A Piano in the House
|"A Piano in the House"|
|The Twilight Zone episode|
|Episode no.||Season 3
|Directed by||David Greene|
|Written by||Earl Hamner, Jr.|
|Featured music||Stock plus the player piano|
|Original air date||February 16, 1962|
Drama critic Fitzgerald Fortune, a caustic, cruel man, goes to Throckmorton's curio shop to buy his younger wife Esther a player piano as a twenty-sixth birthday present, even though he knows she has no talent to play it. The owner demonstrates the piano by placing a roll of music inside, but as it plays, he reveals the gentle, sentimental aspect of his personality, even reducing the price from $250 to $200. When the music stops, the owner returns to normal, confused; an intrigued Fortune purchases the piano and has it delivered to his home.
While showing Esther (who is offended by Fitzgerald's insulting her lack of musical skill) her present, Fortune places a cheerful tune in the piano. As it plays, Fitzgerald's solemn and mistreated butler Marvin begins to laugh wildly. He chatters about how he enjoys working for Fortune, primarily because he finds his ego and temper amusing; again, this change ends when the tune does, and Marvin is badly embarrassed. Fortune deduces that each roll of music has the ability to make people reveal their innermost thoughts and secrets when played in their presence. Delighted by the idea, Fortune tests it further by placing another roll in the piano. This melody, Khachaturian's "Sabre Dance" influences Esther, who furiously tells him that she hates him for his cruelty to both herself and others. She regrets her six-year marriage to Fortune and attributes the mistake to her being so young. More intrigued than offended by the revelations presented, Fitzgerald eagerly decides to try the piano on his guests, excited to exploit their secrets for his own amusement.
The first guest to arrive is the jaded playwright Gregory Walker; his career has suffered because of Fortune's harsh reviews of his work. Fortune uses a song to influence Gregory, who admits to being deeply in love with Esther. He berates Fitzgerald for mistreating her, and also confesses that they had a tryst while she was on vacation away from him. While Esther is relieved that the secret is out, she becomes further upset when Fortune casually mentions that he does not care; he was well aware that she's cheated on him, just not with whom.
Before any further discussion can be held, Marge Moore, a heavyset, jovial woman, arrives, along with the rest of the party guests. During the event, Marge is the life of the party, enjoying the food and company while making jokes about her size. Fortune decides that Marge is the perfect target for his cruel game, and uses Debussy's "Clair de lune" to bring out her secrets. Marge goes into a trance, identifying herself as a little girl named Tina who loves to dance ballet. Fortune encourages her to demonstrate, and she does so, prompting laughter from all of the party guests except Esther and Gregory. With further prompting, Marge speaks dreamily about her desire to be a tiny, graceful snowflake, melting in the hand of a man who loves her. The guests realize the sincerity behind her words and stop laughing, while Fortune continues to roar with glee. The song ends, and a humiliated Marge takes her seat.
Fitzgerald announces his plan to reveal "the devil himself" with a new song, and instructs Esther to insert a roll he has selected while he makes himself a drink. Esther secretly switches this song with a new one--Brahms's "Lullaby"—and begins to play it. The nervous guests look around the room, wondering who will be affected. It is Marge, though, who notices that Fortune himself seems distressed and upset. She begins to question him, making Fitzgerald speak in a petulant, frightened voice. Marge realizes that Fortune's devil is "just a scared little kid"; Gregory joins her by asking Fortune to share his secrets. Fortune then begins to admit that deep down, he is nothing more than a disturbed, spoiled child who is terrified of everything and everyone around him. He confesses to deliberately hurting Marge because he is jealous of her eagerness for life and friendliness, and further says that he gave Gregory undeservedly bad reviews because the playwright is far more talented than Fortune himself will ever be. Marge, taking pity on Fortune, encourages the guests to leave without comment as Fitzgerald makes his final confession: he hurt Esther more than anyone else because he is unable to understand her love, and was only able to return it with cruelty and pettiness. Gregory encourages Esther to leave with him, and she does so, leaving Fortune alone.
Fitzgerald, terrified and sad, screams, "If you leave me, I'm going to be very naughty!" He throws a massive temper tantrum, destroying the furniture and decorations in the room. He ends his tirade by ripping the roll from the piano and tearing it to pieces. As the disgraced critic lies in the middle of the room, Marvin enters, and Fortune demands that the butler not laugh at him. A somber Marvin tells Fitzgerald that his pleasure in the critic's cruelty has gone now that he knows the truth: "I'm not laughing, Mr Fortune. You're not funny anymore."
- Barry Morse as Fitzgerald "Jerry" Fortune
- Joan Hackett as Esther Fortune
- Muriel Landers as Marge Moore
- Cyril Delevanti as Marvin (the Butler)
- Don Durant as Gregory "Greg" Walker
- Phil Coolidge as Throckmorton
|“||Mr. Fitzgerald Fortune, theater critic and cynic at large, on his way to a birthday party. If he knew what is in store for him he probably wouldn't go, because before this evening is over that cranky old piano is going to play "Those Piano Roll Blues" with some effects that could happen only in the Twilight Zone.||”|
|“||Mr. Fitzgerald Fortune, a man who went searching for concealed persons and found himself in the Twilight Zone.||”|
- Zicree, Marc Scott. The Twilight Zone Companion, Bantam Books, 1982. ISBN 0-553-01416-1
- 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