The Twilight Zone: Season 3, Episode Thirty-Six “Cavender Is Coming”

Original Air Date: May 25, 1962
Writer: Rod Serling
Director: Christian Nyby

“Submitted for your approval…”

A much despised episode among fans, “Cavender Is Coming” was specifically written by Rod Serling with Carol Burnett in mind. Interestingly enough, she worked as an usherette in a movie theater at Hollywood’s Warner Bros Theater. However she was fired by the eccentric manager. In later life, after being awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, she requested that her star be placed directly in front of her old theater.

“Submitted for your approval, the case of one Miss Agnes Grep, put on Earth with two left feet, an overabundance of thumbs and a propensity for falling down manholes. In a moment she will be up to her jaw in miracles, wrought by apprentice angel Harmon Cavender, intent on winning his wings. And, though it’s a fact that both of them should have stayed in bed, they will tempt all the fates by moving into the cold, gray dawn of the Twilight Zone.”
-Rod Serling

Agnes Grep (legendary comedian Carol Burnett) is a clumsy oddball who works as an usherette at a movie theater, but following an accident she is promptly fired one day after falling through a mirror into her boss’s office (the thematic use of mirrors often occurs at key plot points in Rod Serling’s writing). At any rate, it is clear that Agnes needs help.

Suddenly, we are transported to an ethereal scene of angels in heaven as they discuss Agnes and her foibles on earth below. One angel named Harmon Cavender (Jesse White) is selected to be Agnes’s guardian angel, however he is also somewhat of a failure, so he is offered an opportunity. If he can successfully help Agnes in 24 hours, Cavender will be given the chance to grow his own wings.

Cavender travels down to earth and awkwardly reveals himself to Agnes. Because she is a poor theater usherette, he decides she needs a change of scenery. Even though she loves her humble apartment, Cavender transforms her into wealthy woman of high society. However, Agnes is unhappy so she tries to sneak back to her old apartment, only to find that her landlady no longer recognizes her. With time running out, Cavender gives up and decides he will never receive his wings. He returns Agnes to her normal life. However, when Cavender’s angelic boss Polk (Howard Smith, a radio performer alongside Orson Welles in the famous “War of the Worlds” broadcast) sees how happy he has made Agnes and so Cavender is rewarded with his wings after all. Cavender is then given a new job –to help as many people on earth as possible.

“A word to the wise now to any and all who might suddenly feel the presence of a cigar-smoking helpmate who takes bankbooks out of thin air. If you’re suddenly aware of any such celestial aids, it means that you’re under the beneficent care of one Harmon Cavender, guardian angel. And this message from the Twilight Zone: Lotsa luck!”
-Rod Serling

With the third season waning, Rod Serling was growing somewhat fatigued with the show. Facing demands from sponsors and studio censors alike, as well as endless accusations of plagiarism from writers within the science fiction community, Rod Serling had a lot resting on his shoulders. Sadly “Cavender Is Coming” was yet another episode charged with plagiarism, this time by a low level film industry worker named Ray Williford who claimed to have given Serling the idea for the episode while working on the 1958 film Saddle the Wind, a film which Serling had scripted. However, Serling denied knowing or ever having met Williford. He only ever visited the set of Saddle the Wind for very brief periods of time. Soon it became clear that the charge was just another pathetic attempt to cash-in on Serling’s success. Sadly, anthology shows like The Twilight Zone were somewhat vulnerable to claims of copyright infringement as a result of the need for new stories each week. These were the kinds of hoops Serling was unfortunately forced to jump through at the time.

The Twilight Zone Trivia:

  • This episode was once voted as the most hated in the series.
  • This was the only episode in the whole series to ever feature a laugh track. The original laugh track in this episode has been removed in syndication, as well as in DVD packages and on streaming services. The original intent was for Cavender to be given his own spin-off show.
  • The whimsical music for this episode was Horst Jankowski’s “A Walk in the Black Forest.”
  • Rod Serling wrote this episode specifically for Carol Burnett who once worked at the Hollywood’s Warner Bros Theater before being fired by an eccentric manager. Serling met Carol Burnett during filming of the television variety series The Garry Moore Show. Serling would occasionally appear on the show in comic fashion.
  • This is actually the first time in the series Rod Serling uses the famous phrase “Submitted for your approval…”
  • “Cavender Is Coming” bears strong resemblance to the first season episode “Mr. Bevis” –both are about guardian angels helping hopeless humans. It also shares common themes with the season two episode “The Whole Truth.” All three episodes are often considered among the worst in the series.
  • According to Marc Scott Zicree in The Twilight Zone Companion, Rod Serling had a famous arm wrestling match with Carol Burnett on the set of this episode.

4 responses to “The Twilight Zone: Season 3, Episode Thirty-Six “Cavender Is Coming””

  1. A famous arm wrestling match between Rod Serling and Carol Burnett!? It’s amazing what we can all still learn these days about The Twilight Zone.

    Liked by 2 people

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