Category Archives: Rod Serling

A Petition to Rename Binghamton’s Recreation Park for Rod Serling

It’s one of the most iconic images in the whole run of The Twilight Zone: the carousel in “Walking Distance“, Rod Serling’s bittersweet valentine to his upbringing in 1930s’ Binghamton, New York.

Even more remarkable, as many fans know, is the fact that you can visit the actual one that inspired him to write that classic episode. It’s located in Binghamton’s Recreation Park, one of six merry-go-rounds donated by businessman George F. Johnson.

Recently, I’m sorry to say, the park was damaged by fire, the result of arson that occurred in the aftermath of the George Floyd murder. The playground was completely destroyed — but the carousel, thank heavens, was undamaged.

Now we have a chance to do something positive. Nick Parisi, president of the Rod Serling Memorial Foundation and author of “Rod Serling: His Life, Work, and Imagination“, has started a petition to rename Recreation Park in honor of Serling. Read the rest of this entry

Fan of Scary Stories? So Was Rod Serling. Here’s Why He Thinks We Like Them

Most of us enjoy a good scary story. Something inexplicably draws us in and makes us enjoy being frightened — at least if it’s in a controlled environment, like a book, a movie, or a TV show. The question is, why?

“The Fear”

It’s a question that Rod Serling pondered as well. Check out the introduction to “Rod Serling’s Triple W: Witches, Warlocks and Werewolves”, a collection of 12 short stories (by other authors) published in 1963. It’s no longer in print, so I thought I would share his words with fans who might enjoy hearing his insights into the nature of fear:

I am unabashedly and admittedly an admirer of horror tales. If this makes me psychiatrically suspect, my guess is that I share an almost universal affliction. Of all human responses to stimuli, there is probably none quite so commonplace (and so difficult to admit) as the very human fascination for the weird, the grotesque, even the horrible.

Assuredly, it must be this fascination that grips the 10-year-old child watching a spooky movie, forces him to plaster small hands across eyes at particularly horrendous moments but then pries two fingers apart for a quick peek at the very thing that frightens him most.

“Night Call”

Our responses to this kind of “fright motive” seem to undergo a metamorphosis as we take on years. The child is afraid of the shadowy attic and the gloomy cellar. He is wary of the dark corner and the closed closet. His is the formless fear of the unknown, the unexpected; the indistinct wraith that waits to pounce. Read the rest of this entry

The Rise of the Machines: A Human-Less Workplace

Headlines are supposed to catch your eye, and this one certainly did: “He’s one of the only humans at work — and he loves it”.

I’m sure any fellow Twilight Zone fan can imagine what episode I immediately thought of. Images of Robby the Robot behind a desk in the closing shot of “The Brain Center at Whipple’s” suddenly filled my mind.

The article in question focused on Zou Rui, an engineer at a factory in Shanghai, China, and one of the humans mentioned in the headline. He works for JD.com, an e-commerce company that is “one of the most automated in the world,” the writer tells us.

“Analysts say it’s a peek at the future of manual work in China and beyond — a place where a chosen few tend to the machines, while most workers have been rendered obsolete.” Um, “obsolete”? Now I’m really getting a TZ vibe. And not in a good way. Read the rest of this entry

Serling’s 1972 Speech to Graduates: “Cherish What You Believe”

With graduation season in full swing, it seems an ideal time to share these illuminating passages from Rod Serling’s May 13, 1972 commencement address to New York’s Ithaca College:

Commencement means beginning. Those robes you now sweat under will soon be replaced by lab aprons, business suits, and whatever are the working uniforms of your chosen profession. And some of those professions will prove to be back-breaking impossibilities.

For some of you, the frustrations are only beginning. For all of you, the world society beyond this campus is going to prove tough, competitive, demanding, unforgiving of error, and full of rebuttals to the things you most earnestly believe.

So first – and most important – cherish what you believe. Don’t job off one single value judgment because it swims upstream against what appears to be a majority. Respect your own logic, your own sense of morality. Death and taxes may be the only absolutes. It’s for you to conjure up the modus operandi of how you live, act, react and hammer out a code of ethics. Read the rest of this entry

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

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

Read the rest of this entry

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