As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling by Anne Serling – review

As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod SerlingAs I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling by Anne Serling

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think as I get older, these types of biographies, and autobiographies… mean more; they reach deeper – have an effect a younger me wouldn’t see or understand. This is a testament – not just as daughter Anne knew him, but as so many who knew him, knew him. Rod Serling was never one-dimensional. Nor was he limited by that “fifth dimension” he invented, but too few people know of him as anything other than “that Twilight Zone guy”. I knew of some things, thanks to an off and on obsession with the show that found me my first copy of The Twilight Zone Companion (which, quite obviously from the title, focused on the series and not Serling, per se), but this an intimate share from one of the few closest to him. Uplifting, enlightening, private, …heart-wrenching – he died at age 50 when she was only 20 – there is a wealth of words here from letters and more. That should be no surprise as he was perhaps more than anything, a writer. Well, Ms. Serling does a wonderful job proving that assessment quite wrong. Rephrasing, he was perhaps known as more than anything else, as a writer. And more’s the pity, until this emerged.

Serling’s most famous work was sometimes criticized as being heavy-handed…preachy. But, he was deeply human, and passionate for humanist causes. He saw firsthand – and suffered during – the horrors of war, as a paratrooper in the Philippines during World War II. The experiences couldn’t be not woven into the different worlds he created.

He seemed in hindsight to know some of the Achilles heels of his nation and of our future nation. Following calls to and by a sponsor to temper a message he said: “From experience, I can tell you that drama, at least in television, must walk tiptoe and in agony lest it offend some cereal buyer from a given state below the Mason-Dixon.” In response to viscous backlash [from, largely, care to guess?] to an allegorical teleplay marking the 25th anniversary of the UN, to one woman he wrote back

I was deeply interested in conveying what is a deeply felt conviction of my own. This is simply to suggest that human beings must involve themselves in the anguish of other human beings. This, I submit to you, is not a political thesis at all. It is simply an expression of what I would hope might be ultimately a simple humanity for humanity’s sake.

continuing

Philosophically we stand at opposite ends of the pole, because you choose to believe that anyone who disagrees with you must, of necessity, be subversive. […] But because I’m an American, I suggest this is your right. I suppose the major difference in our philosophies is that I recognize your right. The unfortunate thing is that you don’t recognize mine.

He did not fear calling out the reprehensible Gov. George Wallace as

that political stalwart who made a public quote that he would never be out-niggered again. This from the man running for the highest office in the land.

Nor Nixon and his

shabby crew who have written indelible chapters in the threadbare saga of the most corrupt, incompetent and downright immoral administration in the history of the American Republic.

I would be imprudent to presume what he would have to say about the situation ripening in 2016 and continuing into at least the 2017 as of this review and for at least some horrific future, but I can’t help but imagine his anger, embarrassment, disgust at what the “highest office” has devolved to, and I know Serling would unleash a well-composed, too literate, too intellectual, … too liberal… invective that he would sadly know would be lost on his target audience.

But this book is a story of Anne Sterling’s special relationship with – and prolonged, agonized, …intensely personal … grief (only the last three chapters, but the tone of loss is present throughout) after the passing of – her father. Don’t mistake… the majority of the book’s chapters are recollections and reconstructed recollections of Anne’s life with her father and some of his life before her time.

Back in 2008-2010, I took a little more than two and a half years to watch every episode of The Twilight Zone, in original airing order. Remember that little “obsession”? Took me a very long time to collect them all – several were never released in the syndication package. Reading this has made me want to re-watch them again…in time perhaps with the 60th anniversary? And The Night Gallery…which, oddly, I don’t recall ever watching any of. I plan to watch it and rewatch…in order, and this time even more closely…The Twilight Zone, taking my time and savoring them…even the bad ones.

Anne shares a few letters from her childhood/school friends, as they knew him. One in particular touches…

One Christmas vacation, I flew out to their home in California and spent four days with Anne and her family, getting the full tour of Disneyland, Universal Studios and all the special out-of-the-way places that only the locals had access to. I fell in love with the palm trees and the weather, but I especially fell in love with the private Rod Serling—the family man who got down on the floor and rolled around with the Irish Setter; the man who ferried his daughter and her wide-eyed friend around because it was fun for him, too; the man who wasn’t afraid to be silly and laugh at himself.

I wonder what memories my children will have of me when I’m gone. I plan on being around a long time to torment them, so … 🙂

Read this book if you care. You should learn much about the man. And maybe, a little about humanity.

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