Monday, June 28, 2010

Deathday: Rod Serling 1924-1975 "The Twilight Zone"

Rodman "Rod" Edward Serling (December 25, 1924 – June 28, 1975) was an American screenwriter, television producer, and narrator best known for his live television dramas of the 1950s and his science fiction anthology TV series, The Twilight Zone. Serling was active in politics, both on and off the screen and helped form television industry standards. He was known as the angry young man of Hollywood, clashing with television executives and sponsors over a wide range of issues including censorship, racism, and anti-war politics.

Early life

Serling was born December 25, 1924 in Syracuse, New York, the second of two sons born to Esther (née Cooper) and Samuel Lawrence Serling.[1][2] Serling's father had worked as a secretary and amateur inventor before having children, but took on his father-in-law's profession as a grocer in order to earn a steady income.[3] Sam Serling later took up the trade of butcher after the Great Depression forced the store to close.[4] Serling's mother was a homemaker.[5]

He and his family spent most of his youth in Binghamton, in upstate New York, after moving there in 1926.[1] Even as a boy he was known for his imagination and outgoing personality. Family members remember a child with an engaging smile, beautiful brown eyes, and a love for entertaining others.[6] As a performer he was encouraged by his parents from his earliest days. Sam Serling built a small stage in the basement where Rod, with or without the aid of neighborhood children, would often put on plays.[7] His older brother, author Robert, recalled at the age of six or seven, Serling could entertain himself for hours by acting out dialogue from pulp magazines or movies he'd seen. Rod was often found talking to the people around him without waiting for answers. On a two and a half hour trip from Binghamton to Syracuse the rest of the family remained silent to see if Rod would notice their lack of participation. He didn't, talking non-stop through the entire car ride.[1]

Throughout his life Serling was the life of the party, often using imitations to entertain those around him. Some of his most memorable impressions were Jekyll and Hyde, King Kong, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. A practical joke Serling liked to play on his older brother was to imitate the family rabbi's voice perfectly over the phone and invite him to non-existent meetings. Those who grew up with Rod were surprised that he chose a career behind the camera instead of in front of it.[8]

During high school Serling was seen as the class clown and dismissed by many of his teachers as a lost cause.[9] That is until his seventh grade English teacher, Helen Foley, 'discovered' Rod and encouraged him to enter the school's public speaking extracurriculars.[10] Serling joined the debate team and was later a speaker at his high school graduation. He also began writing for the school newspaper, where he was not afraid to write scathing pieces that showed his liberal political leanings.[11]

In addition to performance, Serling was also interested in sports. He excelled at tennis and table tennis, but when he attempted to join the varsity football team he was told he was too small at 5'4" tall.[12]

Serling was interested in radio and writing at an early age. He listened to a variety of radio programs, especially thrillers with a fantasy or horror feel. Arch Oboler and Norman Corwin were two of his favorite writers.[13] He also, "...did some staff work at a Binghamton radio station...tried to write...but never had anything published."[13] Serling applied to, and was accepted to college during his senior year of high school; however, the U.S. was deeply involved in World War II at that time and Serling decided to enlist rather than start college[14] immediately after he graduated from Binghamton Central High School in 1943.[5]

Military service

As editor of his high school newspaper, Serling tried to persuade his fellow students to support the war effort in a variety of ways. He wanted to leave school before graduation to join the fight, but his civics teacher talked him into staying through graduation. "War is a temporal thing," Gus Youngstrom told an eager Serling, "It ends. An education doesn't. Without your degree, where will you be after the war?"[15] Serling enlisted into the U.S. Army the morning after his high school graduation, following brother Robert.[16]

Serling began his military career at Camp Toccoa, Georgia under General Raymond Swing and Colonel Oren 'Hard Rock' Haugen[17] and served in the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 11th Airborne Division.[5] Over the next year of paratrooper training Serling and others took to boxing as a way to get their aggressions out. Serling competed as a flyweight, and totaled 17 bouts, rising to the second round of division finals before getting knocked out.[18] He was remembered for his berserker style and for "getting his nose broken in his first bout and again in last bout."[19] He tried his hand at the Golden Gloves, but was not overly successful.[13]

April 25, 1944 was the day that Serling had been looking forward to. The day he received his overseas orders. When he saw that he was headed west, through California, he knew he was headed to fight the Japanese rather than the Germans. He was disappointed. For, as a Jew, he had hoped to have a hand in combating Hitler.[20] On May 5 the division boarded the USS Sea Pike and headed into the Pacific, ending up in New Guinea, where they would be held in reserve for a few more months.

It wasn't until November 1944 that these troops would see combat on the island of Leyte in the Philippines. The 11th Airborne Division would not be used as paratroopers; however, they were sent in as light infantry after the Battle of Leyte Gulf to help mop up after the six divisions that had gone ashore earlier.[21] Their mission seemed simple; go from point A to point B, cleaning out Japanese positions as they went. In reality, the terrain and lack of military intelligence proved to be just as difficult to handle as the unpredictable enemy.

For a variety of reasons Serling was transferred to the 511th's demolition platoon, nicknamed the 'death squad' for its high casualty rate. According to Sergeant Frank Lewis, leader of the demolitions squad, "He screwed up somewhere along the line. Apparently he got on someone's nerves."[22] Lewis also noted that Serling was not cut out to be a field soldier. "...[H]e didn't have the wits or aggressiveness required for combat."[22] At one point Lewis, Serling and others were in a firefight trapped in a foxhole. As time passed and they waited for darkness Lewis noticed that Serling had not reloaded any of his extra magazines. Another example of how Serling was a dreamer in a harsh reality was that he would go off exploring on his own, against orders and then get lost."[22]

Serling's time in Leyte would shape his writing and his political views for the rest of his life. He witnessed death every day while in the Philippines, both at the hands of the enemy and through random events such as those that killed another extroverted Jewish private named Melvin Levy. Levy was in the middle of a comic monologue as the platoon sat resting under a palm tree when a food crate dropped from above, decapitating him as the men watched. Serling led the services for Levy and created a Star of David over his grave.[22] In his future writing career Serling would set several of his scripts in the Philippines and use the unpredictability of death as a source for much of his material.[23]

Serling marched away from the successful mission in Leyte with two wounds including one to his kneecap[24] but neither was enough to keep him from combat when General MacArthur used the paratroopers as they were intended on February 3, 1945. Colonel Haugen led the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment as it landed on Tagaytay Ridge, met up with the 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment and marched into Manila. There was minimal resistance until they reached the city where Vice Admiral Sanji Iwabuchi had barricaded his 17,000 troops behind a maze of traps and guns and ordered them to fight to the death.[25] The next month witnessed Serling's unit involved in a block-by-block battle for control of Manila. As portions of the town were freed from Japanese control the civilians showed their gratitude by throwing parties and hosting banquets. During one of these parties Serling and his comrades were fired upon and many people, both soldiers and civilians, were killed. Serling, still a Private after three years, caught the attention of Sergeant Frank Lewis when he ran into the line of fire to rescue a performer who had been on stage when the artillery started.[26] As the troops continued to move in on Iwabuchi's stronghold Serling's regiment received a 50 percent casualty rate, with over 400 men killed. Serling was wounded and three of the men he was with were killed by shrapnel from rounds fired at him and his roving demolitions team by an anti-aircraft gun.[27] He was sent to New Guinea to recover, but soon chose to return to Manila to finish 'cleaning up'. Private Serling's final assignment was as part of the occupation force in Japan.[28] For his service to the U. S. Army he was awarded the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star,[29] and the Philippine Liberation Medal.[5]

Serling's Army combat service affected him deeply, and also influenced much of his writing. His wartime combat experiences left Serling with nightmares and flashbacks which would plague him for the rest of his life.[5] He was quoted as saying, "I was bitter about everything and at loose ends when I got out of the service. I think I turned to writing to get it off my chest."[1]

Postwar life, education and family

After being discharged from the Army in 1946, Serling worked at a rehabilitation hospital while recovering from his wounds. His knee would continue to give him trouble though, and his wife became used to the sound of Serling falling down the stairs after his knee refused to take his weight.[14]

"Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity." Horace Mann, founder of Antioch College[28]Once he was fit enough, he used the Federal G.I. Bill's educational benefits[19] as well as disability payments[14] to enroll in the Physical Education program at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. He had been accepted to Antioch, his brother's alma mater, while still in high school.[30] His interests led him to the theater department and later, broadcasting.[14] He soon changed his major to Literature and earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1950.[1] "I was kind of mixed up and restless, and I kind of liked their work-for-a-term, go-to-school-for-a-term set-up," Serling once said.[30]

Serling's college years brought about many changes for the young man. First, as part of his studies he became active in the campus radio station, which led to work experience that he called on often in his future career. He wrote, directed, and acted in many radio programs on campus, then around the state as part of his work study.[31] Second, he met the woman who would become his wife in fellow student, Carolyn Louise Kramer. At first she refused to date Serling because he had a reputation around campus as a ladies man, but she eventually overcame her reticence.[1] Additionally, it was in college that he converted from Judaism to Unitarianism,[5] an act that allowed him to marry his wife on July 31, 1948.[1] Together they had two daughters, Jodi and Anne.[1]

Carol Serling's maternal grandmother, Louise Taft Orton Caldwell,[32] had a summer home on Cayuga Lake, in Interlaken, New York, which the newlyweds used as a honeymoon destination. The Serling family continued to use this house annually throughout his life, missing only the two summers in the years when his daughters were born.[14]

As a way to make some extra money throughout his college years, Serling took a part-time job testing parachutes for the Army Air Force. According to co-workers at the radio stations where he was also working, he received $50 for each successful jump. They recall Serling's telling them that he had once been paid $500, half before and half if he survived, for a hazardous test.[33] His last test jump took place only a few weeks before his wedding. The pay was $1000 for him to test a newly invented jet ejection seat. Serling survived the test, but barely. Serling told friends later that three other men had been killed before he made the trial.[34]



Serling started at the bottom. He had no writing credits to his name, no published work and no hands-on experience. To solve this problem he volunteered during the summer of 1946 at WNYC in New York as an actor and writer.[13] The following year he worked at that same station as a paid intern for his Antioch work study program.[35] He then took on odd jobs in other radio stations in New York and Ohio.[36] "I learned 'time', writing for a medium that is measured in seconds," Serling later said of his early experiences.[13]

While attending college classes he worked at the Antioch Broadcasting System’s radio workshop and was managing the station within a couple years. He then took charge of full-scale radio productions at Antioch that could be heard on WJEM, Springfield. He wrote and directed the scripts, and also acted in them as needed. His strong work ethic was exemplified as he created the entire output for the 1948–49 school year. With one exception, an adaptation, all the writing that year was his original work.[13]

Jean Hersholt interviewed Serling after he won a writing competition for the radio program, Dr. Christian.While still in college Serling won his first accolade as a writer. A radio program called Dr. Christian had started an annual script writing contest eight years earlier. Thousands of scripts were sent in annually, but very few could be produced.[13] Serling won a trip to New York City and $500 for his radio script "To Live a Dream."[37] He and his new wife attended the awards broadcast on May 18, 1949, where Serling and the other winners were interviewed by the star of Dr. Christian, Jean Hersholt. One of the other winners that day was Earl Hamner, Jr., a 'regular' winner who had earned prizes in previous years as well. Later, Hamner would write scripts for Serling's The Twilight Zone.[13]

In addition to earning $45 to $50 a week at the college radio station, Serling attempted to make a living selling freelance scripts to radio programs, but the industry at that time was involved in many lawsuits which in turn affected their willingness to take on new writers. Writers who had submitted scripts that were rejected would often hear some similar plot produced and claim that their work had been stolen and they sued to receive recompense. This made radio producers wary of taking unrequested scripts from unknown authors.[13] Serling received rejections for reasons ranging from 'heavy competition' to 'This script lacks professional quality' and 'not what our audience prefers to listen to'.[13]

In the fall of 1949 Martin Horrell of Grand Central Station, a radio program known for romances and light dramas, rejected one of Serling's scripts about boxing because his mostly female listeners “have told us in no uncertain terms that prize fight stories aren’t what they like most.” He then went on to offer some advice, “I have a feeling that the script would be far better for sight than for sound only, because in any radio presentation, the fights are not seen. Perhaps this is a baby you should try on some of the producers of television shows.”[13]

Seeing that the boxing story was not right for Grand Central Station, Serling submitted a lighter piece called, Hop Off the Express and Grab a Local, which became his first nationally produced piece on September 10, 1949.[13] His Dr. Christian script wasn't produced until November 30th of that year.

Serling began his professional writing career in 1950 when he took a job earning $75 a week as a network continuity writer for WLW-Radio in Cincinnati, Ohio.[13][14] As he worked for WLW he continued to freelance. He sold several scripts to The Crosley Broadcasting Corporation, some for radio, some for television. Once the scripts were sold to Crosley, Serling had no further involvement with them, as they were sold to local stations across the country.[13]

Serling submitted an idea for a weekly radio show in which a young boy and girl, ghosts killed in the war, would look through train windows to give commentary on day-to-day human life as it moved around the country. His idea was changed dramatically, but was produced from October 1950 to February 1951 as Adventure Express, a drama about a girl and boy who travel by train with their uncle. Each week they find adventure in a new town and get involved with the locals.[13]

Other radio programs that Serling created work for include, "Leave it to Kathy", "Our America", and "Builders of Destiny". During production of these scripts, Serling became acquainted with a voice actor, Jay Overholts, who would later become a regular on The Twilight Zone.[13]

Serling said of his time as a staff writer for radio, “From a writing point of view, radio ate up ideas that might have put food on the table for weeks at a future freelancing date. The minute you tie yourself down to a radio or TV station, you write around the clock. You rip out ideas, many of them irreplaceable. They go on and consequently can never go on again. And you've sold them for $50 a week. You can't afford to give away ideas – they're too damn hard to come by. If I had it to do over, I wouldn't staff-write at all. I'd find some other way to support myself while getting a start as a writer.”

He also believed that radio was not living up to its potential. He said, "Radio, in terms of...drama, dug its own grave. It had aimed downward had become cheap and unbelievable, and had willingly settled for second best."[38] He argued that in the lifespan of radio, about 20 years, there were very few writers who would be remembered for their literary contributions.[38]


"I think Rod would have been one of the first to say he hit the new industry, television, at exactly the right time. The first job he got out of school was as continuity writer at (radio station) WLW in Cincinnati. He worked there for over a year before he could free-lance. At that point, he was really working on television scripts. [I]n 1951 and 1952, the new industry was grabbing up a lot of material and needed it. It was a very propitious time to be graduating from school and getting ready to find a profession."

— Carol Serling, LA Times, Interview.[31]

Serling moved from radio to television, where he worked as a writer for WKRC-TV in Cincinnati. His duties included menial tasks such as writing ads for dubious medical remedies or script writing for a comedy duo.[1] He continued at WKRC after graduation and, despite the mostly dreary day-to-day work, also managed to create scripts for a series of live TV programs called The Storm as well as scripts for other anthology dramas, which were in demand by New York based networks.[5] Following a full day of classes, or in later years, work, Serling spent his evenings on his own, writing. He sent copies of completed manuscripts to publishers and received forty rejection slips during these early years.[1]

In 1950 he took Blanche Gaines as an agent. His radio scripts received more rejections, and so he began retuning them for television. Whenever a script was rejected by one program, he would resubmit it to another, eventually finding a home for many of them in either radio or television.[13]

As his college career came to a close, his scripts began to sell. He continued to write and sell for television and [19] eventually left WKRC to become a full-time freelance writer. "Writing is a demanding profession and a selfish one. And because it is selfish and demanding, because it is compulsive and exacting, I didn't embrace it. I succumbed to it."[1]

According to his wife, "He just up and quit one day, during the winter of 1952, about six months before our first daughter Jody was born – though he was also doing some free-lancing and working on a weekly dramatic show for another Cincinnati station"[14] He and his family then moved to Connecticut in early 1953. Although not an overnight success, Serling did make a living by selling his work to the live dramatic anthology shows that were prevalent on television at that time such as Kraft Television Theater and Hallmark Hall of Fame.[1] By the end of 1954 Serling's agent convinced him that he needed to move to New York, "where the action is."[14]

His early work was positively reviewed. Author Marc Scott Zicree, who spent years researching his book, the Twilight Zone Companion, noted: "Sometimes the situations were clichéd, the characters two-dimensional, but always there was at least some search for an emotional truth, some attempt to make a statement on the human condition."[1]

Gaining fame

In 1955, the nationwide Kraft Television Theater televised a program based on Serling's seventy-second script. To Serling, it was just another script, and he missed the first live broadcast. He and his wife had found a babysitter for the night and told her, "that no one would call because we had just moved to town. And the phone just started ringing and didn't stop for years!"[14] The title of this episode was Patterns, and it soon changed Rod Serling's life.

Patterns dramatized the power struggle between a corporate boss, an old hand running out of ideas and energy, and a bright young executive being groomed to take his place. Instead of simply firing the loyal employee, and risk tarnishing his own reputation, the boss enlists the young up-and-coming employee into a campaign to push aside his competition.[39] Serling modeled the main character on his former commander, Colonel Oren "Hard Rock" Haugen.[40]

Following the show, New York Times critic Jack Gould called it "one of the high points in the TV medium's evolution" and "[f]or sheer power of narrative, forcefulness of characterization and brilliant climax, Mr. Serling's work is a creative triumph."[39] Robert Lewis Shayon stated in the Saturday Review that, "in the years I have been watching television I do not recall being so engaged by a drama, nor so stimulated to challenge the haunting conclusions of an hour's entertainment." [1] The episode was a big hit with audiences as well, and a second live show was re-created by popular demand only one month later.[41] During the time between the two shows, Kraft executives were in discussion with people from Hollywood who were trying to buy the rights to Patterns. The newspapers announced that Patterns would be rebroadcast, but then stated that the show might be unavailable if the rights were sold before that time.[42]

Patterns established Serling's career. Immediately following the original broadcast he was inundated with permanent job offers, congratulations and requests for novels, plays, television or radio scripts.[41] He quickly sold off many of his earlier, lower-quality works and then could only watch in dismay as they were published. Critics expressed concern that Serling was not living up to his promise and began to doubt that he would be able to recreate the level of writing that Patterns had shown.[1]

But then Serling created Requiem for a Heavyweight for the Playhouse 90 TV series in 1956, again gaining accolades from critics.

In the fall of 1957 the Serling family moved to California. When television was new, it was a live production, but as the studios began to tape their shows, the business moved from the east coast to the west.[14] Serling would live in California for the remainder of his life but always kept Binghamton and Cayuga Lake as places to return to when he needed time to himself.[14]

Corporate censorship

The early years of television were filled with growing pains, one of which was the ubiquitous nature of sponsors as editors and censors. Serling was often forced to change his scripts after corporate sponsors had read them and found something they felt was too controversial. Sponsors did not want to be associated with anything that might make them look bad to buyers, so references to many modern social issues were omitted, as were references to anything that might compete commercially with any given sponsor. For instance, the line "Got a match?" was deleted because one of the sponsors for Requiem for a Heavyweight was Ronson lighters.[1]

A New York Times television reviewer added an editorializing note at the end of a glowing review for A Town Has Turned to Dust, a show about racism and bigotry in a small Southwestern town. "'Playhouse 90' and Mr. Serling had to fight executive interference...before getting their play on the air last night. The theater people of Hollywood have reason to be proud of their stand in the viewers behalf."[43]

Tired of seeing his scripts butchered (removing any political statements, ethnic identities, even the Chrysler Building being removed from a script sponsored by Ford), Serling decided the only way to avoid such artistic interference was to create his own show. In an interview with Mike Wallace, Serling confessed, "I don't want to fight anymore. I don't want to have to battle sponsors and agencies. I don't want to have to push for something that I want and have to settle for second best. I don't want to have to compromise all the time, which in essence is what a television writer does if he wants to put on controversial themes."[1]

He submitted The Time Element to CBS executives, intending it to be a pilot for his new weekly show, The Twilight Zone. Instead, CBS used the science fiction script in the new show produced by Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball, The Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse, in 1958. The eerie story concerns a man who has vivid nightmares of Pearl Harbor. The man goes to a psychiatrist and after the session the plot twist, which Serling became known for, is revealed. The patient died in the Pearl Harbor bombings, and the psychiatrist is the one actually having the vivid dreams.[1] The Desilu show received so much positive fan mail about the episode that CBS finally agreed to let Serling go ahead with his pilot for his Twilight Zone show.[1]

The Twilight Zone

On October 2, 1959 CBS-TV broadcast the first episode of Serling's series, The Twilight Zone.[5]

For this series, Serling always fought hard to get and maintain creative control. He hired scriptwriters whom he respected (such as Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont). In an interview, Serling said that its science fiction format would not be controversial[citation needed] (with sponsors, network executives, the general public, etc.), and his program would escape censorship, unlike the earlier Playhouse 90. In actuality, this TV series gave Serling the opportunity to communicate social messages within a more veiled context.

Serling drew on his own experiences for many episodes, with frequent stories about boxing, military life, and airplane pilots, which integrated his firsthand knowledge. The Twilight Zone also incorporated Serling's progressive social views on racial relations, and so forth, which were somewhat veiled by the science fiction and fantasy elements of the shows. Occasionally, however, Serling could be quite blunt, such as in the episode "I Am the Night — Color Me Black", where racism and hatred causes a dark cloud to form in the American South, before proceeding to spread across the country. Serling was also a progressive thinker in matters of gender, with many Twilight Zone stories featuring quick-thinking, resilient women. However, he also wrote or paid for stories that featured shrewish, nagging wives.

The series The Twilight Zone was produced for five TV seasons (the first three seasons presenting half-hour episodes, the fourth season having hour-long episodes and the fifth season returning to the half-hour format). It won many TV and drama awards, and it drew much critical acclaim for Serling and his co-workers. While having a loyal fan base, The Twilight Zone never had very high audience numbers, and it was canceled twice, only to be revived. After five years and 156 episodes, ninety-two of them written by Serling himself, he grew weary of his TV series. In 1964, he decided to let its third cancellation be final. The quality of Serling's prose and productions was indisputable, especially relative to his television drama competitors of the time regarding plot complexity and unexpected, creative-but-plausible outcomes.

Serling sold his rights to The Twilight Zone to CBS. His wife later claimed that he did this partly because he believed that his own studio would never recoup the costs of producing the programs, which frequently went over budget.

Night Gallery

In 1969, NBC aired a Serling-penned pilot for a new series, Night Gallery. Set in a dimly lit museum that was open after hours, the pilot film featured Serling (as on-camera host) playing the part of curator introducing three tales of the macabre, unveiling canvases that would appear in the subsequent story segments (its brief first season rotated as one spoke of a four-series programming wheel titled Four in One), focused more on gothic horror and the occult than did The Twilight Zone. Serling, no longer wanting the burden of an executive position, sidestepped an offer to retain creative control of content, a decision he would come to regret. Although discontented with some of the script and creative choices of producer Jack Laird, Serling maintained a stream of creative submissions and ultimately wrote over a third of the series' scripts. By season three, however, Serling began to see many of his script contributions rejected and flat-out butchered. With his complaints ignored, the disgruntled host dismissed the show as "Mannix in a cemetery". Night Gallery lasted until 1973.

Other television

After Twilight Zone was canceled Serling wrote an unsuccessful western television series called The Loner, which ran from the fall of 1965 to April 1966. The network asked Serling to have more action and less character interaction. He refused to comply, even though the show had received poor reviews and low ratings.[5]

Writing prose

Writing prose did not come easily to Serling. Several of his short stories were rewrites of scripts that had already been produced, but there were original works as well.

In his book, The Evolution of the Weird Tale, S. T. Joshi titled his chapter on Serling's "The Moral Supernatural" and spoke of how difficult it is to categorize Serling's writings. The bulk of his writing was created for television; however, Joshi looked to the three dozen prose pieces that Serling published as a basis for literary analysis.[44] His overview of Serling's writing says, "If there is anything that unites the whole of Serling's works – whether it be short stories or film scripte, whether it be fantastic or mainstream – it is an abiding concern with human feeling.[45]

Joshi compares an original script version of "Walking Distance" to a short story version of the same work, then to the finalized script. The scripts utilize visual images to show the locations, what the characters look like and emotions they are experiencing; in comparison, Serling fleshes these all out in the short story with strong nuances, inner dialogue and elaborate memories that are not able to be translated to the screen. Each is successful in its medium although each include pieces that are not found in the other. Joshi comments that Serling has used pacing well, each correct for the medium and that "in spite of Serling's own doubts on the matter – he mastered the short story technique in every way.[46]


Serling kept his schedule full. When he wasn't writing, promoting or producing his work, he was often seen speaking on college campuses all over the country.[14] He would also teach week-long classes on film in which students would watch films and then critique them. In the political climate of the 60's, he often felt a stronger rapport with older students in his evening classes than he did with the youth of the day.[14]

By the fourth season of Twilight Zone, Serling was exhausted and turned much of the writing over to a trusted stable of writers, writing only seven episodes himself. In an attempt to take a break and clear his mind, he took a one-year teaching job as writer in residence at Antioch College. He taught classes in the 1962–63 school year on writing, drama, and a survey course covering the "social and historical implications of the media."[1][5] He used this time to teach as well as work on a new screenplay, Seven Days in May.[5]

Later he also taught at Ithaca College from 1970 until his death in 1975.[1][47]


"No one could know Serling, or view or read his work, without recognizing his deep affection for humanity ... and his determination to enlarge our horizons by giving us a better understanding of ourselves."

— Gene Roddenberry

According to his wife, Rod Serling often said that "the ultimate obscenity is not caring, not doing something about what you feel, not feeling! Just drawing back and drawing in; becoming narcissistic."[14] This philosophy can be seen in his writing. Some themes appear again and again in his writing; many are concerned with war and politics. Another common theme is equality among all humans.

Anti-war activism

Serling's experiences as a soldier left him with strong opinions about the use of military force. He was an outspoken anti-war activist, especially during the Vietnam War.[5] He supported anti-war politicians, most notably Eugene McCarthy in his presidential bid.[5]

The Rack is a prime example of Serling's using television to speak his mind on political issues. It tells the story of an army captain charged with collaborating with the North Koreans. The New York Time reviewer, J. P. Shanley, called it 'controversial and compelling'. Serling tackled a question that was much in the media at the time: should veterans be charged with a crime if they cooperated with the enemy while under duress?[48] In this courtroom drama the accused is put on trial for helping the enemy by urging fellow prisoners of war to cooperate with their captors. Serling offers many valid arguments on behalf of both the defense and the prosecution. Each has a strong case, but in the end, the Captain is found guilty. There is no Serling narration to conclude the drama, as he had become famous for in The Twilight Zone; instead, the audience is left to make their own conclusions after the verdict has been rendered.[48]

No Christmas This Year was a script written early in Sterling's career, around 1950, but was never produced. It told of a place that no longer celebrated Christmas, although none of the residents know why it has been canceled. Meanwhile, in the North Pole the audience sees Santa Claus dealing with striking elves. Rather than creating toys and candy, the North Pole manufactures a diversity of bombs and offensive gases. Santa has been shot at on his route, and an Elf was hit by shrapnel.[13]

24 Men to a Plane recounts Serling's first combat airdrop into the area around Manila in 1945. The drop was a fiasco after the jump-master in the first plane dropped their men too early, causing every plane after them to drop in synchronicity with their mistake.[49]


Joshi devotes a portion of his book to covering pieces that he believes show a misanthropic side to Serling. Specifically, Joshi refers to "the degree to which his vision of human life is dark, pessimistic, cynical and even misanthropic."[50] His sources include "The Fever", "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street", "Mr. Dingle, the Strong" and "The Shelter", all of which show how easily humans can be turned against anyone who is different from themselves.[51] Joshi also sees a dislike of the human being in the way Serling often uses supernatural beings and situations to get revenge upon innately evil characters, specifically bullies and those who misuse positions of power such as the thieves in "The Rip Van Winkle Caper".[52]

Racial equality

A Town Has Turned to Dust received a positive review from critic Jack Gould, who was known for being straightforward to the point of being harsh in his reviews. He called A Town Has Turned to Dust, "a raw tough and at the same time deeply moving outcry against prejudice."[43] Set in a Southwestern town suffering a deep drought, poverty and despair turn racial tensions deadly when the ineffectual sheriff is unable to stand against the town. A young Mexican boy is lynched, and the town as a whole is to blame. A second lynching is in the works after a series of events leads again to the town turning against the Mexicans. This time, the sheriff stands strong, and the first boy's brother is saved, even as the town is not. "Mr. Serling incorporated his protest against prejudice in vivid dialogue and sound situations. He made his point that hate for a fellow being leads only to the ultimate destruction of the bigoted."[43]


"As long as they talk about you, you're not really dead, as long as they speak your name, you continue. A legend doesn't die, just because the man dies."

— from "A Game of Pool," by George Clayton Johnson, aired on The Twilight Zone, October 31, 1961.[53]

Serling suffered two severe heart attacks in 1975. He and his physicians decided that he should enter the Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, New York for coronary bypass surgery.

On May 3, 1975 Serling suffered a minor heart attack and was hospitalized. He spent two weeks at Tompkins County Community Hospital before being released.[54] A second heart attack two weeks later forced doctors to agree that open heart surgery, though considered risky at the time, was in order.[55][56] On June 28, 1975 Serling had a third, and fatal, heart attack during the ten-hour operation which ended his life.[47] He was 50 years old at the time of his death.[47]

A memorial was held in Cornell University's Sage Chapel on Tuesday, July 8, 1975.[47] Speakers at the Memorial included his daughter, Anne, and the Reverend John F. Hayward.[55]

As newspapers began spreading word of his death, it was common to mention that he had been a heavy smoker for years. Although this was true, interviews with his wife in later years mentioned that both his father and grandfather had also died in their 50s of heart problems.[31]



Rod Serling began his career when television was a new medium. The first public viewing of television happened at the 1939 World's Fair[57] when Rod was only fourteen years old. Commercial television officially started on July 1, 1941; however, less than seven thousand TV sets could be found in America, and very few of those were in private homes.[58] Only five months later the U.S. entered WWII, and the television business was put on hold until war's end,[59] as many of the sets were confiscated by the government and re-purposed to train air-raid wardens.[35] Only after WWII ended did money begin flowing towards the new medium of television; at the same time Serling began his writing career. Early programming consisted of newsreels, sporting events and what would be called public access today. It wasn't until 1948 that filmed dramas were first shown, beginning with a show called Public Prosecutor.[60] Serling began having serious dramas produced in 1950 and is given credit as one of the first to write scripts specifically for the medium of television. As such, he is said to have helped legitimize television drama.[61]

The format of writing for television was in flux in the beginning but eventually settled into a pattern in which time was set aside for a commercial break on the quarter hour. Writers, Serling included, were forced to write around a break in the action. Serling's response to this convention was, "How can you put out a meaningful drama when every fifteen minutes proceedings are interrupted by twelve dancing rabbits with toilet paper? No dramatic art form should be dictated and controlled by men whose training and instincts are cut of an entirely different cloth. The fact remains that these gentlemen sell consumer goods, not an art form."[62] Throughout his career Serling helped to mold the future of television.

Challenging the censors

Known as 'the angry young man' by those who witnessed his battles with network executives over censorship[29], Serling revolutionized the way writers and sponsors interacted.

Writing for multiple media

As early as 1955 Jack Gould from the New York Times commented on the close ties that were then being created between television and the big screen by writers. Serling was one of the first to exploit crossover between media by turning his early television successes, Patterns and The Rack into full-length movie productions.[63] Up to that time, many established writers were often unwilling to write for television screen because the medium was often only viewed once then shunted into a vault, never to be seen again.[64]

Beginning of the rerun

After the first showing of Patterns, the studio received such high feedback that they produced a repeat performance, which was the first time that a television show had been shown again at the behest of the audience. Although successful shows had sometimes been recreated after two years or more, this was the first time a show was recreated exactly – with the same cast and crew – as it had been originally created.[65] The second live performance, only a month later, was equally successful and inspired New York Times critic Jack Gould to write an essay on the use of re-plays within the tele-play format. He stated that Patterns was a prime example of a drama that should be seen more than once, as was the norm for television shows of the day. Sponsors believed that creating new shows every week would assure them the largest possible audience, and so they purchased a new script for each night. Gould suggested that as new networks were opened and the viewers were given more choices, the percentage of viewers would spread out among the offerings. Patterns was proof that a second showing would garner more viewers because those who missed the first showing could then watch it the second showing, adding to the total viewers and reaching a larger audience for sponsors.[64]

Effects on popular culture

During his lifetime

After the made-for-television movie The Doomsday Flight was released in December 1966, a rash of copy-cats phoned in ransom demands to most of the largest airlines. The fictional plot concerned an airplane with a bomb aboard. If the plane landed without the ransom money being paid, the aircraft would explode. The bomb was set with an altitude trigger so if the plane dropped below four thousand feet, it would detonate. The show was one of the highest rated of the television season, but both Serling and his brother Robert, a technical advisor on the project (a specialist in aviation), regretted making the film. Serling himself was truly devastated by the what his script had encouraged. He told reporters who flocked to interview him, "I wish to Christ that I had written a stagecoach drama starring John Wayne instead."[66]

After being knocked out in a 1961 boxing match Archie Moore said, "Man, I was in the Twilight Zone!"[67]

Also in 1961, the FCC chairman Newton Minow gave a speech in which he called television programing a 'vast wasteland', giving The Twilight Zone as one of only a few exceptions.[67]

Continuing effects

"You're travelling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind; a journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination—next stop, the Twilight Zone!"

— Rod Serling, The Twilight Zone, Introduction.

Serling is indelibly woven into modern popular culture due to the popularity of his hit television show The Twilight Zone. Even youth of today can hum the theme song, and the title itself is a synonym for all things unexplainable.[68] Serlings widow, Carol, maintains that the cult status that now surrounds both her husband and his shows continues to be a surprise her, "as I'm sure it would have been to him."[31] "It won't go away. It keeps bobbing up...Each year, I think, well, that's it—and then something else turns up."[31]

The Twilight Zone has been rerun, recreated and re-imagined since soon after it went off the air in 1964. It has been released in comic book form, as a magazine, a movie, and two additional television series from 1985 to 1989 and again from 2002 to 2003. In 1988, J. Michael Straczynski scripted Serling's outline "Our Selena Is Dying" for the 1980s revival The New Twilight Zone.

Even those who have never seen a black and white episode of the original Twilight Zone are now able to read some of Serling's work in graphic novel format. Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone is a series of adaptations by Mark Kneece and Rich Ellis based on original scripts written by Serling.[69]

The Twilight Zone is not the only Serling work to reappear throughout the years. In 1994, Rod Serling's Lost Classics released two never-before-seen works that Carol Serling found in her garage. The first was an outline called "The Theatre" that Richard Matheson expanded. The second was a complete script written by Serling titled "Where the Dead Are".

Serling was ranked #1 in TV Guide's list of the "25 Greatest Sci-Fi Legends" (in the August 1, 2004 issue). He was also the only real-life person on the list. All the others were fictitious characters.

More than 30 years after his death, Serling was digitally resurrected for an episode of the TV series Medium that aired on November 21, 2005. The episode, filmed partially in 3-D, opened with Serling's introducing the episode and instructing viewers as to when to put on their 3-D glasses. This was accomplished by using footage from The Twilight Zone episode "The Midnight Sun" and digitally manipulating Serling's mouth to match new dialogue spoken by impersonator Mark Silverman. The plot of the episode involved paintings coming to life, a nod to both The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery.

On 11 August 2009, the United States Postal Service released its Early TV Memories commemorative stamp collection, honoring notable television programs. One of the twenty stamps honored The Twilight Zone and featured a portrait of Rod Serling.[70]

Influences on other writers

When casting for the role of the shady Mr. Morden for the television series Babylon 5, creator J. Michael Straczynski chose Ed Wasser (who had played a bit part in the series' two-hour pilot TV movie) for the role because of his slick looks, charm, and vocal mannerisms reminiscent of a young Rod Serling.

Awards, honors, and memberships

1955 Emmy Best Original Teleplay Writing Patterns
1955 Emmy Nomination Climax!
1956 Emmy Best Teleplay Writing Requiem for a Heavyweight
1956 Peabody Award Personal Recognition for Writing Requiem for a Heavyweight
1956 Writers Guild of America Award Best One Hour Drama Requiem for a Heavyweight
1957 Christopher Award Requiem for a Heavyweight
1956 Writers Guild of America Award Best One Hour Drama A Town Has Turned to Dust
1959 Emmy Best Teleplay Writing The Comedian
1960 Emmy Outstanding Writing Achievement in Drama The Twilight Zone
1960 Emmy Nomination A Town Has Turned to Dust
1960 Hugo The Twilight Zone
1961 Emmy Outstanding Writing Achievement in Drama The Twilight Zone
1961 Hugo The Twilight Zone
1962 Golden Globe Award Best Male Television Star The Twilight Zone
1962 Hugo The Twilight Zone
1963 Emmy Outstanding Writing Achievement in Drama It's Mental Work
1964 Writers Guild of America Award Nomination Seven Days in May
1965 Golden Globe Award Best Director The Twilight Zone
1970 Edgar Allan Poe Award Special Edgar Best episode of a TV series for Night Gallery
1971 Christopher Award
2001 Daytime Emmy Award Nomination (posthumous) Writing For A Children/Youth/Family Special


Serling was inducted posthumously into the Television Hall of Fame in 1985.

A star honoring Serling can be found at 6840 Hollywood Blvd. on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.


National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences
– New York City chapter, board of governors 1956–57;
– California chapter, 1959;
– national president, 1965–66

Writers Guild of America West
– council member, 1965–67

Selected works


Patterns (1955)
Requiem for a Heavyweight (1956)
The Comedian (1957)
A Town Has Turned to Dust (1958)
The Velvet Alley (1958)
The Twilight Zone (1959–1964 television series)
Night Gallery (1970–1973 television series)
Planet of the Apes (1968), co-written with Michael Wilson
The Loner (TV series)
Encounter with the Unknown (1975) (narrator)
The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau as the Narrator; these specials were produced by Alan Landsburg in the 1960s and 1970s


Stories from the Twilight Zone, Bantam (New York City), 1960.
More Stories from the Twilight Zone, Bantam, 1961.
New Stories from the Twilight Zone, Bantam, 1962.
From the Twilight Zone, Doubleday (Garden City, NJ), 1962.
Requiem for a Heavyweight: A Reading Version of the Dramatic Script, Bantam, 1962.
Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone, Grosset, 1963.
Rod Serling's Triple W: Witches, Warlocks and Werewolves; A Collection,(Editor) Bantam, 1963.
Twilight Zone Revisited, Grosset, 1964.
The Season to Be Wary (3 novellas, "Escape Route", "Color Scheme", and "Eyes"), Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1967.
Devils and Demons: A Collection, Bantam, 1967. (Editor and author of introduction)
Night Gallery, Bantam, 1971.
Night Gallery 2, Bantam, 1972.
Rod Serling's Other Worlds, Bantam, 1978.

Short stories

Escape Clause (1960)
The Fever (1960)
The Mighty Casey (1960)
The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street (1960)
Walking Distance (1960)
Where is Everybody? (1960)
The Big, Tall Wish (1961)
Dust (1961)
The Lonely (1961)
Mr Dingle, the Strong (1961)
The Odyssey of Flight 33 (1961)
A Stop at Willoughby (1961)
A Thing About Machines (1961)
The Midnight Sun (1962)
The Night of the Meek (1962)
The Rip Van Winkle Caper (1962)
The Shelter (1962)
Showdown with Rance McGrew (1962)
The Whole Truth (1962)
The Riddle of the Crypt (1963)
The Escape Route (1967)
The Sole Survivor (1971)
Lindemann's Catch (1972)
Suggestion (1972)

Posthumous releases

Rod Serling's Lost Classics, 1994 telefilm


1.^ Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2010. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale, 2010. Document Number: H1000089528
2.^ Rod Serling Biography (1924–1975)
3.^ Sander, p.15.
4.^ Sander, p.23.
5.^ Serling, Rodman Edward ("Rod"). The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives Thematic Series: The 1960s. Ed. William L. O'Neill and Kenneth T. Jackson. 2 vols. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2003. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale, 2010. Doc: K3436600553
6.^ Sander, p.17.
7.^ Sander, pp.17–18.
8.^ Sander, p.18.
9.^ Sander, pp.19–20.
10.^ Sander, p.19.
11.^ Sander, Pg 19.
12.^ Sander, pp.18–22.
13.^ Grams, Martin, Jr. The Radio Career of Rod Serling, Audio Classics Archive.
14.^ Rosenbaum, Bob. Life With Rod: A Conversation With Carol Serling, "Twilight Zone" magazine, April 1987.
15.^ Sander, p.36.
16.^ Sander, pp.34 and 37.
17.^ Sander, pp.36–7.
18.^ Sander, p.40.
19.^ Hudson, Edward. "Rod Serling of 'Twilight Zone' And 'Night Gallery' on TV Dies". New York Times; Jun 29, 1975; pg. 35. ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851–2006).
20.^ Sander, Pg 40–41.
21.^ Sander, p.43.
22.^ Sander, p.45.
23.^ Sander, p.46.
24.^ Sander, p.47.
25.^ Sander, pp.47–9.
26.^ Sander, p.49.
27.^ Sander, p.50.
28.^ Sander, p.51.
29.^ Authors and Artists for Young Adults. Rod Serling, Vol. 14. Gale Research, 1995. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale, 2010.
30.^ Sander, p.53.
31.^ DuBrow, Rick. Assessing the Astonishing Impact of Rod Serling's 'Twilight Zone' . July 04, 1990. L.A. Times: Television section.
32.^ Sander, Pg 60.
33.^ Sander, p.58.
34.^ Sander, p.61.
35.^ Sander, Pg 57.
36.^ 1985 Dick Biondi interview-mentions Serling writing commercials for WINR, Binghamton, NY
37.^ Warrick, Pamela. "Serling the Storyteller and Master Dreamer" L.A. Times, News, Trends, Gossip and Stuff To Do, Pg 2.
38.^ Sander, Pg 69.
39.^ Gould, Jack. "Television in Review", New York Times; Jan 17, 1955; pg. 32. ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851–2006)
40.^ Sander, Pg 37.
41.^ Shanley, J. P. "Notes on Patterns'". New York Times; Feb 6, 1955; pg. X15. ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851–2006)
42.^ Gould, Jack. "Television: A Saint and a Sinner", New York Times; Jan 19, 1955; pg. 35. ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851–2006)
43.^ Gould, Jack. "Prejudice Dissected", New York Times; Jun 20, 1958; pg. 47. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851–2006)
44.^ Joshi, Pg 148.
45.^ Joshi, Pg 139.
46.^ Joshi, Pg 143.
47.^ "Serling Memorial Monday". New York Times; Jul 1, 1975; pg. 32. ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851–2006)
48.^ a b Shanley, J. P., 'The Rack' Tells Story Of a War Prisoner. New York Times Apr 17, 1955; pg. X15. ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851–2006)
49.^ Sander, Pg 48.
50.^ Joshi, Pg 140.
51.^ Joshi, Pg 140–142.
52.^ Joshi, Pg 142.
53.^ Sander, Pg 221.
54.^ Sander, Pg 217.
55.^ Sander, Pg 218.
56.^ Rodman Edward Serling."Dictionary of American Biography, Supplement 9: 1971–1975. Charles Scribner's Sons, 1994. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale, 2010.
57.^ McMahon, Pg 3.
58.^ McMahon, Pg 21.
59.^ McMahon, Pg 22.
60.^ McMahon, Pg 25.
61.^ Sander, Pg 28.
62.^ "Rod Serling: Submitted for Your Approval", documentary.
63.^ Gould, Jack. Some Reason for Optimism, New York Times, Apr 24, 1955, pg. X11; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851–2006)
64.^ a b Gould, Jack. TV: Twice-Told Tale, New York Times; Feb 11, 1955; pg. 31. ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851–2006)
65.^ Adams, Val. "Kraft to Repeat 'Patterns' on TV". New York Times; Jan 20, 1955; pg. 38. ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851–2006)
66.^ Douglas, pg 101.
67.^ Sander, Pg 172.
68.^ Carl Hays, Carl. "Twilight Zone: 19 Original Stories on the 50th Anniversary". The Booklist. Chicago: Sep 1, 2009. Vol. 106, Iss. 1; pg. 49, 1 pg.
69.^ Kneece, Pg 1
70.^ USPS Postal News: Postal Service Previews 2009 Commemorative Stamp Program


Douglas, John and Mark Olshaker (1999). "Magnum Force". The Anatomy of Motive: The FBI's Legendary Mindhunter Explores the Key to Understanding and Catching Violent Criminals. Pocket. pp. 101. ISBN 0671023934.
Joshi, S. T. (2004). "Rod Serling: The Moral Supernatural". The Evolution of the Weird Tale. Hippocampus Books. pp. 139–148. ISBN 0974878928.
Kneece, Mark (2009). Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone: The Monsters are Due on Maple Street. Walker & Company. ISBN 080279713x.
McMahon, Ed and David Fisher (2007). When Television Was Young. Thomas Nelson. pp. 3. ISBN 1401603270.
Sander, Gordon F. (1992). Serling: The Rise and Twilight of Television's Last Angry Man. Dutton. pp. ix – 284. ISBN 0525935509.

Further reading

DeVoe, Bill. (2008) Trivia from The Twilight Zone. Albany, GA: Bear Manor Media. ISBN 978-1593931360
Grams, Martin. (2008) The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic. Churchville, MD: OTR Publishing. ISBN 978-0970331090
Nicholls, Peter (1979) Encyclopedia of Science Fiction Granada.
Marc Scott Zicree. (1992) Twilight Zone Companion Silman-James Press. ISBN 978-1879505094

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