ROD SERLING BIOGRAPHY
Rodman Edward Serling was born on December 25, 1924 in Syracuse New York. Rod often quipped “I was a Christmas present that was delivered unwrapped.” In 1925, the Serling family (father Samuel, mother Esther (Cooper) and older brother Robert) moved to Binghamton New York. Sam Serling opened a Sanitary Grocery store, a division of the Cooper grocery chain owned and operated by his wife’s family. When the store was forced to close during the great depression, Sam Serling opened his own wholesale butcher shop. Rod used his bicycle to deliver meats, and his great personality and charm would bring him larger than average tips.
At an early age, Rodie was fascinated by show business. He loved radio showsand would often act out the stories he recently heard. He also loved to read comic books, and would re-enact the stories playing all the roles. His father built a small stage in the basement where Rod and friends would put on plays and musicals. Robert Serling later said that Rod would often charge admission to his performances.
In the seventh grade at West Junior High School, Helen Foley, Rod’s English teacher, encouraged Rod to develop his talent for public speaking, and to participate in school theatrical performances. When Rod moved on to Binghamton Central High School, he got involved in athletics, and also worked on the school newspaper (the Panorama), later becoming editor. He wrote many editorials voicing his strong opinions on many subjects, but his main focus was on the war. He always encouraged his teachers and fellow students to help with the war effort.
Rod Serling graduated from high school on January 15, 1943. In a class of 185, Rod was ranked 35. On the morning of January 16th, Rod Serling, now 18, enlisted with a few friends in the United States Army. Rod desperately wanted to become a tail-gunner in the Army Air Forces, but due to his poor eyesight, was rejected. While being
processed for the infantry at Fort Niagara, Rod decided to become a paratrooper.
At only 5’4 1/2″, Rod was 1 inch short of meeting the height requirement. Due to his stubborn persistence, Rod was soon allowed to join the newly formed 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 11th Airborne Division. After four months of basic training at Toccoa, Georgia, Rod was sent to Fort Benning, Georgia for his jump training. Rod received his Silver Wings and was now a full-fledged Army paratrooper.
On April 25th, 1944, the 11th Airborne Division was sent to California to be shipped to the Pacific Theater of Operations to combat the Japanese. Rod Serling, being of Jewish descent, had hoped to be sent to Europe to fight against Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party.
The 11th Airborne Division landed in New Guinea in July of 1944. Serling and his fellow paratroopers went through intense advanced jungle training. During a USO tour, comedian Jack Benny visited the 511th Infantry Regiment in New Guinea. During this tour, Private First Class Rod Serling wrote a short propaganda skit that was broadcast over the Armed Forces Radio Network. This was Rod Serling’s first attempt at writing for Radio, and following the war, Rod would soon pursue writing with great enthusiasm
In November of 1944, Rod Serling first experienced real combat action during the battle of Leyte Island in the Philippines. Since Serling was prone to wandering off and not taking proper care of his equipment, Rod was assigned to the 511th’s demolition platoon. This platoon had the highest casualty rate, and Rod was witness to the horror and atrocities of war for the first time.
On February 3, 1945, Serling and his fellow paratroopers boarded a C-47 cargo plane and made ready for a jump on Tagatay Ridge near Manila. Fifteen hundred paratroopers linked up with the rest of the division for the Allied drive on Manila, where they encountered fierce resistance from the Japanese. During one encounter, Serling came upon a Japanese soldier who had him square in his rifle sights. Rod froze and faced certain and immediate death, only to be saved by a fellow G.I. who was able to shoot over Rod’s shoulder and kill the enemy.
While in Manila, Serling was wounded with shrapnel in his wrist and knee. He was sent for rehabilitation to New Guinea. In May of 1945, Serling rejoined the 511th in the Philippines. When the war ended in August 1945, only 30% of Serling’s original regiment from Camp Toccoa had survived the war. To commemorate his wartime experiences, Rod had a bracelet made and wore it proudly on his left wrist. Rod Serling was awarded the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star, and the Combat Infantryman’s Badge.
Shortly after his discharge from the Army, Serling moved to Yellow Springs, Ohio, where he enrolled at Antioch College. In the fall of 1946, Rod worked at public radio station WNYC in New York City as an Antioch College intern. While there, Rod performed in many live radio plays. (The Rod Serling Archive at the Bundy Museum of History and Art has 3 of these radio broadcasts on CD). One of his first assignments was to write a 15 minute script for the country’s first Veterans Day commemoration.
In June of 1948, Rod Serling married fellow Antioch College student, Carol Kramer. Later that year, Rod Serling became the manager of the campus radio station. Rod began to write dramatic anthology scripts. One of his scripts, “To Live A Dream”, later won third prize in a contest sponsored by The Dr. Christian Show.
After graduation, Serling worked at radio station WLW in Cincinnati Ohio. Serling disliked the jingles and campy hillbilly shows he was forced to write for, and soon moved into writing for TV shows, still in their infancy. In 1950, Rod Serling wrote two scripts, “Grady Everett For The People” and “Christmas For Sweeney”, both shows airing on a new TV anthology series, Stars Over Hollywood.
Rod Serling began to write for TV station WKRC in Cincinnati. From 1951 to 1953, Rod Serling wrote approximately 30 scripts for a live broadcast series titled The Storm. (One of these rare broadcast kinescopes, “No Gods To Serve” is part of our Rod Serling Archive collection).
Rod Serling, now a free-lance writer, wrote approximately 90 scripts that were sold and produced on numerous tv anthology series from 1950 through 1960. These years are commonly referred to as the Golden Age of Television. Rod Serling first gained critical acclaim after his script for “Patterns” aired live on the Kraft Television Theatre, January 12, 1955. This show was repeated live a second time by popular demand on 2/9/1955. This script won Rod Serling his first Emmy Award.
Rod Serling’s script “Requiem For A Heavyweight” was written for Playhouse 90, television’s first live 90 minute anthology series. It aired on October 11, 1956, and also was critically acclaimed, winning Rod Serling his second Emmy Award.
Rod Serling won his 3rd Emmy for his adaptation of the Playhouse 90 program “The Comedian”, airing 2/15/1957 and starring the late Mickey Rooney. because of severe cencorship from both television producers and sponsors, Rod Serling found himself fighting against them to keep his material intact, much to no avail. The media soon dubbed Serling as “Television’s last Angry man”.
Rod Serling decided to leave writing for tv anthology series and to begin writing for the science fiction/fantasy genre. He wanted to create, produce and write for his own proposed series, The Twilight Zone. He was heavily criticized for this venture, and CBS turned down his proposed pilot titled “The Time Element”. Serling then sold his script to the Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse which aired it on November 24, 1958.
After receiving over 6,000 letters, CBS was forced to take another look at Serling’s proposed Twilight Zone Series, this time telling him to make a new 30 minute pilot for the series. The new pilot, “Where Is Everybody” aired on October 2, 1959, and Rod’s new series became a reality, running for 5 seasons ending on September 18, 1964. Rod Serling won his 4th and 5th Emmy’s for his Twilight Zone series.
Rod Serling’s next series, The Loner, a western starring Lloyd Bridges (Sea Hunt) as a Union Civil War veteran struggling to find himself in the west. CBS executives wanted Serling to write more action and violence into his scripts. They ordered 13 shows, and reluctantly renewed his contract for another 13 episodes. Serling refused to change his scripts as CBS requested, and other writers were hired to write many of the Loner scripts. CBS canceled the series after 26 episodes, and re-runs filled in for the balance of the season. Check out The Loner section on the Rod Serling Archive web-site. It is located under Series/Movies in the header.
(The Rod Serling Archive Collection has 22 of the 26 episodes of this rare TV series). Rod Serling created a new series that eventually would air as Rod Serling’s Night Gallery. The pilot for this series aired on November 8, 1969 as an NBC World Premiere Theatre. It consisted of 3 horror stories, “The Cemetery”, “Eyes” starring Joan Crawford and directed by first time director Steven Spielberg, and “Escape Route.” The Night Gallery series started in 1970 and ran for only three seasons.
Rod Serling wrote a few memorable scripts including “They’re Tearing Down Tim Riley’s Bar”, “The Boy Who Predicted Earthquakes” and “The Messiah On Mott Street” starring Edward G. Robinson. Rod Serling had no creative control of the series, and realized his name was being used to promote the series, being nothing more than the host. His proposed series had been hijacked by the Network executives. Numerous Serling scripts were rejected and he was basically told not to submit more scripts. He hated the comedy sketches that he felt ruined the series.
Rod Serling wrote many scripts for both television and movies. Rod Serling won his 6th Emmy for his adaptation of “It’s mental Work”, aired as a Bob Hope Presents Chrysler Theater on 12/20/1963. Rod Serling holds the record of honor for the most Emmy Awards received for television script writing. Rod Serling always wanted to become a famous writer for the movie industry. He did write a few memorable movies, “Seven Days In May” “The Planet Of The Apes (co-wrote), and “The Man. Three of his live TV scripts, “Patterns”, “Requiem For A Heavyweight” and “The Rack”, were also filmed as movies.
Rod Serling spent his later years teaching at both Sherman Oaks Experimental College and Ithica College in upstate New York. On June 28th, 1975, Rod Serling passed away at the age of 50 from complications during open heart surgery. Rod Serling smoked 4 to 5 packs of cigarettes a day, and the grind of spending many hours writing 7 days a week, contributed to his heart problems. Rod Serling was laid to rest at the Lake View Cemetery, Lot G, Plot 1044 in Interlaken New York.
* This biography was researched and written by the volunteer curator of the Rod Serling Archive. Sources included: IMDB (Internet Movie Data Base), Wickipedia, TCM (Turner Classic Movies), the Autograph Collector Magazine (August Issue 1994), PBS, and Biography.com and other web-sites.