Rodman Edward "Rod" Serling (March 25, 1924–June 28, 1975) was an American screenwriter, best known for producing screenplays for live television dramas of the 1950's and creating and hosting his science fiction anthology TV series, The Twilight Zone.
Serling was born in Syracuse, New York, the second of two sons of Esther Serling (née Cooper) and Samuel Lawrence Serling. His brother, Robert J. Serling, (also a writer) became a novelist. Serling was raised in Binghamton, NY, but his family also had a summer home on Cayuga Lake, in New York's Finger Lakes region. This would later inspire the name "Cayuga Productions" for use on The Twilight Zone productions.
Though brought up in a Jewish family, Serling's family infrequently attended synagogue except during High Holy days and Rod viewed Judaism more as an ethnic foundation rather than an overtly religious one. Rod and his brother, Robert, attended Sunday School at the local Jewish community center under the leadership of The Friedlanders, both philosophical humanists. He expressed a great fondness for anthology short stories and comic books, movies of fantasy and science-fiction. He would even act them out in front of everybody, like a performer. This would later prove prophetic in his future.
Rod Serling attended high school at Binghamton Central High School. During these years, Rod began to express his interest in writing and he eventually became editor of the high school newspaper. Unfortunately, this would also be a time when Serling would have his initial experience with anti-Semitism, when he was refused enrollment in the Theta Sigma fraternity. Regarding this, he remarked in a 1972 interview, "it was the first time in my life that I became aware of religious difference." He excelled athletically in sports such as tennis and ping-pong. He attempted to join the football team, but being a mere 5'4", he wasn't picked. He attempted to major involved in physical education or sports in some way, but after winning an award for something he wrote--he switched primarily creative writing.
Rod Serling served as a U.S. Army paratrooper and demolition specialist with the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 11th Airborne Division in the Pacific Theater in World War II from January 1943 to January 1945. He was seriously wounded in the wrist and knee during combat in the province of Leyte in the Philippines and was awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star.
Serling's military service deeply affected the rest of his life and influenced much of his writing. Due to his wartime experiences, Serling suffered from nightmares and flashbacks. During his service in World War II, he watched as his best friend was crushed to death by a heavy supply crate dropped by a parachute onto the field. Serling was rather short (5'4") and slight. He was a noted boxer during his military days.
Rod enrolled in Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio under the G.I. Bill of Rights. He met his future wife, Carol Kramer, during his first year at the college and the two were married in an ecumenical service at the Antioch chapel on July 31, 1948.
He found himself inspired by the words of Unitarian educator Horace Mann, first president of Antioch College:
"Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity."These words, along with a rendition of Antioch's Horace Mann statue would later be featured in the Season 3 The Twilight Zone episode, Changing of the Guard. Unitarian Universalism had an established history at the liberal college and the young couple chose to convert to this faith, he converting from Judaism and she from her family's Protestant background..
He earned his B.A. degree in literature in 1950.
Early writing career
After graduation, Rod took a job in nearby Cincinnati, Ohio as a staff writer at radio station WLW. This would be his day job for the next two years, while spending his nights writing scripts at his kitchen table.
Biographers note that throughout his career, Serling was inspired by legendary radio and television playwright Norman Corwin. Both men would trace their careers through the WLW broadcasting franchise to eventually find homes at CBS, and both would be honored for weaving pivotal social themes into their scripts.
In 1951, Serling started to break into television by writing scripts for The Doctor, Fireside Theater, Hallmark Hall of Fame, Lux Video Theater, Kraft Television Theatre, Suspense and Studio One. He also worked for local Cincinnati TV station WKRC (Channel 12), where he wrote a series of live TV shows titled The Storm. The program was a precursor to The Twilight Zone, as was one of the scripts: Requiem for a Heavyweight.
In 1955, Kraft Television Theatre presented another of Serling's scripts, the seventy-second to reach the air. To Serling, it was just another script, and he missed the first live airing. The name of the show was Patterns and it 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. It was a huge hit, and was re-aired the following week, which was nearly unprecedented at the time. The script established Serling as a rarity: a television playwright.
In 1957 the Serlings moved to Pacific Palisades, California. More acclaimed teleplays followed, including The Rack, about a Korean War veteran and the effects of torture, the legendary Requiem for a Heavyweight (from CBS's Playhouse 90 series), and several others, some of which were adapted to the big screen. Requiem, like Patterns, was honored as a milestone in television drama. The installment's producer, Martin Manulis, noted in a PBS biography of Serling, Submitted for Your Approval, that after the live broadcast, CBS chairman William S. Paley called the control room to tell the crew that the show had advanced TV by 10 years. The show's director, Ralph Nelson, wrote and directed a television drama four years later for the Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse about writing Requiem for a Heavyweight called The Man in the Funny Suit, in which Serling appeared as himself.
Serling knew that to advance social consciousness through the medium, it would sometimes require scripts that were of a controversial nature and he wasn't afraid to address taboo subjects of the time. The corporate sponsors, however, would not see things the same way, demanding editorial oversight to avoid having their products associated with any subject that may be perceived as negative. In an interview, Mr. Serling expressed his frustration: "Before the script goes before the cameras, the networks, the sponsors, the ad agency men censor it so that by the time it's seen on the home screen, all the message has been squeezed out of it." In another interview in 1959, he added: "I think it is criminal that we are not permitted to make dramatic note of social evils that exist, of controversial themes as they are inherent in our society."
Tired of seeing his scripts butchered (removing any political statements, ethnic identities, the Chrysler Building being removed from a script sponsored by Ford, even, recalled Serling: "One time we couldn't mention Hitler's gas ovens because a gas company sponsored the show."), Serling decided the only way to avoid such artistic interference was to create his own show.
The Twilight Zone
In 1959, CBS aired the first episode of a groundbreaking series, The Twilight Zone. Serling fought hard for creative control, hiring writers he respected (such as Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont) and launched himself into weekly television. He stated in an interview that the science fiction format would not be controversial and would escape censorship unlike the earlier Playhouse 90. In reality the show gave him the opportunity to communicate social messages in a more veiled context.
Sere blunt, 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 eventually spreading elsewhere. Serling was also progressive on matters of gender, with many stories featuring quick-thinking, resilient women, although he also wrote stories featuring shrewish, nagging wives.
The show lasted five seasons (four using a half-hour format, with one half-season using an hour-long format), winning awards and critical acclaim for Serling and his staff. While having a loyal fan base, the program never had huge ratings and was twice canceled, only to be revived. After five years and 156 episodes, 92 of them written by Serling himself, he wearied of the show. In 1964, he decided to let the third cancellation be final.
Serling sold his rights to the series to CBS. His wife later claimed that he did this partly because he believed the studio would never recoup the cost of the show, which frequently went over budget. This proved to be a costly mistake.
Subsequent to The Twilight Zone, Serling continued to write for television. On May 25, 1962, Serling guest starred in the episode "The Celebrity" of the CBS sitcom Ichabod and Me with Robert Sterling and George Chandler. In 1964, he scripted Carol for Another Christmas, a television adaptation of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. It was telecast only once, December 28, 1964, on ABC.
In 1965, he made another attempt at creating an ongoing series, unexpectedly a TV Western titled The Loner. The show starred Lloyd Bridges as an American Civil War soldier wandering through the Old West in search of himself. The explicit psychological and existensial nature of the show and its scarcity of violence was unique for Westerns of the time and this resulted in criticism from viewers, critics, and the network alike. "CBS bought it," producer William Self said, "thinking it was going to be much more of a traditional Western than it was. And I think that from day one we had a problem with the network. They didn't feel we were delivering what we sold them and we felt we were." The Loner was cancelled midway through its initial season.
Rod went on to write several other teleplays and the pilot episode for a short-lived Aaron Spelling series called The New People in 1969. Also in 1969, Serling hosted a short-lived syndicated game show, Liar's Club.
In 1969, NBC aired a Serling-penned pilot for a new series, Night Gallery. Set in a dimly lit museum, the pilot film featured Serling (as on-camera host) 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 producer Jack Laird's script and creative choices, 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. With his complaints ignored, the disgruntled host dismissed the show as "Mannix in a cemetery". Night Gallery lasted until 1973.
While the series has its own cult following, it is not as successful as The Twilight Zone and is generally regarded as a pale shadow of Serling's previous series.
Serling wrote a number of short story adaptations of his own Twilight Zone teleplays, which were collected into three volumes of Twilight Zone stories (1960, 1961, 1962), two of Night Gallery stories (1971, 1972), and a collection of three novellas, The Season to be Wary (1968). Two of the novellas in The Season to be Wary were later adapted into episodes of the Night Gallery pilot movie. Serling also released a collection of teleplays, Patterns, in 1957. The collection included the teleplays for "Patterns," "The Rack," "Old MacDonald Had a Curve," and "Requiem For a Heavyweight".
A critical essay on Serling's fiction can be found in S. T. Joshi's book The Evolution of the Weird Tale (2004). Joshi emphasises Serling's moralism and the streak of misanthropy imbuing his work, and argues that, far from being merely rewritten scripts, many of Serling's stories can stand as genuinely original and meritorious works of prose fiction.
During the time after The Twilight Zone, Serling also began to tour the lecture circuit. He even did so in cooperation with the State Department, "extolling the virtues of television and U.S. foreign policy," traveling to sites such as Hong Kong.A portion of his speech in Washington, DC, debriefing the State Department:
"Television's greatest weakness is its reluctance to take positions. Historically, during times of greatest stress, during periods of greatest controversy, the mass media are the first to be attacked, the first to be muzzled, and also unhappily-historically and traditionally-the first to fold up their tent and look the other way." (March 1965)
The Serlings were active members of the Unitarian Community Church of Santa Monica and Rod was an dedicated supporter of the Unitarian Universalist Association, the Santa Monica church, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). He supported these organizations and others through speaking engagements and with financial contributions.In a noteworthy speech delivered at Moorpark College, Moorpark, California, on December 3, 1968, Serling criticized loyalty oaths, the Vietnam War and social inequity.
Mr. Serling writhed. Serling's political involvement was not limited to his writing, however, and he campaigned for Democratic incumbent Pat Brown against Ronald Reagan in the 1966 California gubernatorial race. His social activism also was apparent in the form of letters to newspaper editors. One notable exchange took place between Rod and Dr. Max Rafferty, a religious conservative educator, who had a weekly column in the Los Angeles Times.
On October 10, 1966 Rafferty's column addressed social reform and claimed that humanity's problems were not the responsibility of society but of the individual. The article's theme is well expressed in Rafferty's statement, "I don't feel guilty about crime in our cities because I'm not committing any." Serling's incensed response was published five days later. In it he rebuked Dr. Rafferty with his words, "The good doctor had best take his Bible in hand and discover what is the compassion of faith, the selflessness of worship and the charity of Christ."
In 1973 Serling's teleplay "Storm in Summer" was adapted for the theater. It premiered in San Diego's Off-Broadway Theatre and starred Sam Jaffe, Edd Burns and Patty McCormack. It was directed by James Burrows Although there were plans to bring the show to Broadway, that never happened.
Serling returned to radio in 1974 as the host of a new mystery/adventure series called The Zero Hour. The show aired for two years and Serling wrote several of the scripts. It failed to find a large audience due to its radio serial format and lack of promotion.
Late in his life, Serling taught at Ithaca College in Ithaca, New York where he resided for many years. He had already had experience in this role, after accepting an one year teaching position at Antioch college in 1962. At Antioch he taught writing, drama, and a survey course about the "social and historical implications of the media."
In the years before his death, Mr. Serling did voiceovers for various projects. He narrated documentaries featuring French undersea explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau and (uncredited) performed the narration for the beginning of the Brian De Palma film Phantom of the Paradise.
Serling had taped introductions for a limited-run summer comedy series on ABC, Keep on Truckin', which was scheduled to begin its run several weeks after his death; these introductions were subsequently edited out of the broadcast episodes.
In 1975, Serling had two severe heart attacks, the first occurring in May while mowing the lawn at the Interlaken lake house. After his health continued to decline, he entered the Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester for heart bypass surgery. He had a third heart attack during the operation and died the following day, at the age of 50. The surgeons said his artery was disintegrating due to stress, years of heavy smoking, caffeine and alcohol--to say nothing of family history. Two simultaneous memorial services were held, one at the Sage Chapel of Cornell University in New York and the other at the Unitarian Community Church of Santa Monica in California. He is interred at the cemetery in Interlaken, an area of upstate New York featured prominently in some Twilight Zone episodes.
After his death, several Serling scripts were produced. In 1988, J. Michael Straczynski scripted Serling's outline "Our Selena is Dying" for the 1980s revival The New Twilight Zone. Rod Serling's Lost Classics (1994) was a TV movie based on a Serling script and an outline for another story (the latter was expanded and scripted by Richard Matheson), In the Presence of Mine Enemies (1997) was set in the Warsaw Ghetto, a science-fiction remake of A Town Has Turned to Dust (1998), and A Storm in Summer (2000) followed.
Legacy in television
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.
Serling was ranked #1 in TV Guide's list of the "25 Greatest Sci-Fi Legends" (in the August 1, 2004 issue).
Legacy in other media
Over the years, a number of pop/rock songs have included tributes and references to Rod Serling and/or The Twilight Zone.
- Canadian progressive rock music trio Rush dedicated their 1975 album Caress of Steel to the memory of Rod Serling. Lyricist and drummer Neil Peart and his (late) wife Jackie named their only child, a daughter, Selena, after the "Our Selena is Dying" episode of The Twilight Zone. The band's follow-up 1976 smash album, 2112, featured the song, "The Twilight Zone" as a tribute to Mr. Serling and his work.
- In 1979, the vocal group The Manhattan Transfer scored a big hit with "The Twilight Zone / The Twilight Tone" a jazz-rock variation of the classic Marius Constant theme from the television series (from their Extensions album; their promotional video clip even had lead singer Alan Paul standing beside a door floating in space, mimicking Rod Serling for the introduction.
- In 1982, Dutch rock band Golden Earring scored a hit with a song titled "Twilight Zone".
- In the musical adaptation of Hairspray, Amber Von Tussle sings "She's like a living Twilight Zone/Quick, get Rod Serling on the phone!" in the song "Cooties".
- On "Threatened", a track from his 2001 album Invincible, pop icon Michael Jackson used samples of Rod Serling narrations from The Twilight Zone as introduction and conclusion to the song, as well as a montage of clips to make Serling rap in the middle section of the tune.
- The Korean pop group SES recorded a song called "Twilight Zone" in 2001.
On April 5, 1993, Midway introduced The Twilight Zone pinball machine which featured a backglass portrait of Serling surrounded by his creations. Tim Kitzrow provided the voice of Rod Serling for the game.
In 1994, the Walt Disney World resort opened its premier free fall attraction titled "The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror" at the Disney's Hollywood Studios theme park in Orlando, Florida. The ride places guests into a fabricated episode of The Twilight Zone, where they are introduced to the story by Rod Serling.
- The story is that at the height of the Hollywood golden age, a famous landmark hotel holding a gala event is struck by lightning during a thunderstorm. Passenger elevators carrying 5 guests mysteriously vanish after plummeting 13 stories, and the tower has stood derelict since that fateful night. Guests board "freight elevators" that carry them upwards and then laterally into the free fall shaft, where they visit the "Fifth Dimension" room which references the opening TV title sequence. (Footage from ""It's a Good Life"" was combined with voiceover work of impersonator Mark Silverman).
- It is a misconception that Serling's trademark cigarette is absent from his hand due to the family-friendly atmosphere of the ride, as it is actually absent in the original footage as well.
A similar version of the ride appears at Disney's California Adventure and Walt Disney Studios Park. The ride differs in aspects of pacing and tone, generally considered much campier, but Serling is part of the attraction nonetheless. All three editions of the ride feature props from and references to various "The Twilight Zone" episodes.
Tokyo DisneySea has their own version of the Tower of Terror, however the "backstory" departs from the other versions, erasing all ties to "The Twilight Zone" including any reference, mention, or appearance of Serling.
Influence on Other Writers
J.J. Abrams, creator of the TV series Lost, named Rod Serling as his personal hero, remarking:
"In "The Twilight Zone," he did my favorite thing — he took outlandish situations and told them through emotional characterization. I discovered my house is 400 feet from where he lived."
Awards and honors
During his lifetime, Rod Serling received six Emmys, and his biggest successes in writing include:
- 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)
- Main article: List of memorable quotes by Rod Serling
- Main article: Rod Serling bibliography
- Main article: Rod Serling filmography
- ↑ Rod Serling Biography (1924-1975)
- ↑ 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 2.14 The Dictionary of Unitarian and Universalist Biography: Rod Serling.
- ↑  Retrieved: 2009-04-21
- ↑ Rod Serling Timeline at RodSerling.com
- ↑ 5.0 5.1 TV Party: Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone: Lost Pilot
- ↑ Vinciguerra, Thomas. "Marley Is Dead, Killed in a Nuclear War, December 20, 2007.
- ↑ 7.0 7.1 7.2 RodSerling.com: "The Loner" by Tony Albarella (2001) Retrieved: 2009-04-21
- ↑ The Zero Hour Radio Log
- ↑ Judge, Dick. Hollywood Radio Theater: Zero Hour
- ↑ "Internet Pinball Database - Twilight Zone". http://www.ipdb.org/machine.cgi?2684. Retrieved on 2007-02-15.
- ↑ IGN.com - Breaking into the Industry: Tim Kitzrow. Retrieved on 12 October 2008
- ↑ "Interview with Mark Silverman". WDWMagic.com. October 2006. http://www.wdwmagic.com/tower_marksilverman_interview.htm. Retrieved on 2006-12-25.]
- ↑ Lewine, Edward (April 16, 2006). "L.A. Confidential." New York Times. Domains section Retrieved on 2009-04-021
- ↑ 14.0 14.1 The Twilight Zone Archives: Items and Props; Retrieved 2009-04-25
- 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
- Serling: The Rise and Twilight of Television's Last Angry Man by Gordon F. Sander (Dutton, 1992), ISBN 978-0525935506
- Rod Serling at the Internet Movie Database
- Rod Serling at the Internet Broadway Database
- The Rod Serling Museum - Binghamton, New York
- The Rod Serling Memorial Foundation
- Serling entry in Unitarian Universalist Biographical Dictionary
- Rod Serling's Dream Town of Willoughby is Real! See it here.
- Rod Serling Archives at Ithaca College The Rod Serling Archives consists of television scripts, movie screenplays, stage play scripts, films, published works by Serling, unproduced scripts, and secondary materials
- Rod Serling Conference at Ithaca College An academic conference focused on studying the creative work of Rod Serling. The next one is scheduled for March 28-29. 2008
- 1959 interview by Mike Wallace (journalist)
- An Interview with Carol Serling: 'Life With Rod'
- Rod Serling Archive at the Wisconsin Historical Society Serling's papers consist of roughly 80,000 documents ranging from scripts to personal correspondence, including a folder of angry letters received by Serling.
- Rod Serling's Gravestone
- Twilight zone and Serling's writings
- "Writing for Television" by Rod Serling
- Rod Serling's Radio Career
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