Original Air Date: December 23, 1960
Writer: Rod Serling
Director: Jack Smight
“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.”
A Santa Clause impersonator named Henry Corwin (played by Art Carney best known for his role in The Honeymooners) shows up drunk to his department store gig on Christmas Eve. His manager, Mr. Dundee (played by John Fiedler who appeared in many classic Hollywood movies like 12 Angry Men and The Odd Couple among others), promptly informs him that he is fired. He apologizes and claims the reason he drinks is to cope with all the sorrow and poverty in the world. Now without a job, he wanders out into the snow and finds a large bag filled with gifts. He stumbles down the street handing out toys in the bag to children.
Corwin soon realizes that the bag is magic -it offers people exactly what they desire. He gets into a brief scuffle with a police officer named Officer Flaherty (played by Robert P. Lieb) that nearly lands him in jail with help from Mr. Dundee, but Corwin gives Officer Flaherty a bottle of vintage cherry brandy which gets him off the hook. Corwin returns to the street to give out as many gifts as possible before midnight when the bag’s powers will disappear. As the clock strikes midnight he hands out his final gift and turns a corner to find a sleigh with reindeer and an elf waiting for him. He hops in and ventures off. Meanwhile Officer Flaherty and Dundee stumble drunkenly out of the police precinct to watch Corwin disappear into the night.
“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. And a Merry Christmas to each and all.”
While there is no such thing as a bad episode of The Twilight Zone, I agree with the critical consensus that “Night of the Meek” is among the worst in the series.
The Twilight Zone Trivia:
- Henry Corwin is named after one of Rod Serling’s idols, Norman Corwin, one of the early giants of radio and television writing.
- 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.
- This episode was one of six in Season 2 recorded on videotape as a cost-cutting measure. It was later deemed to be an unsuccessful experiment.
- Although there are several other episodes that take place around the holiday season “The Night of the Meek” would be the only episode that directly explored the holiday.
- According to producer Buck Houghton, Serling wrote this entire episode specifically with Art Carney in mind.