For fans of "The Twilight Zone," Rod Serling was the cool, dark-haired, tight-jawed narrator with the distinctive voice, who took viewers on a suspenseful guided tour into another dimension, during the Golden Age of television.
To Anne Serling, he was "Dad."
Anne, the younger of Serling's two daughters, is a writer who has followed in her famous father's footsteps, publishing a memoir: "As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling." She is currently working on a novel about a family experiencing disillusion, "Aftershocks." Ms. Serling also serves on the board of directors of the Rod Serling Memorial Foundation.
Rod Serling, who died at age 50, was one of our most celebrated screenwriters, playwrights, producers, best known for his live television dramas during the 1950's, and as creator of "The Twilight Zone." A visionary who tackled controversial subjects, such as censorship, racism, and hatred, topics that still resonate with audiences today. December 25, 2014, would have been Serling's 90th birthday.
I recently spoke to Anne Serling about life with her father, loss and grief, and the longevity of "The Twilight Zone."
Q: What do you think would surprise people most about your father?
A: My father was very, very funny. Because people saw him on television in black and white, looking rather serious, they often assumed that was his off-screen persona. When my friends met him, they felt instantly connected, and just adored him.
Q: Your summers at the family cottage sound lovely. What are some memories you can share about your early years?
A: My father had an idyllic childhood. After he graduated from high school, when he enlisted in the army, according to him, his "childhood came to an end" as it does for any person going off to war.
The cottage, now about 130 years old, was built by my mother's grandfather and great- grandfather. Every summer we left California and flew east with our cats, dogs, and pet rats. It was just charming. My husband and I spend our summers there, and we were married on the porch. They were wonderful times, living right on the lake; boating, miniature golf, Tastee-Freez. It was idyllic, like my Dad's childhood.
Q: The "Twilight Zone" ran for five seasons (1959-1964), spanning 156 episodes.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Syfy's annual Twilight Zone New Year's Eve Marathon. What do you think your father would have thought about the longevity and impact of his work?
A: No one would have been more stunned than my father that his work lasted this long. He certainly would have been happy.
In Binghamton, New York, 5th graders study "The Twilight Zone" learning about prejudice, scapegoating and mob mentality. One of the teachers told me that after viewing "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street," when she asked "Who are the monsters?" and the whole class stood up. They really get it.
Q; Some of my favorite "Twilight Zone" episodes are "Nothing in the Dark" starring Robert Redford, as the "angel of death," and "Eye of the Beholder." Can you share some favorite or memorable episodes?
A: I loved the whole nostalgia theme, so of course, "Walking Distance," which was autobiographical of my Dad, and "A Stop at Willoughby."
When my dad was alive, I didn't get to watch many "Twilight Zones." After my father died, I began watching them, and was blown away when I saw "In Praise of Pip." "Who's your best buddy? Who's your best friend? "You are, Pop" were lines acted out between Jack Klugman and Billy Mummy in this episode, based on a routine that my father and I used to do. It was a rather poignant moment to find my Dad in "The Twilight Zone."
Q: Many rising stars and prominent actors were featured on "The Twilight Zone," Robert Redford, Carol Burnett, William Shatner, Jack Klugman, Burgess Meredith, Leonard Nimoy, to mention a few. Did your father have anything to do with choosing the actors?
A: Many actors got their start on "The Twilight Zone." I'm not sure exactly if my father had the final say on this, but my father owned Cayuga Productions. This was his baby, unlike "Night Gallery" so I am sure he had some voice about casting.
Q: "Night Gallery" which ran for three seasons in the early 70's, was set in a museum, with your father as the host. Any similarities between the two shows?
A: When he began Night Gallery, he was feeling very optimistic about it. But as it progressed, he realized it made no comment about anything, just sort of gore for the sake of gore. He really lost interest in it, and really wanted it to be released from the contract. That said, there were some great episodes; "They're Tearing Down Tim Riley's Bar" for which he received an Emmy nomination. "Tim Riley" is similar to "The Twilight Zone's" "Walking Distance." There were several good shows.
Q: You were just 20 years old when your father died. Your memoir speaks to the unique bond between father and daughter, profound loss, and the emotional healing after grief. What did you learn from writing this book?
A: I really need to credit my editor in an early draft of the book when she said to me, "Your grief is so central to this story. You really need to open up." And that's what I did.
After I did a reading at the Paley Center, a woman came up to me and told me her father had a terminal illness and that he would die soon. She said that after hearing me read she knew she would be all right. I was speechless. It was incredibly gratifying that my words meant something to her, and helped her in some way. It was so moving, and a gift I did not expect.
Q: Do you and you father share any similar work habits?
A: Yes we do, but I didn't realize this until I went to a conference, and heard that my father used to read his words out loud when he was still typing. I do that too, so I felt that great connection, and that was wonderful.
Q: What would your Dad have thought of your memoir?
A: So many people have said to me your dad would have been so proud of you. I am so touched and humbled by this. The whole time I was writing it, he was always in my head, so to hear that from people is so gratifying, so I accomplished in other people's eyes what I set out to do.