Publicity photo of Serling, 1959
|Born||Rodman E. Serling
December 25, 1924
Syracuse, New York, USA
|Died||June 28, 1975
Rochester, New York, USA
|Resting place||Lake View Cemetery in Interlaken, New York|
|Occupation||Screenwriter, TV producer, narrator|
|Education||Bachelor of Arts in Literature|
|Alma mater||Antioch College|
|Genres||Speculative fiction, science fiction, horror fiction|
|Notable work(s)||Patterns, Requiem for a Heavyweight, The Twilight Zone, Night Gallery|
|Notable award(s)||Emmy, Hugo, Peabody, Golden Globe|
|Spouse(s)||Carolyn Louise "Carol" (Kramer) Serling (1948-1975; his death)|
|Relative(s)||Robert J. Serling (brother)|
Rodman E. "Rod" Serling (December 25, 1924 – June 28, 1975) was an American screenwriter, playwright, 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 war.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Career
- 3 Themes
- 4 Death
- 5 Legacy
- 6 Effects on popular culture
- 7 Awards, honors, and memberships
- 8 Selected works
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 Further reading
- 12 External links
Serling was born December 25, 1924, into a Jewish family in Syracuse, New York, the second of two sons born to Esther (née Cooper) and Samuel Lawrence Serling. 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. Sam Serling later took up the trade of butcher after the Great Depression forced the store to close. Serling's mother was a homemaker.
Serling spent most of his youth seventy miles south of Syracuse in the city of Binghamton after his family moved there in 1926. As a performer, he was encouraged by his parents from the start. Sam Serling built a small stage in the basement, where Rod (with or without neighborhood children) often put on plays. Rod's older brother, author Robert, recalled that at the age of six or seven, Serling entertained himself for hours by acting out dialogue from pulp magazines or movies he'd seen. Rod often talked to people around him without waiting for their answers. On a two hour-long 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.
In elementary school, Serling was seen as the class clown and dismissed by many of his teachers as a lost cause. However, his seventh grade English teacher, Helen Foley, 'discovered' him and encouraged him to enter the school's public speaking extracurriculars. He joined the debate team and was a speaker at his high school graduation. He began writing for the school newspaper, where according to journalist Gordon Sander, Serling "established a reputation as a social activist".
Serling was interested in radio and writing at an early age. He listened to various radio programs, especially thrillers with a fantasy or horror feel. Arch Oboler and Norman Corwin were two of his favorite writers. He also "...did some staff work at a Binghamton radio station...tried to write...but never had anything published." He was accepted into college during his senior year of high school. However, the U.S. was involved in World War II at the time, and Serling decided to enlist rather than start college immediately after he graduated from Binghamton Central High School in 1943.
As editor of his high school newspaper, Serling encouraged his fellow students to support the war effort. He wanted to leave school before graduation to join the fight, but his civics teacher talked him into graduating. "War is a temporary thing," Gus Youngstrom told him. "It ends. An education doesn't. Without your degree, where will you be after the war?" Serling enlisted into the U.S. Army the morning after his high school graduation, following his brother Robert.
Serling began his military career in 1943 at Camp Toccoa, Georgia, under General Raymond "Joe" Swing and Col. Orin D. "Hard Rock" Haugen and served in the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 11th Airborne Division.
Over the next year of paratrooper training, Serling and others took to boxing as a way to vent aggression. He competed as a flyweight, and had 17 bouts, rising to the second round of the division finals before being knocked out. He was remembered for berserker style and for "getting his nose broken in his first bout and again in last bout." He tried his hand at the Golden Gloves, with little success.
On April 25, 1944, Serling 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 Nazis. He was disappointed; he had hoped to help combat Hitler. On May 5, his division boarded the USS Sea Pike and headed into the Pacific, landing in New Guinea, where it would be held in reserve for a few months.
In November 1944, his division first saw combat, on the Philippine island of Leyte. The 11th Airborne Division would not be used as paratroopers, however, but as light infantry after the Battle of Leyte Gulf. It helped mop up after the six divisions that had gone ashore earlier.
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." Lewis also judged that Serling was not suited to be a field soldier. "...[H]e didn't have the wits or aggressiveness required for combat." At one point, Lewis, Serling and others were in a firefight, trapped in a foxhole. As they waited for darkness, Lewis noticed Serling had not reloaded any of his extra magazines. Serling sometimes went exploring on his own, against orders, and got lost.
Serling's time in Leyte shaped his writing and political views for the rest of his life. He saw death every day while in the Philippines, at the hands of his enemies and his allies, and through freak accidents such as that which killed another extroverted Jewish private named Melvin Levy. Levy was delivering a comic monologue for the platoon as it rested under a palm tree when a food crate dropped from a plane above, decapitating him. Serling led the funeral services for Levy and placed a Star of David over his grave. Serling later set several of his scripts in the Philippines, and used the unpredictability of death as a theme in much of his writing.
Serling returned from the successful mission in Leyte with two wounds (including one to his kneecap), but neither kept him from combat when General Douglas MacArthur used the paratroopers for their typical purpose on February 3, 1945. Colonel Haugen led the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment as it landed on Tagaytay Ridge, met up with the 188th Glider Infantry Regiment and marched into Manila. It met minimal resistance until it reached the city, where Vice Admiral Sanji Iwabuchi had arranged his 17,000 troops behind a maze of traps and guns and ordered them to fight to the death. During the next month, Serling's unit battled block-by-block for control of Manila.
When portions of the city were taken from Japanese control, local civilians sometimes showed their gratitude by throwing parties and hosting banquets. During one of these parties, Serling and his comrades were fired upon, resulting in many soldier and civilian deaths. Serling, still a private after three years, caught the attention of Sergeant Lewis when he ran into the line of fire to rescue a performer who had been onstage when the artillery started firing.
As it moved in on Iwabuchi's stronghold, Serling's regiment suffered a 50 percent casualty rate, with over 400 men killed. Serling was wounded and three comrades were killed by shrapnel from rounds fired at his roving demolition team by an anti-aircraft gun. He was sent to New Guinea to recover, but soon returned to Manila to finish "cleaning up"[clarification needed].
Serling's final assignment was as part of the occupation force in Japan. During his military service, Private Serling was awarded the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star, and the Philippine Liberation Medal.
Serling's combat experience affected him deeply and influenced much of his writing. It left him with nightmares and flashbacks for the rest of his life. He is 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."
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 continued to give him trouble for years, and his future wife became used to the sound of him falling down the stairs when it buckled under his weight.
Once he was fit enough, he used the federal G.I. Bill's educational benefits and disability payments to enroll—ironically—in the physical education program at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. He had been accepted to Antioch (his brother's alma mater) while in high school. His interests led him to the theater department and then to broadcasting. He changed his major to Literature and earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1950. "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," he recounted.
As part of his studies, Serling became active in the campus radio station, work experience which was often useful 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. Here he met his fellow student and future wife, Carolyn Louise "Carol" Kramer. At first, she refused to date him because of his campus reputation as a "ladies man", but she eventually changed her mind. He converted from Judaism to Unitarianism in college, which allowed him to marry Kramer on July 31, 1948. They had two daughters, Jodi and Anne.
Carol Serling's maternal grandmother, Louise Taft Orton Caldwell, 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 Rod's life, missing only two summers in the years when his daughters were born.
For extra money in his college years, Serling worked part-time testing parachutes for the Army Air Forces. According to his radio station coworkers, he received $50 for each successful jump and had once been paid $500 (half before and half if he survived) for a hazardous test. His last test jump was a few weeks before his wedding. He made $1000 testing a newly invented jet ejection seat. Serling survived the test, but barely.[clarification needed] Serling later told friends three other men had been killed before he made the test.
Serling started at the bottom, with no writing credits, no published work and no hands-on experience. To solve this problem, he volunteered at WNYC in New York as an actor and writer in the summer of 1946. The next year, he worked at that station as a paid intern in his Antioch work study program. He then took odd jobs in other radio stations in New York and Ohio. "I learned 'time', writing for a medium that is measured in seconds," Serling later said of his early experiences.
While attending college, Serling worked at the Antioch Broadcasting System’s radio workshop and was managing the station within a couple of years. He then took charge of full-scale radio productions at Antioch which were heard on WJEM, Springfield. He wrote and directed the programs, and acted in them when needed. 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.
While 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. Serling won a trip to New York City and $500 for his radio script, "To Live a Dream." He and his new wife attended the awards broadcast on May 18, 1949, where he 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., who had also earned prizes in previous years. Later, Hamner wrote scripts for Serling's The Twilight Zone.
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 affected willingness to take on new writers (some who had scripts rejected would often hear a similar plot produced, claim their work had been stolen and sue for recompense). Serling was rejected for reasons such as "heavy competition," "This script lacks professional quality," and "not what our audience prefers to listen to."
In the autumn 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." Horrell advised, "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."
Realizing 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 broadcast piece on September 10, 1949. His Dr. Christian script aired on November 30 of that year.
Serling began his employed professional writing career in 1950, when he earned $75 a week as a network continuity writer for WLW radio in Cincinnati, Ohio. While at WLW, he continued to freelance. He sold several radio and TV scripts to WLW's parent company, Crosley Broadcasting Corporation. After selling the scripts, Serling had no further involvement with them; they were sold by Crosley to local stations across the U.S.
Serling submitted an idea of a weekly radio show in which the ghosts of a young boy and girl killed in World War II would look through train windows and comment on day-to-day human life as it moved around the country. This idea was changed significantly, 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.
Other radio programs Serling wrote scripts for include Leave it to Kathy, Our America, and Builders of Destiny. During production of these, he became acquainted with a voice actor, Jay Overholts, who later became a regular on The Twilight Zone.
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."
Serling believed radio was not living up to its potential, later saying: "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." He opined that there were very few radio writers who would be remembered for their literary contributions.
Serling moved from radio to television, as a writer for WKRC-TV in Cincinnati. His duties included writing testimonial ads for dubious medical remedies or scripts for a comedy duo. He continued at WKRC after graduation and, amidst the mostly dreary day-to-day work, also created a series of scripts for a live TV program called The Storm, as well as for other anthology dramas (a format which was in demand by New York-based networks). Following a full day of classes (or, in later years, work), he spent evenings on his own, writing. He sent manuscripts to publishers and received forty rejection slips during these early years.
In 1950, Serling hired Blanche Gaines as an agent. His radio scripts received more rejections, so he began rewriting them for television. Whenever a script was rejected by one program, he would resubmit it to another, eventually finding a home for many in either radio or television.
As Serling's college years ended, his scripts began to sell. He continued to write for television and eventually left WKRC to become a full-time freelance writer. He recalled: "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."
According to his wife, Serling "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 freelancing and working on a weekly dramatic show for another Cincinnati station." He and his family moved to Connecticut in early 1953. Here he made a living by writing for the live dramatic anthology shows that were prevalent at the time, including Kraft Television Theater, Appointment with Adventure and Hallmark Hall of Fame. By the end of 1954, his agent convinced him he needed to move to New York, "where the action is."
His early work was positively reviewed. Author Marc Scott Zicree, who spent years researching for 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."
In 1955, the nationwide Kraft Television Theater televised a program based on Serling's 72nd script. To Serling, it was just another script, and he missed the first live broadcast. He and his wife hired a babysitter for the night and told her "no one would call because we had just moved to town. And the phone just started ringing and didn't stop for years!" The title of this episode was Patterns, and it soon changed his life.
Patterns dramatized the power struggle between a veteran corporate boss running out of ideas and energy and the bright, young executive being groomed to take his place. Instead of firing the loyal employee, and risk tarnishing his own reputation, the boss enlists him into a campaign to push aside his competition. Serling modeled the main[clarification needed] character on his former commander, Colonel Oren Haugen.
New York Times critic Jack Gould called the show "one of the high points in the TV medium's evolution" and said "[f]or sheer power of narrative, forcefulness of characterization and brilliant climax, Mr. Serling's work is a creative triumph." Robert Lewis Shayon stated in the Saturday Review, "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." The episode was a hit with the audience as well, and a second live show was staged due to popular demand one month later. During the time between the two shows, Kraft executives negotiated with people from Hollywood over the rights to Patterns. Newspapers announced Patterns would be rebroadcast, but then stated the show might be unavailable if the rights were sold before then.
Immediately following the original broadcast of Patterns, Serling was inundated with permanent job offers, congratulations and requests for novels, plays and television or radio scripts. He quickly sold many of his earlier, lower-quality works and watched in dismay as they were published. Critics expressed concern that he was not living up to his promise and began to doubt he was able to recreate the quality of writing that Patterns had shown.
In the autumn of 1957, the Serling family moved to California. When television was new, shows aired live, but as studios began to tape their shows, the business moved from the east coast to the west. Serling would live in California for much of his life, but kept property in Binghamton and Cayuga Lake as retreats for when he needed time to himself.
The early years of television often saw sponsors working as editors and censors. Serling was often forced to change his scripts after corporate sponsors read them and found something they felt was too controversial. They were wary of anything they thought might make them look bad to buyers, so references to many contemporary social issues were omitted, as were references to anything that might compete commercially with a sponsor. For instance, the line "Got a match?" was deleted because one of the sponsors for Requiem For A Heavyweight was Ronson lighters.
A New York Times television reviewer added this editorial 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."
Frustrated by seeing his scripts divested of political statements and ethnic identities (and having the Chrysler Building 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, he said, "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."
Serling submitted The Time Element to CBS, intending it to be a pilot for his new weekly show, The Twilight Zone. Instead, CBS used the science fiction script for a new show produced by Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball, The Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse, in 1958. The story concerns a man who has vivid nightmares of the attack on Pearl Harbor. The man goes to a psychiatrist and, after the session, the twist ending (a device which Serling became known for using) reveals the "patient" had died at Pearl Harbor, and the psychiatrist was the one actually having the vivid dreams. The episode received so much positive fan response that CBS agreed to let Serling go ahead with his pilot for The Twilight Zone
Serling created a local television show in Cincinnati on WKRC-TV, "The Storm". A copy of an episode is located in the Cincinnati Museum Center Historical Cincinnati Library on videotape.
The Twilight Zone
For this series, Serling 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 the show's science fiction format would not be controversial with sponsors, network executives or the general public and would escape censorship, unlike the earlier Playhouse 90.
Serling drew on his own experience for many episodes, frequently about boxing, military life, and airplane pilots. The Twilight Zone incorporated his social views on racial relations, somewhat veiled in the science fiction and fantasy elements of the shows. Occasionally, the point was quite blunt, such as in the episode "I Am the Night—Color Me Black", in which racism and hatred causes a dark cloud to form in the American South, before spreading across the world. Many Twilight Zone stories reflected his views on gender roles, featuring quick-thinking, resilient women as well as shrewish, nagging wives.
The Twilight Zone aired for five seasons (the first three presented half-hour episodes, the fourth hour-long episodes and the fifth returned to the half-hour format). It won many TV and drama awards, and drew much critical acclaim for Serling and his co-workers. Though it had a loyal fanbase, The Twilight Zone drew only moderate ratings and was twice canceled and revived. After five years and 156 episodes (92 written by himself), Serling grew weary of the series. In 1964, he decided to not oppose its third and final cancellation.
Serling sold the rights to The Twilight Zone to CBS. His wife later claimed he did this partly because he believed his own studio would never recoup the production costs of the programs, which frequently went over budget.
In 1969, NBC aired a Serling-penned pilot for a new series, Night Gallery. Set in a dimly lit museum after hours, the pilot film featured Serling (as on-camera host) playing the curator, who introduced three tales of the macabre, unveiling canvases that would appear in the subsequent story segments. Its brief first season (containing only six episodes) was rotated with three other shows (called the Four in One) airing in the same time slot. The series focused more on gothic horror and the occult than The Twilight Zone did.
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 scripts and creative choices of producer Jack Laird, Serling continued to submit his work and ultimately wrote over a third of the series' scripts. By season three, however, many of his contributions were being rejected or heavily altered. His complaints ignored, the disgruntled host dismissed the show as "Mannix in a cemetery". Night Gallery was cancelled in 1973.
After The Twilight Zone was cancelled, Serling wrote an unsuccessful western television series called The Loner, which ran from the fall of 1965 to April 1966. CBS 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.
In 1970, Serling was signed to host and narrate a 30-minute weekly series for Los Angeles television station KNXT, called Rod Serling's Wonderful World of.... He presented stylized essays on subjects such as gluttony, propaganda, sloth and greed. The series ran for 13 weeks.
Writing prose was difficult for Serling. Several of his short stories were rewrites of scripts which had already been produced, but he wrote original works as well.
In his book, The Evolution of the Weird Tale, S. T. Joshi titled his chapter on Serling "The Moral Supernatural" and spoke of how difficult it is to categorize Serling's writings. He looked to the three dozen prose pieces Serling had published as a basis for literary analysis. 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 scripts, whether it be fantastic or mainstream – it is an abiding concern with human feeling."
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 easily translated to the screen. Each is successful in its medium although each includes 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."
The Zero Hour
Serling returned to radio late in his career with The Zero Hour (also known as Hollywood Radio Theater) in 1973. The drama anthology series featured tales of mystery, adventure and suspense, airing in stereo for two seasons. Serling hosted the program and wrote some of the scripts.
Originally placed into syndication on September 3, 1973, the series was picked up by the Mutual Broadcasting System in December of that year. The original format featured five-part dramas broadcast Monday through Friday with the story coming to a conclusion on Friday. Including commercials, each part was approximately 30 minutes long. Mutual affiliates could broadcast the series in any time slot that they wished.
In 1974, still airing five days a week, the program changed to a full story in a single 30-minute installment with the same actor starring throughout the week in all five programs. That format was employed from late April 1974 to the end of the series on July 26, 1974.
Serling's final radio performance, which he recorded just a few weeks before his death, was even more unusual: Fantasy Park was a 48-hour-long rock concert aired by nearly 200 stations over Labor Day weekend in 1975. The program, produced by KNUS in Dallas, featured performances by dozens of rock stars of the day, and even reunited The Beatles. It was also completely imaginary, a "theatre-of-the-mind for the 70s", as producer Beau Weaver put it, using record albums recorded live-in-concert, plus crowd noise and other sound effects. (Allegedly, rock fans all over the country flooded participating stations with phone calls wanting directions to Fantasy Park; some even hitchhiked in attempt to actually attend the fake show.) KNUS General Manager Bart McLendon recruited Serling (his old teacher) to record the host segments, bumpers and custom promos and television spots.
Serling himself wrote the disclaimers, which aired each hour:
"Hello, this is Rod Serling and welcome back to Fantasy Park.....the crowds here today are unreal."
"This is Fantasy Park...the greatest live concert....never held."
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. 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 1960s, he often felt a stronger rapport with older students in his evening classes than he did with the youth of the day.
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." He used this time to teach as well as work on a new screenplay, Seven Days in May.
Later he also taught at Ithaca College from the late sixties until his death in 1975. He was also one of the first guest teachers at the Sherwood Oaks Experimental College in Hollywood, California. Audio recordings of some of his lectures there are included as bonus features on some Twilight Zone home video editions.
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." 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.
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. He supported anti-war politicians, most notably Eugene McCarthy in his presidential bid.
The Rack is an 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 Times 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? 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.
No Christmas This Year was a script written early in Serling'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.
24 Men to a Plane recounts Serling's first combat airdrop into the area around Manila in 1945. The drop became a fiasco after the jump-master in the first plane dropped his men too early, causing every subsequent plane to drop in synchronization with the mistake.
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." 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."
Serling took his 1972 screenplay for the film The Man from the Irving Wallace novel of the same title. The black senator from New Hampshire, and President Pro Tempore of the Senate, played by James Earl Jones in a stellar cast, assumes the US Presidency by succession.
"In early March  Serling traveled to Washington, DC," wrote his biographer Joel Engel, "to debrief the State Department on his trip to the Orient and to address the local chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. ... Shortly after the speech, while driving with his [older] brother [Robert] to [Robert's nearby] apartment, where he stayed, Serling began to complain of chest pains and asked to be taken to the hospital. ...[Robert] called his personal physician, who checked Serling into Washington Hospital Center for tests and observation. Rumors circulated that he had suffered a heart attack, and within twenty-four hours, newspapers, television, and radio all over the country reported news of his grave illness. In truth, he experienced again only extreme exhaustion, aggravated by some mild form of food poisoning. The diagnosis, for at least the second time in his life, was greater relaxation."
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. A second heart attack two weeks later forced doctors to agree that open-heart surgery, though considered risky at the time, was in order. The 10-hour long procedure was carried out on June 26, but Serling suffered a heart attack on the operating table and died two days later at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, NY. He was 50 years old. His funeral took place on July 2.
Rod Serling began his career when television was a new medium. The first public viewing of an all-electric television was presented by inventor Philo Farnsworth at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia on August 25, 1934, when Rod was only nine years old. Commercial television officially started on July 1, 1941; however, fewer than seven thousand TV sets could be found in America, and very few of those were in private homes. Only five months later the U.S. entered World War II, and the television business was put on hold until war's end, as many of the sets were confiscated by the government and re-purposed to train air-raid wardens. Only after World War II 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 television cable TV today. It wasn't until 1948 that filmed dramas were first shown, beginning with a show called Public Prosecutor. 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.
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." Throughout his career Serling helped to mold the future of television.
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. Up to that time, many established writers were often unwilling to write for television because the medium was often only viewed once then shunted into a vault, never to be seen again.
Beginning of the rerun
After the first showing of Patterns, the studio received such positive feedback that it produced a repeat performance, the first time a television program had been shown again at the behest of the audience. As well, 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. 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, whereas a single airing 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.
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 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."
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. Serling's widow, Carol, maintains that the cult status that now surrounds both her husband and his shows continues to be a surprise, "as I'm sure it would have been to him." "It won't go away. It keeps bobbing up...Each year, I think, well, that's it—and then something else turns up."
The Twilight Zone has been rerun, re-created 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 film, 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.
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 No. 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 voice actor Mark Silverman. The plot of the episode involved paintings coming to life, a nod to both The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery.
On August 11, 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.
Rod Serling and his works on The Twilight Zone went on to inspire the basis for the Disney theme park attraction; The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. The attraction takes place in an abandoned Hollywood hotel that was struck by lightning and caused the mysterious disappearance of five hotel guests. Riders enter an abandoned elevator shaft as they soon become part of their very own "lost episode" of The Twilight Zone. The attraction takes guests up thirteen stories and drops them multiple times. Again, Mark Silverman provides the dubbing for Rod Serling's dialogue for both incarnations of the attraction at Disney's Hollywood Studios and Disney California Adventure.
Every year, Binghamton High School, Rod Serling's high school, hosts the Rod Serling Video Festival for students in grades K-12. The festival encourages young students to engage in filmmaking, potentially sparking a career that follows that of Rod Serling himself.
Awards, honors, and memberships
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
|Year||Award||Category||Film or series|
|1955||Emmy||Best Original Teleplay Writing||Patterns|
|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 Award||The Twilight Zone|
|1961||Emmy||Outstanding Writing Achievement in Drama||The Twilight Zone|
|1961||Hugo Award||The Twilight Zone|
|1962||Golden Globe Award||Best Male Television Star||The Twilight Zone|
|1962||Hugo Award||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|
|2001||Daytime Emmy Award||Nomination (posthumous) Writing for a Children/Youth/Family Special||A Storm in Summer|
- Old MacDonald Had a Curve (1953)
- Patterns (1955)
- The Arena (1956)
- 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)
- The Yellow Canary (1963)
- Seven Days in May (1964)
- The Loner (1965) (TV series)
- Planet of the Apes (1968), co-written with Michael Wilson
- Night Gallery (1970–1973 television series)
- The Man (story and screenplay)
- It Has Begun (1974 UFO Documentary)
- Phantom of the Paradise (1974) (uncredited introductory voice)
- 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 Triple W: Witches, Warlocks and Werewolves; A Collection,(Editor) Bantam, 1963.
- 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.
- 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)
- Rod Serling's Lost Classics, 1994 telefilm
- "Rodman E. Serling". Find a Grave via RodSerling.com. Retrieved September 16, 2013.
- Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2010. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale, 2010. http://galenet.galegroup.com.ezproxy.hclib.org/servlet/BioRC Document Number: H1000089528
- Sander, p.15.
- Sander, p.23.
- 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
- Sander, pp.17–18.
- Sander, pp.19–20.
- Sander, p.19.
- Sander, Pg 19.
- Sander, pp.18–22.
- Grams, Martin, Jr.. "The Radio Career of Rod Serling". Audio Classics Archive. Retrieved 2013-09-06.
- Rosenbaum, Bob. Life With Rod: A Conversation With Carol Serling, "Twilight Zone" magazine, April 1987.
- Sander, p.36.
- Sander, pp.34 and 37.
- Sander, pp.36–7.
- Sander, p.40.
- Hudson, Edward (June 29, 1975). "Rod Serling of 'Twilight Zone' And 'Night Gallery' on TV Dies". The New York Times. p. 35. Retrieved September 16, 2013. Abstract of pay-site article.
- Sander, Pg 40–41.
- Sander, p.43.
- Sander, p.45.
- Sander, p.46.
- Sander, p.47.
- Sander, pp.47–9.
- Sander, p.49.
- Sander, p.50.
- Sander, p.51.
- Authors and Artists for Young Adults. Rod Serling, Vol. 14. Gale Research, 1995. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale, 2010.
- Sander, p.53.
- DuBrow, Rick (July 4, 1990). "Assessing the Astonishing Impact of Rod Serling's 'Twilight Zone'". Los Angeles Times (Television section).
- Sander, Pg 60.
- Sander, p.58.
- Sander, p.61.
- Sander, Pg 57.
- Chicago radio personality Dick Biondi mentions Serling writing commercials for WINR in Binghamton, New York, in Schenold, Bill (1985). "Dick Biondi". Manteno.com. Archived from the original on August 12, 2013. "I went on to WINR in Binghamton. ... At the same time, a guy by the name of Rod Serling was there working writing commercials."
- Warrick, Pamela. "Serling the Storyteller and Master Dreamer" L.A. Times, News, Trends, Gossip and Stuff To Do, Pg 2.
- Sander, Pg 69.
- Gould, Jack. "Television in Review", New York Times; Jan 17, 1955; pg. 32. ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851–2006)
- Sander, Pg 37.
- Shanley, J. P. "Notes on Patterns'". New York Times; Feb 6, 1955; pg. X15. ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851–2006)
- 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)
- Gould, Jack. "Prejudice Dissected", New York Times; June 20, 1958; pg. 47. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851–2006)
- "Rod Serling: Submitted For Your Approval". American Masters. Season 10. Episode 1. 29 November 1995. PBS.
- Joshi, Pg 148.
- Joshi, Pg 139.
- Joshi, Pg 143.
- "The Beau Weaver Collection". ReelRadio. Retrieved 2013-09-06. "Fantasy Park Demo, KNUS Dallas, 1975... a 48 hour radio special hosted by Rod Serling..."
- "Serling Memorial Monday". The New York Times. United Press International. July 1, 1975. p. 32. Retrieved September 16, 2013. Abstract of pay-site article.
- 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)
- Sander, Pg 48.
- Sander, Pg 221.
- Engel, Joel. Rod Serling: The Dreams and Nightmares of Life In the Twilight Zone, Contemporary Books, 1989, pp. 266-7
- Sander, Pg 217.
- Sander, Pg 218.
- 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.
- "TV writer Rod Serling dies". Eugene Register-Guard. Associated Press. 25 June 1975. Retrieved 2013-09-08.
- McMahon, Pg 21.
- McMahon, Pg 22.
- McMahon, Pg 25.
- Sander, Pg 28.
- Gould, Jack. "Some Reason for Optimism", New York Times, Apr 24, 1955, pg. X11; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851–2006)
- Gould, Jack. TV: Twice-Told Tale, New York Times; Feb 11, 1955; pg. 31. ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851–2006)
- 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)
- Douglas, John; Olshaker, Mark (2000). The Anatomy of Motive: The FBI's Legendary Mindhunter Explores the Key to Understanding and Catching Violent Criminals. Pocket Books. p. 101. ISBN 0-671-02393-4.
- Sander, Pg 172.
- 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.
- Kneece, Mark (2009). Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone: The Monsters are Due on Maple Street. Walker & Company. p. 1. ISBN 0-8027-9713-X.
- USPS Postal News: Postal Service Previews 2009 Commemorative Stamp Program
- Eades, Mark (17 January 2011). "Tower of Terror's Rod Serling voice speaks". The Orange County Register. Retrieved 2013-09-06.
- "Television Hall of Fame Honorees: Complete List".
- "2008 Science Fiction Hall of Fame Ceremony Tickets On Sale May 15". Press release April/May 2008. Experience Music Project and Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame (empsfm.org). Archived 2008-05-10. Retrieved 2013-03-19.
- TV Guide Book of Lists. Running Press. 2007. p. 168. ISBN 0-7624-3007-9.
- Engel, Joel (1989). Rod Serling: The Dreams and Nightmares of Life In the Twilight Zone. Contemporary Books. pp. 266–267. ISBN 0-8092453-8-8.
- McMahon, Ed and David Fisher (2007). When Television Was Young. Thomas Nelson. p. 3. ISBN 1-4016-0327-0.
- Sander, Gordon F. (1992). Serling: The Rise and Twilight of Television's Last Angry Man. Dutton. pp. ix – 284. ISBN 0-525-93550-9.
- DeVoe, Bill. (2008) Trivia from The Twilight Zone. Albany, GA: Bear Manor Media. ISBN 978-1-59393-136-0
- Grams, Martin. (2008) The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic. Churchville, MD: OTR Publishing. ISBN 978-0-9703310-9-0
- Nicholls, Peter (1979) Encyclopedia of Science Fiction Granada. ISBN 0-586-05380-8
- Marc Scott Zicree. (1992) Twilight Zone Companion Silman-James Press. ISBN 978-1-879505-09-4
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Rod Serling|
- Rod Serling at the Internet Movie Database
- Rod Serling at the Internet Broadway Database
- Rod Serling at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database
- Rod Serling biography at the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame
- Serling entry in Unitarian Universalist Biographical Dictionary
- Rod Serling Archives at Ithaca College – scripts, screenplays, films, published works by Serling, and secondary materials
- Rod Serling Papers at the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research.
- 1959 interview by Mike Wallace
- The interview as video (21:31)
- 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