During a brief film retrospective on Rod Serling that was shown as part of a presentation by his daughter Anne Serling on March 30 at Monsterpalooza in Burbank, a clip was shown of one of the more popular episodes of “The Twlight Zone,” the anthology television series that ran from 1959-64. It was titled “Time Enough at Last,” in which the henpecked bank teller Henry Bemis (Burgess Meredith), a lone survivor of a nuclear holocaust, finds himself at a crumbled library but with all the books he would ever want to read. But then his thick-lenses glasses fall off his nose and shatter, a tragic event in that the text on the pages now were an unreadable blur to him.
That sad scene, shown even 50 years later, drew moans and gasps from the audience, a testimony to the enduring impact of this brilliant show created and overseen by Rod Serling — who also wrote many but not all of the episodes.
Because “The Twilight Zone” was often scary or spooky, loaded with irony and harsh looks at the darker side of mankind, the prevailing image of Serling was that of a serious, driven and maybe humorless man. Add to that his powerful dramas such as “Requiem for a Heavyweight” and “Patterns,” and his passion for characters and stories was evident.
Anne Serling, the youngest of two daughters of Rod and Carol Serling, was only 20 when her father died in 1975. For years she grappled with the loss, and like her father, used writing as a means of addressing her pain and dealing with the challenges of life. The eventual result was her book, “As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling.” It is a loving recollection of the man only his family and close friends knew, a talented writer who endured the horrors of war and who felt, as Anne said, that prejudice was the greatest evil of our time and who did not hold back whenever he wrote about it.
“Writing is what my father believed in,” Anne said on March 30 to open her presentation, “what he was passion about, what he thought had a chance to save society.
“My father felt that radio, television and film are the vehicles of social criticism, and that writers should menace the public’s conscience.”
In the early days of his career, Rod had to battle advertisers and network censorship whenever he focused on issues that many felt would offend people. His writings often were watered down, characters’ ethnicities changed.
Anne quoted her father’s recollections about how as a writer he believed it was his responsibility to continue to offer critical views, via his intense and candid prose that delivered with powerful mental images.
But really who was my dad? Anne continued. Who was he beyond his work?
“He was a husband and a dad, he was brilliantly funny, a practical joker, passionate about civil rights and humanity, a lover of animals, and a killer paddle tennis player.”
Speaking of his death on a personal level, Anne said she was blinded by grief and did not know how to manage the loss.
“Eventually I found the same catharsis that worked for him — writing.” Out of that, Anne’s “journey of reflection of learning” and a realization that no true story of her father’s life was out there, led her to write the book.
For years as a child, Anne was not aware of her father’s work on “The Twilight Zone.” He had an office on their home property and all she knew was that was where he worked. Sometimes, defying the orders from her parents not to interrupt her father while he was working, she would stand outside his office, and when he noticed her, he would go out and greet her, never showing any irritation or impatience, but offering only affection for his daughter.
Rod attached many nicknames to Anne, including “Pops,” and father and daughter loved to watch “The Flintstones” together — a “don’t tell Mom” indulgence in that Carol was strict about how much television Anne and her sister Jodi could watch.
In the latter portion of her presentation, Annie noted that she saw in her father “a kind of desperateness, an urge to go back, a need to touch home plate, a need to have things the way they were.”
His nostalgic yearnings, she said, were most evident in “The Twilight Zone” episodes of “Walking Distance,” “A Stop at Willoughby” and “They’re Tearing Down Tim Wiley’s Bar.”
Anne then read a moving and beautifully written excerpt from her book — her speculations on what he might have been thinking in 1965, at age 40, as he visited the hometown where he grew up. Upon driving up the street on which he lived, she writes, “Perhaps he sees the ghosts of his boyhood friends, running barefoot along side the car, or calling out to him from their porches, waving to him and calling, ‘Come on, Roddy, come on,’ until the sounds of the present bring him back, and the passage of years and everything he has imagined are gone.”
Anne also quoted her father as saying he did not care if any of the lines he wrote in his many pieces could be remembered and quoted. To him, Anne said, being a writer was reward enough.
IT’S A COOKBOOK!
Also present at Monsterpalooza on March 28-30 were Billy Mumy and Richard Kiel, who were in memorable “Twilight Zone” episodes. Kiel was enjoying himself as he reprised his role as the Kanamit being, visiting Earth on a supposed mission to help the planet but with gruesome ulterior motives. He sized up fans for their potential ingredients in the “To Serve Man” cookbook.
SCARY SATURDAY NIGHTS
For fans who want to get a regular dose of horror movies, Urban Death offers screenings at 8:30 p.m. Saturdays at 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. Tickets are $15. Information: 818-202-4120; www.urbandeath.com; zombiejoes.com; zombiejoes.tix.com