Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A Salute to Rod Serling and Ray Bradbury

I'm pounding the computer keys up here at the fabulous Heritage Auctions Comic Art compound, so my blog posts for today will have to be consise. I'm trying to write at least one piece every day, just as the late great Ray Bradbury advised all authors, novice and seasoned, to do.

Ray Bradbury.

Speaking of Ray Bradbury, I always enjoyed his brand of poetic fantasy. Another master in this approach was famed Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling. Ray Bradbury got very peeved at Rod Serling for stealing his thunder, although Ray ended up writing at least one Zone episode. Other writers who mined this same rich vein of fantasy were Richard Matheson and his pal, Charles Beaumont, two more of my favorite fantasy writers.

Rod Serling in the Twilight Zone.

I've read two biographies on Serling. One was very favorable and positive, while the other was an unauthorized biography which put a negative spin on most of the key events Serling's life -- the feet of clay approach. Bah! This point of view didn't cut it for me. By most accounts, Serling was a fascinating, courageous, and supremely talented man.

Before he made a success of his writing career, Serling, a former WW II paratrooper who saw action in the Pacific Theater as a member of the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 11th Airborne Division Serling's Army combat service affected him deeply and also influenced much of his writing. His wartime combat experiences left Serling with nightmares and flashbacks which would plague him for the rest of his life. He was quoted as saying, "I was bitter about everything and at loose ends when I got out of the service. I think I turned to writing to get it off my chest." As a way to make some extra money throughout his college years, Serling took a part-time job testing parachutes for the Army Air Force. According to co-workers at the radio stations where he was also working, he received $50 for each successful jump. They recall Serling's telling them that he had once been paid $500, half before and half if he survived, for a hazardous test. His last test jump took place only a few weeks before his wedding. The pay was $1000 for him to test a newly invented jet ejection seat. Serling survived the test, but barely. Serling told friends later that three other men had been killed before he made the trial. Something went very wrong on one jump, and his wife had to pick up him from a bus station, carrying him like a dead weight because he was wrapped head-to-toe in thick bandages, and couldn't move for several days. Many times he faced down his fears.

I'm not 100% sure, but I think this was the better of the two biographies that I read:

Serling: The Rise and Twilight of Television's Last Angry Man by Gordon F. Sander

From Library Journal

"Rod Serling authorized only one person to pen his biography. However, the TV legend's anointed protege, Mark Olshaker, was so distraught over Serling's death in 1975 that he eventually turned the project over to Sander. Using these files and numerous interviews with Serling intimates, Sander has fashioned a vivid and fascinating portrait of this complex innovator from television's Golden Age. While not skimping on his analysis of Serling's famed masterpiece The Twilight Zone (1959-65), he also gives in-depth examinations of the making of such early TV classics as Requiem for a Heavyweight and Patterns . The five-time Emmy Award-winner's life is examined in detail. While always giving the pioneering TV writer/producer his due, Sander does not shirk from any of Serling's blemishes, including his eventual embrace of the crass commercialism in television that he initially opposed so vehemently. This excellent book is an essential purchase for public and academic libraries."- David M. Turkalo,

-- and this is the, to my mind, overly-critical, snarky biography:

Rod Serling: The Dreams and Nightmares of Life in the Twilight Zone/a Biography by Joel Engel

From the  Library Journal review:

"It is Joel Engel's thesis that Rod Serling's early live TV dramas, Requiem for a Heavyweight and Patterns , ecstatically received by the critics who pronounced Serling the Arthur Miller of TV, dogged Serling for the rest of his prolific career in TV, movies, stage, and prose. Driven by his twin fierce demons of ambition and insecurity, he became mired in the "velvet alley" of Hollywood, writing too fast (actually, dictating his scripts and rarely revising) on too many projects, so that The Twilight Zone (156 episodes, 1959-64, most of which he scripted) became his tomb. He ended his career in the knowing ignominy of commercials and game shows. If Serling never becomes the intended tragic figure in this unincisive but interesting first biography, still Engel is adept at dissecting the deficiencies of the scripts and revealing the extreme, often petty, censorship power wielded by networks and especially sponsors and ad agencies in the so-called "Golden Age" of TV."  -- David Bartholomew

Rod enjoying one of the damn smokes that helped finish him.


  1. Serling was very talented. I've read some of his early teleplays and they are probably too good for TV. If nothing else, his Twilight Zone introduced Matheson and Beuamont to a much wider audience. "The Howling Man," by Beuamont, is my favorite episode.

    1. A great show. I sill love episode #105, Season 5 (October 11, 1963) "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" written by Richard Matheson, directed by Richard Donner, and starring some hysterical actor named William Shatner.