In October, 2013 I hosted a visit to Rochester, NY by Anne Serling, author of the recent memoir, As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling (Citadel, 2013). At a sold-out event at our local indie film theatre, Anne showed favorite "Twilight Zone" clips and spoke about her new book and about her Dad.
Following is my introduction of Anne.
(October 29, 2013)
My name is Peter Lovenheim and I have the honor of hosting Anne Serling's visit to Rochester. Now, here's what's going to happen the rest of the evening: I'm going to introduce Anne to you and then, if there's time left, Anne will make a presentation and answer questions. Later, there'll be a dessert reception in the café and Anne will sign copies of her new book, As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling. Let me just point out that the holidays are coming and a signed copy of a wonderful book makes, well, a wonderful gift.
Before becoming a full-time writer, Anne Serling was an early childhood teacher. She's also written poetry, adapted two of her father's screenplays into short stories, and serves on the board of the Rod Serling Memorial Foundation.
From Anne's book, I learned at least three big, fascinating things about Rod Serling which I'd like briefly to share.
First, I learned just how prolific and significant a writer Serling was. Working in that first Golden Age of Television , he not only created "The Twilight Zone," but many other prize-winning TV dramas such as "Requiem for a Heavyweight." He also wrote the screenplay for that great film, "Seven Days in May," and the original script for "Planet of the Apes." And due to the popularity of his on-screen introductions to each "Twilight Zone" episode, Serling became, during his lifetime, what some have called the most recognizable writer in America.
The second thing I learned was that Rod Serling grew up in Binghamton, NY, the product of a middle-class family where he enjoyed a stable,—almost idyllic—small-town childhood. But that would change. The world went to war, and the morning after his high school graduation Serling enlisted to be an Army paratrooper. He was shipped to the Pacific, and there he experienced—like many other GIs— privation, horror, and above all, fear. He engaged in combat at close range, he entered villages where all the inhabitants had fled; on one particularly bad day, he was listening to his best buddy tell jokes when a food crate dropped from an Army plane suddenly decapitated his friend. And then when Serling returned home, it was to see the first, horrific news reels from Europe of Nazi concentration camps—something that as a Jew hit Serling especially hard.
That tension Serling felt—between his memories of an idyllic, small-town childhood and the horrific realities of war and inhumanity—seemed to underlay much of his work. And I think that tension resonated particularly among us baby boomers who, after all, in the early 1960s would come home from school after sitting under our desks to practice hiding from nuclear bombs, and then at night watch "The Twilight Zone"—How could these stories of horror in Utopia not hit a nerve?
The third thing I learned was that this man in the dark suit, dangling cigarette; tight, clipped delivery, who scared the heck out of us, was in fact, a boyish, playful, and loving family man who every summer brought his wife and kids to their cottage on Cayuga Lake. And part of his being a family man was his remarkably close and loving relationship with his two daughters. In her book, Anne takes us inside that father-daughter relationship, and as a father of daughters myself, this is what most grabbed me: scenes between Anne and her Dad playing, swimming in the lake, telling bedtime stories, and especially the sweet nicknames by which he would call her: Miss Grumple, Bunny, Little Raisin, and my favorite, "Pops." He would call his daughter, Pops—how sweet.
Sadly, Rod Serling died young, at age 50, here at Strong Hospital of a heart attack. His youngest daughter, Anne, had just turned 20.
Everyone seems to have a favorite Rod Serling creation. For some it's "Requiem for a Heavyweight" that brilliant story of a washed-up prizefighter. For others, it was a favorite episode of "Twilight Zone": "To Serve Man," about aliens who come to Earth with a cook book, or "Time Enough at Last," about a man who loves to read and survives a nuclear war only to accidentally break his reading glasses, or "A Stop at Willoughby" about a harried executive who just wants to return to the comforts of a simpler time.
I loved all those episodes and many more, but for me, after reading this book, I have a new favorite Rod Serling creation. Please welcome her: Anne Serling.