A few months ago I turned on the computer and found a mail from Susan Barett, the heroic publicist for the Cornell University Press, excitedly informing me that Mitch Horowitz, the writer and frequent contributor to the Arts and Culture page of the Huffington Post, had undertaken a “one man public relations campaign” for Serling: The Rise and Twilight of TV’s Last Angry Man, my biography of Rod Serling, which C.U. Press thankfully reissued last year.
Indeed he had. Here are some excerpts from Horowitz’s most welcome hosanna to Serling, and my book. “The Importance of Rod Serling,” he called it.
“I doubt that there’s anyone born in the age of television syndication who doesn’t have a haunting, dream-intruding memory of a Twilight Zone episode. We all know them: ventriloquist dummies who talk on their own, gremlins on airplane wings, neighbors who are space aliens or—worse still—who accuse us of being aliens…
“The remarkable thing about the man who created many of these episodes from 1959 to 1964, is that the writer-presenter learned his craft not in the visual era but in the age of radio drama. It has been observed that Serling, whose characters routinely launched into long moralistic jeremiads, wrote more for the ear than the eye. And it was Serling’s sense of moral outrage— against conformity, scapegoating, war as a first resort, commercialism above quality—that brought posterity to his scripts and stories, and that served to marry speculative writing and filmmaking, perhaps permanently, to some kind of ethical position taking.
“Serling’s role as a supernatural moralist is on brilliant display in a biography recently—and thankfully—rescued from near-oblivion in a reissue by Cornell University Press, Serling: The Rise and Twilight of TV’s Last Angry Man by Gordon F. Sander. A historical journalist and cultural writer, Sander deftly depicts Serling’s struggle to live by a moral code as television drifted away from serious drama and the artist himself—who rose quickly to fame as the enigmatic host of The Twilight Zone—embraced the financial compromise of serving as a pitchman for products from beer to socks to floor wax.
“There’s no particular sin in that, as Sander notes, but Serling’s readiness to place his name and image behind consumer products did chaff with his self-chosen role as a gadfly who swatted back at the hand of ad agencies and number crunchers who wanted television programming that catered to their needs…
Horowitz did have one qualm with my book: the relatively little space, in his opinion, that
I devoted to Serling’s contribution to the screenplay he adapted for Planet of the Apes. Did
I? Perhaps I did. Withal (to use an archaic word of which I am fond), Horowitz’s praise for Serling—and Serling—helped validate the back-breaking, and nerve-wracking (less about which
said the better) effort which my staff and I and Cornell Press put into the reissue of a book which has always been special to me.
It seems that in this day of Mad Men and nostalgia for the Kennedt, Serling’s pioneering televisual work resounds louder than ever. And I couldn’t be happier that, a half century after the Zone aired, and nearly a quarter of a century after I set out on my own Serlingesque biographical quest, both of us are receiving our due.
And did I tell you the latest? Hollywood has also come calling. It seems that there is serious interest in Hollywood in the possibility of making a feature film based on the book. Stay tuned!