Friday, July 6, 2018

"The Twilight Zone" interview: "Night of the Meek" (1960)

Introduction to the Twilight Zone interview series (including the list of interviewees).

Larrian Gillespie played the North Pole elf in "Night of the Meek" (season 2, 1960).


How old were you when you were cast in The Twilight Zone?

Eleven.

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.

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.


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 when 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 being on what became a hit show have any social/psychological impact on you as a kid (i.e. in school, on dates, etc.)? 

I always wanted to be a doctor, so this was a means to earn money to go to college and medical school. I learned discipline, a strong work ethic, conscientiousness, and the ability to speak in fearful situations. Served me well as a surgeon!


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?"

How long did your acting career last, and why did it end? 

I acted until age 17, when I graduated from high school. Then my focus was on getting through college in three years and getting accepted into medical school…which I did, at UCLA.

Did you ever miss acting? 

Sometimes I think I would like to go back now in my retirement, but then I lay down until the thought passes over me!

What are you doing these days? 

I retired as a genitourinary surgeon. I trained at the pastry school Ducasses Education in Paris, studied cheese with Hervé and Laurent Mons/Max McCalman, and went to Italy to study olive oil. I have a company that has developed a food flavor database that stimulates the release of dopamine in the brain through flavor combinations unique to each individual. (Bet you are sorry you asked!)


Where do you live? 

Los Angeles.

Have you participated in a Twilight Zone event (reunion, convention, documentary, etc.)? If not, would you be open to doing so (i.e. meeting fans and signing autographs)? 

I did the two conventions and thoroughly enjoyed them.

Are you still in touch with anyone who knew you when you appeared on the show? 

No.

When was the last time you watched the episode? How did you think it held up? 

I think the episode is timeless…and watched it this Christmas.

Do you have any mementos from the experience such as candid photos, the script, or anything from the set? Autographed cigarette from Rod Serling?

No.

Have you been interviewed before about this specifically? 

Yes.

Do you have clippings from magazine/newspaper interviews/profiles published at the time? 

No.

What did you think when you first heard from me? 

Another person appreciating the Golden Era of Television and the era when writers wrote fantastic plays.

How do you look back on your Twilight Zone experience? 

With warmth and laughter.

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