|Portrait of an oddball: Orson Bean as the eternally awkward Mr. James B. W. Bevis|
Season One, Episode 33Original airdate: June 3, 1960
Cast:James B. W. Bevis: Orson Bean
J. Hardy Hempstead: Henry Jones
Mr. Peckinpaugh: Charles Lane
Bartender: Horace McMahon
Landlady: Dorothy Neuman
Margaret: Florence MacMichael
Policeman: William Schallert
Policeman #2: House Peters, Jr.
Young Lady: Colleen O’Sullivan
Peddler: Vito Scotti
Little Boy: Tommy Cletro
Crew:Writer: Rod Serling (original teleplay)
Director: William Asher
Producer: Buck Houghton
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
“Next week you’ll meet the occupant of this desk, whose name is James B. W. Bevis, a warm and winning twentieth century oddball about a mile and a half from the norm. He likes things like zither music, little kids and stuff like this. Orson Bean stars next week on the Twilight Zone as Mr. Bevis, and Henry Jones plays his guardian angel. He’s this kind of oddball.”
Rod Serling Opening Narration:"In the parlance of the twentieth century, this is an oddball. His name is James B. W. Bevis and his tastes lean towards stuffed animals, zither music, professional football, Charles Dickens, moose heads, carnivals, dogs, children and young ladies. Mr. Bevis is accident prone, a little vague, a little discombooberated, with a life that possesses all the security of a floating crap game. But this can be said about Mr. Bevis: without him—without his warmth, without his kindness—the world would be a considerably poorer place, albeit perhaps, a little saner. Should it not be obvious by now, James. B. W. Bevis is a fixture in his own private, optimistic, hopeful little world, a world that has long ceased being surprised by him. James B. W. Bevis, on whom dame fortune will shortly turn her back, but not before she gives him a paste on the mouth. Mr. James B. W. Bevis, just one block away…from the Twilight Zone.”
Summary:James B. W. Bevis, an inattentive, disaster-prone young man with a warmhearted charm and eternal optimism, sets about on his usual morning routine which includes playing catch with the adoring children from his neighborhood and driving his faithful 1924 Rickenbacker to work. It looks like a fine day. Upon arriving thirty minutes late he is promptly called into the boss’s office, reprimanded, informed that he is no longer employed with the company and told to clear out his desk, which at the moment is overflowing with a strange assortment of toys and various other ornaments, immediately. Upon leaving the building of his former employer Bevis notices that his car has rolled down street and crashed into a light post. Back at his apartment his landlady informs him that he is to be evicted immediately, his belongings thrown into the street. With nowhere left to turn Bevis heads for the nearest bar.
While drowning his sorrows in grain alcohol he eyes a man in the mirror behind the bar. The man is situated in a booth directly behind Bevis, but when Bevis turns to look at him he isn’t there. Bevis turns back to the mirror and sure enough, there he is. He motions for Bevis to come join him in the booth and Bevis obliges. Suddenly, the man materializes out of thin air. Bevis, believing himself to be drunk, goes along with it. The mysterious fellow introduces himself as Mr. J. Hardy Hempstead, Bevis’s guardian angel. He claims he wants to help Bevis, as it is painfully obvious that Bevis cannot help himself. He says he will start by giving Bevis a sort of makeover. A new life, so to speak.And he gives Bevis the opportunity to relive the day in this new life. Befuddled but mildly amused, Bevis agrees.
Bevis wakes up in a clean apartment. Everything has changed. Even his clothes are different. Bevis inquires to Hempstead as to why his apartment looks so different. Hempstead says that it takes sophistication to get ahead in the world and a sophisticated man does not indulge in things like zither music or children’s toys and he does not dress in the fashions that Bevis is accustomed to. Instead, he carries himself gracefully and with confidence. Outside, Bevis tries to enter into a game of catch with the neighborhood children but they treat him like a complete stranger. Hempstead says that the new Bevis no longer plays children’s games, he hasn’t the time. This is why the children do not recognize him. He also learns that the new Bevis does not drive a 1924 Rickenbacker, but instead gets around in a brand new sports car. Once at work Bevis notices that his desk does not contain any of the familiar trinkets that are so important to him. Instead it is empty and barren, purely utilitarian. He tells Hempstead that he appreciates the concern but that he simply does not like being the new James B. W. Bevis. He does not want success if it means turning his back on all of the things he cares about. He respectfully asks to be changed back to the old Bevis. Hempstead obliges.
Bevis ends up back at the bar, again soaking up his troubles with liquid. When he runs out of money he walks outside and sees he Rickenbacker, no longer wrecked, waiting for him at the curb. He realizes that Hempstead is still watching out for him. Then he sees a police officer writing him a ticket for parking in front of a fire hydrant. As he is being thoroughly reprimanded by the officer the fire hydrant suddenly disappears and reappears well away from Bevis’s car. The officer is baffled. Bevis nods to Hempstead and concedes that the fire hydrant bit was a nice touch. Then he gets in his car and drives back to his wonderful life.
“Mr. James B. W. Bevis, who believes in a magic all his own.The magic of a child’s smile, the magic of liking and being liked, the strange and wondrous mysticism that is the simple act of living.James B. W. Bevis, species of twentieth-century male, who has his own private and special Twilight Zone.”
I guess by now we have sort of hammered the point home that comedy was not something that The Twilight Zone did very successfully. In most cases it simply just didn’t fit the atmosphere of the show. There are pleasant exceptions throughout the show’s five year run but “Mr. Bevis” is not one of them. Stilted and predictable, it’s simply too hokey to be effective. And to twist the knife a bit it has the unfortunate luck to be sandwiched right between “A Passage for Trumpet” and “The After Hours” which are generally regarded by critics and fans to be two of the most memorable episodes of the series. I think it is important to note that star Orson Bean, producer Buck Houghton and writer Rod Serling all considered this episode to be more or less a forgettable failure.
Serling may have taken the poor execution of this episode a bit harder than everyone else involved, not simply because he wrote it, but because he had intended it to be the pilot episode for a comedy series for CBS. The premise of the series would basically amount to Bevis getting himself into various tribulations week after week with Hempstead always having to pull him out of them, which in and of itself isn’t a bad premise and possibly would have made a good lighthearted situational comedy. But the finished product just does not work. Serling’s dialogue seems forced and the humor uninspired. Likewise, director William Asher (of I Love Lucy and Bewitched fame) appears to have phoned this episode in, leaving it with a flat, bland sort of appearance. And the performances of Orson Bean and Henry Jones, both of whom are very accomplished actors, are just too obnoxious for the story. Despite Serling’s disappointment with this episode he would nevertheless try his hand at this story again when plotting the Season Three episode “Cavender is Coming,” an episode almost identical to this one and one which was also meant to be an unofficial pilot vehicle for a series starring Carroll Burnett.
“Mr. Bevis” is Orson Bean’s only appearance on the program. Throughout his career, which spans over six decades, Bean has made a name for himself as a dependable comedic performer. His film and television credits include Anatomy of a Murder (1958) with James Stewart, the voice of Bilbo Baggins in the 1970’s animated films The Hobbit (1977) and The Return of the King (1980), a regular role on Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman (1993-1998), Being John Malkovich (1999) and a reoccurring role on Desperate Housewives.
This episode marks the only appearance by Henry Jones as well. Jones had a highly versatile career as a character actor on Broadway in the 1940’s before making his way into film and television. His big break came when he starred in both the stage and film versions of Maxwell Anderson’s play The Bad Seed (1958). Other notable film roles include 3:10 to Yuma (1957) Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), Nine to Five (1980), Deathtrap (1982), Dick Tracy (1990), Arachnophobia (1990) and The Grifters (1990). His television appearances include Thriller, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Rod Serling’s Night Gallery, Gunsmoke, Kolchak: the Night Stalker, The Six Million Dollar Man, and Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color. But he is probably best known as the coroner in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958). Jones died in 1999 at the age of 86.
There is really not much to say about this episode and not many reasons to recommend it to anyone. It does, however, have a handful of slightly charming and quirky moments which saves it from being completely unwatchable. Still, if you are new to the show and want to start with the best and work your way down I have to tell you that it’s going to be quite a long time before you make your way to the unfortunate “Mr. Bevis.”