“AS I KNEW HIM: MY DAD, ROD SERLING” (Book Review)
When discussing classic sci-fi/horror/fantasy television, ardent fans of THE TWILIGHT ZONE almost always come up against the camp that see your ZONE and raise you an OUTER LIMITS. Some may even dare say they prefer ONE STEP BEYOND or even on the similar Rod Serling tip, NIGHT GALLERY. But true ZONE heads are such not just because of the silvery black and white photography, skin-crawling theme music, nor the assorted aliens, monsters, shape shifters, murderous dummies and devils that gave the program it’s hook. Rather, they hold the show high because of Serling’s pen, because of his philosophies, his morality and his humanity. Because of course, THE TWILIGHT ZONE was never really about those trappings or narrative twists, it was about the folly of man, the belief that people are fundamentally good and that human evil is a perversion of prejudice. It was about both the wit and the somewhat broken heart of the man who built the house that stood on CBS’ prime time hill between 1959 and 1964.
To be a ZONE fan is to admire and follow the wisdom of Rod Serling, the Emmy award-winning late writer, teacher and TV icon whose legacy continues to fascinate and inspire; always imitated, but never properly duplicated. That’s why Anne Serling’s new book AS I KNEW HIM: MY DAD, ROD SERLING is such a treasure. Not only is it essential reading for TWILIGHT ZONE aficionados who think they’ve read it all, it is at its core, simply a beautifully written memoir; a love letter from a woman who, in many respects, is still a young girl who lost her dear dad, the love of her life, far too soon. It is both therapy and tribute. It is one of the best books of its kind this writer has ever read.
Serling younger has never written a book before, not that you would know this. From the opening passages where she reveals her reasons for writing the memoir belatedly, to the biographical anecdotes (some familiar from those who’ve read Joel Engel’s Serling biography) in which she charts her father’s early years and his shattering experiences in World War 2, Anne Serling paints with her words, etching an impression of the parts of her dad she knew only through the eyes of others and reconciling them with the enigmatic man she adored so much. There is a gentle poetry at play here, one tempered with a weighty emotional impact and when she reprints the letters sent from her grandparents to their boy as he went from fearless go-getter paratrooper to physically and emotionally battered casualty of war, they are wrenching. She juxtaposes these secret details with her own snapshots of her family’s idyllic life at their summer home in Ithaca, of the ever-smiling gregarious person who held her and soothed her and made her laugh and slept on the sofa and howled with rage when he stubbed his toe with the well dressed, pinch lipped man her friends knew from their TV sets. She whispers the secrets they shared, tells of glimpses of the demons he kept inside and connects them with his own therapy, his letting them out in fantasy coated dollops on his other baby, THE TWILIGHT ZONE.
Reading AS I KNEW HIM is akin to the after effects of a beautiful dream. When you wake, when the details of that dream rapidly slip from your cognitive grasp, you feel that sense of loss and yet you hold on so dearly to them. Such is the memory of Rod to his daughter and it’s here, draped out with poetry and purpose, with deep longing for a childhood unplugged and a hunger for reconciliation. Anne Serling has the soul of her father and her powerful book is a kind of key to unlocking the essence of the show we all worship so fervently. Read this book.