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The man behind the Twilight Zone

Rod Serling as his daughter knew him

Created date

August 20th, 2013
The man behind the twilight zone

All the world knows him as the mysterious man who opened and closed each episode of The Twilight Zone, the clipped staccato of his speech as much a trademark as the twist endings to his stories. The mellow baritone of his voice proved the perfect compliment to his words: You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension: A dimension of sound; a dimension of sight; a dimension of mind. You're moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You've just crossed over into The Twilight Zone. Even 38 years after his untimely death, Rod Serling stands amongst the best, most provocative writers of the 20th century, but to his daughter Anne, he was so much more. In contrast to the suave television host decked out in a slick suit, a burning cigarette between his fingers, Serling's father was foremost a family man. "My dad always came off so serious on The Twilight Zone," she says. "That was the Rod Serling that the public saw. The man I knew was my father a practical joker, the one who read me bedtime stories, who enjoyed spending summers at our family's cottage in New York." Serling introduces the world to this man in As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling (Citadel Press, 2013).

Personal portrait

A memoir and biography wrapped in one, this book was almost 40 years in the making, for Serling has struggled with the loss of her father since 1975, when he died suddenly following open-heart surgery. She was just 20 then, still in college and looking forward to many happy years with the man of whom she was so proud. "I had actually made my first attempt at this book about six years after my dad died," she recalls. "I was still very much in the throes of grief and trying to navigate that territory. I was clearly not ready to finish it." But like her father, Serling found comfort and solace in writing, an outlet through which she could vent her emotions. Working on the book, she journeyed through her father's life and her own, reading old letters, talking to family friends, and revisiting the past as she remembers it. She recalls, for instance, her father's love of Christmas, what was, to him, a time of wondrous magic. One year in particular, she and her family gathered in the living room, where her dad had set up a movie screen and projector. The lights dimmed, and Serling watched one of her favoriteTwilight Zone episodes, "Night of the Meek," in which Art Carney plays a department store Santa who stumbles upon a magic sack that gives anyone the gift that he most desires. Stories such as these reveal the real Rod Serling, a dreamer and kid at heart. "When I started writing this book, I was in search of my father," says Serling. "I found both the public Rod Serling, and Rod Serling, my dad; especially by reading through family letters, some of which go back to his days in the service during World War II. I feel as though I've gained a new perspective of my father and of the empathy and sense of social justice at the heart of the stories he wrote."

Stories that taught us something

Indeed, these qualities shine through in the numerousTwilight Zone classics that doubled as modern parables, cautionary tales, and life lessons. Serling rendered painfully accurate portrayals of human nature in episodes like "The Shelter," in which friends and neighbors in the grip of nuclear holocaust attack the one family on the block with a bomb shelter. Then there was "Deaths-Head Revisited," the story of a former SS officer who returns to the Dachau concentration camp to reminisce about his glory days and, instead, finds himself put on trial by the ghosts of those who had died at his hands. Yet, "Walking Distance" was perhaps the most autobiographical of allTwilight Zone episodes. According to Serling, the tale of a man who time travels back to his childhood echoes her father's nostalgic sensibilities. In his final interview, someone asked Serling what he wanted people to say about him 100 years after his death. "I don't care that they're not able to quote any single line that I've written," he answered. "But just that they can say, 'Oh, he was a writer.' That's sufficiently an honored position for me." Thanks to his daughter's fresh and touching portrait, people will remember him as a father, too.