Photo courtesy of Anne Serling.
The scene's set for what looks like a typical day for an ordinary man. But something's wrong—something twisted. You feel it in your gut.
Enter Rod Serling, a stone-faced, dark-haired man dressed in a suit, smoking a cigarette, to put this "ordinary" character's life in context. Now we know, for sure, the poor sap Mr. Serling's talking about will have anything but a typical day. Serling just informed us we've crossed into . . . The Twilight Zone.
Of course, to his daughter, Anne Serling, he was completely different than the foreboding narrator we saw on screen in the 1959 TV series, which he created and wrote, depicting paranormal and futuristic events.
She knew him as Dad—a down-to-earth guy who'd do almost anything to make her laugh. Anne wrote about her father and the grief she experienced when he died in As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling. And she's bringing the book to Salt Lake Comic Con, where she'll appear all three days. Also at Comic Con, she'll sell reissued paperback books with her father's work.
Years ago, she adapted her dad's teleplays, One for the Angels and The Changing of the Guard, for short stories in the book Twilight Zone: The Original Stories, edited by Martin Harry Greenberg. Currently, Anne's working on a novel about a family going through disillusion titled Aftershocks.
We were lucky enough to pull her away from her writing for this interview.
The Twilight Zone stories are still popular. What made your dad's work so prevalent?
He dealt with social issues, moral issues and human issues. So many are as relevant today as they were back then—prejudice, mob mentality, all of that.
Are there any of your dad's stories that really stick out for you?
Well, in terms of Twilight Zone, I have my favorites. One, of course, is In Praise of Pip, which I discoverd after my father died and realized that he used the same dialouge in it from a routine he and I had done. So, it was sort of a profound moment when I found that. Jack Klugman was in it, and his son was in Viet Nam, and they had this routine where the father would say to his son, "Who's your best buddy?" and the son would say, "You are, Pop." That was almost identical to the routine that my father and I had—"Who's your best buddy?" or "Who's your friend?" And he used to call me Pop, actually, although in the show the father is Pop. I also love Walking Distance, A Stop at Willoughby, Deaths-Head Revisited—those are the ones that come to mind.
So, what was the real Rod Serling like?
Nothing like the image that one might presume from that black and white image walking across the MGM sound stage. My dad was brilliantly funny, very down-to-earth, very friendly. My friends adored him within moments, even if they initially had some concern he would be the "Twilight Zone guy."
And I heard he had a special spot he did his writing?
Well, originally his office was downstairs in our house, and then he had an office built in the back yard. And he was very disciplined. He would get up very early in the morning, write until about 12 or 1, and then get in the car and drive over to the MGM lot and be accessible if they needed any rewrites or anything like that.
What sort of response have you gotten to your book on your dad?
People have just been so incredibly kind and generous. I hear from people all the time on Facebook and my website, and a lot of people are relating to the grief aspect. That was a really difficult part for me to write. In fact, in an earlier draft my editor said 'your grief is so essential to this book, you really need to be more open.' And that was hard, but I think she was spot on. I really let go, and in fact, I did an early reading at the Paley Center before the book was complete, and a woman came up to me afterward and told me her father had a terminal illness and he would be dead any day, and after hearing me read, she knew she would be ok. It was sort of an unexpected gift. I don't even know the words—all I could do was hug her.
How did you get involved with Salt Lake Comic Con?
I beleive that Tony Toscano [of Talking Pictures] had told me about it some time ago.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
Just how humbled and grateful I am that the memoire has been so well-received. It has just been incredibly gratifying, because there's always a risk when you write something so personal, and people have just been so kind.
EXTRA: After our interview, Anne sent us this quote from her father regarding Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, written by Richard Matheson and starring actor William Shatner, who is also appearing at Salt Lake Comic Con.
"Matheson and I were going to fly to San Francisco. It was like three or four weeks after the show was on the air, and I had spent weeks in constant daily communication with Western Airlines preparing a given seat for him, having the stewardess close the curtains when he sat down, and I was going to say, ‘Dick, open it up.’ I had this huge, blownup poster stuck on the outside of the window so that when he opened it there would be this gremlin staring at him. So what happened was we get on the plane, there was the seat, he sits down, the curtains are closed, I lean over and say, ‘Dick—‘ at which point they start the engines and it blows the thing away. It was an old prop airplane. He never saw it. And I had spent hours in the planning of it. I would lie in bed thinking how we could do this."
For more on Anne Serling and her work, visit anneserling.com.