The other day I finished As I knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling. The memoir was written by his younger daughter Anne. Rod Serling became so identified with The Twilight Zone that most people believe they know the man through the show’s beginning and closing monologues. Ms. Serling seems eager to dispel any possible misconceptions and give a fuller, better rounded description of who her father was. In this she succeeded.
Serling was first and foremost a member of the Greatest Generation and his children were very much baby boomers. I remember meeting his widow Carol when I spoke at the Rod Serling conference in 2009 and how sharp and good-natured she was. Daughter Anne shares with her father a sense of lost time that seems straight out of Proust. Two of Serling’s teleplays–“Walking Distance” from Twilight Zone and Night Gallery’s “They’re Tearing Down Tim Riley’s Bar”–are the best examples of his yearning for things past. The latter starred William Windom, who a decade earlier appeared in TZ episode “Five Characters in Search of an Exit”; it is always jarring seeing actors one thinks forever preserved in Twilight Zone amber wearing the styles of the 1970s.
Ms. Serling speaks at length about her father’s WW2 experiences in the Pacific. He seems to have suffered from post traumatic stress disorder on some level. This was more common among WW2 (and WW1) veterans than we tend to realize. I have a good friend whose father was also in the Pacific. Like Serling, he too did not speak much of his experiences. Still, he had a fear of snakes to such a degree that when he took his family to the zoo he would never enter the snake room.
Serling was always a better dramatist than comedic writer. His attempts at humor and satire almost always fell flat. Personally however, he was exceptionally funny and always gracious with others. He was especially good with young people, never condescending to them. This was true in his encounters with child actors or the friends of his two daughters. The world Serling grew up in in the 1920s-40s was vanishing rapidly in the years after he returned from the war. So many of the Twilight Zone take place in dingy bars, cold water flats, and neighborhood stoops. It is easy to forget that by 1959 Serling and family were living on the West Coast, where the show was filmed on Hollywood soundstages.
Rod Serling himself has been gone forty years now. He died in 1975. In his work he captured so much of the essence of post-WW2 America. Now his daughter has captured some of that world forever lost to us.
(image/”Rod Serling Twilight Zone premiere 1959″ by CBS Television via the Bureau of Industrial Service. During the 1950s and 1960s, television networks, program sponsors and studios often used either advertising or public relations agencies to distribute publicity materials. The Bureau was a division of ad agency Young & Rubicam. – eBay itemphoto frontpress release for photos. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rod_Serling_Twilight_Zone_premiere_1959.JPG#mediaviewer/File:Rod_Serling_Twilight_Zone_premiere_1959.JPG)