SERLING: AMERICAN MASTER
long-term member of the Unitarian Universalist Community Church
of Santa Monica, California--where his wife, Carolyn, is still
a member--Rod Serling is celebrated online today in this biography
by the Public Broadcasting Service:
for his role as the host of televisions The Twilight
Zone, Rod Serling had one of the most exceptional and
varied careers in television. As a writer, a producer, and
for many years a teacher, Serling challenged the medium of
television to reach for loftier artistic goals. The winner
of more Emmy Awards for dramatic writing than anyone in history,
Serling expressed a deep social conscience in nearly everything
in Syracuse, New York in 1924, Rod Serling grew up in the
small upstate city of Binghamton. The son of a butcher, he
joined the army after graduating from high school in 1942.
His experiences of the working-class life of New York, and
the horrors of World War II enlivened in him a profound concern
for a moral society. After returning from the service, Serling
enrolled as a physical education student at Antioch College,
but before long realized that he was destined for more creative
his major to English literature and drama, Serling began
to try his hand at writing. As a senior, after marrying
his college sweetheart, Carolyn Kramer, he won an award
for a television script he had written. Encouraged by the
award, Serling started writing for radio and television.
Beginning in Cincinnati, he soon found a home for his unique
style of realistic psychological dramas at CBS. By the early
1950s he was writing full-time and had moved his family
closer to Manhattan.
had his first big break with a television drama for NBC,
called Patterns. Dealing with the fast-paced lives
and ruthless people within the business world, Patterns
was so popular it became the first television show to ever
be broadcast a second time due to popularity. Throughout
the 1950s he continued to write probing investigative dramas
about serious issues. He was often hounded by the conservative
censors for his uncompromising attention to issues such
as lynching, union organizing, and racism. Television dramas
including Requiem for a Heavyweight and A Town
Has Turned to Dust are still considered some of the
best writing ever done for television.
opening shot from Night Gallery with Serling
as host. The series was Serling's follow-up to The
Twilight Zone. Serling weekly unvelied disturbing
portraiture on Night Gallery as preface to a
diverse anthology of horror, fantasy, and science fiction.
up with the difficulties of writing about serious issues
on the conservative networks, Serling turned to science
fiction and fantasy. Through an ingenious mixture of morality
fable and fantasy writing, he was able to circumvent the
timidity and conservatism of the television networks and
sponsors. Self-producing a series of vignettes that placed
average people in extraordinary situations, Serling could
investigate the moral and political questions of his time.
He found that he could address controversial subjects if
they were cloaked in a veil of fantasy, saying "I found
that it was all right to have Martians saying things Democrats
and Republicans could never say."
series was called The Twilight Zone and was incredibly
popular, winning Serling three Emmy Awards. As the host
and narrator of the show, he became a household name and
his voice seemed always a creepy reminder of a world beyond
our control. The show lasted for five seasons, and during
that time Serling wrote more than half of the one hundred
and fifty-one episodes. But for Serling, television was
an inherently problematic mediumrequiring the concessions
of commercials and time restrictions.
much of the 1960s and into the 1970s Serling turned to the
big screen, writing films that included a remake of Requiem
for a Heavyweight (1962), The Yellow Canary (1963),
and Assault on a Queen (1966). His most famous,however,
was the classic Planet of the Apes (1968), co-written
with Michael Wilson. Similar to his early work on The
Twilight Zone, Planet of the Apes was a moralistic tale
of contemporary life told through a science-fiction fantasy
in which Apes have taken over the world. Dealing with question
of how we act as a society and how we view ourselves as
moral beings, Planet of the Apes was a culmination
of Serlings career-long interests as a writer.
the early 1970s, he found a job teaching in Ithaca,
New York. Continuing to write for television, he sought
to impart a sense of moral responsibility and artistic
integrity to the new generation of television writers.
In June of 1975, he died of a heart attack. Today, more
than twenty-five years after his death, Serlings
legacy continues to grow. His television and cinematic
works have reached cult statusenlivening a new
interest in one of the great early writers of American
over 200 produced teleplays to his credit, Rod Serling was
perhaps the most prolific writer in television history.
Kraft Television Theatre, ABC, 1955. Won Serling his first
Emmy and launched his career. Richard Kiley, Ed Begley,
and Everett Sloane star in this incisive look at corporate
culture, a benchmark of excellence in live TV drama.
for a Heavyweight. Playhouse 90, CBS, 10/11/56.
The story of washed-up boxer Mountain McClintock (Jack
Palance) is considered by many to be Serlings
greastest achievement. One of the most honored dramas
in the history of the medium, it won five Emmys and
numerous awards for Serling.
Comedian. Playhouse 90, CBS. 1956. Serling won
his third Emmy for his caustic adaptation of an Ernest
Lehman novella about a two-faced television comedian
(Mickey Rooney in his first TV performance), who makes
life hell for his entourage.
Time Element. Westinghouse-Desilu Playhouse, CBS,
1958. A deluded man goes back in time to Pearl Harbor
just before the attack and tries to warn the Army. One
of Serlings first forays into science fiction,
it convinced CBS to take a chance on a new anthology
series he had pitched them: The Twilight Zone.
Velvet Alley. Playhouse 90, CBS, 1959. A follow-up
of sorts to The Comedian, about a television
writers ascent and descent in the entertainment
Rank and File. Playhouse 90, CBS, 1959. A pungent
look at union racketeering.
celebrates his fourth Emmy.
Click here to view books about Rod Serling on Amazon
are many Rod Serling-related websites, most of which deal
with The Twilight Zone or Night Gallery. Included below
is just a fraction of what's out there.
Serling Memorial Foundation
Focuses on Serling's entire body of
work, from the Golden Age of TV through his semi-retirement
years as a teacher and lecturer. Includes reviews of his
work from many sources, both vintage and contemporary, and
Includes transcripts from Serlings important
1959 interview with Mike Wallace.
Serling's Night Gallery
A comprehensive, attractive site featuring
teleplays, a history of the show, credits, intro paintings,
Museum of Broadcast Communications
Chicago-based museum whose extensive archives are
searchable online. Over 60 Serling items.