Monday, March 25, 2019

"Printer's Devil"

From left: Robert Sterling, Burgess Meredith, Patricia Crowley

“Printer’s Devil”
Season Four, Episode 111
Original Air Date: February 28, 1963

Douglas Winter: Robert Sterling
Jackie Benson: Patricia Crowley
Mr. Smith: Burgess Meredith
Mr. Franklin: Ray Teal
Andy Praskins: Charles Thompson
Landlady: Doris Kemper
Molly: Camille Franklin

Writer: Charles Beaumont (based on his story, “The Devil, You Say?”)
Director: Ralph Senensky
Producer: Herbert Hirschman
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Associate Producer: Murray Golden
Film Editor: Richard W. Farrell
Art Direction: George W. Davis & John J. Thompson
Set Decoration: Henry Grace & Don Greenwood, Jr.
Assistant Director: John Bloss
Assistant to the Producer: John Conwell
Music: stock
Sound: Franklin Milton & Joe Edmondson
Mr. Serling’s Wardrobe: Eagle Clothes
Filmed at MGM Studios

And Now, Mr. Serling:
“Some rather special ingredients to a bizarre brew served up next on The Twilight Zone, an oddball printing press, an editor with a stringer from the lower regions. They’re just a few as we bring you Robert Sterling, Patricia Crowley, and special guest star Burgess Meredith in Charles Beaumont’s ‘Printer’s Devil.’”

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration: 

“Take away a man’s dreams, fill him with whiskey and despair, send him to a lonely bridge, let him stand there all by himself looking down at the black water, and try to imagine the thoughts that are in his mind. You can’t, I can’t, but there’s someone who can and that someone is seated next to Douglas Winter right now. The car is headed back toward town but its real destination is The Twilight Zone.”


            Douglas Winter is the struggling owner/editor of the Dansburg Courier. He is drowning in debt due to the fact that not much happens in Dansburg as well as the recent arrival of the syndicate newspaper the Gazette. When his longtime linotype operator, Andy Praskins, leaves to find work at the Gazette, the writing becomes clear on the wall: the Dansburg Courier is finished. Despite the pleadings of his girlfriend Jackie Benson, Doug is prepared to throw in the towel. 

            Doug soon gets to drinking. He drives to the outskirts of town and stops his car on a bridge. He gets out and stands near the edge looking down at the water, contemplating taking his own life by jumping. Suddenly, a voice is heard behind him. It is a small, older man asking for a light for his cigar. The man is odd and begins teasing Doug about his uncertain method of suicide. The man convinces Doug to give him a ride back into town.
            Over drinks Mr. Smith (as the man introduces himself) informs Doug that he, Smith, is an expert reporter and a skilled linotype operator. Mr. Smith offers to go to work for Doug and revive the Courier but does not divulge what he expects to receive in return.
            Doug brings Mr. Smith back to the newspaper office and asks for a demonstration of Smith’s skills. Smith is lightning fast on the linotype machine, amazing Doug and Jackie, though Jackie takes an immediate dislike to the man and his gruff manner. Soon, business picks up tremendously for the Courier. Mr. Smith is the first to report increasingly strange happenings around town and his skill on the linotype machine (to which he has added some unique alterations) means that the papers are out on the street unbelievably fast.
            When the building which houses the rival paper the Gazette burns to the ground, Doug begins to suspect Mr. Smith of more than just reporting the news. Jackie has noticed something as well. Doug’s attitude and behavior are getting worse. He’s sullen and surly and allows Smith to run the newspaper while Doug drinks and naps in his office. Jackie confronts Doug about this and receives indifference in return.
            Doug finally confronts Mr. Smith and forces Smith to admit who he really is: the Devil. Mr. Smith produces a contract and induces Doug to sign away his immortal soul for the continued success of the newspaper. Doug is at first an unbeliever until Smith demonstrates that he knows the news before it happens. Finally understanding the gravity of his situation Doug tries unsuccessfully to renege on his contract with Smith.
            Mr. Smith is in a hurry and eager to gather Doug’s soul. Using the linotype machine, he writes a news story: Jackie will be grievously injured in a car wreck a few hours hence. Smith informs Doug that the alternations he made on the linotype machine allow to pass whatever is written there. Smith produces a gun and states that if Doug does not kill himself by the time of the accident Jackie will die from her injuries. Doug tries to use the gun on Smith without success. Smith tips his hat and leaves.
            Doug frantically searches for Jackie but cannot find her. As the time until her accident draws near he decides he has only one other option. He returns to the office of the Courier and sits down at the linotype machine. He begins to write a news story.
            Meanwhile, Jackie has agreed to give Mr. Smith a ride to the airport as he has surprisingly agreed with her request to leave Dansburg forever. Mr. Smith offers to drive. Once on the highway, however, Smith begins driving too fast toward a head-on collision with another motorist.
            At the last moment Jackie is able to wrench the wheel from Smith’s hands and avoid the greater severity of the accident. Smith has vanished from the driver’s seat. Doug used the linotype machine to write the Devil away. He immediately has the machine taken away. But is Mr. Smith out of their lives forever?

Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:
“Exit the infernal machine and with it His Satanic Majesty, Lucifer, Prince of Darkness, otherwise known as Mr. Smith. He’s gone but not for good. That wouldn’t be like him. He’s gone for bad. And he might be back with another ticket to The Twilight Zone.” 


            Immediately following “Miniature,” perhaps his finest script for the series, Charles Beaumont countered with this darkly humorous take on the deal-with-the-Devil tale. Although Rod Serling, Richard Matheson, and Earl Hamner produced fine work for the fourth season, Beaumont flourished writing hour-long episodes. He saw an opportunity to revisit previously published material and to expand upon ideas and themes prevalent in his fiction. Beaumont never seemed comfortable with the twist-in-the-tale formula the show found itself falling into time and again. Although Beaumont was more than capable of crafting a satisfactory twist-ending tale, “Perchance to Dream” and “Shadow Play” come to mind, few of his other efforts in this regard, such as “Elegy,” “A Nice Place to Visit,” “The Jungle,” or “Dead Man’s Shoes,” are among the show’s highly regarded episodes. The hour-long format generally alleviated the need for this sort of story and Beaumont produced some of his finest work writing in a narrative format with which he was more comfortable. The result was that he produced more scripts for the fourth season than for any of the previous three seasons, made tragically ironic by the fact that during the fourth season Beaumont began to suffer the effects of the disease which eventually took his ability to write and then his life. Even an episode for which Beaumont provided the story and which was ghostwritten by Jerry Sohl, “The New Exhibit,” is an expertly sustained one-hour dramatic narrative. Beaumont’s only misstep during the fourth season was “Shadow of the Valley,” a tale which simply did not have enough story to propel it fifty plus minutes.
            Devil stories were common enough on the series to approach the subject from different angles, from the humorous in “Escape Clause” to the horrifying in Beaumont’s “The Howling Man” to the poignancy of “Of Late I Think of Cliffordville.” An earlier, and less regarded, Beaumont episode is “A Nice Place to Visit” from the first season. This was a typical Twilight Zone twist-ending tale but it allowed Beaumont to give the Devil, played by Sebastian Cabot, plenty of clipped dialogue, thus allowing for the type of wordplay and tongue-in-cheek humor he would display to greater effect in “Printer’s Devil.”
            Beaumont’s Devils may employ humor but the characters are never played for laughs. Outside of the obviously malevolent performance of Robin Hughes in “The Howling Man,” Sebastian Cabot in “A Nice Place to Visit” and Burgess Meredith in “Printer’s Devil” are both seemingly harmless characters who eventually show the dark side to their nature. Meredith’s performance in particular must be singled out for its expert combination of cranky humor and lecherous unease. Meredith understood that the Devil could be funny but he must also make the audience uncomfortable, and few audience members are not uncomfortable with the way Mr. Smith runs his fingers across Jackie Benson’s cheek in a particularly creepy moment; or the way in which Mr. Smith lecherously describes Molly, the waitress. Meredith’s cigar chomping caricature may be over-the-top but he never becomes a teddy bear of a Devil the way Thomas Gomez did in the first Devil episode of the series, “Escape Clause.”

            Beaumont’s original story “The Devil, You Say?” was the author’s first professional sale. It appeared in the January, 1951 issue of Amazing Stories. Beaumont apparently liked the idea enough to revisit it for Twilight Zone but made significant alterations which indicated he was not entirely satisfied with the original story. Oddly, “The Devil, You Say?” was not included in any of the collections of Beaumont’s fiction compiled during his lifetime. The story was reprinted in the UK edition of Amazing Stories in May, 1952 but was not collected in book form until The Twilight Zone: The Original Stories (1985), a volume which collected most of the source material for the series. The story was reprinted in the definitive retrospective of Beaumont’s fiction, Charles Beaumont: Selected Stories, published by Dark Harvest in 1988. An interesting aspect of that volume is that many of the stories included introductory essays from Beaumont’s friends and colleagues. “The Devil, You Say?” featured an introduction from Howard Browne, editor of Amazing Stories at the time of the story’s publication. “The Devil, You Say?” was sold to Amazing Stories by Beaumont’s then-agent Forrest J. Ackerman, who became famous as the editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine but worked for many years as a literary agent. Beaumont later signed with the Don Congdon Agency, which also represented Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson. 
            Another interesting note on "The Devil, You Say?" is that Hollywood's Dracula envisioned himself in the role of the Devil in a film adaptation of the tale. Bela Lugosi read Beaumont's story and contacted Forrest J. Ackerman to express the desire that Beaumont write a film treatment to resurrect the dire conditions not only of Lugosi's career but of his life. It is probable that Ackerman brought the story to Lugosi's attention as a possible comeback role for the ailing actor.  Beaumont spent a day with Lugosi in 1952 and drove Lugosi to a film studio where Lugosi assured Beaumont there was a friendly producer who would be interested in financing the film. Unfortunately, it was wishful thinking on Lugosi's part and they were unable to secure any funding for the proposed film adaptation. Beaumont details the day spent with Lugosi in the December, 1956 installment of his column "The Science Screen" for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (Lugosi died in August of that year). The essay was reprinted as "The Undead" in Beaumont's 1963 nonfiction collection Remember? Remember? (Macmillan) and again, as "Lugosi: The Compleat Bogeyman," in P.S. magazine for April, 1966. 

            Beaumont used the opportunity of adapting his first published story to make a number of changes to the narrative. Some of these changes are superficial, dealing with names and appearances which do little to alter the course of the narrative. The town in which the original story takes place is called Danville, and the newspaper the Danville Daily Courier. Beaumont changed the town to Dansburg and the newspaper to the Dansburg Courier for the episode. The editor of the newspaper is Richard Lewis in the story, changed to Douglas Winter for the episode. The Devil is Mr. Jones in the story and Mr. Smith in the episode. The appearance of the Devil is altered as well. In the story Beaumont writes: “An old boy who must have been crowding ninety stood in front of the desk, staring at me. And I stared right back. He was dressed in the sporty style of the eighteen nineties, with whiskers all over his face and a little black derby which canted jauntily over his left eye.” The cigar is a prominent prop in both story and episode.
            A more significant change from the story is in the female lead. In Beaumont’s original story the romantic relationship develops quickly when a reporter from a city newspaper arrives in Danville to interview Richard Lewis. Lewis and the reporter, named Elissa Traskers, hit it off immediately and conspire to outwit the Devil. The romance serves an ironic ending as Lewis forgets to include his relationship with Traskers when he uses the diabolical linotype machine to write the Devil away. When Lewis tracks her down later and attempts to rekindle their relationship she does not remember him and rejects his advances.
            Beaumont did make changes to the structure and course of the narrative. The story includes an odd narrative framing device in which a larger story is told by a newspaper reporter which switches to Richard Lewis’ story when the newspaperman encounters Lewis in a bar. This framing device also serves an ironic ending as Mr. Jones makes his return: “I was about to start the laughter when I saw something that cut it off sharp. I saw a very old gentleman, with derby, spats and cane, leaning against the bar and winking at me. It didn’t take me long to get home.” Beaumont wisely scrapped this awkward way of telling the story. Also, the suicide angle is new to the episode. In the original story, Lewis decides simply to skip town when it becomes clear that he will not be able to repay his creditors. Mr. Jones, who reveals himself as the Devil much sooner than in the episode, appears to Lewis in this time of need because Lewis’ father, the deceased original owner of the newspaper, struck a deal with the Devil many years ago to ensure prosperity for himself and his son. Lewis’ father has inadvertently cursed him. Also, the news items in the original story have more of a National Enquirer flavor than the tragic news stories in the episode. Examples of headlines from the original story include: Mayor’s Wife Gives Birth to Baby Hippopotamus, and Farmer Burl Illing Complains of Mysterious Appearance of Dragons in Back Yard.
            Beaumont incorporates a good amount of humor and wordplay in the episode. Notable instances include a reference made by Mr. Smith to the Italian violinist Niccolò Paganini, a musician so prodigiously talented that it was suggested he made a deal with the Devil. The term printer’s devil refers to a position of apprenticeship in a printing shop. Mr. Smith also makes a reference to a need for “a touch of the creature” in reference to whiskey when he prepares to reveal his true nature to Douglas Winter. Interestingly, A Touch of the Creature was the proposed title of a fourth Charles Beaumont collection from Bantam Books tentatively scheduled for publication in 1964. Negotiations for the volume eventually fell through and the book never saw publication during Beaumont’s lifetime. A volume of Beaumont’s unpublished fiction later appeared under the title A Touch of the Creature in 2000 from Subterranean Press.

            Burgess Meredith (1907-1997) is the most recognizable performer in the episode and perhaps the most recognizable performer on the series. He appeared in a lead role in four episodes, “Time Enough at Last,” “Mr. Dingle, the Strong,” “The Obsolete Man,” and “Printer’s Devil,” a feat matched only by Jack Klugman. “Printer’s Devil” is probably the least familiar of Meredith’s episodes despite the actor’s strong performance and the overall quality of the play. This is likely due to the fact that it is an hour-long fourth season episode which is rarely seen in syndication relative to the half-hour episodes. Nevertheless, for viewers who do not have an aversion to the hour-long format, “Printer’s Devil” offers a wealth of interesting and engaging material, prime among which is Meredith’s performance as the devilish Mr. Smith. Meredith’s long and fruitful acting career frequently took him into the horror, fantasy, and science fiction genres. He appeared in two episodes of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery, including Serling’s adaptation of Cyril Kornbluth’s “The Little Black Bag” and Serling’s original script, “Finnegan’s Flight.” Meredith also found opportunity to occasionally play Devils and demonic characters throughout his career. Meredith played the Devil in the framing narrative of the 1967 Amicus horror anthology film Torture Garden, written by Robert Bloch based on his short stories. He was supremely creepy as a demonic neighbor who terrorizes a fashion model in a New York City brownstone in the 1977 film The Sentinel, based on Jeffrey Konvitz’s 1974 bestseller. Meredith also appeared in the 1976 haunted house film Burnt Offerings, adapted by writer William F. Nolan and writer/director Dan Curtis from Rober Marasco’s 1973 novel. Meredith is probably best known for playing the boxing trainer Mickey Goldmill in the Rocky films, the first performance of which earned the actor an Academy Award nomination. Meredith also portrayed Ammon in Clash of the Titans (1981). The actor has various other connections to the series and the writers of The Twilight Zone. He appeared in an episode of Lights Out, “The Martian Eyes,” based on a story by Henry Kuttner, coauthor of the story “What You Need,” adapted by Rod Serling for the first season of The Twilight Zone. Meredith narrated two of Ray Bradbury’s tales, “There Will Come Soft Rains” and “Marionettes, Inc.,” for vinyl record in 1962. Meredith also provided the voiceover narration for the 1983 film Twilight Zone: The Movie. Meredith’s long and varied career saw the actor play an incredible variety of roles, from historical figures such as Thomas Edison to the voice of Puff the Magic Dragon. Among his most treasured and well-remembered performances is as the doomed Henry Bemis in Rod Serling’s unforgettable adaptation of Lyn Venable’s “Time Enough at Last” for the first season of The Twilight Zone.

            Robert Sterling (1917-2006) was born William Sterling Hart, he signed with Columbia Pictures in 1939 and changed his name to avoid confusion with actor William S. Hart, the foremost star of silent western films. The advent of television offered Sterling a wealth of opportunities in a variety of series. He crossed paths with the horror and suspense genres via appearances on The Clock, Lights Out, Climax!, and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, in the episode “House Guest,” adapted by Henry Slesar from a novel by Andrew Garve (Paul Winterton), an episode which also featured child actor Bill Mumy, who appeared on The Twilight Zone in “Long Distance Call” and, unforgettably, “It’s a Good Life.”
            Patricia Crowley (b. 1933) is another new face to the series. Although she appeared in several films, most of Crowley’s work was on television and she was for many years a recognizable face on the small screen, amassing dozens of credits in a fifty-plus year career. Crowley appeared on such mystery and suspense series as The Web, Suspense, Inner Sanctum, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, and Tales of the Unexpected, the short-lived 1977 series not to be confused with Roald Dahl’s long-running UK series of the same title. Crowley’s most recent credit is for the independent romantic comedy film Mont Reve (2012).
            Director Ralph Senensky (b. 1923) is also new to the series with “Printer’s Devil,” his only work for the show. The episode was Senensky’s second directing credit after working as a production designer and assistant to the producer on such series as Playhouse 90 and Dr. Kildare. Senensky bounced around television series for decades working in the director’s chair on a variety of shows such as Route 66, Kraft Suspense Theatre, The Fugitive, Star Trek, Planet of the Apes, The Waltons, and many, many more. He directed the second season Night Gallery episode which included the segments “The Miracle at Camafeo” and “The Ghost of Sorworth Place.” Senensky retired from directing in 1986 after a stint on The Paper Chase but returned to direct the 2013 short film The Right Regrets.
            Despite its hour length and derivative subject matter, “Printer’s Devil” succeeds enormously as a darkly humorous tribute to Devil tales in the vein of Stephen Vincent Benét’s American classic, “The Devil and Daniel Webster” (1936). It possesses a unique setting in the offices of a small town newspaper, some neat special effects, and features fine performances from the cast, particularly Burgess Meredith, who steals the show as Mr. Smith. One of the more remarkable aspects of the episode is that it moves quickly, a quality the hour-long fourth season episodes consistently struggled to maintain. Charles Beaumont was able to revisit his earliest short story and greatly enhance its charms and correct its missteps. The script also manages to approach some very dark subject matter, such as suicide and sexual harassment, in the context of a dark comedy or fantasy. It is an underexplored and underrated aspect of Charles Beaumont’s work in general. The result is yet another enjoyable fourth season episode which dispels the persistent notion among a certain segment of viewers that nothing good came out of the hour-long episodes. This one comes recommended. It is a solid, above-average offering from one of the show’s best writers and a fun, diabolical good time with a perfect mixture of humor and horror.           

Grade: B

Grateful acknowledgment to:
The Internet Movie Database (
The Internet Speculative Fiction Database (
Wikipedia (


--Charles Beaumont’s original short story, “The Devil, You Say?” was first published in the January, 1951 issue of Amazing Stories. It was reprinted in the UK edition of Amazing Stories for May, 1952. The story was first collected in book form for The Twilight Zone: The Original Stories (1985), edited by Richard Matheson, Martin Harry Greenberg, and Charles G. Waugh. It was included in Charles Beaumont: Selected Stories (1988), edited by Roger Anker with an introduction to the story by Amazing Stories editor Howard Browne.
--Ralph Senensky also directed the second season Night Gallery episode which included the segments “The Miracle at Camafeo” and “The Ghost of Sorworth Place.”
--Burgess Meredith also appeared in the first season episode “Time Enough at Last” and the second season episodes “Mr. Dingle, the Strong” and “The Obsolete Man.” Meredith appeared in two segments of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery: “The Little Black Bag” and “Finnegan’s Flight.” Meredith also narrated the 1983 film Twilight Zone: The Movie.
--“Printer’s Devil” was adapted as a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Bobby Slayton.

Original magazine illustration by Enoch Sharpe (Amazing Stories, Jan, 1951)


  1. Nice detailed analysis of an episode I've seen once or twice.

    You've inadvertantly shortchanged Mr. Meredith of 20 years of his life, as he lived until 1997, not 1977, and was still acting in the 1990s.

    Mr. Senensky wrote about his experiences directing this episode here in his blog:

    He's in his 90s now and still blogging on occasion.

    1. Thanks for the heads up and the link, Jon. Fixed the typo.

  2. With all respect to Mr. Beaumont,by this time his disease was was such that many of his scripts were in fact ghosted by others,Jerry Sohl for example. They were CB's ideas,he just was too incapacitated to do the legwork. A tragic loss of a major talent.

    1. What happened to Charles Beaumont was terrible. Such a bright talent lost in the prime of life. We're fortunate to have so much great work from his typewriter, especially the work he did on The Twilight Zone.

      You're right, Dale, some of Beaumont's scripts were being ghosted at this time. Jerry Sohl ghostwrote "The New Exhibit" for the fourth season and "Queen of the Nile" and "Living Doll" for the fifth season under Beaumont's name. John Tomerlin wrote "Number 12 Looks Just Like You" for the fifth season from Beaumont's story "The Beautiful People."

      "Printer's Devil" and "Passage on the Lady Anne" were the final scripts that Beaumont himself wrote for the series.

  3. I thought that this ep was one of the better “hourlong” episodes. Burgess Meredith carried it IMHO. I am very batton find your site. I’ll be reading each and every review of the best Television series ever😄

    1. Thanks so much! I've always been a fan of the fourth season and my goal when I got to reviewing this season was to give each episode a fair shake based on its own merits and not how it compares to one of the half-hour episodes. And some of these episodes are very good, indeed, this one for sure.

  4. Very nice analysis, as always, and I agree wholeheartedly that this is further proof of the fourth season overall being underrated. (Naturally I am biased in favor of the two Matheson episodes!) Perhaps worth noting that in the original 1961 film Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Sterling co-starred as Lee Crane, the role later played by David Hedison on the eponymous TV series.

    1. Thanks! I've never had problems with the hour-long episodes, some of which are among the best offered on the series. The fourth season had its share of clunkers but "Death Ship" and "Miniature" could hardly be bettered. It offered a nice change of pace and allowed for greater character and story development. Certainly worth noting about Sterling. I always welcome additional career information on the performers, an area I admittedly often leave lacking.