How appropriate that we should watch this famous Christmas installment of The Twilight Zone now, during this season of mall Santas. “The Night of the Meek” was written by Rod Serling and stars Art Carney – heavens! another future Batvillain – as Henry Corwin, a bum who dresses as Santa, badly, for a department store every December.
How lousy a Santa is Corwin? A few years ago, I was doing some social media stuff for the Children’s Museum of Atlanta, where we’d hired a Santa for our members’ holiday bash. I asked him to wink for the camera for a sweet little picture and he couldn’t do it without opening his other eye and his mouth like some deranged alcoholic pirate bellowing about doubloons. We didn’t use the photos. Henry Corwin is about that bad. He looks dirty and drunk because he is dirty and drunk. It’s startling that the store allowed him in the building, never mind built their holiday expectations around him.
Our son was a little skeptical and I made sure to clarify that this is not Santa Claus, but a man named Corwin. But the line between the two begins to blur and he was incredibly pleased with what happens next. He loved it when Corwin’s grouchy manager, played by John Fielder, gets a hilariously specific gift from Santa’s bag, and the charming, inevitable, climax certainly thrilled him. Not a bad little Christmas episode, really.
Interestingly, the producers tried to save money this season by videotaping six of the 29 episodes instead of filming them. This is one of three that I plan for us to watch, and I found it completely fascinating. It’s a little cramped and hard to believe – whenever anybody tries recreating a busy street in a studio, it’s not going to completely work – but I was so impressed by how the director kept the world they were building fluid and moving. I would have loved to have been in the studio when they taped this.