Mr. Meredith, The Versatile

Time for a few introductions, Twilight Zone fans. Recognize these four men?

Burgess Meredith

The meek one with the mustache and the Coke-bottle eyeglasses? That’s Henry Bemis. Next to him is a smiling, nervous, bow-tied vacuum-cleaner salesman named Luther Dingle. Over there, books in hand, is the unassuming but dignified Romney Wordsworth. And the man with the crooked cigar, the leering expression and the unsettling grin? Mr. Smith.

Four of the fifth dimension’s most distinct and memorable characters, each brought to life by one man: Burgess Meredith.

The legendary actor was grateful for the opportunity TZ gave him. “Rod used to have a part for me every season,” he said, “and every one of them was extraordinary.” He would go on to star in two episodes of Serling’s follow-up series, Night Gallery, livening up “The Little Black Bag” and “Finnegan’s Flight”.

But which of his TZ roles is the greatest? Let’s get a little spoiler-y and meet the candidates:

38

Henry Bemis: The star of “Time Enough at Last,” perhaps the most iconic TZ episode ever, is well known even to people who have never watched the series. A bank teller with a nagging wife and an unsympathetic boss, he just wanted a chance to read with no interruptions. Who can’t sympathize with his glee at having tons of books and no one to nag him? And who can forget the devastated look on his face when his eyeglasses break?

*****

10 (2)

Luther Dingle: Only a two-headed Martian would pick the title character of “Mr. Dingle, the Strong” out of a crowd. They bestow the strength of 300 men on him, then watch in dismay as he astonishes onlookers with feats of superhuman muscle. Disappointed that he’s content to use his power only for “petty exhibitionism,” they withdraw the strength … just before two Venusians endow him with superhuman intelligence.

*****

2 (2)

Romney Wordsworth: He’s a librarian … with the misfortune of living in a totalitarian state where books are banned. The star of “The Obsolete Man” isn’t on the run, though. He’s been caught, tried and convicted. For his crime, he faces “liquidation.” The State, represented by the imperious Chancellor, gives him a choice: he may choose his method of execution. But this simple purveyor of the printed word has an unexpected trick up his sleeve.

*****

11

Mr. Smith: In “Printer’s Devil,” a small-town editor is driven to near-bankruptcy and near-suicide before an unlikely savior arrives: a reporter/linotype operator with an uncanny knack for uncovering scandalous stories well ahead of the competition. The editor is back in the black, and riding high … then Mr. Smith gives him a unique bill: He’ll enjoy continued success if he’s willing to sign away his soul. Can he evade this diabolical dilemma?

*****

It’s a tribute to Burgess Meredith’s acting ability that he could make all four of these characters so different. Jack Klugman (whom I’m a great fan of) essentially played the same guy each time he starred on The Twilight Zone. Not Meredith. He could make you fear Mr. Smith as readily as he could make you cheer for Mr. Wordsworth.

9 (2)

“He was one of the greats,” recalled Don Rickles, who co-starred in “Mr. Dingle, The Strong”:

“He played his part so well that Rod Serling is probably shaking his hand to this day. You know what I remember about Meredith? In between takes, he was a warm fellow who had a great sense of humor. We shot jabs at each other, and he took ’em as fast as he pitched them. They don’t make men like him anymore.”

Photos courtesy of Wendy BrydgeFor a daily dose of Serling, you can follow me on TwitterFacebook or Pinterest. You can also sign up for email notifications of future blog posts by clicking “follow” in the upper left-hand corner of this page. 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 06/05/2013, in Twilight Zone and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 21 Comments.

  1. Excellent post! I can’t say that I’m a fan of Burgess Meredith or any of these episodes really, but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate exceptional talent. And Meredith was indeed a very talented man. He played each of these four diverse characters in a completely unique and believable way.

    I voted for “The Obsolete Man”, not only for Burgess’ beautifully understated performance, but also b/c the episode itself is a tremendous bit of writing. Not a favourite, but one of the best TZ scripts, I think.

    “Mr. Dingle” and “Time Enough at Last” are two of my least favourite Twilight Zones. But I do enjoy “Printer’s Devil”, where we get to see a little sneak peek at Meredith in a villainous role.

    Which I really like, because to tell the truth? Burgess Meredith will always be The Penguin to me. ;)

    • Mr. Smith as a predecessor to the Penguin? Interesting thought! You’re right, though. “Printer’s Devil” really does give us a glimpse of his villainous side. How appropriate, then, that it was his last role on TZ, and therefore the one closest to his work on Batman.

      I’m glad you can appreciate his work on these episodes, even if they aren’t all particular favorites of yours. He clearly had a great talent! :)

  2. Like Wendy, I’m not really a fan of “Mr. Dingle” — very broad but not very funny. I voted for “Time Enough,” because it is so iconic and also because, though I don’t ultimately find Bemis a sympathetic fellow, Meredith creates an exceptionally well-drawn character.

    I must confess, to my chagrin, I’ve never seen the other two episodes. (And I call myself a Zone fan… I know, I know!) I will remedy that situation post-haste, especially because “Obsolete Man” in summary form reminds me of Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451,” one of my favorite books. (I even wrote a high school. study guide for it once!)

    (I also recently rewatched the 1983 movie and had forgotten that Meredith did the narration!)

    • I appreciate the vote and the comment, Michael! I voted for “The Obsolete Man,” but there is no denying that Meredith’s work in “Time Enough at Last” is top-notch.

      He excels in “Printer’s Devil,” too. You should definitely check it out. As for “Mr. Dingle,” sure, it’s a lark. A little silly, but thanks to Meredith, more fun than we might otherwise expect.

      “The Obsolete Man” is a must-watch. Hope you catch it soon!

  3. I voted for Mr.Smith, but that might be because that episode (last time I looked) was not available on Netflix and I just miss his performance. Not exactly the criteria that was set out there, ha!

    Everyone knows Mr. Bemis, even if they don’t realize that is his name :-)

    • You’re right, Season 4 is still missing from Netflix. And even though I voted for “The Obsolete Man,” I’m a big fan of “Printer’s Devil.” A terrific performance by Meredith.

      Thanks for stopping by, as always!

  4. Well-written as always, my good man!

    I’ve always found Mr. Meredith (coincidentally, my maternal family’s surname) to be a joy in all of his roles, from his four Twilight Zone appearances to the Penguin (right on, Wendy!) and as the voice of Golobulus from the 1986 G.I. Joe animated movie.

    Hands down, my vote goes to Romney Wordsworth in “The Obsolete Man.” As I’ve mentioned to you several times, I work in a library, and this episode was a subject in one of my textbook’s chapters when I was studying for my Library Information & Technology Associate’s Degree. However, even if I didn’t work in the same field as Mr. Wordsworth, I find few things scarier than the idea of Orwellian societies like this one, which is a concept that recurred in many Twilight Zone episodes. I hope I would be able to keep enough of my wits about me while facing my death sentence, and manage to stand half as strong as Mr. Wordsworth as he faced his.

    This, of course, takes nothing away from Burgess Meredith’s other well-played Twilight Zone roles, but few episodes get the nod over “The Obsolete Man” from me.

    • So glad you enjoyed it! Many thanks for your generous praise. I voted for the same episode, The others are certainly enjoyable (though “Mr. Dingle, The Strong” is a bit of a trifle), but it’s hard for even “Time Enough at Last” to beat a tale as powerful as “The Obsolete Man.” Very stirring. Let’s hope we would all face our death with such courage and nobility.

  5. Time Enough at Last is quintessential Twilight Zone. My wife thought the series was just a scary old black and white show. I used that episode to illustrate the style the show typically worked in.

    Even though I think Meredith gives a stronger performance in TEAL, I had to vote for Obsolete Man. It plays on my more pressing paranoia. And it presents a solution to these problems that I find quite existentially satisfying. Calming fear by scaring me? THAT’s good storytelling!

    • Indeed. “Calming fear by scaring me”, eh? Well put, Mickey! You’re right, Time Enough at Last is quintessential TZ, but there’s something about The Obsolete Man that really elevates it above the norm. A true classic.

  6. Had to go with “Obsolete Man” (“You are…obbb..so-LETE”!). “Dingle” not a fan of, though was funny after having not seen it in so long, when first re-watched it, years ago. “Printer’s Devil” was interesting, but there was something about it that bugged me, and–for the life of me–can’t think of what it was. I’ve only seen it “once” (as far as I know, not counting as a kid watching reruns). “Time Enough”…well, the character wasn’t exactly a prince, either. Though a brutal ending, kinda got what he deserved. Shakespearean tragedy, no? :-]

    But…all said and done, Mr. Meredith was an excellent character actor!

    • Yes, and that’s why I think his episodes (three out of four, anyway) have such enduring appeal. He really breathed life into these excellent scripts. Thanks for voting, Frank!

  7. SPOILER: In “The Obsolete Man” he wins by dying. I voted for “Time Enough at Last” where he loses by being the only one not to die, I found it very moving.
    “Mr. Dingle the Strong” is just a bad episode. But a bad TZ is better than a good episode of almost any other series,

    • How true! Even at its worst, it beats so much of what’s on television in any given decade. And that was a clever way of describing TOM and TEaL. I appreciate your vote and your comment!

  8. spotmagicsolis

    Yay! TZ is still a fave after all these years.

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