three series between 1973 and 1984 and did countless cartoon voices, including that of Piglet for Disney. His other Twilight Zone part, as a bureaucratic angel (without spectacles), was in third season's penultimate episode, "Cavender Is Coming", a failed sitcom pilot replete with a laugh track.
- A unique character, Burt Mustin (1884–1977) was a retired car salesman who began acting in films and television in 1951, at the age of 67, and continued as a performer for the next twenty-six years, dying eleven days short of his ninety-third birthday. Here, he's an elderly denizen of skid row, whom Corwin addresses as "Burt" and presents with a pipe and, as a follow-up, with a smoking jacket, while, in his other Twilight Zone appearance, he's again typecast, playing one of the residents of the old-age home in third season's "Kick the Can".
- Child actress Andrea Margolis (born 1952) performed in over a dozen TV episodes during a six-year period, starting unbilled with this, her first role, playing the little girl in the opening scene, pleading for "a carriage and a dolly". Her second Twilight Zone appearance, with billing in the closing credits, came in the episode broadcast the following week, "Dust", in which she portrays another pleading child, Estrelita, a little Mexican girl, assisting her peasant father in begging for coins to pay a cynical con man for a small pouch of "magic dust" which he assured them would "miraculously" save the life of her condemned brother. Starting in 1962, she began to be credited as Andrea Darvi, using it as a stage name until 1971 when, five years after giving her penultimate acting performances in 1966 (an installment of I Spy and an unbilled role in Alfred Hitchcock's Torn Curtain), she received billing for a brief scene in the opening minutes of the low budget psychological thriller, The Night God Screamed. She subsequently became a journalist as well as a social worker and discusses "The Night of the Meek" at length in her partially autobiographical book about child actors, Pretty Babies, published in 1983 by McGraw-Hill.
- Attractive blonde Nan Peterson (born 1937) played mainly decorative parts in some twenty TV shows and four films during a five-year period between 1959 and 1964. She was the title character in 1959's poverty-budgeted independent The Louisiana Hussy and is remembered by specialized genre fans as one of the two female leads in another small-scale 1959 production The Hideous Sun Demon as well as the 1963 obscurity Shotgun Wedding, with a screenplay co-written by Edward D. Wood, Jr. Her four Twilight Zone appearances, in which she barely utters a few words, are spread between the beginning and the end of her brief career. Here, she is little more than an extra, sitting at the bar in Jack's Place, next to a drunk whose sleeping face is in foreground, turned towards the camera. Her debut performance, as the mother pushing a baby carriage in the park, who exchanges a couple of pleasantries with the central character, Gig Young, can be seen in first season's memorable fifth episode "Walking Distance", and her second, the most prominent of the four, in the episode videotaped immediately before this one, "The Whole Truth", where she and Jack Ging play a newly married couple considering the purchase of one of the substandard vehicles in the lot of ultra glib used-car dealer Jack Carson. Her final acting role, a bit part as a secretary, was three years later, in February 1964's fifth season installment, "From Agnes—With Love", in which, as here, she is unbilled.
- DeVoe, Bill. (2008). Trivia from The Twilight Zone. Albany, GA: Bear Manor Media. ISBN 978-1-59393-136-0
- Grams, Martin. (2008). The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic. Churchville, MD: OTR Publishing. ISBN 978-0-9703310-9-0
- "The Night of the Meek" at the Internet Movie Database
- The Night of the Meek at the TV.com episode page