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Radio Hall of Fame tributes
In perspective, the celebrity that engulfed Rod Serling almost transcends his considerable body of work. And for a very good reason--he was our first identifiable writer-star. He accomplished this deliberately and with typical zest, because he passionately believed in the industry's need (if the product was ever to have an aesthetic core) to honor The Writer as its first citizen.
We might therefore consider that our debt to him for "Patterns," "The Rack," "The Twilight Zone,” "Requiem For a Heavyweight,” and scores of other moving and provocative scripts is no less but perhaps no more than to his renown, which constantly reminds us of the ongoing need to celebrate the primacy of the Storyteller.
Perhaps the crushing sadness of his passing continues to resonate eight years later for the simple reason that he was the last full-blown personality to emerge from the creative branch of our community. For it was manifestly his perception that the writer's war against anonymity was required in order to preserve that aesthetic core. And...ego gratification aside ...that is why his face is still up there on the tube week after week.
Rod Serling's work for television had a power and a scope that was unique and very much his own. His was a most special contribution to the dignity and the growth of Television Dramas. He was a pioneer certainly in those far away early days, but the integrity of his craft, and his theatrically effective use of the medium has rarely been equaled.
Because I worked with Rod on the first hundred or so episodes of The Twilight Zone, I often find myself standing in the reflected limelight, being asked what he was like. It's a comment on him, I guess, that I have never run out of words nor of many parts, not the least of which was his resiliency, an important attribute in one who intends to please many masters...a public, a network, a budget, and one's self.
He evidently pleased the public, although that was not so evident when we were first on the air as it is now.
He didn't always please the network, but they took their displeasure with a grin and a growl.
He pleased the budget, for the series was never based on splendor but on ideas.
But, like most creators with any gusto, he seldom pleased himself. There was always an "i" he wished dotted or a “t" he wished that I had crossed.
And here I make to my point: Serling never carried those displeasures for a minute longer than it took to express them. He was resilient, bouncing untarnished from a disappointment or an argument to the next item.
I well remember, for example, that when it was decided to go to series, Serling had a producer in mind; CBS fell strongly about me, a stranger, in the role. Rod and I met and I was never given to feel that he had wished for anyone else. He did not burden himself with might-have-beens. And that is a great quality to find in a friend/ business associate: you're never hoist on yesterday's petard.
And one more thing before my right to your attention expires: Serling was The Twilight Zone ...irreplaceably. I have often been approached about the reviving the series or its like; tempting as it is, I always tell the enquirer that there is one missing ingredient in his plan ...Rod Serling. It's been tried and made evident that he had a touch, a bond of communication with a certain idea quality that you don't crank out just because the pattern seems clear. It's clear until you try to do it! In whatever of the six dimensions Rod mentioned he now exists, I am sure he's gratified that, twenty and twenty-five years after he did it, people are still enjoying what he did.
It was my early joy and great instruction as a young director to work under Rod Serling two of The Twilight Zone years. From this point of view that precious creative opportunity twenty-four years ago was one of the most enriching and enlarging in my career--and due to the remarkable climate of enthusiasm for invention and stretching always for something a little farther out of the ordinary that Rod embodied. It was a curious blend of challenge and enormous fun, and a never to be exhausted dividend, I'll be grateful always.
I think one of Rod's major contributions to the field, beyond the body of excellently written scripts in the early times, was his ability to manage the presentation of the Writer as Star. I think The Twilight Zone is the only successful television series which convinced a mass audience that actors don't make up the lines as they go along. Indeed, his personal apotheosis into the hierarchy of "spokesman" in later commercials tickled the hell out of me. His recognition as celebrity because of his position as script writer gave each of us a boost in the dirty scrabbling for status and clout which, unfortunately, is so important in the ultimate decision of what level of drama finally gets on the air.
It was my unfortunate fortune that the first television show I ever wrote for was The Twilight Zone.
I say unfortunate fortune because writing for that show was such a rewarding pleasure that it spoiled me and made the majority of consequent writing experiences in television all the more distressing in their lack of creative reward.
The main reason for the pleasure I associate with The Twilight Zone was my association with Rod Serling (and his producer Buck Houghton). Working with Rod was always a gratifying experience. A writer himself, he respected writers and both Charles Beaumont and myself--who were the first writers to work with Rod on the show--enjoyed a constant sense of fulfillment from our scripting efforts; an assurance that fresh ideas were always welcome, craft always valued.
In addition to this gratification, there was the pleasure of knowing Rod personally. A kinder and more thoughtful man I have never known. His humanity--and talent--are sorely missed.
I am very grateful to Rod Serling. He provided me with several of the best scripts I ever had the luck to perform. In one case, the role of Mr. Beamish, there isn't a fortnight goes by I don’t hear a compliment about it. Year after year. Rod used to have a part for me every season and every one of them extraordinary. l was lucky and I miss him.
How does one assess the contribution made by the body of work of a single human being to the quality of any of the arts, and most especially to television, the youngest, most erratically developing of them all? What criteria apply? Originality? Taste? Integrity? Sensitivity? Morality: Consistency? Or just plain excellence? I find it difficult to judge. But if any of there qualities apply, Rod Serling had them all, and he dispensed them in abundance and with remarkable energy and enthusiasm.
Rod was a writer blessed with talent, and luckily for us, driven to express ft. He came along in those hesitant, hungry early days when television needed him most and he wrote about the ordinary and the extraordinary with a lean power, ablaze with truth and touched with tenderness and compassion. He spoke with a clear, thoughtful voice, writing one memorable play after another. His name was magic then and his work is legend now, infused with remarkable strength, lighted with clarity, peopled with real, living characters and overflowing with fresh and unconventional ideas, ideas with size, ideas which searched complex areas and found truth. His work shouted out loud in a time of nervous whispers.
What Rod gave us was himself. And more. His style, crisp and honest and sweet and wonderfully original. He taught those who ruled television how to make drama memorable and he gave those who watched his work a sense of the quality they should expect, and indeed demand.
Rod Serling was a class act, a true original. He is missed, but what he created is with us now and will remain a standard of quality for generations of writers to come.
I have vivid memories of Rod Serling during the making of The Twilight Zones I was in, hanging around like a kid on the set, radiating excitement, having fun. He was generous to performers: he listened, he took suggestions, he gave everybody a free hand. His wide-ranging imagination allowed him to experiment, to take chances, and this was unique. It still is.