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.”
One For The Angels originally aired a week after the pilot episode, on October 9. 1959. It was directed by Robert Parrish.
“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 is about a Faustian bargain between a “pitchman” (or a street vendor) and a 1950s suit-wearing embodiment of Goethe’s Mephistopheles (played by Murray Hamilton who also played the Mayor in Jaws and Mr. Robinson in The Graduate). The bumbling but lovable pitchman named Mr. Lew Bookman (played by an aging Ed Wynn) is visited by Death in the form of a tax collector who claims it is Bookman’s time to pass on. But Bookman retorts that he has unfinished business to attend to -he wants to find “success” by delivering a perfect pitch, or “one for the angels.” Mr. Bookman denies the old adage that ‘death waits for no man.’
However, once the deal is made Mr. Bookman immediately backs out of the agreement, until Death causes a little girl in the neighborhood to die by falling into the street and getting hit by an oncoming car. Before Death can take away the little girl at midnight, Mr. Bookman pulls out his table and delivers an incredible pitch using his various products, and the ploy works. Death is distracted by Bookman’s pitch “for the angels” and misses his midnight appointment. Instead of taking the little girl he takes away Mr. Bookman (per their agreement). They both outmaneuver the other in a game reminiscent of Ingmar Bergman’s chess match in Seventh Seal.
“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
The irony of “One For The Angels” is that we (the audience) find sympathy with both Mr. Bookman and Death. They have a playful relationship. Mr. Bookman thinks he can outsmart Death, but he is a noble character because he cares for the life of a friendly little girl more than himself. And also we curiously learn that Death is not all-powerful -he can be outsmarted by a mere human. Death is forced, by means of a loophole, to oblige Mr. Bookman’s wish for the perfect pitch. He cannot help but listen to Mr. Bookman, a man whose virtue is in caring for the children; while Death operates like a governmental bureaucrat with certain fallible human qualities. In the end, they both walk away together as old friends, Death and the salesman (with Mr. Bookman, of course, en route to Heaven).
The tone of this episode is light and comical though it carries numerous allusions to classical mythology. The idea of ‘cheating death’ is rife within the works of ancient Greek and Germanic literature.
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 wrote for the television show Danger in 1954. He specifically wrote the script for the actor Ed Wynn.
- The toy Robby The Robot featured in this episode is 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 it a distinctive, different look. It was featured in a number of other Twilight Zone episodes, and 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-time scenes were 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.