The Twilight Zone: Season 3, Episode Twenty-Two “A Piano in the House”

Original Air Date: February 16, 1962
Writer: Earl Hamner, Jr.
Director: David Greene

“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.”
-Rod Serling

A snobby, pretentious theater critic named Fitzgerald Fortune (Barry Morse) visits an antique store called “Treasures Unlimited” where he purchases a player piano from a grumpy, flippant shopkeep. When the piano starts playing “I’m in the Mood for Love” the shopkeep lightens up and exchanges pleasant conversation with Mr. Fortune.

The piano arrives home as a birthday gift for Mr. Fortune’s young wife Esther (Joan Hackett) who is turning 26 years old. At home, Mr. Fortune begins chiding his butler Marvin (Cyril Delevanti) and making fun of his “lugubrious” expression. Mr. Fortune sets the piano to play a song and suddenly Marvin begins uncontrollably smiling along with the song “Smiles” from the broadway musical The Passing Show of 1918. Fortune then changes the song to Khachaturian’s “Sabre Dance” for his wife who confesses her marital frustrations to her husband. She says regrets marrying him but when the song stops it is as if she has suddenly emerged from a dream. It is clear that the piano possesses some supernatural power over its listeners.

Moments later the guests begin to arrive for the party and Fortune plans to maliciously weaponize the piano against his friends. The playwright Gregory Walker (Don Durant) arrives boasting of his bachelorhood but when Mr. Fortune puts “These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You)” on the player piano, Walker confesses to an affair with Fortune’s wife while she was on vacation in Mexico and that he has now fallen in love with her –she is hopeful for the smallest amount of affection. The party takes a further turn for the worse when Fortune plays Debussy’s “Clair de lune” and a heavyset woman named Marge Moore (Muriel Landers) begins imagining herself a beautiful, trim young ballet dancer with a man who loves her. The guests are no longer amused but Fortune cackles with glee. Next, Fortune asks Esther to put a song called “Melody in F” from Faust on the piano so they may discover who is the true devil among them but instead she chooses Brahms’s Lullaby which makes Fortune assume the persona of a petulant child who is fearful and spiteful of his friends they all slowly leave the room, Esther with Gregory. In the end, Fortune throws a tantrum and he orders his butler Marvin not to laugh at him, but Marvin simply replies, “I’m not laughing, Mr. Fortune. You’re not funny anymore.”

“Mr. Fitzgerald Fortune, a man who went searching for concealed persons and found himself in The Twilight Zone.”
-Rod Serling

This is a most strikingly uncomfortable episode in the series, but it is brilliant nonetheless. It is a dark psychological examination of the insecurities plaguing ordinary people. The player piano unveils the dark underbelly covered over by the thin veneer of polite society. Amusingly, in this episode Writer Earl Hamner, Jr. portrays a critic as the most vicious and childish of all people.

The Twilight Zone Trivia:

  • The player piano in this episode plays the following songs in this episode: “I’m In the Mood for Love” (music by Jimmy McHugh); “Smiles” (music by Lee Roberts); “Sabre Dance” (music by Aram Khachaturian); “These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You)” (music by Jack Strachey); “Clair de Lune” (music by Claude Debussy); “Lullaby and Goodnight” (music by Johannes Brahms).
  • Earl Hamner Jr. wrote the scripts for this episode and a prior episode “The Hunt” at the same time. He first met Rod Serling through their mutual experience in radio together, and when he moved to Los Angeles he began sending Serling various script ideas.
  • Hamner originally submitted this story under the title “Won’t You Play a Simple Melody?”
  • Many of the people involved in this episode also worked on the Hitchcock Hour and Hitchcock Presents as well as various other Twilight Zone episodes.
  • The obscure face on the piano is of a New Zealand Maori tiki.
  • The piano used in the episode is an Ampico Reproducing Piano produced in Rochester, NY.

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