“A Death in the Family”

On Sept. 22, 1971, NBC aired the second episode of Night Gallery’s second season. It was a strong hour for the series, anchored by two very effective tales scripted by Rod Serling: “A Death in the Family” with E.G. Marshall, and “Class of ’99” with Vincent Price.

Each deserves its own blog post, so I’ll use this one to highlight a particular aspect of the Marshall segment. If you haven’t watched it before, try the link below. And if you want to avoid spoilers, stop here, and then come back when you’re done.

Marshall plays an unusual undertaker named Jared Soames. Like many of us, he pities the cast-off members of society who come through his door for a charity funeral. But unlike many of us, he goes a macabre step further. He adopts those who have no family into his “family” — of corpses. Lovingly preserved, they populate a specially kept room in his basement.

It’s a tribute to Marshall’s acting, and Serling’s writing, that the character of Soames comes off not like some wild-eyed ghoul, but as a sympathetic and gentle individual who genuinely cares for the members of his “family.”

Death in the Family2

When a desperate fugitive hiding out in the funeral home discovers Soames’ secret, he naturally looks astonished. “They’re dead!” he says when Soames invites him to stay. Soames’ response is worth quoting in full:

Dead? Why? Because they don’t struggle like the living? Because they don’t compete? Because they don’t hate? Because they know nothing of greed, intolerance, prejudice?  Out there is the graveyard!  Out there — the slaughterhouse where they kill and bury dreams! A whole world full of lonely pallbearers! But down here, in this room, my son, is a family.

There aren’t many horror series that would give us that much food for thought. But then again, there aren’t many horror series that had Rod Serling writing for them.

For a daily dose of Serling, you can follow me on TwitterFacebook orPinterest. You can also get email notifications of future posts by entering your address under “Follow S&S Via Email” on the upper left-hand side of this post. Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!

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About Paul

Hard-working, hard-playing fan of all pop culture, especially the Twilight Zone. Which led to a Twitter page. And then to a blog. And then to ... stay tuned. Yes, that's a picture of Rod Serling, not me. You can find the real me under the "Your Host" tab on my blog, along with biographical details that, while 100 percent accurate, sound kind of boastful and braggy. Sorry.

Posted on 09/22/2012, in Night Gallery, Rod Serling and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. Well. Certainly keeps the dinner conversation light.

    Yes, E.G. Marshall’s acting was superb! Love the understated undertaker — so much more creepy that way! Thanks for posting that clip!

  2. The “understated undertaker” — I like that. Thanks for the comment. I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  3. Of course, what a great site and informative posts, I will bookmark your site. Best regards!

  4. I first saw this episode “cut up” on TV in the 30 minute segment. I remember some extra dialog between the cops identifying the dead people sitting around the table. Yet in the “uncut” version” that dialog is missing. Am I imagining this, or did they indeed cut out some extra dialog in the “full” version of this episode?

  5. I happen to own this particular painting…thanks for giving “Night Gallery” a little street cred.

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