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|04-19-2011, 08:25 PM||#1|
R.I.P. STEVE FORREST 1925-2013
Join Date: Jul 13, 2003
Location: Carthage, NC
Rod Serling Entered A New TV Dimension With 'The Twilight Zone'
Rod Serling remained true to himself, no matter the obstacles.
As a young TV writer in 1950s Hollywood, Serling (1924-75) learned that censorship was part of the new medium.
Networks and sponsors worried about offending their audience even in the slightest. It made them afraid to air anything that could be controversial.
Along came Serling. He had more than just a background that included 40 straight rejections of his freelance work.
He had something to say, an attitude that would lead to his landmark show, "The Twilight Zone."
He brought a sense of humanity gained from the horrors he experienced as an Army paratrooper with the 11th Airborne Division in the Pacific during World War II. He'd watched men die in battle and was awarded a Purple Heart for wounds suffered to his knee and wrist. He also earned the Bronze Star and the Philippine Liberation Medal. His life experiences had him yearning to express himself on important subjects, and obstacles couldn't hold him back.
So he hung in there, eventually writing for the TV shows "Hallmark Hall of Fame," "Studio One," "Kraft Television Theater" and "Playhouse 90."
By 1959 he'd become the first TV writer to earn three Emmy awards, for "Requiem for a Heavyweight," "The Comedian" and "Patterns." He'd go on to win six in his career.
In Serling's crucial year of 1959, as his science-fiction anthology series was set to premiere, he told TV's Mike Wallace: "In 11 or 12 years of writing ... I can lay claim to at least this: I have never written beneath myself. I have never written anything that I didn't want my name attached to."
He also told Wallace that as a television writer it was "criminal that we're not permitted to make dramatic note of social evils as they exist, of controversial themes as they are inherent in our society."
"The Twilight Zone," which ran until 1964, shone the spotlight on Serling. He wrote almost 100 of the 156 episodes and brought in top-flight talent to write the others. On the show he could cloak his commentary on racism, war, hate and fear in science-fiction stories. Sponsors found that palatable.
"Rod felt a responsibility as a writer to talk about the social evils that he felt. Think of 'The Twilight Zone,' then, as a thinly veiled call to public consciousness," his wife, Carol Serling, told IBD. "There were stories, too, that dealt with the dignity of man, his treatment of his fellow man, his need for commitment and the importance of love."
"Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry said on the Rod Serling Memorial Foundation website: "No one could know Serling, or view or read his work, without recognizing his deep affection for humanity ... and his determination to enlarge our horizons by giving us a better understanding of ourselves."
As the show's narrator and on-camera presence, Serling and his speaking manner have become iconic. But he was more substance than his considerable style. Serling was the show's conscience. He shaped generations of young and old minds by challenging people to examine their moral compass.
"If there's one moral value that Rod pushes more than any other, it's humanism, that there's nothing more important than treating other people well," said Douglas Brode, who with Carol Serling wrote "Rod Serling and the Twilight Zone: The 50th Anniversary Tribute." "The way that I see the world was very much influenced by watching 'The Twilight Zone' as a kid."
Serling said nothing he wrote would stand the test of time, but he was wrong. The original "Twilight Zone" episodes have lived on for over 50 years. Filmmakers such as Steven Spielberg and George Lucas have been influenced by Serling.
Serling was posthumously inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 1985. In 2009, the United States Postal Service honored Serling with a commemorative stamp.
In addition to his six Emmys, Serling was the first television writer to win a Peabody Award. He also won a Sylvania Award.
"Rod had an absolute drive and ambition to succeed as a writer," Brode said.
Carol Serling agrees. "Rod felt there was a responsibility of this great new medium, television, to not only entertain, but to educate," she said. "That's why so much of his work was socially relevant to the times."
Born on Christmas Day 1924 in Syracuse, N.Y., Serling was raised 70 miles south in Binghamton.
After World War II ended in 1945, he attended Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio.
The Write Stuff
Serling recognized what his interests really were and changed his major from physical education to English literature and drama. "I was bitter about everything and at loose ends when I got out of the service," he said, according to Contemporary Authors Online. "I think I turned to writing to get it off my chest."
After he married Carol, his college sweetheart, the couple landed in Cincinnati, where Rod wrote ads and other material for a TV station. He called it a "particularly dreamless occupation." On one occasion he was told to make up a testimonial to plug a product.
One day in 1951, Serling decided he'd had enough. With Carol's support and their first child on the way, he traded in his secure job for the uncertainty of freelance writing for TV shows.
Six months later, the Serlings moved to New York. Rod wrote 11 shows for the TV show "Lux Video Theatre" and was on his way.
"Throughout the 1950s (Serling) continued to write probing investigative dramas about serious issues," PBS.org wrote. "He was often hounded by the conservative censors for his uncompromising attention to issues such as lynching, union organizing and racism. Television dramas, including 'Requiem for a Heavyweight' and 'A Town Has Turned to Dust,' are still considered some of the best writing ever done for television."
"The Twilight Zone" represented an opportunity for Serling to have creative control over his own show. He jumped at the chance to do the series, even if it meant turning away more lucrative projects in the beginning. "I'm not nearly as concerned with the money to be made on this show as I am with the quality of it," he said.
Serling put in 10- to 14-hour days to turn out scripts for "The Twilight Zone." The story lines were filled with justice and injustice, along with ironic twists.
According to Brode, Serling's favorite episodes were "Walking Distance" and "A Stop at Willoughby."
In the former, a pained businessman, played by Gig Young, time-travels to the town of his youth. He sees he can't go home again and learns an important lesson.
In the latter, a similar character, played by James Daly, is willing to die so he can trade unhappiness for another dimension's idyllic town.
"He had a wonderful imagination. Rod was always working; he never stopped," Carol Serling said.
Among the most consistent themes in Rod Serling's work was a disgust at racism. He told the graduating class at his alma mater, Binghamton Central High, in 1968:
"If you find yourself thinking words like (racial epithets), consign them to the lexicon of race haters who aren't fit to breathe the same air as you are. Make your judgment of your fellow man on what he says and what he believes and the way he acts."
He encouraged the graduates to "do the things that you believe. Don't become monuments ... Change opinions, if the change is natural and believed. But believe in something and fight for those beliefs. Honor them by your commitment. Further them by your effort. And what a wondrous and what an incredibly grand world you might build for your children."
"It's the way things are. A big tree falls and a new one grows right out of the same ground. Old animals die and young ones take their places. Even people step aside when it's time."
(R.G. Armstrong as the Contractor in The Twilight Zone episode "Nothing in the Dark")
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