The Elf from “Night of the Meek” Remembers Filming a Twilight Zone Fan Favorite
No two people celebrate Christmas quite the same, but if you’re a Twilight Zone fan, there’s a good chance you don’t let December 25th pass without an annual viewing of “Night of the Meek.”
“The Changing of the Guard” and “Five Characters in Search of an Exit” are two other popular seasonal offerings from the fifth dimension. But there’s something special about seeing Art Carney play a sad man who by episode’s end (yes, spoiler alert!) gets promoted to his dream job: the real Santa Claus.
Someone on Twitter was talking with me about the episode recently, and said something about the girl who plays the elf being Maureen McCormick, the actress later cast as Marcia Brady on “The Brady Bunch.”
Except it wasn’t McCormick. It was a girl named Larrian Gillespie.
It’s an understandable error, though. I can see where someone looking at those grainy black-and-white images (“Night of the Meek” was one of six videotaped episodes) might mistake Gillespie for McCormick. And like a lot of child stars — at least ones who played small parts — she’s not listed in the credits.
Neither are the two kids at the beginning, even though they — like our young elf friend — have several lines. But TV credits weren’t very detailed back then. Even Kay Cousins, who plays the mother of Percival Smithers, is listed not as “Mrs. Smithers,” but as “Irate Mother.”
So let’s give Larrian some belated attention — and much deserved too, because she’s just as cute in the role as you’d expect Santa’s main elf to be. Here are some excerpts from an interview she did in 2018:
How old were you when you were cast in The Twilight Zone?
How did you get the role?
I did not audition. I believe the casting agent knew my previous work and I was told to show up at, I believe, CBS in the evening, and to bring my tights and ballet slippers.
Did anything go wrong during the shoot?
Not that it went wrong, but in rehearsal, I was told to jump out from behind the trash cans when the lights went on. I was behind the cans with the jingle bells, and they would cue me to shake them. I was then to put them down and wait for the lights to go on. However, Art Carney did not make it to the sleigh in time, so I hesitated until I could see him at the sleigh. So if you watch that scene, there is a delay before I pop out, which worried the stage manager a lot, making him think I had frozen and was not going to jump out. Remember, this was all shot in one continuous take.
What was Art Carney like?
He was very nice. However, at the time, he had an alcohol problem and had not worked in a long time. My mother was very worried about my working with him. But of course it was her fear, not mine. He was totally professional, knew his lines and marks, and did an outstanding job.
Your episode became one of the most iconic of the series. What did you think of it at the time?
I thought it was a good story. I assumed, incorrectly, that Mr. Serling would do one every year … so no big deal.
After it aired, do you remember the initial reaction from family, friends, and the public?
Nothing exceptional. However, Rod Serling’s daughter told me that her father never watched any of his shows except “Night of the Meek,” every year, as a family. He felt it was his best episode.
Did you watch the show regularly?
No. However, some years my grandchildren watch it at Christmas. And every year we set out the photo of me in the sleigh with Santa by the cookies and milk.
When your children/grandchildren watched, what was the reaction?
“Can we build Legos now?”
When was the last time you watched the episode? How did you think it held up?
I think the episode is timeless. [I] watched it this Christmas.
How do you look back on your Twilight Zone experience?
With warmth and laughter.
Any funny anecdotes about the experience?
It’s not funny, per se, but something I won’t forget: before shooting, Rod Serling was walking along the street scene and asking the children what they wanted for Christmas. I told him I wanted a Ginny doll. He took me over to my mom, who was my guardian on the set, and said, “Your daughter is very special. I asked the children what they wanted and most said things like a mink coat, a car, etc. But your child wants a Terri Lee doll. I hope Santa brings her one.” And he did. So I credit Mr. Serling with my Terri Lee doll in a majorette outfit, which I still have today.
To read the interview with Larrian in its entirety, click here.
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Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!