Original Air Date: March 21, 1963
Writer: John Furia Jr.
Director: Robert Gist
“Meet Mr. George P. Hanley, a man life treats without deference, honor, or success. Waiters serve his soup cold. Elevator operators close doors in his face. Mothers never bother to wait up for the daughters he dates. George is a creature of humble habits and tame dreams. He’s an ordinary man, Mr. Hanley, but at this moment the accidental possessor of a very special gift, the kind of gift that measures men against their dreams, the kind of gift most of us might ask for first and possibly regret to the last if we, like Mr. George P. Hanley, were about to plunge head-first and unaware into our own personal Twilight Zone.”
George P. Hanley (Howard Morris) is a meek and shy bookkeeper who indecisively happens upon an antique store. He hopes to buy a gift for an attractive secretary at his office named Ann (Patricia Barry) because it is her birthday. The odd, pushy store salesman easily persuades George to buy an old oil lamp as a gift for $20, however by the time George arrives at work another employee named Roger (Mark Miller) has beaten him to the punch and has gifted Ann a racy lingerie nightgown. Roger is then rewarded with a kiss from Ann, leaving George feeling frustrated and dejected. He goes home and talks to his dog Attila while cleaning the lamp, but miraculously a crass-talking genie (Jack Albertson) pops out of the lamp offering Hanley one wish (instead of the typical three).
George decides to take his time in considering his one wish. He spends the next day dreaming about what is to come. First, he imagines wishing for true love with Ann as if she were a movie star, but the dream falls apart when he realizes she will never truly be separated from her career nor from a revolving door of adoring men. Next, George imagines being a wealthy person. He assumes the persona of an upper-crust New York philanthropist but he ultimately finds the idea of affording anything and simply giving away piles of money to be dreary and listless. He awakens from this dream to find that his work-nemesis Roger has actually won a promotion a the office over George.
Later, George wanders home and while walking his dog he imagines himself to be powerful like the President of the United States. He busies himself planning for important meetings and offering clemency to unjustly imprisoned criminals, but when a UFO crisis suddenly hits the nation and with only seconds to act, George collapses in indecision.
George decides in the end to simply change himself rather than wait for a wish to perfect his mediocre existence. At the end, we see a homeless man in an alley pick up the lamp and rub it. A genie emerges, but this time it is George and his dog Attila offering three wishes. Mr. Hanley, formerly a somewhat pathetic and inconsequential man, has now found his purpose in life.
“Mr. George P. Hanley. Former vocation: jerk. Present vocation: genie. George P. Hanley, a most ordinary man whom life treated without deference, honor, or success, but a man wise enough to decide on a most extraordinary wish that makes him the contented, permanent master of his own altruistic Twilight Zone.”
While not a notable standout episode, I appreciated the subversion of expectations in this episode when instead of making three predictable wishes that ultimately backfire (a la Season 2’s “The Man In The Bottle”), George Hanley imagines three scenarios each of which fail and thus he makes a better decision with his one wish in the end. It is a clever little twist and there are some amusing moments in this episode but it carries some of the same flaws we saw in other less acclaimed Twilight Zone episodes featuring characters like James B.W. Bevis (“Mr. Bevis”), Luther Dingle (“Mr. Dingle, the Strong”), and Agnes Grep (“Cavender Is Coming”).
One other amusing and confusing aspect of this episode are the far-fetched conclusions George Hanley arrives at in each of his reveries. In the first, if he wished for true love why would Ann sill cheat on him? In the second, the idea that a university would turn away a wealthy philanthropist attempting to gift too much money is simply unbelievable. At any rate, the genie had clearly instructed George tht neither wishes for love nor money would work. And lastly, an imminent UFO invasion is just about the least likely crisis to face an elected leader but that certainly doesn’t change the fact that Mr. Hanley would no doubt be terribly suited for the Presidency. At least Howard Morris’s versatile acting as an awkward outcast, a millionaire, and the president is all top-notch stuff.
The Twilight Zone Trivia:
- Writer John Furia, Jr. first met Rod Serling while working for CBS during the days of Playhouse 90. He later crossed paths with Twilight Zone producer Herbert Hirschman who invited him to write a one-hour script for the show. As the series entered its fourth and fifth seasons, the producers Herbert Hirschman and William Froug increased the number of non-staple writers instead of the series originals like Richard Matheson or Charles Beaumont. The effect resulted in somewhat redundant episodes like “I Dream of Genie.” In the end Herb Hirschman acknowledged that this episode “…was a comedy that wasn’t as funny as it might have been.”
- Despite playing a character in her 20s, Patricia Berry was actually 40 when this episode was shot. She also appeared in the Season 1 episode “The Chaser,” as well as the remade “It’s a Good Life” segment of The Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983).
- Both Bob Hastings (who plays the boss in this episode) and Mark Miller later appeared together in the show I Dream of Jeannie.
- This was Jack Albertson’s second and final appearance on The Twilight Zone. Apparently Production Manager Ralph W. Nelson was unhappy with Albertson’s performance as an uncouth Brooklyn-esque version of a genie. He wrote a letter to Rod Serling expressing his desire to reshoot the entire sequence, however time and budget constraints ultimately prevailed and the episode stood as is. Marc Scott Zicree, author of The Twilight Zone Companion, also expressed the opinion that Albertson’s performance as the Genie was an unfortunate spot in the episode.
- Fans have often made note of the similarities between this episode and the cult British comedy film Bedazzled (1968).
- The title for this episode is in reference to the first line of a ballad entitled “Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair” (1854) written by Stephen Foster about his wife Jane.