In his short story "Pickman's Model," Lovecraft spins a tale
of steadily mounting dread that builds to a predictable ending
implicit in the title.
The story unfolds as a long monologue designed to climax
in a moment of shocked revelation. Lovecraft's first person
technique gives the narrative a certain immediacy and believability.
It's as if the character were talking directly to the reader,
giving testimony. At the same time this approach weakens the
story in two ways: first, we know from the start that the
speaker has survived whatever menace he may have encountered,
and second, the first person point of view diminishes narrative
possibilities by reducing the story into a kind of report.
The result is a psychic distancing that safely removes the
reader from the events of the narrative.
SUMMARY OF THE SHORT STORY
Thurber (the narrator) tells Eliot (the listener and by
proxy the reader), why he has terminated his friendship with
the brilliant painter, Richard Upton Pickman.
Thurber explains that he was the last of Pickman's friends
to drop him. By articulating his motive Thurber hopes to justify
his general nervousness and his terror of subways and cellars.
problem isn't Pickman's disturbing subject matter, though
his horrific paintings are "... enough to get him ostracized
in nine-tenths of the homes and clubs of Boston." Artistically,
Thurber has nothing but praise for Pickman's unique talent.
He theorizes that only artists of a certain greatness can
capture the essence of true horror: a nightmare, a witches
Sabbath, a portrait of the devil, whatever. "There's something
those fellows catch -- beyond life -- that they're able to
make us catch for a second."
Pickman is such an artist.
Thurber recalls the time Pickman invited him to his studio,
an ancient and decrepit building hidden among the twisted
labyrinthine streets of Boston's old north end. Pickman sought
such a place because there he "can catch the night spirit
of antique horror and paint things that I couldn't even think
of in Newbury Street." He rented a specific building because
of the "queer old brick well in the cellar" which he believes
is a link to a bygone system of tunnels below the city, most
of which are caved in or bricked over.
Our narrator must brace himself with alcohol before he can
go on to describe the studio itself and the subjects of the
paintings there: "demonic portraiture," more specifically
ghouls. "They were usually feeding," Thurber tells Eliot,
"I won't say on what."
In one room Pickman has displayed "pictures which turned
colonial New England into a kind of hell." Particularly upsetting
is one called The Lesson: "... a squatting circle of nameless
doglike things in a churchyard teaching a small child how
to feed like themselves?"
Another canvas shows the child's ghoulish counterpart among
a human family. "...in the supreme irony Pickman had given
the [changling's]) features a very perceptible resemblance
to his own."
The next room contains more ghouls painted against modern
backdrops: subways, contemporary streets, recognizable skylines.
Thurber marvels more and more about the quality of the artistic
achievement, realizing Pickman is not "a fantasist or romanticist
at all...." He is "... a thorough, painstaking and almost
Now Pickman leads Thurber to the cellar and, after skirting
the mysterious covered well, into his actual work area. There
Thurber sees unfinished paintings, art supplies, and a camera
used, Pickman explains, for photographing backgrounds.
Thurber cries out when Pickman unveils an especially large,
grotesque and lifelike painting of a ghoul.
Strangely, his cry disturbs Pickman.
In response they hear odd noises from the next room. Pickman
exits, fires six rounds from a revolver, and returns, "...cursing
the bloated rats that infested the ancient well."
At the end of the evening Thurber leaves Pickman and resolves
never to see him again.
Thurber's monologue concludes when he shows Eliot a photograph
he had pocketed in the studio. It does not show a backdrop,
as Pickman had said. Instead it depicts a hideous ghoul.
Lovecraft's tale ends predictably, melodramatically, and
as is so often the case, in italics: "...by God Eliot, it
was a photograph from life."
Let's look for a moment at the sorts of changes and contortions
Pickman's Model had to go through to mutate into a teleplay.
Although a story about paintings is made to order for NIGHT
GALLERY's unifying theme, one wonders why this particular
tale was chosen. The difficulties in adapting it for television
are myriad and obvious; there is no way to do a "faithful
rendering." It's all talk; it lacks immediacy. The suspense
builds from argument and innuendo rather than from action
and conflict. More precisely, there is no action and conflict.
Even the fight and shooting take place "off stage." No important
relationships exist among any of the characters (we are indifferent
about Pickman's diminishing circle of friends). The monster
is never shown and even the paintings, if reproduced as Lovecraft
describes them, are static and would have been considered
too gross for TV in 1971.
PICKMAN'S MODEL, in many ways typical of Lovecraft's earlier
work, predates the so-called "Cthulhu Mythos" by at least
a year. The menace it portrays is specific rather than "cosmic,"
and the intellectual narrative technique -- the contemplation
of hideous possibilities -- may be fine in a short story,
but is insufficient for prime time TV drama which demands
action and conflict combined with direct and immediate danger
to sympathetic characters.
Scriptwriter Alvin Sapinsley had his work cut out for him.
SUMMARY OF NIGHT GALLERY SEGMENT
A painting of a ghoul is used to transition from Serling's
introductory comments into the Lovecraft segment, which, like
the short story, begins with two men talking. Here their conversation
is used as a frame story.
Larry, a gallery owner (Jock Livingston) and Eliot, an artist,
(Joshua Bryant) are meeting in Eliot's newly-rented studio.
They're discussing a painting Eliot has discovered upon moving
in: is it, or is it not, a genuine Pickman?
The last authentic Pickman sold for $100,000.00 at auction,
Larry explains. Now, because Pickman himself vanished 75 years
ago with no relatives, friends or heirs, the painting is Eliot's
to sell (no mention is made of Eliot's landlord's claim to
By extension, the men conclude that the long-vacant building
Eliot has rented must be Pickman's old studio!
Again using the painting as a transitional device, we flashback
75 years to a dashing young Pickman (Bradford Dillman) addressing
his art class at the girls' school where he's employed. He
is sardonically charming, witty and handsome as he tells his
students to paint what they see. Already he is a more three
dimensional character than his counterpart in the short story.
Giggly Miss Goldsmith (Louise Sorel, who roughly corresponds
to the story's Thurber character) wonders where Pickman "sees"
the ghouls he paints? "In my mind's eye," he tells her.
He then examines the painting she's working on. It shows
Pickman's face beside a vase of wilting flowers.
"This is what you see in me?" he asks.
"It wasn't meant to be a cruel thing," she awkwardly explains.
"I only meant there's was a sort of power, a magnetism, something
in your eyes...." Obviously the young lady is smitten with
When class ends, new conflict appears in the person of Mrs.
DeWitt (Joan Tompkins), apparently the headmistress of the
school. She fires Pickman because, she says, he sets a generally
bad example and because his work is inappropriate for her
genteel young ladies. Miss Goldsmith overhears. When she tries
to console him, Pickman seems greatly offended. Taking his
painting with him, he departs mid-argument.
No longer giggly, but inexplicably confident and articulate,
Miss Goldsmith follows him to a lower class restaurant and
brazenly presents herself as "sympathetic company."
"I've never felt the need for human companionship," he rebuffs.
"Then I shall make it my project to awaken those feelings
in you." In brash, unladylike fashion she sits and invites
herself to tea, clearly determined to be Pickman's friend
rather than dropping him as did her counterpart in the short
story. She also notices that Pickman wears gloves, a fact
he quickly tries to conceal (though why these gloves were
never an issue during art classes is not explained).
In adapting the short story, screenwriter Sapinsley did
well to change the gender of one character in order to establish
a romantic tension with all its attendant emotions. However,
he -- or possibly director Laird -- didn't seem to know quite
what to do with this young lady. At first she comes off as
a slightly foolish girl, then, by perhaps tipping his hat
to 1971 vintage feminism, Sapinsley makes her a poised, articulate
and purposeful young woman. (Consistent with the character's
inconsistency, she'll go through another more irritating transformation
near the end of the segment, i.e. reversion to feminine stereotype.)
Presumptuously, Miss Goldsmith accuses Pickman of seeing
his own soul as a beast, then assures him that he sees falsely.
Impatient with this banter, Pickman says he's going to his
studio to paint. Miss Goldsmith invites herself along. She's
curious: she has heard that he's working on a series of paintings
so horrible that to look upon them would turn a man to stone.
(Apparently she feels women must be immune.)
Though he doesn't explain the source of the compulsion,
Pickman admits he's driven to paint "... a legend which tells
of an eldritch race more foul and loathsome than the putrid
slime that clings to the walls of hell... who live deep beneath
the earth in dark tunnels, surfacing in the dead of night...
to practice their unspeakable acts and breed their filthy
spawn until the day arrives when their swollen numbers will
finally arise and ravish the earth like a noxious plague."
This speech, though Lovecraftian in tone, appears nowhere
in the source material. However, its inclusion here -- complete
with its elder race and its growing threat to human beings
-- positions this rendition of Pickman's Model closer to the
"Cthulhu Mythos" than was Lovecraft's own version.4
Visibly shaken by Pickman's intensity and terrifying words,
Miss Goldsmith insists she see the paintings. Again he refuses.
As a last resort she confesses that she is in love with him.
Apparently unmoved, he walks away... but in his haste he
has left behind the painting.
In the next scene Miss Goldsmith is discussing Pickman with
her Uncle George (Donald Moffat). He too knows the legend
of the foul nocturnal beasts, and doesn't seem to be laughing
at it. He even adds some details, including information about
women who inexplicably vanished in the night.
Uncle George studies a Pickman street scene his niece owns.
It is the view from Pickman's window, so, they realize, they
can use it to locate the artist's studio.
This painting lap dissolves beautifully into the North End
street it represents. The resolute Miss Goldsmith, painting
in hand, has located Pickman's studio. Bravely -- like too
many heroines in horror tales -- she lets herself in while
we glimpse odd fleeting shapes that slither about grotesquely.
Lights mysteriously go out, rats skitter around, and red eyes
follow her progress as she ascends dark stairs. These flashes
and suggestions are pure Lovecraft.
At the top she finds Pickman's bedroom/studio. It is full
of paintings of horrid otherworldly beasts.
Pickman appears and orders her away. He takes his painting
from her and stashes it in the place Eliot will find it 75
years later. Then he repeats that she must leave. But are
we starting to sense some compassion in his tone? Perhaps
he has some feelings for her, after all.
A sound in the next room tells him it's too late.
Pickman grabs a club and excuses himself, saying "Did you
not understand when I said I had no use for human company?"
Alone now, she looks at the paintings remembering what Uncle
George had said about the creatures that carried off human
women for the foul purpose of procreation. During this tense
scene the alert viewer comes to the same conclusion as Miss
Goldsmith when she sees two paintings side by side: the first
shows a woman being carried off by a beast; the next shows
the same woman standing beside a sinister looking lad who
is apparently her son.
Is it the young Pickman?
She hears Pickman's voice ordering something back to the
cellar where it belongs. We hear growling, then the sounds
of a fight that stops abruptly.
Is Pickman coming back?
The latch is turning.... The door is opening....
A clawed hand is seen. Is it Pickman's sans glove?
A snarling monster walks in. It is Pickman's Model, an anticlimactic
hybrid of man and rat and dog. (Academy award-winning make-up
artist John Chambers, best known for is work in Planet of
the Apes, designed and fabricated the ghoul in less than a
week. Chambers credits Tom Wright, who did many of the Night
Gallery paintings, with illustrating the creature through
his concept sketches.)5
The ghoul sweeps Miss Goldsmith into its arms and heads
off toward the cellar. Pickman comes to and frees Miss Goldsmith.
Monster and man struggle. During the fight (if the viewer's
still alert) we get a peek at what's under Pickman's glove:
just as we suspected, a claw. It is this clue, heavy-handed
though it may be, that tells us Pickman's not entirely human.
The same information was suggested by the paintings mentioned
above, and conveyed with ambiguity by the changling's picture
in the source material.
The combatants fall off a balcony, while the "liberated"
Miss Goldsmith succumbs to a screaming fit before escaping
into the street. This stereotypical female behavior may seem
especially offensive today. In 1971 it must have been perceived,
at the very least, as inconsistent. Certainly it can be judged
cowardly during any age; she makes no attempt to aid the "man"
she loves as the monster carries Pickman off toward the cellar.
She and the script never come to terms with the fact that
none of this violence and horror would have occurred if it
were not for Miss Goldsmith and her relentless and unwelcome
Another painting transitions us slightly ahead in time.
The climax has passed. Uncle George and Miss Goldsmith are
in Pickman's studio reminiscing while they wait for the bricklayers.
"The man must have been insane," says Uncle George as he
looks at the squalid surroundings and weird paintings.
"No," Miss Goldsmith explains, "he painted what he saw.
And what he was."
With that we jump 75 years into the future to join Eliot,
Larry, and the frame story in Pickman's studio. Larry wants
to search the premises in hopes of finding more of Pickman's
In the basement they discover what looks like a bricked-over
well. What is it? they wonder. The men decide to break it
open and look inside. But Eliot hesitates, afraid of what
they might find. "Pickman's paintings weren't the only thing
that disappeared," he cautions. "Pickman did too."
They begin to bash their way into the well. The camera cuts
to its interior where a monstrous face waits and growls. THE
So Sapinsley's screenplay uses the frame story to tie ancient
evil to modern times. Although we never learn precisely what
happened to Pickman (has he transformed into the critter in
the well?), we realize that just after the story stops, Larry
and Eliot -- and by extension everybody else -- will be in
big trouble: something horrible will again be loosed upon
It can be argued that in many ways the screenplay is better
crafted than the story. It has more dimensions and more substance.
Unfortunately, it is dated in a way the story will never be.
A minor tale. A minor adaptation. But the second best we