Category Archives: Rod Serling

Saddling Up With Serling: A Pre-TZ Wild West Detour

Got a sibling? If so, did he or she ever make trouble for you? Did you ever get into arguments? Maybe even engage in some physical fights?

It’s almost silly to ask. If you have a sibling, the answer to my other questions is a resounding yes. Even if you get along now, you probably didn’t at one time, at least not when you were growing up.

Well, no matter how bad things were, I can practically guarantee that you had it better than Steve and Tony Sinclair. They’re the oil-and-water duo at the heart of “Saddle the Wind”, a 1958 feature film written by Rod Serling.

This western is about as far away from the fifth dimension as you can imagine. Instead of stark black-and-white images on a TV set, we get the panoramic open plains and mountains of the Wild West, shot in sharp, wide-screen Technicolor.

There isn’t an alien or time-travel machine in sight. This tale is set strictly in the real world (or as real as anything we ever get out of Hollywood). No specific year is given, but it clearly occurs shortly after the Civil War. Indeed, one’s former allegiance to either the North or the South comes heavily into play more than once. Read the rest of this entry

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Serling on the “Special Irony” Surrounding Martin Luther King’s Death

Four days after the April 4, 1968 assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., The Los Angeles Times published a letter from Rod Serling:

There is a bitter sadness and special irony that attends the passing of Martin Luther King. Quickly and with ease, we offer up a chorus of posthumous praise—the ritual dirge so time-honored and comfortable and undemanding of anything but rhetoric. In death, we offer the acknowledgement of the man and his dream that we denied him in life. In his grave, we praise him for his decency—but when he walked amongst us, we responded with no decency of our own.

When he suggested that all men should have a place in the sun—we put a special sanctity on the right of ownership and the privilege of prejudice by maintaining that to deny homes to Negroes was a democratic right. Now we acknowledge his compassion—but we exercised no compassion of our own.

When he asked us to understand that men take to the streets out of anguish and hopelessness and a vision of that dream dying, we bought guns and speculated about roving agitators and subversive conspiracies and demanded law and order. We felt anger at the effects, but did little to acknowledge the causes. We extol all the virtues of the man—but we chose not to call them virtues before his death.

And now, belatedly, we talk of this man’s worth—but the judgment comes late in the day as part of a eulogy when it should have been made a matter of record while he existed as a living force. If we are to lend credence to our mourning, there are acknowledgements that must be made now, albeit belatedly.

We must act on the altogether proper assumption that Martin Luther King asked for nothing but that which was his due. He demanded no special concessions, no favored leg up the ladder for his people, despite our impatience with his lifelong prodding of our collective conscience. He asked only for equality, and it is that which we denied him. We must look beyond riots in the streets to the essential righteousness of what he asked of us. To do less would make his dying as senseless as our own living would be inconsequential.

— Rod Serling

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Serling’s “Hart”-Felt Foreward for a Favorite Cartoonist

I’m not sure why I’m highlighting this foreward that Rod Serling wrote for cartoonist Johnny Hart. Probably because it’s such a departure from what we normally think of when it comes to our TZ tour guide. It’s neither serious nor spooky — just fun.

Hart was the creator of the “B.C.” and “Wizard of Id” comic strips, both of which ran for years in many newspapers. Apparently he and Serling were pretty good friends, judging from what Serling wrote for the 1974 paperback collection “B.C. Strikes Back”: Read the rest of this entry

Rod Serling and Free Speech: Why “Defeating by Ignoring” Doesn’t Work

One day in 1966, Alex Haley, the author of “Roots,” entered the offices of the American Nazi Party and spoke at length with the man in charge, George Lincoln Rockwell.

No, really. That may sound like fiction, but it actually happened. Haley was there to interview Rockwell for Playboy magazine, which subsequently published the entire discussion.

You might think that Serling, a man so vehemently outspoken in his opposition to Nazism that he heaped scorn on “Hogan’s Heroes,” would be outraged that Haley and Playboy would give someone like Rockwell a public platform. If so, you’d be wrong.

Indeed, he wrote a remarkable letter of support to the magazine — a letter that I believe deserves a careful reading in this hyper-political, ultra-sensitive age of ours: Read the rest of this entry

In an Ideal World, We’d Have an All-Serling Channel

I was looking through my Twitter archive the other day when I came across this:

I still think that would be a great idea! (Big surprise, I know.) But with an important change: I’d make it an all-Serling channel, not simply an all-TZ channel.

To me, that means airing not only episodes of The Twilight Zone, but of Night Gallery and The Loner. It means broadcasting the teleplays that first brought him fame, and the movies he scripted. It means showing interviews with the people who knew him best, along with other special material that celebrates his legacy.

In short, if it’s by or about Serling, you’d find it on my channel. Read the rest of this entry

Give Peace a Chance: TZ’s “The Passersby” Presents Us with a War-Time Dilemma

Twist endings, of course, are a Twilight Zone staple, but not every episode concluded with a bang. Sometimes we experienced a slow-burn reveal — more of a dawning realization than a sudden shock.

passersby11

That’s certainly the case with “The Passersby”, the first of two Civil War-themed episodes that aired in TZ’s third season (prompted, no doubt, by the war’s centennial that year). Well before the final scene, we know that the hundreds of soldiers shuffling past Lavinia Godwin’s dilapidated house are no longer among the living.

But far from detracting from our enjoyment of this episode, the lack of a final-curtain surprise actually adds to it. It enhances the tone of Rod Serling’s story perfectly. (Spoilers ahead; if you haven’t seen this episode, or it’s been a while, you can watch it on Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime, as well as DVD and Blu-ray.)

passersby4

I realize that my love of history probably causes me to rate this episode more highly than others might. But I’m convinced that much of my admiration for it flows from the elegiac beauty of Serling’s reminder that, when the guns fall silent, acceptance and healing must follow — or true peace is impossible. Read the rest of this entry

A Cherished Inscription for a Grateful Rod Serling Fan

Ever been asked to name a famous individual from history that you’d want to have dinner with? I’m sure you won’t be surprised to learn that Rod Serling tops my list.

Dummy (Serling)

You can imagine the questions I’d have for him. I doubt one meal would give us enough time to cover everything I want to know.

Somewhere on the list of topics would be his opinion of what I do on social media to spotlight his work. Does he like it? Am I presenting it well? What can I do to improve it?

Sadly, of course, I can’t know what he thinks. He’s been gone for over 40 years. But I have something that’s almost as good — a special book with an inscription that always makes me smile. Read the rest of this entry

Rod Serling and Model Airplanes: Winging It

One of my favorite anecdotes from Anne Serling’s book:

My dad loved building model airplanes. He would sit at a wooden table and, although not very mechanically minded, assemble these tiny warplanes, gluing and painting them.

Serling Stevens plane

Rod Serling and Inger Stevens

His brother remembered: “I was visiting Rod in California and [he] was building a replica of the Red Baron’s Fokker triplane. He couldn’t get the glue to hold on the top wing which kept flopping. Rod finally lost his patience, threw the model on the floor and stamped it into a few hundred pieces. ‘Rod,’ I asked, ‘why the hell do you even build those things if you get so frustrated?’” Read the rest of this entry

Rod Serling, “Hogan’s Heroes” and Bob Crane

If Rod Serling didn’t like something, you were going to hear about it. And he hated Hogan’s Heroes.

So you might conclude that Serling also BobCrane_Portraitdisliked its main star, Bob Crane. On the contrary, they enjoyed a friendship that began before the show and continued after it was over.

I knew that Crane, who first came to fame as a radio host, had appeared (voice only) as an announcer in The Twilight Zone‘s “Static”. I also knew that Crane had interviewed Serling on his radio show several times (most notably about “The Shelter”, which you can listen to here), and that he’d starred (post-Hogan’s Heroes) in Night Gallery‘s “House—With Ghost”). Read the rest of this entry

Why CBS Finally Took a Gamble on Twilight Zone

Imagine you found yourself transported back in time to December 6, 1941. It’s the day before Japan bombed the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.

Time Element 13

There you are, near the attack site, surrounded by people who have no idea what the next day will bring. Can you warn them without sounding crazy?

That’s the dilemma Pete Jenson faces. He’s been dreaming every night that he’s back there … only it’s not a dream, he tells his psychiatrist. He’s really going back.

Sound like a plot stolen from a Twilight Zone episode? Not exactly. I’m describing “The Time Element”, an episode of CBS’s Desilu Playhouse. It aired on November 24, 1958, the year before TZ debuted. And it was written by Rod Serling. Read the rest of this entry