The Twilight Zone: Season 1, Episode Two “One For The Angels”

Original Air Date: October 9, 1959
Writer: Rod Serling
Director: Robert Parrish

“I just never will understand you people. You get this idiotic notion that life goes on forever, and of course it doesn’t. Everyone has to go sometime.”


Rating: 4 out of 5.

Street scene: Summer. The present. Man on a sidewalk named Lew Bookman, age sixtyish. Occupation: pitchman. Lew Bookman, a fixture of the summer, a rather minor component to a hot July, a nondescript, commonplace little man whose life is a treadmill built out of sidewalks. And in just a moment, Lew Bookman will have to concern himself with survival – because as of three o’clock this hot July afternoon, he’ll be stalked by Mr. Death.
-Rod Serling

This second episode of The Twilight Zone concerns a Faustian bargain between a sixty-nine-year-old “pitchman” (or a street vendor) and a suit-wearing bureaucrat whom we later come to recognize as the embodiment of Goethe’s Mephistopheles (played by Murray Hamilton who also played the town Mayor in Jaws and Mr. Robinson in The Graduate). Our bumbling but lovable pitchman is named Mr. Lew Bookman (played by legendary Hollywood actor Ed Wynn). He is visited by Death in the form of a tax collector who informs Bookman that now is his time to pass on (or time for “departure”). But Bookman retorts that he still has unfinished business to attend to –he wants to find “success” by delivering the perfect pitch, “one for the angels.” Mr. Bookman challenges the old adage that ‘death waits for no man’ –in fact, he persuades Death to wait for him! There are three grounds on which a man might appeal his case for departure with Death –1) hardship cases such as having a wife or family who might suffer in his absence (Mr. Bookman is single), 2) for men who are on the verge of grand important discoveries, such as scientists or statesmen (Mr. Bookman is not qualified in this respect) 3) unfinished business related to a man’s lifelong passion. In this case, Mr. Bookman has always longed to make a stellar pitch, “one for the angels,” and he is granted an extension by Death.

However, once the deal is struck Mr. Bookman immediately avoid making the pitch so as to avoid Death. Thus, as punishment, Death causes a beloved little girl in the neighborhood named Maggie to die by falling into the street and she is tragically struck by an oncoming car. Before Death can depart with the little girl at midnight, Mr. Bookman pulls out his table and delivers an incredible pitch using various products to distract Death –and the ploy works. Death’s attention is pulled away by Mr. Bookman’s pitch –undoubtedly “one for the angels”– and Death accidentally misses his midnight appointment. Now, instead of taking the little girl, Death claims the soul of Mr. Bookman (per their agreement). Throughout the episode both men outmaneuver each other in a game of chess perhaps akin to Ingmar Bergman’s chess match in The Seventh Seal, but in the end, it is Mr. Bookman’s time for departure. He has learned to accept his fate.

Lewis J. Bookman, age sixtyish. Occupation: pitchman. Formerly a fixture of the summer, formerly a rather minor component to a hot July. But, throughout his life, a man beloved by the children, and therefore, a most important man. Couldn’t happen, you say? Probably not in most places – but it did happen in the Twilight Zone.
-Rod Serling

My Thoughts on “One For The Angels”

The irony of “One For The Angels” is that we (the audience) find sympathy with both Mr. Bookman and Death. Together they have a playful relationship. Mr. Bookman thinks he can outsmart Death so we start to doubt his character since he is a cheater, but Bookman is fundamentally a noble fellow because he cares more for the life of a friendly little girl than for himself. We also learn that Death is not all-powerful, he can be outsmarted by a mere human. Death is forced, by means of a contractual loophole, to oblige Mr. Bookman’s wish for the perfect pitch. He cannot help but listen to Mr. Bookman, a man whose virtue lies in his care for children, while, in contrast, Death operates like a cold government bureaucrat, fallible and uncaring. In the end, both men depart together as old friends when Bookman saves the girl’s life, Death and the salesman (with Mr. Bookman en route “up there” to Heaven).

The tone of this episode is light and comical though it carries a variety of dark allusions to classical mythology. The idea of ‘cheating death’ is replete throughout the works of ancient Greek and Germanic literature, and this is but the first in a long series of Faustian Bargain episodes in The Twilight Zone.

The Twilight Zone Trivia:

  • Wholly different in tone from the show’s pilot, Rod Serling based “One For The Angels” on an old teleplay of the same name he once wrote for the television mystery show Danger in 1954. He specifically wrote the script for actor Ed Wynn with whom Serling had previously worked in Serling’s Emmy award-winning episode of Playhouse 90 entitled “Requiem for a Heavyweight” (1956).
  • The toy “Robby The Robot” as featured in this episode is actually the “Nomura” 1957 Robby Mechanized Robot (aka the Kitahara #1). Someone in the prop department applied a sticker of a blood shot human eye onto its dome to give the toy a distinctive look. The toy was featured in a number of other Twilight Zone episodes, and also most famously in the Lost In Space series.
  • “Ed Wynn was a sweetheart,” recalls Dana Dillaway (who played the little girl named Maggie). “He gave me a box of European chocolates after the filming was finished. I remember saying his character’s name, ‘Lou’, about a million times during rehearsals. The scene where I was hit by the car was kind of morbid… I remember they kept spritzing the actor who was driving the car with a water spray bottle, who came around to see if I was okay while laying in the street… there is a publicity shot of me laying there and it’s kind of morbid!”
  • In consideration of Ed Wynn’s advanced age, the night scenes were actually filmed during the day, with tarpaulins pulled over the set to give the illusion of night.
  • This episode takes place from July 19 to July 20, 1960.
  • In Season 3 another “Mr. Death” character appears in the series portrayed by Robert Redford.
  • In this episode Death claims that Mr. Bookman’s father came from Detroit and his mother came from Syracuse, the two places of origin for Rod Serling’s own parents.
  • Rod Serling’s monologue claims Mr. Bookman is “sixtyish” even though in the episode Mr. Bookman tells Death he is age sixty-nine, soon to turn seventy.

Click here to return to my survey of The Twilight Zone series.

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