Category Archives: Rod Serling

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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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

“The Season To Be Wary”: A Night Gallery Book

In his last interview, Rod Serling said he wanted to be remembered simply as a “writer.” There’s little doubt that he achieved that. Countless authors cite him as one of their primary influences.

Yet nearly all of his fans experience his words via a TV screen, not the printed page. How many of us have enjoyed a book by Serling?

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True, that wasn’t his typical medium. He was famous for dictating scripts in a hurry by the poolside, not fiddling with some florid prose in a quiet study. Small wonder that the few books he did author were out of print for years.

That changed in 2014 when Rod Serling Books republished several volumes that almost any fan of the fifth dimension will want to check out. Each one merits its own post, but today I want to focus on one that should interest any Night Gallery aficionado: “The Season To Be Wary.” Read the rest of this entry

Serling’s Imitators Miss a Key Reason for His Success

Why do so many attempts to emulate Rod Serling fail? People have tried over the years to duplicate the success of “The Twilight Zone,” and it nearly always falls flat. Why?

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Many writers and producers make the mistake of assuming that a weird story, or a clever twist, is all you need. But as I’ve tried to show in several previous blog posts, it’s not that simple.

And I recently read something that reminded me of another major reason Serling succeeded: his optimism.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Serling was a realist who leveled some devastating social critiques throughout his career. The author of “The Shelter“, “Deaths-Head Revisited” and “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street” clearly wasn’t wearing rose-colored glasses.

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But unlike many modern writers, he clearly intended to pull us back from our worst excesses. A man who saw unspeakable horror in World War II, saw the Cold War at its hottest, and lived through a time of high-profile assassinations, knew that while men and women possess a lamentable capacity for evil, they also have a capacity for good. Read the rest of this entry

From Serling With Love: A Spy Series That Never Was

Imagine James Bond in The Twilight Zone. Hard to do, isn’t it? Even if you enjoy both, spy thrillers and sci-fi/fantasy stories blend about as well as tuxedos and tennis shoes.

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Yet with a new Mission: Impossible movie hitting movie theaters, it’s worth highlighting the one episode of The Twilight Zone that inhabits the cloak-and-dagger world: “The Jeopardy Room” — and pointing out the surprising fact that it developed from a premise that Rod Serling had for a whole new series about spies.

His proposal to CBS in 1963 (in the wake of the hit James Bond movie “From Russia With Love”) described a show simply titled The Chase. Serling wanted it to focus on a secret government agency, directed by a Bondian spy named McGough, that would handle sensitive “international involvements”.

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McGough would be a “quiet, taciturn, unheroic kind of man — calculating, predatory, and deadly efficient because the nature of his job requires these traits and nothing more,” Serling wrote. He continued: Read the rest of this entry

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.

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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.

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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. Read the rest of this entry

“More Than A Man Has Died”: Serling on Kennedy’s Death

Those of us who weren’t alive when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963 know what a horrendous and brutal crime it was. But it can be hard for us to grasp just how deeply this tragic event shocked the nation.

John F. Kennedy

Leave it to Rod Serling to put it into perspective for us. As his daughter Anne once noted on her blog:

“After President Kennedy’s assassination, my father wrote something perhaps intended as a letter to a newspaper or magazine editor. It was written on his letterhead and clearly typed by him, not his secretary.” It read:
Read the rest of this entry