Twilight Zone Creator Rod Serling’s Dark Past 'Created' Success


Though he was called “Hollywood’s angry young man,” The Twilight Zone’s creator and narrator, Rod Serling, was warm and funny at home. “He would dress our dogs in human clothes [and] wear a lamp shade on his head,” his daughter Jodi Serling tells Closer with a laugh. “He used to say, ‘Never lose your childlike qualities, because that is the kind of innocence that will keep your mind and your spirit young.’”

Rod never lost his own youthful spirit or ideals, despite being plagued by PTSD after serving in WWII — an experience that shaped his views. He was “incredibly disturbed,” says Jodi, by such issues as racism, immigration, war and even climate change. He’d weave those thorny topics into episodes of his classic 1959-64 science fiction series. “It was certainly the loss, the fear that he experienced [in the war] that created a pathway for his career,” Jodi says.

Inside Rod Serling’s Early Years

A class clown growing up Jewish in Binghamton, New York, laughter was always a part of Rod’s life. But he also “established a reputation as a social activist” writing for the school newspaper, according to the biography Serling: The Rise and Twilight of Television’s Last Angry Man. “Bias and prejudice make me angry,” Rod admitted.

Meeting his wife, Carol, in college, and welcoming their daughters, Jodi and Anne, set him on a more optimistic course. “She was his strength. The love of his life,” Jodi says of her mom. “She helped him with his scripts and propped him up when he was knocked down.”

Rod wrote for radio and then television, but it was The Twilight Zone — where he cast such stars as Jack Klugman and Burgess Meredith and introduced a young Robert Redford — that really struck a chord with viewers. “He knew how to deliver meaningful sermons wrapped in a cloak of science fiction entertainment,” Jodi explains.

At home, Rod was protective of his kids, keeping them out of the limelight, and Jodi treasures the summers they spent at Cayuga Lake in upstate New York. “Every summer he would drive alone back to his hometown, and he’d revisit his home, and the park, and the carousel,” she says of her father, who died of a heart attack at age 50. The nostalgic idyll made its way into The Twilight Zone episode “Walking Distance,” about a man who returns to his childhood hometown only to discover that time has stood still. One of Rod’s favorites, “it represented my dad’s journey,” Jodi tells Closer. “He would call it a wondrous, bittersweet time of growing up. This [episode] showed his yearning and reflecting and longing for the simple past of his own youth.”



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