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edge staff writer


Anne Serling shares our love for The Twilight Zone and her father, Rod Serling

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Often imitated but never duplicated, “The Twilight Zone” astonished and inspired viewers, angered network brass and advertisers, and made its and creator and host Rod Serling a household name.

Serling’s bold and inventive scripts for the anthology series (he wrote or adapted 92 of the series’ 156 episodes) encompassed fantasy, the supernatural, dark comedy, science fiction, suspense, thriller and horror. His stories allowed him to address social issues including prejudice, war and other societal ills by wrapping them in fantastical fiction at a time when network censors and sponsors would pounce if anything hit too close to the bone.

On National Twilight Zone Day, I had the privilege of speaking with Anne Serling about her father’s writing, his fight to tell meaningful stories, his sense of humor, and our favorite episodes. Anne Serling is the author of “As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling”

The Maine Edge: Your father developed an unusual method for writing his scripts by dictating them, is that right?

Anne Serling: That is right. He started with a typewriter, typing very fast with two fingers, then began to use the Dictaphone and would act out the parts as he was recording them.

TME: Do any of those Dictaphone tapes still exist?

AS: There are some. In fact, someone recently contacted me on Facebook whose mother-in law found one at a garage sale and sent it to me. I was able to get it transcribed by a friend of mine who works at our local CBS station and it was actually a Christmas video of my family. You hear my Dad and I playing around and laughing and it was an incredible experience to get this tape after all these decades.

TME: I’m drawn to “The Twilight Zone” episodes where your father included scenes inspired by real events from his life. I’m thinking of scripts like “Walking Distance” (an overwhelmed big city advertising exec goes for a long drive and realizes he’s near his hometown where he goes for a walk and finds that he’s slipped 30 years into the past) where he looks back nostalgically on his childhood. What are some other episodes that give us a glimpse of the real Rod Serling?

AS: As my father told a writing class, he had a propensity to write about the past. When my dad was in the war, his father died and even though the war was over, he didn’t have the points to come home so there was that unresolved grief. In the episode you mentioned, “Walking Distance,” it was an opportunity for my dad, through that character to reconnect with his past and with his parents to sort of find some resolution.

Another script that deals with the theme of going back was written for an episode of “Night Gallery” (an anthology series hosted by Serling from 1969 to 1973) called “They’re Tearing Down Tim Riley’s Bar.” It’s a beautiful script and one of my favorites.

TME: In a season three episode written by your father called “The Changing of the Guard,” Donald Pleasance plays a retiring teacher who feels like he didn’t make a difference in the lives of his students. Was your father concerned about his own legacy in that way?

AS: Yes, I think that’s true and that is a beautiful script but I don’t know if that was the impetus for my father writing “The Changing of the Guard.” My father had a deep respect for teachers and he had a very close relationship with his high school teacher, Helen Foley, in Binghamton. He named one of the “Twilight Zone” characters after her.

TME: Your Dad had a number of confrontations with network censors who wanted to put limits on his content and creativity. I think of how he might have embraced Netflix or another outlet today that would let him create with no boundaries.

AS: He fought those battles pre-“Twilight Zone” as well. My father really wanted to write about important messages and things that were happening in the world, for instance the story of Emmett Till. It was a very difficult journey for him to do that.

(Note: Serling had written a teleplay for CBS’s “Playhouse 90” dealing with the racism that led to the killing of 14-year-old Emmett Till in 1955. The subsequent pushback from networks and sponsors caused Serling to reconsider his approach which in turn helped inspire his concept for “The Twilight Zone.”)

I think he rewrote that script three times. The last version was called “A Town Has Turned To Dust” and my father said of that “My script has turned to dust.” It was so challenging for him to tell the stories he wanted to tell and I often think how very different that would have been for him today.

TME: In your book, “As I Knew Him,” you write about your father’s humor and love of practical jokes. Could you share an example of his mischievous side?

AS: My father was so silly and a great practical joker. Most kids go through a phase where they don’t want to hang out with their parents. But my father was genuinely and brilliantly funny and I loved to be around him as did most of my friends.

Every time I would get on an elevator with my father, he would tell me sort of an off-color limerick. Of course, I would start to laugh and as we stepped onto the elevator full of these solemn, unsmiling people, he would start to giggle and the two of us would just fall apart laughing.

TME: Is there an episode of “The Twilight Zone” that is closest to your heart?

AS: I have several but I’ll say the one you mentioned, “Walking Distance” is very close to my heart. Another one is “In Praise of Pip” (Jack Klugman plays a dishonest bookie who learns that his son had been killed in the Vietnam War but then later encounters his son as a 10-year-old boy and attempts to reconnect with him).

That was an episode I didn’t actually see until after my Dad died. I was stunned watching that episode because my father used a routine in the dialogue that he and I had done many times. “Who’s your best buddy?” “You are, Pop!” This was something he and I used to constantly say back and forth and there it was in the script. In a sense, I found my dad again in “The Twilight Zone.”

Last modified on Wednesday, 18 May 2022 07:51


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