Monthly Archives: June 2011
On July 7, 1975, a memorial service was held for Rod Serling. Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry eulogized him this way:
“The fact that Rod Serling was a uniquely talented writer with extraordinary imagination is not our real loss. These merely describe his tools and the level of his skill. Our loss is the man, the intelligence and the conscience that used these things for us.
“No one could know Serling, or view or read his work, without recognizing his deep affection for humanity, his sympathetically enthusiastic curiosity about us, and his determination to enlarge our horizons by giving us a better understanding of ourselves.
“He dreamed of much for us, and demanded much of himself, perhaps more than was possible for either in this time and place. But it is that quality of dreams and demands that makes the ones like Rod Serling rare … and always irreplaceable.”
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Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!
The story, as long-time fans well know, concerns a harried, overworked executive who keeps dreaming that his daily commuter train passes an idyllic, peaceful town called Willoughby. In the end, he decides to go there — and we see that Willoughby is really heaven.
Well, on this day in 1975, Serling made his own permanent stop at Willoughby, dying at the untimely age of 50. A steady stream of cigarettes, a family history of heart trouble, and an intense personality finally took their toll, and silenced a great voice.
In his last interview, Serling was asked how he wanted to be remembered. Here’s what he told Linda Brevelle of Writer’s Digest: Read the rest of this entry
He’ll always be remembered as Lt. Columbo, but Peter Falk did some terrific work in a number of movies over the years. He also guest-starred in several TV shows, including one we all know and love: The Twilight Zone.
Falk plays a banana-republic revolutionary (with a strong resemblance to Fidel Castro) in a Season 3 episode called “The Mirror.” It’s no Zone classic, but it doesn’t deserve to be entirely dismissed, as some critics suggest. I hope to post a review soon, but in the meantime, here’s the episode itself. RIP, Mr. Falk.
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Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!
I recently posted a link to the interview Rod Serling did with Mike Wallace in 1959, just before the Twilight Zone debuted. It’s filled with insights, but one moment in particular, I think, stands out for any fan.
After Serling details some of his censorship fights with sponsors, he notes that because the stories on his new series dealt with “fantasy and imagination and science fiction,” he didn’t expect such fights in the future. Wallace agrees and adds:
You’re going to be obviously working so hard on The Twilight Zone that in essence, for the time being and for the foreseeable future, you’ve given up on writing anything important for television, right?
Ahem. Thanks for the thinly veiled insult, Mike. Sorry I won’t be living up to your high standards.
Yet Serling doesn’t really quarrel with Wallace’s somewhat harsh assessement. He replies:
Yeah. Well, again, this is a semantic thing—important for television. I don’t know. If by important you mean I’m not going to try to delve into current social problems dramatically, you’re quite right. I’m not.
Serling, fresh off his censorship battles, surely didn’t want to call attention to his stealth strategy: making many of the same pointed social critiques that had gotten him into trouble, but smuggling them into stories about aliens, time travel and alternate dimensions. Why tip his hand, especially when the episodes can be enjoyed as simple entertainment? (And many, after all, were just that; Serling didn’t make every story an elaborate allegory for some serious point.) Read the rest of this entry
Few Twilight Zone fans have seen “A Town Has Turned to Dust,” a live teleplay written by Rod Serling that aired on June 19, 1958. But if it weren’t for that show, the Zone might never have existed.
Specifically, it was the frustrating experience of trying to get it on the air intact that helped convince Serling that allegory, not straight drama, might be a better way to get his points across.
“A Town Has Turned to Dust” was based on the case of Emmett Till, a black teenager tortured and murdered by a group of white thugs in 1955 Mississippi. His offense: allegedly making some off-color remarks to a white female shop-keeper. Till was hunted down, beaten, shot and thrown in a river. This heinous crime shocked the nation, and led Serling to dramatize the events in “A Town Has Turned to Dust” for Playhouse 90.
But as Marc Scott Zicree and other biographers have noted, the show’s sponsors were nervous about offending certain customers, especially in the South. They pored over the script, demanding numerous changes (many of them quite petty). It morphed from a story about homicidal prejudice in the present-day Deep South, to one about a white murdering a Mexican in a U.S. southwest town in the 1870s.
“By the time the censors had gotten to it, my script had turned to dust,” the understandably irritated author later commented. “They chopped it up like a room full of butchers at work on a steer.” Read the rest of this entry
Ever wonder what a Western penned by Rod Serling would have been like? No need to — there actually was one.
If that’s news to you, don’t be surprised. The Loner, which starred Lloyd Bridges, ran for only one season on CBS. Today, not unlike the cowboy himself, it seems all but forgotten.
Which is really a shame. The Loner had no supernatural elements and was about as far removed from the fifth dimension as you can imagine. But it had one thing in common with The Twilight Zone: Serling’s incisive writing and pointed social critiques.
Still, it wasn’t your run-of-the-mill Western. And that may have spelled its doom. CBS reportedly wanted more conventional genre elements — gun battles, running stage coaches, etc. And Serling being Serling, he resisted. To be sure, there’s gunplay and other familiar Western staples, but he insisted on giving “The Loner” a distinctive voice.
That meant characters wrestling with real problems, and shows that touched on racism and other controversial themes. It meant painting less with less black and white, and more with grays — and airing shows that didn’t always deliver the standard “happy ending.”
You can order the entire series (all 26 episodes) on DVD for only about $15 at Amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/Loner-The-Complete-Series/dp/B01IHSM0HW. Here’s one of Serling’s episodes (a rare one that’s on YouTube):
For a daily dose of Serling, you can follow me on Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest. You can also get email notifications of future posts by entering your address under “Follow S&S Via Email” on the upper left-hand side of this post. WordPress followers, just hit “follow” at the top of the page. Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!
Many Rod Serling fans are familiar with the 1959 interview he did with Mike Wallace, but if you’ve never seen it, it’s well worth watching.
It’s not a quick two-minute affair. Instead, we get what is now a television rarity: a real discussion. You can watch all 21 minutes of it at the YouTube link below.
A number of things make this interview fascinating, especially Serling’s insights on censorship and what led to the creation of the Twilight Zone, which was just about to debut. Remember, as you watch it, that Serling was already a hugely successful writer, but no one had seen a single episode of the TV show that would go on to make him world famous. Read the rest of this entry
Becoming the best in your field typically takes a big ego. Which isn’t surprising — if you don’t believe deeply in your own ability, you may not even get to the top, let alone stay there.
Unless you’re a genuine ego-maniac, though, self-doubt is always at your elbow. Exhibit A: Rod Serling.
Good luck finding anyone harder on his work than he was. Listen to his commentary on the Twilight Zone’s “Walking Distance” sometime. He almost completely trashes one of the most beloved episodes of the entire series. And that was typical; he rarely offered a word of praise to anything he’d written. In other commentaries (excerpts from lectures he gave at Hollywood’s Sherwood Oaks Experimental College), he repeatedly emphasizes what he considers flaws.
Yes, he may have been doing this in part to encourage the students to really take a piece of film apart. But other examples of this self-critical attitude crop up throughout his life.
Even the compliments were severely hedged. Looking back over Season 4, for example (when Twilight Zone had gone to an hour-long format), Serling said only one of the episodes was “really effective”: his own “On Thursday We Leave For Home.” He then added: “Yes, I wrote it myself, but I overwrote it. I think the story was good despite what I did to it.” Read the rest of this entry
Some episodes of The Twilight Zone give us chills. Some make us think. And some manage to do both. Case in point: Charles Beaumont’s “Perchance to Dream.”
Beaumont specialized in blurring the line between reality and fantasy, and this, his first Zone script, is no exception. Serling would resort to such story-telling devices to teach us a lesson. Beaumont just wanted to scare the pants off us.
The story of Edward Hall, and his fixed belief that if he falls asleep he’ll never wake up, is well-known even to casual Zone fans. The flights of his overactive imagination are fascinating. His unsettling trip to a bizarre carnival, and his ill-fated attempts to evade the seductive ways of Maya the Cat Woman, make this one of the most visually striking episodes in the entire Zone canon.
Beyond the surface question of reality versus dream lies another, less-explored theme: the allure of danger. When Hall is explaining his problem to the psychiatrist, we see he’s a man unable to control his attraction to activities that, he insists, will kill him. Read the rest of this entry