There have been many authors, films, television shows, and true-life accounts that have had an influence on me as a writer of fiction; the original “Twilight Zone” series is one of them. The series aired on television, long before I was born, 1959 through 1964. As a child, I began watching the re-runs, at first just in the hopes of seeing something scary; but as I moved into my teens and early twenties, I began to appreciate the unexpected twists that always end the episodes. Whenever I sit down to write any piece of fiction, I always try to give my readers a jolt or surprise ending that hopefully they won’t see coming, and it is thanks to “The Twilight Zone,” created by “Golden Globe” and “Primetime Emmy winner,” Rod Serling, that I attempt to do that.
On December 23, 1960, the CBS (Columbia Broadcasting System) television network aired a Christmas episode of “The Twilight Zone,” titled “The Night of the Meek.” Although the season two episode was only twenty-five minutes in length, the message it imparts is timeless. The show opens with Mr. Dundee, a department store manager, played by prolific character actor John Fiedler, (12 Angry Men) apologetically assuring parents that Santa Claus will be back soon. Meanwhile, Santa portrayed by “Academy Award” and “Golden Globe” winner Art Carney, (Harry and Tonto) is at the neighborhood bar, having already consumed six drinks, and asking for a seventh. Other than wanting the money he owes for the tab, the bartender (Val Avery) has little use for Carney’s character, Henry Corwin. After two children knock on the windows of the bar to wave to Corwin’s drunken Santa, he asks: “Why isn’t there a real Santa Claus for kids like that?” The question not only foreshadows what is to come in the episode, but also offers the viewer a glimpse into Corwin’s true character. The bartender, however, merely retorts with a dismissive comment about how he’s not a philosopher.
Out of money, Corwin heads back to work but, due to his wobbly legs, falls down on the snow covered sidewalk. The same two children that waved to him run over to him and, believing he is the real Santa, begin asking him for things. Chief among their wishes are a job for their unemployed father, and a turkey for Christmas dinner. The children’s requests bring Corwin to tears, not out of drunken sentimentality, but out of a true desire to help them. Afterward, Rod Serling, who not only created the series, but narrated the beginning and end of the shows for the audience, provides information that sets the remainder of the story in motion:
“This is Mr. Henry Corwin, normally unemployed, who once a year takes the lead role in the uniquely popular American institution, that of a 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.”
Upon returning to work, Corwin’s Santa barely gets through listening to one child’s wish, before he falls on his face. Mr. Dundee seems to take great joy in firing Corwin. Rather than apologize for his drunken behavior and beg for his job back, considering there are only a few more hours left before the store closes, Corwin, speaks to the sad nature of the world he lives in. He drinks because he wants to escape from reality – not the reality of his own life, but from the reality that he is unable to help the children and people who have nothing; the people that live in the tenement houses that comprise his neighborhood. He admits that he uses alcohol as a way to trick his brain into believing that he truly is Santa Claus, that the rundown neighborhood is the North Pole, and that the children who live there are elves. Dundee, while no longer appearing gleeful, doesn’t take pity on Corwin, who leaves the store.
Stumbling through a deserted back alleyway, he hears bells ringing from the sky above; the type of sound associated with Santa’s sleigh. Believing it to be a part of his drunken disillusion, he keeps walking down the alley, but he hears the bells again. Immediately afterward, a huge sack falls to the ground. Corwin picks it up, but the sack isn’t just any old cloth bag merely to collect garbage, no, it’s a special bag that contains a magical property . . . the ability to give a person anything they ask for. I won’t give a blow by blow description of the remainder of the episode; suffice it to say, Corwin is able to help both young and old alike by spreading Christmas joy. A cane for an old man, toys for the children, even a gift for Mr. Dundee, who just hours earlier had fired him.
‘What does Corwin want?’ you might be asking yourself, if you haven’t seen this particular episode of the “The Twilight Zone,” or if you have never watched the show at all. Does he want money, a new car, the deed to a mansion to live in, or drinks on the house at any bar he walks into so he never has to pay for another drink until the day he dies? The answer is – none of the above. What Henry Corwin wants is to be able to make the same magic happen each and every year at Christmas time. His actions are those of someone who is selfless, putting the needs, sometimes desperate needs, as the case of the children with the unemployed father and no food to eat, before his own. Does the episode encapsulate the true and only meaning of Christmas? Who am I to say. I certainly think that it does speak to one of the meanings, but I also believe it is for each and every individual to determine, on their own, what Christmas, or whatever holiday, for that matter, that they celebrate, truly means in their own hearts and minds.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of you who read robbinsrealm.wordpress.com. I greatly appreciate every like and comment, especially knowing that you have taken the time out of your busy day to read something I have written, particularly considering that there are literally thousands of blogs to choose from. May you and your loved ones have a very Merry Christmas, (if you celebrate the holiday) and to one and all, a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year. I will see you in 2014.