Friday, December 11, 2009

12 Days of Christmas: Art Carney Plays Santa in Rod Serling's "The Night of the Meek"

This is Mr. Henry Corwin, normally unemployed, who once a year takes the lead role in the uniquely popular American institution, that of the department-store Santa Claus in a road-company version of 'The Night Before Christmas'. But in just a moment Mr. Henry Corwin, ersatz Santa Claus, will enter a strange kind of North Pole which is one part the wondrous spirit of Christmas and one part the magic that can only be found... in the Twilight Zone.

Rod Serling’s introduction of one of his most beloved Twilight Zone episodes sets the stage for a touching Christmas tale starring Art Carney as Henry.

The opening scene finds a department store Santa missing—much to the dismay of waiting children and their parents. Alas, it turns out that Henry, still dressed as Santa, is downing drinks at a depressing bar. On his return to the store, the manager berates Henry, calling him “a wino who’d be more at home with Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.” When a mother also realizes that Henry is drunk, she chides him: “You ought to be ashamed.”

“I am ashamed,” admits Henry, who realizes he is “an aging, purposeless relic.”

But Henry feels no sorrow for himself. Rather, he is saddened that he cannot bring joy to the “hopeless and dreamless” who live in poverty in the tenements (the “meek” of the title). Henry feels that Christmas should come with patience, charity, compassion, and love.

After being fired from his Santa job and booted out of the bar, Henry wanders the city’s snowy streets…then hears the sound of jingle bells in an alley. When he investigates, a cat jumps out of the shadows, and a large bag filled with gifts lands on the ground. Henry picks it up and subsequently makes this Christmas Eve an unforgettable experience for “the meek” and for himself.

In The Twilight Zone Companion, producer Buck Houghton says that Serling wrote this episode “because he wanted to see Art Carney as Santa.” In doing so, Serling provided Carney with one of his most memotable roles. Carney brings out the hopelessness of Henry as a drunk and then his joy as a gift-giving Santa. There are also a couple of quietly humorous scenes in which Carney gets to display his wonderful comedic talent.

"The Night of the Meek" ranks with Serling’s best Twilight Zone episodes. It could easily have been overly sentimental and “too cute.” But Serling, Carney, and director Jack Smight find just the right tone. The opening scenes border on bleak and the later ones contain just the right amount of whimsical magic. The ending isn’t a surprise, but that doesn’t diminish its effect.

Serling’s closing narration is one of my favorites (the last sentence was edited out of repeats of this episode): A word to the wise to all the children of the twentieth century, whether their concern be pediatrics or geriatrics, whether they crawl on hands and knees and wear diapers or walk with a cane and comb their beards. There's a wondrous magic to Christmas and there's a special power reserved for little people. In short, there's nothing mightier than the meek. And a Merry Christmas, to one and all.

If you’ve never seen "The Night of the Meek," click here to view the full episode online for free at


  1. This is truly a memorable episode of "The Twilight Zone." As a Bible study teacher, I learned an excellent definition for "meek": bridled strength. This fits in nicely with Serling's words that "there's nothing mightier than the meek." Wonderful review, Rick!

  2. Rick, Wonderful review.. i will watch the episode and be back with a comment :)

  3. Thanks for a splendid review, Rick. I need to add some TWILIGHT ZONE episodes to my Netflix queue!

  4. Twilight Zone is a passion of mine, Rick, and this is one of my very favorites. I remember it so well seeing it as a child and crying at the end. You have written a lovely tribute. And thanks for the episode!

  5. Thanks for unknowingly reminding me to watch it. And what a great review. I enjoy this series, and especially this episode.