Jeanette Nolan is pretty terrifying as a witch pretending to be trusting Michele Lee’s aunt in the Night Gallery story “Since Aunt Ada Came to Stay,” reviewed here.
Season 2 Episode 3—aired 9/29/71
“Since Aunt Ada Came to Stay” ***1/2
Teleplay by Alvin Sapinsley, Story “The Witch” by A. E. van Vogt
Directed by William Hale
James Farentino as Professor Craig Lowell
Michele Lee as Joanna Lowell
Jeanette Nolan as Aunt Ada Quigley
Jonathan Harris as Professor Nick Porteus
Eldon Quick as Professor Frank Heller
Charles Seel as the Cemetery Caretaker
Alma Platt as the Housekeeper
Arnold Turner as the Messenger Boy
Our story begins with a kindly-looking old lady looking out from a second-floor window at her niece Joanna (Michele Lee) as she tends to the garden. Joanna’s husband, Craig Lowell (Lee’s real-life husband at the time, James Farentino), is leaving to teach at the college where he is a professor. Joanna gives him a green carnation as he is about to drive off.
On campus, fellow professor Nick Porteus (Jonathan Harris, playing another fusspot as he did famously on Lost in Space a few years earlier) intercepts him and wants to discuss green carnations as they relate to the occult, but Professor Lowell brushes off this particular (and peculiar) conversational gambit.
Later, Craig is doing yard work while the old lady, Joanne’s Aunt Ada, is enjoying the sunshine while sitting in a chair. A moment later, he looks back at the chair and she’s vanished. He comes inside and Joanna and her aunt are having tea. When Aunt Ada sees the rose bush he’s holding, she starts to scream, saying she’s allergic to flowers. It bears noting for those who might find it interesting that James Farentino’s shirt is way unbuttoned here and so perhaps she was overcome by the sight of his manly bare chest.
She goes upstairs. Alone with his wife, he expresses misgivings about her aunt staying with them, then we cut to Ada in her room cackling, I believe, “don’t fret, little Foxport, it’s not going to be much longer,” and chuckles ominously. It should also be noted for those who might find it interesting that Jeanette Nolan is wearing ghostly white makeup on her face which makes her look rather less alive than your typical kindly old auntie.
Craig awakes after midnight, comes downstairs and is surprised to find both Joanna and Ada awake, too, again sharing a pot of tea. Ada has “herbs” to help Joanna sleep. Craig secrets one of these “herbs” away in a cloth and in the morning gives it to a lab guy at the college (played by Eldon Quick, the actor who so memorably played Captain Sloan, who would not grant Hawkeye and Trapper John’s request for “The Incubator” they were trying to procure in the early M*A*S*H* episode of the same name).
Captain Sloan, er, Professor Heller, examines it and says it’s seaweed, and adds that folklore says it’s “sinister witches’ weed.” He recommends that Craig consult Mr. Smith, er, Professor Porteus, for further amplification.
Craig studies logic and scientific matter, so when Porteus tells him that witches’ weed is “employed by the aging witch who has used up her present body to facilitate her entry into and assumption of the new young body that she has chosen for herself,” he is initially skeptical.
Porteus continues to explain that this act takes place during the twelve strokes of midnight during the first full moon after the autumnal equinox. Professor Craig Lowell proclaims this to be ridiculous. Porteus points out that Lowell always wears the one thing that can prevent this transaction (a green carnation).
Now willing to admit this may be somewhat less than ridiculous, Craig Lowell investigates Aunt Ada’s identity and discovers that Ada Quigley recently died. He then confronts Aunt Ada, in a manner reminiscent of how Captain Kirk confronted a purported Shakespearean actor whom he suspected of being a mass murderer by demanding of him point blank, “Are you Kodos?!” in the Star Trek episode “The Conscience of the King”. Craig puts it to her, “Who are you? Why are you here? What are you after?” No beating around the bush for these two strong leading men.
In the Star Trek episode, the question of identity was answered thusly: “Do you believe I am?” “I do.” “Then I am.” Here, the response is subtly different. “Ha ha ha ha ha ha,” Aunt Ada cackles. She then raises a the veil she is wearing over her head and suddenly three of her appear, then it’s back to just one.
Finally totally believing in what his colleague had to say, Craig calls Porteus while we intercut to Ada simultaneously doing an incantation. Porteus succumbs to a stroke and Ada peers wickedly to Craig over the stairway bannister—Jeanette Nolan is really believably scary here!
The next scene has James Farentino completely shirtless, digging in the yard, talking to Joanna who surprisingly tells him that Aunt Ada is going to an old folks’ home, right after the autumn equinox. Craig insists that Joanna not be out of his sight until midnight tomorrow (equinox day). Incidentally, in the story, this date was given as September 23rd, which was the same day I was watching this, which made me think, “Eeeek!”
Ada seems to will a telegram delivery man to come and bring a message to Craig asking him to substitute for another colleague to teach his class that night. Craig explains the deal to Joanna about the whole bit that Porteus explained to him about the witch transformation into a younger woman’s body before the stroke of midnight on that night and she of course laughs. But to ease his fears of them being apart, she says she’ll accompany him to the lecture he needs to give for his colleague that night.
While he gives the lecture, we again get intercutting scenes with Ada at home. She is making a pentagram. Then she gets into Joanna’s mind. We get some scary hand-held fisheye lens shots of Ada chanting while the stormy night outside brings lightning. A good time now to cite director William Hale for his fine work on this episode. Hale’s credits are largely in episodic television in the 60s and 70s and I am not familiar with these episodes but here he showed a fine hand in producing some very frightening visuals and a well-paced story on a limited schedule and budget so I am surprised to not see more familiar credits for his career.
Joanna, under Ada’s spell, slips out of the classroom, unseen by her husband as his gives his lecture. She drives home. It’s 11:50 (wow, late class). Aunt Ada is waiting expectantly as Joanna arrives. Craig realizes his wife is gone and runs home in a thunderstorm.
Inside the house, Ada asks Joanna to take one more sip of the tea she has prepared for her (with seaweed, aka witches’ weed, natch). Craig, this time in his shirt, but it is wet and clinging to his body, arrives home to the sight of multiple Ada’s surrounding Joanna. He remembers what Professor Proteus said regarding carnations. He lights the green one he has with him, throws it at the Adas/witches and they shriek, burn and die. Pretty intense scene. Joanna is ok.
We get one final scene, this of Craig driving off the next morning, realizing his is without his daily green carnation. He seems to decide, since Aunt Ada is gone, “what me, worry?” and drives off, while we see Joanna give a sidelong glance, which has a hint of anxiety, at the green carnation patch in the yard…
Quite a strong episode. A good script by Alvin Sapinsley, adapted from A. E. van Vogt’s story, strong direction and Jeanette Nolan as mentioned previously; Michele Lee, as always, keeps things grounded and real, and James Farentino, it cannot be denied, has an admirable chest.