As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling

As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling

5.0 21
by Anne Serling

View All Available Formats & Editions

In Twilight Zone reruns, I search for my father in the man on the screen, but I can't always find him there. Instead, he appears in unexpected ways. Memory summoned by a certain light, a color, a smell--and I see him again on the porch of our old red lakeside cottage, where I danced on the steps as a child.

To Anne Serling, the imposing figure the public

See more details below


In Twilight Zone reruns, I search for my father in the man on the screen, but I can't always find him there. Instead, he appears in unexpected ways. Memory summoned by a certain light, a color, a smell--and I see him again on the porch of our old red lakeside cottage, where I danced on the steps as a child.

To Anne Serling, the imposing figure the public saw hosting The Twilight Zone each week, intoning cautionary observations about fate, chance, and humanity, was not the father she knew. Her fun-loving dad would play on the floor with the dogs, had nicknames for everyone in the family, and was apt to put a lampshade on his head and break out in song. He was her best friend, her playmate, and her confidant.

After his unexpected death at 50, Anne, just 20, was left stunned. Gradually, she found solace for her grief by talking to his friends, poring over old correspondence, and recording her childhood memories. Now she shares personal photos, eloquent, revealing letters, and beautifully rendered scenes of his childhood, war years, and their family's time together. Idyllic summers in upstate New York, the years in Los Angeles, and the myriad ways he filled their time with laughter, strength, and endearing silliness--all are captured here with deep affection and candor.

Though begun in loss, Anne's story is a celebration of her extraordinary relationship with her father and the qualities she came to prize through him--empathy, kindness, and an uncompromising sense of social justice. As I Knew Him is a lyrical, intimate tribute to Rod Serling's legacy as visionary, storyteller, and humanist, and a moving testament to the love between fathers and daughters.

"A haunting and beautifully written memoir about the creator of The Twilight Zone." --Robert Redford

Read More

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
According to his daughter, Anne, writer Rod Serling, the creator of the critically acclaimed television series, The Twilight Zone, was a caring, fun-loving father when he was not hard at work. Injured in combat during WWII, Serling turned to writing as a means of dealing with his trauma; consequently, his work had a strong moralistic streak that was, at times, fiercely critical of racism and discrimination. Having garnered the reputation of "TV's Angry Young Man" after seeing some of his work censored by the CBS Network, Serling turned to the sci-fi genre because, as he put it, "a Martian can say things that a Republican or a Democrat can't." Even as The Twilight Zone, which debuted in 1959, was in full swing, Serling managed to balance the hectic, if unhealthy, show business lifestyle, with quality time spent as a family man, best exemplified by family summers at their cottage in upstate New York. His death, due to heart attack at the age of 50, left the family, and in particular Anne, "floating through space where there is no logic, no gravity," but, as this memoir makes plain, in his life and art he is remembered fondly. (May)
Kirkus Reviews
Exploring her deep bond with the creator of The Twilight Zone, the author delves into her father's writing career, his deep commitment to social justice and her grief following his death. Rod Serling (1924–1975) served proudly in World War II and then attended college. He began his writing career after winning a prize for a radio-show script, and he became a 1960s icon as host of The Twilight Zone: "the man in the dark suit standing against a dramatically lit set, intoning cautionary observations about human beings, fate, or the universe." But fame was radically different in those days, his daughter writes; celebrities were less afflicted by "the mayhem, the pandemonium, or the complete and disrespectful lack of privacy that exists now." During Anne's childhood, the family lived in Los Angeles for the school year and decamped for the summer to a cabin in upstate New York, where everyone could relax. At the end of its third season, The Twilight Zone was cancelled, and Serling began teaching at Antioch College. CBS later resumed the series for two more years, but Serling was less creatively involved with the show, though he still wrote some episodes. His liberal ideas affected his reputation with conservative TV executives, the author argues. Discrimination and prejudice were anathema to Serling, and it infuriated him when story ideas rooted in his principles were shunted aside in favor of simple entertainment. After writing some scripts for the TV show Night Gallery, for example, he complained to Universal Studios, "I have no interest in a series which is purely and uniquely suspenseful but totally uncommentative on anything." The author deftly utilizes correspondence to illustrate the bumpy interplay between her father's strong beliefs and the commercial imperatives of network TV, illuminating as well the political and pop culture of the turbulent 1960s. A piquant memoir blending lush memories of a remarkable father and adept analysis of his work.

Read More

Product Details

Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.70(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.40(d)

Read an Excerpt


My Dad, Rod Serling



Copyright © 2013Anne Serling
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8065-3615-6



The last time I saw my father, it was 1975. He was lying in a hospital bed in a room with bright—too bright—green and yellow walls, inappropriate colors intended to console the sick, the dying. As he slept, curled beneath a sheet, I watched him breathe, willing him to, his face still tan against that pillow so white. And as I sat looking at him, I thought of how, when I was small, I would awaken in my room beside the flowered wallpaper and listen for his footsteps down the hall, comfortable in their familiarity, secure in the insular world of my childhood, knowing without question or doubt that when I followed those sounds, I would always find him.

When he first got sick, I wiped his forehead dry until he became too ill and I could do nothing. "Pops," he said, calling me one of my many nicknames, "don't you worry. I'm going to be just fine." And I looked at him then and nodded because I couldn't find the words.

My father died there, three days later, on the eighth floor of Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, New York.

He was just fifty years old, I barely twenty.

I was so blinded by the loss. Terrified by each day that took me further from the last that I had seen him. Incapacitated by the idea of a life without him, my world grew impossibly small and inaccessible. I did not know how to grieve, to accept, to move on. I shut down. I detached. I fell apart.

I replayed those last days of the hospital—the waiting, the doctors in their silent shoes, the unimaginable words—in excruciating, explosive detail as if in the revisiting, the outcome could be changed in some way.

Walking aimlessly outside, I was stunned by the normalcy of those obscenely bright summer skies. I knew it was useless, but I would whisper, "Dad, if you can hear me, make the leaf move. Or the bird; make that bird fly now," and I would wait. I needed something tangible, some acknowledgment that he could hear me. Some sign that I was not losing my mind.

All of the years that I mourned my father and all of the "magical thinking" that I engaged in could not bring him back. But that didn't stop my trying. In those first weeks I sat alone in his office chair reaching for pens he had held, papers he had touched. I looked at his photographs, imagining him talking to me. I panicked when I thought it might be possible I could very soon forget the way he smiled, or the sound of his laugh and the way his voice trailed up the stairs calling me Pops or Miss Grumple or Nanny. I was so afraid that I would lose him, lose him incrementally, lose him for good.

But grief is a strange thing. After it slams you, it has nowhere else to go. This understanding can take years, can take its toll, can excise you off the planet. And it did for me. I finally started seeing a therapist after the insistent prodding of friends. It took more than a year, but there I sat with Dr. Fein stein, week after week, in a room with shelves of books and no sunlight.

He told me, "You need to visit your father's grave." He said it quietly but emphatically. My mother, my friends were all telling me the same thing: "You need closure." I felt ambushed from all sides. I was not doing well. Although I had just graduated from college, I was depressed. I had panic attacks and the start of agoraphobia. I was overwhelmed by this sadness that was acute and all-consuming and sometimes left me gasping for air. A year passed, then another. June, July, August. Suddenly summers were gone. Fall filled the air in a barrage of color and then succumbed to November skies. It was gray and windy and cold, and I still hadn't done what I needed to do. I could not go to my father's grave.

I found the simplest memory could cause the greatest ache. In one, my father—wearing blue shorts, no shirt—is carrying a small green plate with a corned beef sandwich he has just made; in his other hand, a Coke. He is going outside to eat his lunch in the sun. Thinking the sliding doors are open, he walks right into them and yells, "God damn it!"

He is not hurt. When he sees me, he laughs. "I'm okay," he says, and we are both laughing. On our hands and knees, we clean up the mess with paper towels and pick up the pieces of sandwich. He has a small purple mark on his forehead that within weeks will disappear.

A sticker remains on those glass doors still. It is faded and peeled in one corner but warns when the doors are closed. And sometimes, if I stand there at just around noon on a summer day, I can see the soda spilling across the wood floor, the soaked corned beef on rye, and the green plate tipped in my father's hand. I can see him turning, tanned, and smiling in the sunlight. I can hear my father laughing in the empty room.


On an early winter morning a few years after graduating from college, I drive from Ithaca back to the cottage. It, and the newer house my parents built next door, has been closed for winter. My tracks in the snow will be the only ones except for rabbits, squirrels, maybe a deer. I get out of the car, search in my pocket for the key, push open the door to the house, and turn on the light, grateful that the electricity has not been turned off and that there is still a little warmth.

Nothing really changes here, and my father's presence, even in the stillness, is powerful. A shadow can so easily be transformed, his voice imagined, and for just a moment I envision him there. I hear the familiar sound of his footsteps on the stairs, but of course I see nothing—only the empty steps in the faint morning light.

Although I should be, I am clearly no further along in this grieving process. I haven't found a teaching position, and so I sub in elementary schools when I can and tutor. It isn't lost on me, though, or those around me, that I'm on auto pilot, not fully present, not really engaged, at all.

As I walk from room to room I find the quiet unbearable and so in the kitchen, I switch on the radio—my mother's station, the last one played—classical. The music breaks the silence, but it feels jarring, droning, and I quickly turn it off and walk into another room.

In a closet I find what I have come for. My father's box of old letters, his 511th Airborne booklet, other memorabilia, and the family photo albums, a myriad of colored covers, each one marked with a specific year. I sit on the floor, the books and letters and other items spread before me, and I open the first album; Dad on the boat saluting behind the wheel; playing poker with his friend Dick; swimming with my sister and me in the lake; Dad rolling around with the dogs on the lawn. Another album, then another, a slide show of images flashing too quickly, on and on, until the pictures stop on a half-filled page because weeks later my father was gone.

I get up and stand at the window, watching as a bird feeder, empty for years, swings precariously. I look at the vanishing light and the falling snow, and I am surprised so much time has passed.

Kneeling again on the floor, I begin stacking the albums, carefully refolding the letters and other items and placing them into the box. I see I have forgotten to put my dad's old yearbook in. I open the cover and find him quickly. His brown eyes looking back at mine.

I return the book and close the top, ready to set it back on the closet shelf. But I worry about the dampness and the passage of time, the erosion of what remains, and quickly decide this time I will not leave it behind. I will take the box with me. These things cannot be lost.

I stay a moment more in the silent room, the empty house, knowing that I'll have to keep doing this. I will have to keep looking. That in order to go forward, I will have to go back bec

Excerpted from AS I KNEW HIM by ANNE SERLING. Copyright © 2013 by Anne Serling. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Read More


Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >