S01E02 - One For The Angels
“Lew Bookman (Ed Wynn) is an unremarkable, sixtyish salesman who works the city streets. Life passes without incident, until one July afternoon when Mr. Death informs him that he is to die at midnight. Faced with the problem of finding a replacement for his elusive subject, Death arranges for little Maggie, a neighborhood child, to die in a traffic accident. Bookman, now determined to save the girl, has no choice but to confront Mr. Death and deliver the toughest sales pitch of his career”
The Twilight Zones’ second episode marks the series’ first foray into fantasy rather than pure speculative fiction, but I would imagine only the most unfeeling of sci-fi fans would complain. With this story of a good natured saleman trying to con his way into just a wee bit more time before death claims him, Serling proved he was capable of warming hearts just as quickly as he could chill spines. You know, thanks to his legendary status in the annals of sci-fi, it’s easy to forget Sterling was an Emmy Award winning writer of dramas before he created The Twlight Zone. Episodes like this one, however, are a quick reminder that one of the reasons for the success of the series was Serling’s ability to script recognizably real people who found themselves in fantastic situations.
On that front, Lew Bookman is probably one of the most endearing characters to ever stumble into The Twilight Zone, thanks in no small part to Ed Wynn’s charming performance. From his gentleness with children to his good-natured attempts to outwit Mr. Death to his ultimate act of self-sacrafice, he’s the portrait of a decent fellow. That’s why, when Mr. Death smiles and informs the old man that his final destination is "Up there, Mr. Bookman. You made it.", all we can think is, “Well, of course he did.”
As much as Serling’s ability to tug at the heartstrings, it’s probably also surprising to some just how often traditional Judaeo-Christian concepts such as “up there” permeated his writing on The Twilight Zone. But the fact is, Serling was a Jew born on Christmas Day who eventually drifted into Unitarianism. So, even though he developed some strong secular humanistic notions over the years, God was never completely absent from his mind or his pen. As Marc Scott Zicree explained in The Twilight Zone Companion, “Virtually all the better episodes had running through them a sense of cosmic justice, of people getting their just desserts, often with a full helping of irony. The fantastic element that was the Twilight Zone was there for a reason: if the main character was a rotter, it would give him his comeuppance; if he was a decent sort it would give him a second chance, a magical opportunity to set his life right ... A moral code was being applied.” And the show was all that much the better for it.
Twilight Tidbits: Genre fans will immediately spot the cameo by Robby The Robot as one of the toys Bookman sells to the kids.