Most science fiction fans are very familiar with Rod Serling and his classic television show, The Twilight Zone, which began on October 2, 1959 and is still in syndication.
Rod Serling was born Rodman Edward Serling on December 25, 1924. His family was Jewish and his father was a grocer, giving up amateur inventing, in order to put food on the table. When Rod was a young man, he and his family moved to Binghamton, New York, where he spent his most formidable years. As a youngster, Rod would put on plays in his basement, where his father had built him a small stage.
Although interested in sports, he was told that he was too short to join the football team because he was only 5’4″ tall. He became interested in writing and the radio while just a young man. He loved listening to old time radio shows, especially thrillers and sci-fi. He had done some work at a radio station in Binghamton as a teenager. When he was a senior, he was accepted to college, however, World War II was being fought and Rod decided to enlist instead.
In the war, he was first a member of the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 11th Airborne Division and later was transferred to what others referred to as “The Death Squad,” which was the 511th demolition platoon. It was nicknamed this because of the high number of casualties. Much of his writing and views on life came from this era of his life, as he watched his buddies being killed, as well as the enemy.
He was wounded a total of three times during the war and came back to fight each time. Although only a private, Serling received a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star, as well as, the Philippine Liberation Medal. He suffered from post tramautic stress disorder for the rest of his life, as he was plagued with flashbacks and nightmares.
When he was discharged in 1046, he attended Antioch College and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Literature in 1950. This is also where he met his wife, Carolyn Louise Kramer. He converted to Unitarianism, in order to marry her in 1948. When he was in college, he earned extra money by testing parachutes for the Army Air Force, which was a very dangerous job.
While studying at Antioch, he became interested and working at the campus radio station. He ended up writing, acting and directing quite a few radio programs there. He then started taking odd jobs at other radio stations in Ohio and New York. In 1949, Serling sent in a script for a contest that was held every year by the radio program, Dr. Christian. His script, To Live A Dream was chosen as the winner.
He began officially writing in 1950, for WLW radio in Cincinnati, Ohio. He was earning about 75 dollars a week while being a network continuity writer. He freelanced during this time and sold several television and radio scripts to the Crosley Broadcasting Corporation, which was WLW’s parent company. He became disillusioned with the radio industry and soon ventured into the television industry.
He soon became a writer for the television station, WKRC-TV in Cincinnati. Many of the scripts that were rejected by the radio industry were rewritten for television and he soon became a full-time freelance writer. He had written a script for the Kraft Television Theater called Patterns. This script changed Serling’s life as he became inundated with offers for jobs, novels and more radio and television scrips. In 1956, he wrote a script called, Requiem for a Heavyweight for the television series, Playhouse 90, which reinforced his fame as a writer.
In 1958, Serling was trying to create his own show, The Twilight Zone, and submitted a script that was intended to be the pilot for the show to CBS. Instead, CBS used the script for a new TV show that was produced by Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, The Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse. The episode was such a success that CBS allowed Serling to create the Twilight Zone.
On October 2, 1959, The Twilight Zone debuted and ran for 5 years. There was a total of 156 episodes and Rod Serling wrote 92 of them. He fought to maintain creative control of the show and many of the shows incorporate his liberal views on gender roles, giving many of the women strong roles, as well as, his liberal views on race. The show was cancelled in 1964 and he sold the rights to the show to CBS.
In 1969, Night Gallery premiered on NBC. The show ran for 4 years and by the end of the show, Rod Serling was no longer writing for the show. In 1973, Serling returned to radio with the series, The Zero Hour, which were stories of adventure, suspense and mystery. The show ran for two seasons.
In his final radio performance, Serling hosted a two-day rock concert, Fantasy Park which was aired on almost 200 radio stations during the Labor Day weekend of 1975. Many of the rock stars of the day performed and the Beatles reunited to perform at this concert. However, the concert was not real and records were used, as well as, sound effects and recorded crowd noise. There were disclaimers that were aired every hour which told listeners that this was Fantasy Park, the greatest live concert that never was.
When Rod wasn’t working or writing on his television and radio scripts, he was teaching at Antioch College as a writer in residence. He also was a guest teacher at the Sherwood Oaks Experimental College in Hollywood.
Rod Serling was only 50 years old when he died from a heart attack on June 28, 1975. For more information on Rod Serling’s life and achievements, check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rod_Serling.