Review of Anne Serling’s As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling
As I write this, we are having our 3rd Annual Online Twilight Zone New Year’s Eve Party during SyFy’s famous TZ marathon (#TzSyFy)–you’re welcome to join us here. All you need is Internet access; guests without cable are able to watch with us live. This year’s marathon runs from December 30th–January 3rd. When I first started this party a few years ago, I did it so no one would have to be alone on New Year’s as someone who has missed many holidays due to illness (first bipolar disorder and later pain from polycystic ovarian syndrome and myasthenia gravis). Over the past few years, we’ve quickly grown into a tight-knit community that keeps in touch throughout the year and celebrates on July 4th (one-day marathons) through our Facebook group. 175 guests attended our last party including Anne Serling, daughter or genius Rod Serling. Before I even knew that SyFy would extend their famous marathon from two days to four days, I wanted to do something to make this year’s party bigger and better than ever. So I read Anne Serling’s book, As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling.
I read this book while being in excruciating pain from the psoriasis and polycystic ovarian syndrome a few weekends ago. It’s a hard book to put down–a very compelling read. Even if you’re not a Zoner (hard core TZ fan), there’s a lot to enjoy in this book. And if you are a TZ fan, what are you waiting for? This is a must-read for zoners.
- Anne writes masterfully. She possesses the elegant prose of her father.
- She seamlessly ties in events in world history with the milestones in her dad and family’s life. For example, she notes that her father’s childhood ended with Pearl Harbor. The day after the attacks, her father enlisted at the age of 18. He fought in World War II and was stationed in the Philippines for several years. Knowing about his intimate experiences in war, you’ll have an even greater appreciation for episodes like A Quality of Mercy (set in the Philippines in WWII), The Purple Testament, and the once-banned Encounter. Rod also boxed while in the military; he successfully fought as a flyweight in seventeen fights. Anne includes many letters to and from Rod and his parents during the war.
- Rod’s birth was a Christmas miracle. A few years before his birth, his mom was told she could never have kids again. Lo and behold, he entered the world on Christmas day. Rod would tell his children that he was a present delivered on Christmas, unwrapped. Knowing this makes watching the Christmas episode, Night of the Meek, even sweeter than it already is.
- There was a silly side to Rod that many fans don’t know about. Rod was a television pioneer who braved multiple censorship battles with network executives. His work covered many hard-hitting themes like racism and discrimination (I Am The Night; Color Me Black and Death’s Head Revisited), fear and paranoia during the Cold War (The Shelter and The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street). But Rod also had a silly, fun-loving side. He enjoyed playing with his kids and doing impressions. Anne recalls summers with her parents and sister Jodi at their cottage in upstate New York. In this context, it’s easy to understand how devastating Rod’s death was to Anne.
- Grief, exquisite grief. Anne writes about grief and depression after her father’s death. I think many people can relate to this; I saw it happen to my aunts and uncles and mom when my grandfather died. He was someone who was loved by everyone, a pillar in the community. As someone who works in mental health advocacy, I found her description of grief powerful–she talks about being “on autopilot” after his death and experiencing agoraphobia (fear of leaving the house).
- Rod’s work outside of TZ is underrated. Even before The Twilight Zone, Rod won multiple Emmys for his work including Best Original Screenplay for Patterns (1958). Anne quotes many experts that should make people re-evaluate the legacy of Night Gallery. There’s a misconception that his work post-TZ wasn’t as great–that he had run out of inspiration. People should give Night Gallery a second look.
This episode is one of a few that Anne explores. Rod had an idyllic childhood growing up in bucolic Bingham, New York. Anne describes how her father would often drive there and take a stroll down memory lane much like the character, Martin Sloan, in the TZ episode, Walking Distance. Most fans and critics consider this one of his greatest episodes. Rod speaks of happy days with carousels, merry-g0-rounds, and a community where everyone knew each other. Rod participated in virtually every activity in high school from the debate team to student council. One thing Anne captures very well about the past is contradictions between a more carefree time (fun flying; not being worried about terrorists, for example) and a time of bigotry and discrimination when marginalized groups had fewer rights (she talks about her father’s thoughts on the slaying of Emit Till).
In short, I’d recommend As I Knew Him to anyone! Get it here.
Related – my recap of our first ever Twilight Zone Party-New Year’s Eve 2013
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