Catching “The Fever”: Where Serling Got The Idea

So many memorable stories begin in a writer’s mind with a simple question: “What if … ?”

Ideas can come from anywhere — something you read, something you hear, or something you experience. The difference between the writer and the rest of us is pushing beyond the moment and asking that crucial question.

Richard Matheson, for example, did it with “Little Girl Lost” when his young daughter rolled out of bed in the middle of the night. And Rod Serling did it with “The Fever”. (Spoilers ahead, naturally.)

Twilight Zone fans often call Earl Hamner’s “Stopover in a Quiet Town” the ultimate ad against drunken driving. Well, “The Fever” does the same thing for unchecked gambling.

I say “unchecked” because I want to acknowledge that, yes, many people manage to gamble without turning into Franklin Gibbs. The lure of Las Vegas is lost on me, but I know most visitors to that neon-bedecked Neverland don’t suddenly morph into frenzied spenders. Like drinking, gambling can be done responsibly.

But sometimes it isn’t. At that point, it’s just a question of how much of a financial bruising one is in for. In Franklin’s case, the price is extraordinarily high: not only his life savings, but his life.

Fortunately, the idea came from a much more benign experience. As Martin Grams relates in “The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic”, Serling and his wife decided to celebrate the sale of TZ to CBS with a weekend in Vegas. According to Rod:

I got this idea about three o’clock in the morning in a Las Vegas gambling casino. I’d been about sixty minutes battling a one-armed bandit, and I got the feeling of what an extension of this kind of weakness might be to somebody a little different than I am … making an assumption, of course, that there is someone weaker than I in this nefarious area.

Luckily for his fans, Serling was able to stop long before he’d drained his bank account — but not before the unforgettable image of a sentient slot machine croaking “Fraannnnklin!” took root in his fertile mind. Good thing CBS rolled the dice on TZ.

***

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

About Paul

Fanning about the work of Rod Serling all over social media. If you enjoy pics, quotes, facts and blog posts about The Twilight Zone, Night Gallery and Serling's other projects, you've come to the right place.

Posted on 05/29/2019, in Twilight Zone and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. I’ve always loved the lights, glitz, and glitter along with bells sounding out someone winning in Vegas but, after I lose my $10 worth of nickels I am done gambling. I have different weaknesses. 😁

    • Ha, good for you! I’ll admit they’re very good at creating a bright, flashy atmosphere. And if someone is able to set a limit and stick to it, then sure, have some fun and take a chance.

      • $10 in nickles and that it. Although last time I was in Vegas…years and years ago it was hard to find a nickle slot machine! I’d rather spend my money on shows, clothes, gear, and trips not gambling. ☺

  2. It’s interesting to know what sparked the idea behind episodes like this. Thanks for clearing this up for us, Paul. I’ve never been inside a real casino. I was at a casino-night recreation at a conference – I lost $20,000 worth of imaginary chips in less than three hours.

    • Whoa — thank heavens it was virtual money! Though I suppose that very fact may have led you to take chances you ordinarily wouldn’t have. Anyway, glad you enjoyed the post, Dan.

      • I was proud, Paul. I knew they were going to have that setup. I studied craps. I managed to stay in the game all night, and still had about $300 left. Of course it hit me later how lucky I was it was play-money.

  3. Isn’t it strange where ideas come from for stories? Sometimes they hit you when you least expect them to. That’s why I always carry a small notebook and pen with me. I also keep one by the side of my bed, as I’ve often been woken by a dream and then thought to myself ‘that would make a great surprise ending.’

    I’ve done Vegas but, unlike Rod, didn’t get any ideas for stories while there.

    • An excellent practice! Serling used to do the same thing, in fact — keep a pad and pen by his bedside. You just never know when that great idea will present itself.

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