“Rod Serling: His Life, Work, and Imagination”: A Review
Looking for a book about Rod Serling and The Twilight Zone? Until a few years ago, your options were pretty limited.
Many fans have a dog-eared copy of Marc Zicree’s “The Twilight Zone Companion,” but not simply because it’s a good book: For a long time, it was the only game in town.
But now? Take your pick.
You can read books by experts such as Amy Boyle Johnson (“Unknown Serling: An Episodic History, Vol. 1”), Martin Grams (“Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic”), Steven Rubin (“The Twilight Zone Encyclopedia”) and Mark Dawidziak (“Everything I Need to Know I Learned in the Twilight Zone”).
There’s also Anne Serling’s “As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling”, a heartfelt portrait of everyone’s favorite ambassador to the fifth dimension. There are books about the philosophy of TZ, the music of TZ … the list goes on.
So why would you pick up a new, 584-page book by Nicholas Parisi called “Rod Serling: His Life, Work, and Imagination”?
It’s a fair question. If you’re a casual fan of TZ who doesn’t care to learn more about the creative mind behind the series, I’ll admit — this volume may not be for you. Nick, a member of the Board of Directors of the Rod Serling Memorial Foundation, covers a lot of ground. It takes almost 200 pages to get to TZ.
And I enjoyed every minute of it.
Why? Because in this exhaustively researched book, Nick does two things very, very well.
First, he offers a comprehensive overview of all of Serling’s work. That’s unique.
Finding a deep dive into The Twilight Zone isn’t hard. And as the titles above suggest, you can readily learn more about the man, or about a certain aspect of TZ. You can get the definitive behind-the-scenes account of Night Gallery by reading a terrific book by Scott Skelton and Jim Benson. And so on.
But everything in one book, A to Z, from start to finish? There’s only one place for that, and that’s Nick’s book. Serling’s radio work, his teleplays, his movies, TZ, his non-TZ television work … it’s all there.
No wonder his book held such instant appeal for me. I started my “thenightgallery” Twitter account in September 2010 expressly to fan over NG, but soon expanded it to cover TZ as well – AND all of Serling’s other work.
Sure, I mostly focus on TZ. That’s his magnum opus. But I’ve been quoting and giving facts for his teleplays, movies and other shows for a long time. I watched whatever teleplays I could find online or on disc. I even got a bootleg copy of “The Loner” before it was commercially available. So Nick’s book is a valuable resource for me.
Why do I spotlight his other works? I’ve often wondered if TZ fans are a bit bewildered when I drop a quote from a teleplay they may never see into the middle of some fun stuff from, say, “Time Enough at Last” or “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?” – stories everyone knows and loves.
The reason is that I want people to realize Serling was more than just TZ. Both before and after, he wrote some interesting, touching and absorbing stories that deserve to be more widely known.
In quoting them, I’m saying, in effect, “You like TZ? Try Requiem for a Heavyweight. Try The Loner. Try Seven Days in May. Try Night Gallery. Maybe you won’t enjoy them, but I think you will. Give them a try.” Well, that same message underlies Nick’s book.
But there’s a bit more to it. I want fans to better appreciate the mind that produced the Twilight Zone stories they love so much. I want them to see the parallels between, say, “Patterns” (teleplay), “Walking Distance” (Twilight Zone), and “They’re Tearing Down Tim Riley’s Bar” (Night Gallery).
And that’s the second thing Nick does so admirably in his book. Yes, the bulk of it is a chronological list of Serling’s works, with airdates, stars, synopses and rankings. But Nick gives us telling details about the production of these works, not to mention biographical details that greatly enhance our understanding.
Take one of Serling’s first writings, “First Squad, First Platoon”, a 38-page semi-autobiographical story that he submitted to Nolan Miller, his mentor at Antioch College. If you’ve seen Twilight Zone’s “The Purple Testament” and “A Quality of Mercy”, you can see the influence of his World War II experiences. But until you read Nick’s summation of “First Squad, First Platoon”, you don’t know how searing those experiences were. They’re really haunting.
Nick also examines the major themes of Serling’s writings: the pull of nostalgia, the evils of racism, the yearning for companionship, the humanity of the forgotten man. No matter how big a Serling fan you are (and I’m hard to top, believe me), you’re bound to come away with a greater appreciation of his work – and the man himself.
Nick uses a three-star rating system to assess the various episodes, with one star meaning a “dog” and two meaning “passable”. Well, I’m happy to give “Rod Serling: His Life, Work, and Imagination” three stars: “pretty damn good”. You can bet that my autographed copy will be gathering no dust!
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.
Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!