By Lory Martinez
Anne Serling, author of As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling gave a talk-back this past Sunday (March 16) after Elizabeth Mozer’s final staging of The Twilight Zone in Binghamton University’s Watters Theatre. The author discussed her childhood and some of the things that inspired her father’s work. The play, based on two of Rod Serling’s teleplays, “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” and “Dust,” featured the same narration style he used in his successful sci-fi TV series. Here are a few highlights from the talk, which included questions from audience members:
What did he (your father) like to do for fun?
He was more than this black-and-white image that you see walking across the MGM soundstage. My dad was brilliantly funny; he was a practical joker. My friends, if they felt a little wary initially about meeting him, within moments they felt completely comfortable. He was very passionate about, for instance, prejudice. Even as a little girl, I knew that he felt very strongly about that. So for the most part, (he was) very different from the image that you see.
What would he consider as some of his favorite episodes?
“Walking Distance,” “Dead’s Head Revisited,” “In praise of Pip.” He admitted later on that there were a few turkeys, but overall he was very proud of his work.
Are there any unfinished manuscripts? And if there are, what are the chances that they will ever be worked on?
Yes, there’s something my dad wrote called “Stops along the way,” that’s hopefully going to be coming out soon, that JJ Abrams is involved in and that was something my dad was really proud of.
You father served in World War II. Can you touch upon how that impacted his later life and his work with The Twilight Zone?
Initially my dad was going to major in physical education, but after he got out of the war, he was so traumatized that he decided to switch to language and literature, because, as he said, he needed to get it out of his gut, he needed to get it off his chest. So obviously he found writing very cathartic.
Were any of those stories, did any of them never make it because they were too much?
Well, actually, one of the reasons, if not THE reason, that he launched into The Twilight Zone was because he was so frustrated with censors and censorship and tried for years to tell the story about Emmett Till, and this “Dust” episode is somewhat a rendition of that. … he was able to get these moral messages and social issues out and slip them under the radar, because the sponsors had no idea what was going on.
Did you ever get a chance to go onto the set?
I was really young when The Twilight Zone first aired, and my only memory is going to the set and all I remember are these stairs that led nowhere. … The episode “The Dummy,” my father brought home the dummy, and I obviously had not seen the episode, and we were just thrilled to have this dol,l and I remember it would sit up at the dining room table with us, and my sister and I fought about sleeping with it in our beds and we were just distraught when my dad had to take it back to the studio. And years later I saw the episode with this malevolent creature and it was just … oh, god!
How do you feel about the show being brought to a whole new generation of people?
It’s such an honor, and my dad would have just been speechless, and stunned really. He was quoted as saying that he didn’t believe his writing would stand the test of time and when asked what he hoped people would remember about him, he said, “Well, just that they remember that I was a writer, that’s sufficiently an honored position for me.” And this is such an honor. I’m so touched.