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The E-Sylum: Volume 12, Number 13, March 29, 2009, Article 14

QUIZ ANSWER: HENRY BEMIS, LAST BIBLIOPHILE ON EARTH

We had a deluge of responses to last week's Quick Quiz. I asked, "Who can tell us about the famous bibliophile pictured here?"

Meredith Burgess


Byron Weston was the first to respond (correctly, of course), offering the Wikipedia page listed below, as did Bob Merchant and Alan Meghrig. Others who correctly answered include Larry Gaye, Tom DeLorey, Greg Burns, Larry Sekulich, Bob Mueller, Dave Lange, Richard Jozefiak, Katie Jaeger, Ton Rigney, Sam Deep, Myron Xenos, and Mike Greenspan.

Larry Koblenz at first guessed Ray Walston, who was best known for his starring role in "My Favorite Martian." His wife set him straight. The rest of his answer was spot-on. We have a lot of old-time TV show fans reading The E-Sylum.

Steve M. Tompkins writes:
It might have been a little tougher for people to guess who it is...if the name BURGESS MERIDITH did not pop up when you place your cursor over the picture!


Well, I knew that would be a hint, but there's a lot more to the answer than that. Yes, it's the actor Burgess Meredith, but the character he's playing is the bibliophile. -Editor


Pete Smith writes:
In a 1959 episode of The Twilight Zone called Time Enough at Last, Burgess Meredith plays a man who enjoys his books more than he likes people. I don't know that Meredith actually collected books.


Cue the creepy music and Rod Serling's voiceover... -Editor
Twilight Zone Witness Mr. Henry Bemis, a charter member in the fraternity of dreamers. A bookish little man whose passion is the printed page but who is conspired against by a bank president and a wife and a world full of tongue-cluckers and the unrelenting hands of a clock. But in just a moment Mr. Bemis will enter a world without bank presidents or wives or clocks or anything else. He'll have a world all to himself...

Steve M. Tompkins writes:
The photo is from an episode of the "Twilight Zone". This bibliophile was named Henry Bemis (played by Meredith) and is from the first season of the show, in 1959. The name of the story is "Time Enough at Last" and is about a bookish bank teller who has a childlike fascination for the written word...any written word be it books, periodicals, or newspapers.

He delights in taking any moment to read, through his incredibly thick "coke-bottle" glasses, even on his salaried time. He is constantly harassed by his wife, customers and boss for his love of print to the point that he must sneak into the bank's vault where he works to read on his lunch hour.

During one such visit, a nuclear bomb blast levels his city, leaving him unscathed, whereupon he exits to find that he has "time enough at last" to read all he wants when he finds the local library's contents scattered about.

At this point, (warning: spoiler!) he stacks the books into towers and rejoices in the solitude that will allow him to read everything he can...but in reaching for a particular book, his glasses slip off his face and smash....leaving him to mutter: "That's not fair... that's not fair at all... There was time now.... There was..all the time I needed!.. It's not fair". The scene then closes with the image panning away from a crying Bemis. (this synopsis is from the IMDB (Internet Movie Database)

At this point in time (knock on wood), I am still able to see and do everything without the use of glasses. Someday that may change and as I am an avid reader of many things, I certainly hope I am never in the same position as Henry Bemis!


Bill Malkmus writes:
I don't know how many times I have seen this one -- I am tragically compelled to watch it each time, but it always turns out the same! Thanks for ruining my day!!!


Rich Mantia writes:
The episode is a classic and a bibliophile's nightmare, unless you own Braille books. Long live the name of Louis Braille! Happy 200th birthday to him and to the release and sale of his commemorative dollar this week.


John Cadorini writes:
All through childhood I pestered my father for eye exams because I thought glasses offered such varied ways of gesticulating and making a point with hand movements; but was finally scared by the prospect of what happens to poor Mr. Bemis, whom Burgess Meredith's performance makes into a very sympathetic character that one cannot help feeling very sorry for (although residing in a large city as he did I always wondered why he couldn't find an optometrist shop or a large magnifying glass to use).


From Wikipedia:
The Scary Door, a show-within-a-show on Futurama parodying The Twilight Zone, pokes fun at the suspension of disbelief in "Time Enough at Last". When the man in the episode loses his glasses, he realizes he can still read large print; his eyes fall out, but he declares he can read Braille; his hands fall off, and as he screams, so does his tongue and then his entire head.


My wife tells me I'd lose my own head if it weren't attached to my shoulders, and maybe she's right. Perhaps NBS should institute a "Henry Bemis Award". I made a Bemis of myself several years ago when my wife and I were staying at a resort in West Virginia over Valentine's Day weekend. There was a big snowstorm overnight and I got dressed early to go out and shovel out my car. When I came back to our room I laid my glasses on our bed for a moment and ended up accidentally sitting on them. I had to drive home thru the storm with my frames taped up like a nerd with a band-aid borrowed from the front desk.

By the way, did you know that The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, a theme park ride at Disney's Hollywood Studios has a replica of Henry Bemis's broken glasses in the lobby? Look for them the next time you visit! -Editor


Alan V. Weinberg adds:
Burgess Meredith's acting career pre-dates 1935 and he acted in movie classics as diverse as Of Mice and Men and Rocky. My wife once attended a Hollywood event where the quite elderly actor was unable to climb a staircase. My wife, not knowing who he was, offered her arm and assisted him.

They talked and my wife recognized his voice. "You're the Penguin on Batman!", a TV series that she watched as a child. Mr. Meredith was amused that someone would recognize his voice, but not him, from perhaps the most unsophisticated but widely-known part he ever played!


To read the Wikipedia entry on "Time Enough to Last", see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Time_Enough_at_Last



Wayne Homren, Editor

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