Rod Serling: Man of Style and Substance

I don’t miss an episode of The Twilight Zone if I can help it. I’ve enjoyed those annual marathons and have my favorite episodes, which are: The Odyssey of Flight #33, Eye of the Beholder, Living Doll, To Serve Man, Time Enough at Last, and Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.

A dreamy and perpectually black and white man on my mythical favorites list is Rod Serling. Often with his cigarette and always in a sharp suit, he could properly set the stage of The Twilight Zone with his opulently-worded introductions and insightful post-scripts. His word art was quick-witted and poignant and it layered over some delightfully creepy imagery (remember the doll, the clock and the spinning top?) Mr. Serling was a magnificent writer who weaved social commentary and dystopian themes through his works, which also included the series Night Gallery, which I also loved. You’ll remember these general show introductions to The Twilight Zone:

SEASON 1 (1959-1960) There is a fifth dimension, beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call The Twilight Zone.

SEASON 2 (1960-1961) You’re traveling 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. That’s the signpost up ahead — your next stop, the Twilight Zone.

SEASON 3 (1961-1962)You’re traveling 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.
 
SEASON 4 (1963…) 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.

 

Additionally, Rod would close out the show with his epic quotes, too, often summing up in a few sentences the nature and dark side of man. Take, for instance, this little doozy from the awesome episode which aired on March 4, 1960, “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street”.

“The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices, to be found only in the minds of men. For the record, prejudices can kill and suspicion can destroy, and a thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all of its own – for the children, and the children yet unborn. And the pity of it is that these things cannot be confined to the Twilight Zone.”

I had a difficult time tracking down the introduction scripts to the shows but many of the episodes are available to watch on YouTube.

Funny enough, I know that there are other hardcore fans out there, like this artisan from Etsy who created a Rod Serling Lamp:

View Etsy listing

A little about Rod Serling, according to PBS.org:

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.

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.

Listen to some of Rod’s Introductions on NPR.org

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