December 29th, 2003
Rod Serling
About Rod Serling

Known primarily for his role as the host of television’s THE TWILIGHT ZONE, Rod Serling had one of the most exceptional and varied careers in television. As a writer, a producer, and for many years a teacher, Serling challenged the medium of television to reach for loftier artistic goals. The winner of more Emmy Awards for dramatic writing than anyone in history, Serling expressed a deep social conscience in nearly everything he did.

Born in Syracuse, New York in 1924, Rod Serling grew up in the small upstate city of Binghamton. The son of a butcher, he joined the army after graduating from high school in 1942. His experiences of the working-class life of New York, and the horrors of World War II enlivened in him a profound concern for a moral society. After returning from the service, Serling enrolled as a physical education student at Antioch College, but before long realized that he was destined for more creative endeavors.

Changing his major to English literature and drama, Serling began to try his hand at writing. As a senior, after marrying his college sweetheart, Carolyn Kramer, he won an award for a television script he had written. Encouraged by the award, Serling started writing for radio and television. Beginning in Cincinnati, he soon found a home for his unique style of realistic psychological dramas at CBS. By the early 1950s he was writing full-time and had moved his family closer to Manhattan.

Serling had his first big break with a television drama for NBC, called PATTERNS. Dealing with the fast-paced lives and ruthless people within the business world, PATTERNS was so popular it became the first television show to ever be broadcast a second time due to popularity. Throughout the 1950s he continued to write probing investigative dramas about serious issues. 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.

Fed up with the difficulties of writing about serious issues on the conservative networks, Serling turned to science fiction and fantasy. Through an ingenious mixture of morality fable and fantasy writing, he was able to circumvent the timidity and conservatism of the television networks and sponsors. Self-producing a series of vignettes that placed average people in extraordinary situations, Serling could investigate the moral and political questions of his time. He found that he could address controversial subjects if they were cloaked in a veil of fantasy, saying “I found that it was all right to have Martians saying things Democrats and Republicans could never say.”

The series was called THE TWILIGHT ZONE and was incredibly popular, winning Serling three Emmy Awards. As the host and narrator of the show, he became a household name and his voice seemed always a creepy reminder of a world beyond our control. The show lasted for five seasons, and during that time Serling wrote more than half of the one hundred and fifty-one episodes. But for Serling, television was an inherently problematic medium—requiring the concessions of commercials and time restrictions.

For much of the 1960s and into the 1970s Serling turned to the big screen, writing films that included a remake of REQUIEM FOR A HEAVYWEIGHT (1962), THE YELLOW CANARY (1963), and ASSAULT ON A QUEEN (1966). His most famous, however, was the classic PLANET OF THE APES (1968), co-written with Michael Wilson. Similar to his early work on THE TWILIGHT ZONE, THE PLANET OF THE APES was a moralistic tale of contemporary life told through a science-fiction fantasy in which Apes have taken over the world. Dealing with question of how we act as a society and how we view ourselves as moral beings, PLANET OF THE APES was a culmination of Serling’s career-long interests as a writer.

By the early 1970s, he found a job teaching in Ithaca, New York. Continuing to write for television, he sought to impart a sense of moral responsibility and artistic integrity to the new generation of television writers. In June of 1975, he died of a heart attack. Today, more than twenty-five years after his death, Serling’s legacy continues to grow. His television and cinematic works have reached cult status—enlivening a new interest in one of the great early writers of American television.

  • Joanne Sankowski

    I don’t think anyone has come close to the brillant writing style of Rod Serling. Love the Twilight Zone. Is his wife still alive and does he have any children.

  • Kirsten Hougen

    There was a Twilight Zone Marathon and none of my friends knew Rod Serling’s background. This website provided informative background on Rod and his education background.

  • danny

    i dont thin anyone has come close to this. he is so cool i think that rod should live in an igloo

  • Gloria M.

    When I was young I remember how my aunts and uncles always looked forward to the end of the week to watch the twilight Zone, I was too young to realize this. Now I look back on this and I understand what I great writer he was to have so much to give. I love the reruns of the Twilight Zone. Thank You Mr. Rod Serling.

  • John HB

    Joanne: (children) – Jodi, a daughter. … Also, does anyone have the COMPLETE tape/dub of the PBS special? I have most of it, but certainly not all.

  • nino musso

    Rod Serling is such a beast too bad he died from that open heart surgery.Damn heart surgery

  • abc

    Wow, Rod Serling was cool. I should see Planet of the Apes sometime!

  • http://allfamilyguyseasons.com Roy Clewis

    Great article. There’s a lot of good information here, though I did want to let you know something – I am running Redhat with the latest beta of Firefox, and the look and feel of your blog is kind of funky for me. I can read the articles, but the navigation doesn’t function so great.

  • Paula

    Rod Serling, a GREAT man , I love his work , I look forward to episodes of twilight zone marathones every year. I will check out other films by him. Thanks

  • Rachel

    I think that Rod Serling was an amazing insperational personal i think he also pushes kids to do there best and i think he love seeing kids do well and this is coming from a 13 year old girl!!!!!

  • Tim

    I was only a child in the 1960s when i watched twilight zone and night gallery, so i was sometimes afraid by what i watched,just like chiller theater on saturday nights.but that was what kept me watching. in life i have found that what awakens your feelings are reasons to be alive at all. as i have grown up and have experienced all that comes with life, not always pleasant though, we form many different opinions on many different things. I still watch twilight zone reruns again and again and love them. I read alot more now than i ever did before and have come to the opinion that Rod Serling was not only a great writer and great story teller but that he was a great humanitarian that the world misses and needs in these troubling times. it is always a welcome escape from the day to day pressures to be entertained by such works as Rod has left us to enjoy. Thank You Rod for all that you have given to humankind, and thank God for giving us Rod Serling!!!!!!!!!

  • Ricardo

    I was born in 1961 just a little to late to see them in prime time. Yet thanks to reruns in the early and mid 70’s i enjoyed many if not every single one of the Twilight Zone episodes. Still get a chill at the sound of his voice. With his early work in the 50’s and the Twilight series it is clear this man is one of the movers and shakers that made TV’s “Golden Age” what it was and is revered for. Now I find much to my surprise and pleasure this great artist also struck a cord with me in one of the most startiling endings in American cinema. I was about 10 yrs old when I was allowed to watch the Planet of the Apes on one of the big three’s “Night at the Movies”. I still remember how shocked I was in that final scene with Charleston Heston on the beach. For those of you who only know the updated version I strongly urge you to see the original, a little dated yes but the end will get ya!!.
    This man was a genius.

  • Amy

    Rod Serling is cool. I love his stuff.

  • julie herington

    If anyone could scare the pants off you this man could. He always made you think if this stuff could really happen. To bad we all had to loose him. He was the best writter I ever knew of. Thank God we all got to have him for our enjoyment. GOD BLESS HIS FAMILY he had to leave.

  • Dane Youssef

    GREAT AND GRAND ALMIGHTY QUOTES OF RODMAN EDWARD SERLING by Dane Youssef

    Rod Serling was perhaps one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. Not merely to his chosen major field of television, but in general. A man who defined a lot of whst television stood for, even today.

    When you see a program of real weight and depth, social commentary and insight, that Rod’s inspiration you’re seeing. Like Elvis, James Brown and even Shakesphere, he had a rippling effect, touching every other aspect of the medium of TV around him.

    One of the few precious men who made it so “the idiot box” didn’t have to entirely live up to its name. Television was mostly just saccharinely sweet light fluff with no weight or real meaning. Serling thought the small screen could do bigger, better things. And so he set out to prove it. The self-righteous stubborn little bastard set to raise the bar with scripts like “Patterns” and “Requiem For A Heavyweight.”

    And with his incarnation of “The Twilight Zone” and “Night Gallery,” he started playing the keys on his typewriter like Beethoven at a grand piano, and he changed all that.

    Not to mention the lesser-known “A Storm in Summer.” Damn it. The little bastard He just had to go out and make writing for TV a respectable profession and pursuit. He demanded quality. He made quality.

    Week after week after week after… well, that’s usually where he skipped a week or so. He was the first to admit that writing on a deadline for a serial TV show forced him to crank out a few stinkers. But he was a true wordsmith. A craftsman like Woody Allen or Raymond Chandler. Little Roddy knew how to make one single sentence really sing.

    He had as many powerful proverbs as the Bible. I put down a brief re-cap of some of his all-time greatest hits.
    Which is your favorite?

    “I don’t enjoy any of the process of writing. I enjoy it when it goes on if it zings and it has great warmth and import and it’s successful. Yeah, that’s when I enjoy it. But during the desperate, tough time of creating it, there’s not much I enjoy about it. It tires me and lays me out, which is sort of the way I feel now. Tired.”

    “Some people possess talent, others are possessed by it. When that happens, a talent becomes a curse.”

    “There is nothing in the dark that isn’t there when the lights are on.”

    “Everybody has to have a hometown, Binghamton’s mine. In the strangely brittle, terribly sensitive make-up of a human being, there is a need for a place to hang a hat or a kind of geographical womb to crawl back into, or maybe just a place that’s familiar because that’s where you grew up. When I dig back through memory cells, I get one particularly distinctive feeling—and that’s one of warmth, comfort and well-being. For whatever else I may have had, or lost, or will find—I’ve still got a hometown. This, nobody’s gonna take away from me.”

    “I happen to think that the singular evil of our time is prejudice. It is from this evil that all other evils grow and multiply. In almost everything I’ve written there is a thread of this: a man’s seemingly palpable need to dislike someone other than himself.”

    “Imagination… its limits are only those of the mind itself.”

    “I think the destiny of all men is not to sit in the rubble of their own making but to reach out for an ultimate perfection which is to be had. At the moment, it is a dream. But as of the moment we clasp hands with our neighbor, we build the first span to bridge the gap between the young and the old. At this hour, it’s a wish. But we have it within our power to make it a reality. If you want to prove that God is not dead, first prove that man is alive.”

    “If you need drugs to be a good writer, you’re not a good writer.”

    “Hollywood’s a great place to live… if you’re a grapefruit.”

    (on being born on Christmas Day, 1924) “I was a Christmas present that was delivered unwrapped.”

    “Fantasy is the impossible made probable; science fiction is the improbable made possible.”

    “Writing is a demanding profession and a selfish one. And because it is selfish and demanding, because it is compulsive and exacting, I didn’t embrace it. I succumbed to it.”

    “I don’t want to fight anymore. I don’t want to have to battle sponsors and agencies. I don’t want to have to push for something that I want and have to settle for second best. I don’t want to have to compromise all the time, which in essence is what a television writer does if he wants to put on controversial themes.”

    (On the decision to cancel the “Twilight Zone”): “We had some real turkeys, some fair ones, and some shows I’m really proud to have been a part of. I can walk away from this series unbowed.”

    “You’re travelling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind; a journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination–next stop, the Twilight Zone!”

    (during the third): “I’ve never felt quite so drained of ideas as I do at this moment. You can’t retain quality. You start borrowing from yourself, making your own clichés. I notice that more and more.”

    (His reasons for less involvement on “The Twilight Zone” by the third year): “First is extreme fatigue. Second, I’m desperate for a change of scene, and third is a chance to exhale, with the opportunity for picking up a little knowledge instead of trying to spew it out.”

    “Coming up with an idea is the easiest thing in the world… writing it down, that’s the hard part. I put the paper in the typewriter, I put my hands on the keys.. and I bleed.”

    Words to live by. To die by. And to write by.

    He once told the world that all he ever wanted was to be remembered as a writer…

    Well… I remember.

    Now… what’s your favorite?

    And here, we see the man’s greatness is now written in stone.

    FOR THE RODMAN

    –Eternal Love for God Serling, Dane Youssef

  • IRVING PRESSER

    FROM IRVING

    ROD SERLING

    THE GREATEST WRITER OF THE 2Oth CENTURY.
    HE IS TRULY MISSED.

  • steve vegliante

    when my twin daughters were in the 6th grade ,the teacher showed the class “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”.they told me the class was blown away by the ending but also absorbed by the underlying story.they are now 22 and still fans
    top 3 episodes(i don’t remember titles)1 beauty is in eye of beholder.2 episode with agnes morehead battling “aliens”3 old man and his dog walking down eternity road and the devil tries to trick them into entering hell
    what are yours

  • Lady Houston

    Mr. Sterling was before his time. Where did these ideas come from? Thank you Mr. Sterling for the insite of the world. :)

  • Renegade 19

    thanks for a great, reliable resource for a report

  • Jeff Brown

    All the beautiful and awesome comments above took my breath away and I am speechless to try and come close to put in words what a great man Rod Serling was, is, and will alway be. So I won’t try. His works will never die, and most of all he memory will always be alive in everyone’s hearts. One more comment to leave is to say he had a great domino affect on future generations in all aspects of life not just television. Because he believed strongly about certain things, and it was always for the good of the all and mankinds best interest. He was also a war hero, not just someone who returned from a war wounded. But he received a purple heart, the Bronze Star, and Phillipines Liberation medal. The Bronze Star is the 4th highest medal for valor. The first is the Medal of Honor, and only several soldiers in American history have been awarded this, and all did not live. And it was WWII that he served in. Interestingly, Rod unlike most, was very selfless individual, he was not was just wanting to join, but he asked to leave high school without graduating to join, because he wanted to fight for his country–more than just noble!! But his HS teachers encouraged him to stay and graduate, since wars are temporary and when he came back it would be without a diploma. So he continued to graduation, and on the same morning of graduation, Rod Serling Enlisted in the Armed Forces!! That I must say is Dedication At Its Best. If every human being was like him, we would have a perfect world and a peaceful one

  • Norm Caffrey

    I was born in 1954 and grew up watching The Twilight Zone since the first year in 1959. We would always watch it in the dark which added to the atmosphere of each episode. Since I was so young, some of the shows were scary or at least a bit eerie. But there was this fascination to see the show to the end because the episodes were so engaging. The T Zone was extremely well written, well directed and well acted. Those early performances of future stars was an added bonus when you started watching re-runs. And what about those great endings. They always had some twist to them that shocked or surprised you and at the same time helped you to expand your thinking. We owe Rod Serling a great deal. He was a visionary and a pioneer. Here was an individual that got to do what he loved (how many of us can say that about our jobs?) Thanks to the medium (television) that he loved so much, we are able to keep his memory alive forever. He had a tremendous mark and impact on television and to it’s audience. Many of those old TV shows don’t hold up well over time, not so with the Twilight Zone. The themes and the performances will always stand the test of time. If you have never seen it, try to locate the 1959 TV video interview (just months before The Twilight Zone debuted) wilh Mike Wallace of CBS news and Rod Serling. It is very insightful and much of the discussion is on how writers were limited by what the sponsers felt would be acceptable to thier viewers. The quality of the video is not that great but it was the best they had in 1959. Regardless, what Rod Serling has to say and how he says it is so good that it is must viewing for any T Zone fan. Thank you Rod Serling for giving us what many agree is the finest dramatic TV show that has ever been done and for helping us to enter The Twilight Zone.

  • Delmarchie Patton

    Rod Serling was such a brilliant writer and I admire and respect him and his work. The fact that he was a man who wanted us to understand the evilness associated with racism is enough to make me continue to watch the Twilight Zone to this day. One of my favorite episodes was titled, “I am the Night, Color Me Black” which was so fascinating because the sun wouldn’t rise in a small mid-western town due to a white man being executed, on that day, for killing his bigot neighbor. The darkness represented the hatred that was displayed by the towns people and the sky kept getting darker. One of the most poignant parts was at the end when Serling said something like, don’t look to the Twilight Zone for the problem, look in the mirror – Epic!! The fact that he was a white man that disagreed with prejudice and racism during a time when racial tension was very high, says a lot about his character.

    I remember the first episode that I watched and it was titled, “Terror at 20,000 Feet” starring William Shatner. It was about a gremlin determined to destroy a plane in mid-air! I remember that my brother introduced me to the show and I’ve been watching it since which has been close to 40 years! Because of the brilliant mind of Rod Serling, I am a Sci-Fi fanatic.

    Wow Mr. Serling, we all could learn a great deal from you.

  • Gary Prickett

    My first viewed episode of the T-Zone featured Burgess Meredith as a seriously myopic, painfully shy book-loving Librarian. After spending his lunch hour in the library’s vault, he emerged to discover that his world has been decimated by a nuclear holocaust, from which he has been miraculously spared due to the apparent shielding of the underground vault. After being initially horrified and ultimately resigned to his lonely fate, he becomes jubilant at the opportunity to spend all of his remaining days surrounded by books with no one and nothing to disturb his reading pleasure. This all comes to an abrupt and shocking end when his spectacles are inadvertently knocked from his head, dropped to the ground and accidentally destroyed by his own foot. Without them, he is functionally blind as the proverbial bat.
    The pathos was palpable. I’m not sure if there was supposed to be a moral lesson in this tale, but it left in me the feeling that life’s joys and pleasures are fleeting, and one should cherish and enjoy them while possible for they can be taken in a moment by a whim of fate.
    Great writing by Mr. Serling. He is missed, but his work is cherished. I trust he had a life well lived; he certainly left a memorable legacy.

  • Amaya Murray

    Rod Serling is a great writing. Every time I read his stories I keep wanting to come back for more.

  • Jordan P.

    I’m 10 and I love Rod and I just want to thank this site it really helped me find info on the person I chose for my biography. ;)

  • shirley hawkins

    I love Rod Serling.

    Since I was a little girl, he made me think beyond what I could think and see. He pointed fingers at bigotry, fallacy, greed, prejudice, man’s inhumanity to man.

    He was truly a genius. Even at age 9, I knew he was special.

    I look forward to the Twilight Zone marathon every year at Thanksgiving.

    As a black woman and a fellow writer, I am truly greatful for his efforts to expose man’s inhumanity to man–and he did it in inventive and amazing ways.

    He was truly a genius and ahead of his time. I weep because he didn’t make it beyond 51 years of age–but during the time he lived and wrote, he left such a rich legacy that will teach and enlighten future generations and last long after I’m dead.

    By the way, there was a book written about him that I cannot find. I had it but I lost it. It still haunts me that I lost it–wherever you are, God Bless You, Rod Serling.

  • robert adkins

    I lived two miles from Yellow Springs when I was a kid in the 60s .I went to an old school that polecat road dead -ended into it was called Oak Grove school .After school the kids that lived in my neighborhood – all twelve houses would play in the playground till it was time to go home for supper.And occasionally Rod Serling would stop and talk to us. What I remember, the first time he stopped he was asking for directions to a road that has sharp curves in it we told him where it was and he would drive his sports car through the curves and we could hear him from the school because it was only a mile away. He stopped and talked to us a few times when he lived there.

  • Ron Kinney

    I am addicted to the Twilight Zone. Watching the series on Netflix.

  • Bob Wagner

    I was privileged to go through basic training in 1943 with Rod at Camp McCall in North Carolina. (11th Airborne – 511 Parachute Infantry.) It just so happened that he and I shared the same bunk – Rod in the upper bunk and me in the lower bunk. I took pleasure of putting my feet against the bottom of his bed and bouncing him up and down. After lights were out , Rod would keep the barrack in stitches with his humor and creative stories about almost anything. It was no surprise to me that years after WW 11 was over, I watched and listened with amazement to Rod’s creative radio and tv programs. He was a great guy and a natural for the life-work that he entered into.

  • bob johansen

    this dude is awsome

  • leighum coleman

    i love the twilight zone because it was the most confusing and hardest to twist my mind around.

  • Londynn calkin

    I love the Twilight Zone.!
    I like the books though a LOT better than the movies. They have a lot more in them That is REALLY good!

  • Mathilda Galyon

    Congratulations on all the good stuff on the way! Very exciting!

  • Long Distance Movers

    I love Rod Sterling, and this article completely defines him. Amazing, 5 stars.

  • Mickey

    Rod Serling was, for my money, the greatest playwright of them all. To this day, I truly miss him.

  • http://snipsly.com/2012/05/12/how-effective-really-are-todays-ottawa-job-search-sites/ Santo

    This is good advice. Thanks for sharing your story with us. A great number readers don’t realize this.

  • Laurie

    I love Mr Serling. He was a brilliant writer. No one has come close. To this day, when3 people make me angry, I smile and I say to myself .”I’m going to wish you into the corn field”. That just happens to be one of my favorites. You are truly missed.

  • Karen

    Being born in 1952…few things to watch on the Telly…TZ and Thriller were some of the best shows on …I have always loved these type of shows and still do..I also look forward to the sci fi marathons..always looking for my faves ..they are always there..waiting for me…luv luv Rod Serling and his mind…he died way too soon.

  • stan lore

    Am 65 y/o and have always known Sterling’s influence. Another twilight zone marathon to bring in 2013. Great great stuff!

  • andrew

    rod is a boss

  • thomas

    I grew up with the twilight zone and I watched the entire planet of the apes movies set on auto-pilot on cable this saturday past. before reading any bio on my favorite writer in old tv I could see mr.sterlings concepts mirrored in the planet of the apes series that are also in his twilight zone episodes.and if we keep looking back some of the same concepts are in edgar allen poes ideas.today we see the likes of steven King also a favorite with the macabe I believe had mr. serling lived into our days he and hitchcock couldnt of been out done especiallly with the sy-fi thank you for letting me comment

  • Lauren Koleszar

    Thank you Pbs, for all of this awesome info! I’m writing a report on Rod Serling for school and I can’t wait to have it done. Rod Serling has been such an inspiration for me and I wish he were still here for me to simply say thank you….and of course tell him how much I love the Twilight Zone! It is still by far my favorite Tv show and I’ve had many great marathons whether homemade ( out of the library) or on Tv! They are all so amazing! Especially for having such a low budget! My favorites include Once Upon A Time, The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street, 22, What You Need, and Nothing In The Dark. Honestly, I could name so many more, but that’s all I want to name for now. Thank you again, Pbs, and I hope you all will appreciate Rod Serling as much as I do, he is truely an awesome director, narrator, writer, actor, and speaker. :)

  • Avey Johnson

    Goodness gracious! How could PBS have forgotten to mention that Mr. Serling wrote the screenplay for “Seven Days in May,” a 1964 production starring Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Ava Gardner… The story is about an attempted takover of the U.S. governement by renegade general. Chilling, engrossing – certainly one of Rod’s best. Do yourself a favor: get hold of this movie, cook up a big bowl of popcorn, take the phone off the hook, and get into this great movie. You won’t be disappointed.

Salinger

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