‘And also like all men perhaps there will be an occasion—maybe a summer night sometime—when he will look up and hear the distant sound of a calliope, and hear the voices and laughter of the past. And perhaps across his mind there’ll flit an errant wish, that a man might not have to grow old, never outgrow the parks and merry-go-rounds of his youth. And then he’ll smile and know that it’s just an errant wish, some wisp of memory not too important, really, some laughing ghosts that cross a man’s mind…that are a part of the Twilight Zone.’
–From the prologue to “The Twilight Zone” episode, “Walking Distance,” broadcast 10/30/59
Ah yes, How many writers, in any mass medium, would get away with using the word “errant?”
Fifty years after the cancellation of the “Zone,” Rod Serling and the masterpiece show he created are still very much with us. The phrase “the twilight zone” is part of the English language. Ever heard some say that he was “in the zone?” Guess where that phrase derived from.
Too, and eerily so, even though Serling was himself a cautious optimist, many of his dire predictions for the future—i.e., the world we live in now—especially those relating to the advance of technology and how the danger the Machine, particularly combined with the power of the State, is of making man, well, obsolete (to paraphrase the title of another famous episode).
Note, thus, the arrival of the latest wave of do-it-all robots, including robots which are capable of everything, almost, including—this just in—sex!
Well, Rod was there first. Doubt it? Check out “The Lonely,” the seventh episode of the groundbreaking show’s first season, about a 21st century convict, brilliantly played by Jack Warden–who served with Rod in the 11th Airborne Division, and who was one of the numerous actors who had roles in the “Zone” who I interviewed for my 1992 biography of Rod— who is sentenced to solitary confinement on an asteroid, whose harrowing loneliness is relived by the unexpected “gift” of a realistic woman-robot marvelously played by Jean Marsh. And with whom he proceeds to fall madly in love with until…well, you’ll have to rent the episode.
And there was an image of Rod on the front page of “The New York Times” site, in April, as “Mad Men,” a wound down to its much-lamented finale, as part of a feature about the pop culture touchstone referenced in the show, whose creator, Matthew Weiner says the “Zone” was his favorite tv show of all time.
Meanwhile, pleased to report, Serling: The Rise and Twilight of Television’s Last Angry Man, with a brilliant new foreword by my friend Ron Simon, senior curator at the Paley Center for Media, continues to enjoy its own perpetual life in the Reader Zone, thanks to my friends at the Cornell University Press. Buy yours here. Also there seems to be a rumor that the book will be made into a film in the near future. Or is that just an errant thought? Time will tell. Watch this space for more.