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Rodman Edward "Rod" Serling (December 25, 1924–June 28, 1975) was an Americanmarker screenwriter and television producer, best known for his live television dramas of the 1950s and his science fiction anthology TV series, The Twilight Zone.

Biography

Early life

Serling was born in Syracusemarker, New Yorkmarker, the second of two sons of Esther (née Cooper) and Samuel Lawrence Serling. Rod's brother, Robert J. Serling, later became a novelist. Serling was raised in Binghamton, New Yorkmarker, where he later graduated from Binghamton Central High Schoolmarker. He earned his B.A. in 1950 from Antioch Collegemarker in Yellow Springs, Ohiomarker. Although brought up in a Jewish family, Serling became a Unitarian Universalist. Serling's family had a summer home on Cayuga Lakemarker, in New York's Finger Lakesmarker region, which inspired the name "Cayuga Productions" for use on Twilight Zone productions.

Military service

Rod Serling entered in the U.S. Army in January 1943, and with short (5'4") and slight build, he was a natural to become a paratrooper, which he volunteered for. Serling also learned to be a demolitions specialist with the paratroopers, and he served in the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 11th Airborne Division. This division was sent to the Pacific Theater of World War II in June 1944 (just as the Allies were invading Normandy on the other side of the world). Serling and the 11th Airborne Division were shipped across the Pacific Ocean to take part in the Liberation of the Philippines, where they fought on the large islands of Leyte and Luzonmarker. Serling was seriously wounded in his wrist and in a knee during combat, and he was awarded the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star, and the Philippine Liberation Medal.

When the war ended in August 1945, the 11th Airborne Division was ordered to Japan as part of the American occupying forces. Serling was sent home; and he discharged from the Army in January 1946.

Serling's Army combat service affected him deeply for the rest of his life, and also influenced much of his writing for movies and the new medium of television. Because of his wartime combat experiences, Serling suffered from-time-to-time with nightmares and flashbacks. During his service in World War II, he had watched while his best friend was crushed to death by a heavy supply crate that landed by parachute onto a field.

Serling also became a noted lightweight boxer during his military years.

Postwar and education

Serling had been encouraged by some of his high school teachers to continue his education beyond high school, and especially in writing. After the Second World War was over and Serling was discharged, he decided to apply himself to a college education - especially with the availablility of his Federal G.I. Bill educational benefits that he had earned through his years of service during the War. Serling decided to enroll at Antioch Collegemarker in Yellow Springs, Ohiomarker, and there, he earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1950.

Career

Biographers note that throughout his career, Serling was inspired by the legendary radio and television playwright Norman Corwin. Both men built their show business careers through the WLWmarker-radio broadcasting station in New York Citymarker, and then to find employment at the CBS broadcasting company, one of the pioneers in the new field of television, and from there both reached the pinnacles of weaving pivotal important social themes into their TV and film scripts.

During 1951, Serling began to move into television by writing scripts such programs as for The Doctor, the Fireside Theater, the Hallmark Hall of Fame, the Lux Video Theatre, the Kraft Television Theatre, Suspense, and Studio One. Serling also worked for the Cincinnati, Ohiomarker, TV station WKRC, where he wrote the scripts for a series of live TV programs called The Storm. This program was a direct precursor to The Twilight Zone, and also was one of Serlings other TV scripts, Requiem for a Heavyweight.

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 its first live broadcast. 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 who was being groomed to take his place. This episode was a big hit, and it was broadcast again just one week later, which was nearly unprecedented. This script established Serling as a rarity: a nearly-exclusively TV scriptwriter.

More acclaimed teleplays followed, including The Rack, about a Korean War veteran and the effects of the torture he had experienced, the legendary Requiem for a Heavyweight (from CBS's Playhouse 90 TV series), and several others, some of which were adapted for films. Requiem for a Heavyweight, like Patterns, was honored as a milestone in television drama. This episode's producer, Martin Manulis, noted in a TV biography of Serling by PBS that after the live broadcast, the chairman of CBS-TV, William S. Paley, called the control room to tell the crew there that this show had advanced TV programming 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.

Tired of seeing his scripts butchered (removing any political statements, ethnic identities, even the Chrysler Buildingmarker being removed from a script sponsored by Ford), Serling decided the only way to avoid such artistic interference was to create his own show.

The Twilight Zone

In the fall of 1959, CBS-TV broadcast the first episode of Serling's TV series, The Twilight Zone. 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), and he threw himself into sometimes alligator-pit of a weekly TV program. In an interview, Serling said that its science fiction format would not be controversial (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 nearly five TV seasons (the first four presenting half-hour episodes, and the last one-half TV season presenting hour-long episodes). 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.

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 which 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 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.

Other fiction

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.

Subsequent to The Twilight Zone, Serling moved onto cinema screens and continued to write for television. 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.

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.

He wrote a number of screenplays with a political focus, including Seven Days in May (1964) about an attempted military coup against the President of the United States; Planet of the Apes (1968); and The Man (1972) about the first African American President.

In a noteworthy speech delivered at Moorpark Collegemarker, Moorparkmarker, Californiamarker, on December 3, 1968, Serling criticized loyalty oaths, the Vietnam War, and social inequity.

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. He also wrote 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 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 Collegemarker in Ithaca, New Yorkmarker where he resided for many years, and 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 also appeared posthumously in Michael Jackson's song Threatened.

Death

A heavy smoker for years, Serling suffered two severe heart attacks in 1975. He and his physicians decided that he should enter the Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, New Yorkmarker for coronary bypass surgery. Serling suffered another heart attack during the operation, and he died the following day, at the age of 50. Serling's remains were interred in the Lake View Cemetery in Interlaken, New Yorkmarker, an area of northern New York Statemarker that is featured in some of The Twilight Zone's episodes.

Awards and honors

During his lifetime, Rod Serling won six Emmy Awards for his work in television.

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

Legacy in television

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.

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). And the only real-life person on the list. All the others were fictious 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, which was partially filmed in 3-D, opened with Serling 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, honoring The Twilight Zone, features a portrait of Rod Serling.

Filmography



See also



Notes

  1. Rod Serling Biography (1924-1975)
  2. Rod Serling Timeline RodSerling.com
  3. Vinciguerra, Thomas. [1] "Marley Is Dead, Killed in a Nuclear War", The New York Times, December 20, 2007.
  4. [2] "Controversy at Moorpark College"
  5. The Zero Hour Radio Log
  6. Judge, Dick. Hollywood Radio Theater: Zero Hour
  7. USPS Postal News: Postal Service Previews 2009 Commemorative Stamp Program


References

  • 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
  • Sander, Gordon F. (1992) Serling: The Rise and Twilight of Television's Last Angry Man Dutton. ISBN 978-0525935506


External links




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