Original Air Date: September 27, 1963
Writer: Rod Serling
Director: Joseph M. Newman
“Pip is dying. My kid is dying. In a place called South Vietnam. There isn’t even supposed to be a war going on there, but my son is dying.”
In a welcome return to form, Rod Serling offers a tearjerker in the season opener for the fifth and final season of The Twilight Zone. Jack Klugman stars as Max Phillips, an alcoholic bookie who learns that his only son has been mortally wounded in Vietnam.
“Submitted for your approval: one Max Phillips. A slightly-the-worse-for-wear maker of book, whose life has been as drab and undistinguished as a bundle of dirty clothes. And though it’s very late in his day, he has an errant wish that the rest of his life might be sent out to a laundry, to come back shiny and clean. This to be a gift of love to a son named Pip. Mr. Max Phillips, homo sapiens, who is soon to discover that man is not as wise as he thinks. Said lesson to be learned in the Twilight Zone.”
Feeling an overwhelming sense of guilt, Max reflects on how he could have been a better father to Pip. As his conscience gets the better of him, Max returns $300 to a losing gambler in his ring but it earns Max the ire of his boss Moran (John Launer), and it soon leads to a violent scuffle as a henchman shoots Max.
In pain, Max stumbles to a local amusement park after hours (filmed in Santa Monica, CA). Reminded of Pip’s childhood, Max begs God for more time with his son. Suddenly he sees the visage of young Pip, now reimagined as a child (Bill Mumy). The lights are turned on and the theme park amazingly comes to life for Pip and Max to enjoy one last evening making memories together. But as their time together draws to a close, Pip runs into a house of mirrors –an iconic scene with echoes of Orson Welles’s The Lady from Shanghai (1947). Max begs his young son not to go away but the boy vanishes leaving Max in a state of despondency begging God to save his son’s life and take his own instead. He crashes into a mirror a la Season 1’s “Where Is Everybody?” At that moment, Max dies in the middle of the amusement park as a wind blows garbage over his body, while Pip survives. This episode ends with a brief epilogue as Pip returns home and visits the old theme park where he is reminded of boyhood with his father.
“Very little comment here, save for this small aside: that the ties of flesh are deep and strong; that the capacity to love is a vital, rich, and all-consuming function of the human animal. And that you can find nobility and sacrifice and love wherever you may seek it out: down the block, in the heart or in the Twilight Zone.”
The Twilight Zone Trivia:
- This episode features appearances from familiar faces in the series –Bill Mumy and Jack Klugman. This was Klugman’s fourth and final appearance in the series after “Death Ship,” “A Game of Pool,” and “A Passage for Trumpet.” This was also the third and final appearance of Billy Mumy who also appeared in “It’s a Good Life” and “Long Distance Call.”
- “In Praise of Pip” is an early example of a television show portraying the growing war in Vietnam, only two other shows had previously mentioned Vietnam.
- The script for “In Praise of Pip” is essentially a reworked version of the main plot of “Next of Kin”, a one-hour script Rod Serling wrote for Kraft Television Theatre in 1953. The only change is that Max’s son is named Tommy in “Next Of Kin”, not Pip, and the amusement park is a new addition (and the war is in Korea, not Vietnam.) Rod Serling originally wanted the episode’s opening to take place in Laos, but CBS/deForest Research asked for the change to Vietnam since there was “officially” no military activity in East Asia at the time.
- This episode was filmed on location at the Pacific Ocean Park in Santa Monica, California.
- Director Joseph M. Newman was most famous for directing This Island Earth (1955), along with episodes of The Twilight Zone and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.
- In later years, Bill Mumy was known to have remarked at how terrifying some of the night-time house of mirrors shots were for a young child.
- Not mentioned above Connie Gilchrist plays Ms. Feenie, Max’s landlord.
- This was the first episode sponsored by American Tobacco (on alternate weeks) on behalf of Pall Mall cigarettes, who suggested that Serling and some of the guest stars and supporting players “light up” during the episodes. Unlike previous sponsor Liggett & Myers, American Tobacco did not have Serling plug their products at the end of the program.
- In contrast to the first season, in which Rod Serling wrote approximately 80% of the scripts, by the fifth season he completed 16 of the 35 episodes teleplays. By this time, creative exhaustion had taken its toll but he still managed to produce top-notch material. The second-most productive writer of the fifth season was Earl Hamner, Jr. who contributed five scripts.