Serling the Serious vs. Serling the Silly

Anyone who’s perused my list of least-favorite Twilight Zone episodes knows I don’t really care for “Cavender is Coming,” in which Carol Burnett stars as a bumbling young lady in need of a guardian angel. But I can’t deny the charm of these behind-the-scenes pictures of her with Rod Serling.

Serling-Burnett pair

I think it’s because they underscore a lesser-known facet of Serling’s personality: his sense of humor. As any TZ fan will tell you, part of the appeal of the series is hearing him, on-screen and off, addressing us in his famous tight-lipped way, grimly confiding the fate of that episode’s protagonist.

SerlingTZ

He was so chillingly effective at telling us how stories unfolded “… in the Twilight Zone” that it’s easy to be surprised when we learn how much he enjoyed a good joke.

I was struck by this as I read “Dimensions Behind the Twilight Zone” by Stewart Stanyard. It’s filled with interviews of those who worked in front of and behind the camera on TZ, many of whom recall how Serling exuded a positive, almost joyous air. He’s described as intense, to be sure, almost a force of nature at times, but never in a negative way. Indeed, the man who brought us scary stories week after week sounds like someone who was fun to be around.

Not that you don’t see glimpses of Serling smiling here or there on TZ. You see a twinkle in his eye every now and then, especially on the more whimsical episodes. Even so, it’s hard to imagine him kidding around all that much, judging by what we see on screen.

RS Deviantart

And yet: “Rod was a great fan of comedy, a great, great jokester,” recounts TZ associate producer Del Reisman. “If I would run into him at a café or something, he’d come right up to me and say, ‘Okay, two guys walk into a bar …’ He’d just start.”

Others say something similar to what we hear from Billy Mumy, star of “It’s a Good Life” and two other episodes: “I remember his presence being very relaxing, and I also remember him cracking jokes and being light.” Adds TZ director Richard Bare: “He had a grin a mile wide.”

OneForTheAngels (Serling and stars)

That sounds closer to what daughter Anne Serling writes in her book, “As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling.” The man she saw on the TV screen, solemnly introducing us to the fifth dimension, appeared miles away from the father she knew — a man who loved to clown around, make faces, come up with silly voices, and join in all manner of mischief.

And if that doesn’t convince you, consider this picture from Anne’s book. “My dad would often appear in goofy costumes, and more than once he put my lampshade on his head,” reads the caption.

SerlingLampshadeExcuse me? The creator of The Twilight Zone — a man known in the early stages of his career as TV’s “Angry Young Man” — is wearing a LAMPSHADE? We must be in … well, you know.

***

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Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!

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About Paul

Hard-working, hard-playing fan of all pop culture, especially the Twilight Zone. Which led to a Twitter page. And then to a blog. And then to ... stay tuned. Yes, that's a picture of Rod Serling, not me. You can find the real me under the "Your Host" tab on my blog, along with biographical details that, while 100 percent accurate, sound kind of boastful and braggy. Sorry.

Posted on 06/18/2015, in Rod Serling and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I forget the name of the episode, but it’s the one where the writer records descriptions and the people come to life. The scene at the end, where “Rod” is interacting with the character and then the tape is burned and he disappears, always amazed me. He was normally so stiff in those endings and in that one it’s like he’s just goofing around. I guess I have another book to read. The one you mentioned sounds interesting.

    • Ah, yes — “A World of His Own.” Kind of kicking myself now that I didn’t mention that one in the post!

      You’re right about Serling having an uncharacteristically loose air in it. That stemmed in part from the fact it was the final episode of Season 1. Serling had basically worked like hell, created this amazing body of work (still unfinished at that point, fortunately), the series had been renewed, and well, it was Miller Time! Final exams were over, the summer beckoned. There was a good feeling in the air, and that carried over to his “performance.”

      But as you can see, he didn’t require much prompting to be loose and funny at other times — that’s just who he was. As for Stanyard’s book, yes, it’s an interesting one. Thanks, as always, for stopping by, Dan!

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