“I don’t think that calling something commercial makes it stink.”
“A legend doesn’t die, just because the man dies.”
The Twilight Zone episode A Game of Pool
Rod Serling was born in Syracuse, New York and joined the U.S. Army the day after he graduated from Binghamton Central High School where he had worked on the school newspaper. During World War II he fought in the Philippines where he routinely saw the casualties of war that would shape his life and writing. He was injured himself , received the Purple Heart, and was discharged in 1946.
Afterwards he attended Anitoch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio where he got involved in theater and writing radio dramas. He received his BA degree in 1950 and moved to Cincinnati to work in advertising writing for radio and television. In less than ten years he created his signature show, The Twilight Zone.
In 1959 Rod Serling was interviewed on TV by Mike Wallace and told about how in 1951, at a diner in Cincinnati, he decided to leave the security of his advertising job in Ohio to write freelance for television programs.
“The immediate motive at the time, the prodding thing that pushed me in to it, was that I had been writing at the time for a Cincinnati television station as a staff writer—which is a particularly dreamless occupation, composed of doing commercials. Even making up testimonial letters. As I recall there was a liquid drug on the market at the time that could cure everything from arthritis to a fractured pelvis and I actually had to write testimonial letters, and on that particular day I’d just had it. And though I had been freelancing concurrent with the staff job, the best year I’d ever had (freelance-wise) I think we netted $700 which is hardly even grocery money, and that one night we just decided to sink or swim and go into it.”
Serling swam. He would have been 27-28 years old at the time and six months after that decision he moved to Connecticut and then New York. Serling kept building his career in TV and one of the first programs to show his genius was Requiem for a Heavyweight for the Playhouse 90 TV series in 1956. But his greatest success came when he launched the The Twilight Zone on CBS on October 2, 1959.
Despite its enduring popularity, The Twilight Zone didn’t draw large audiences, nor was it a financial success for CBS when it first aired. The show was cancelled in 1964. Serling whose normal workload was 12-14 hour a days, seven days a week was burned out on TV. He wrote well more than half of the 156 episodes, and grew tired of having to fight the corporate sponsors and the censorship imposed on him.
Not thinking The Twilight Zone would have much of a future he sold his rights to the show for $500,000. which would have cost him and his estate tens of millions of dollars. He turned to teaching in his later years and died at the young age of 50.
P.S. A couple of days ago I said that at one time Johnny Depp, Tom Cruise and George Clooney all lived in Kentucky at the same time. Well, just over the Ohio River at one time Rod Serling and Steven Spielberg would have lived in Ohio at the same time. In fact, I’m not sure how long Spielberg lived in Ohio, but he was born in Cincinnati in 1946 so he could have even been in the same city—heck, at the same diner—as Serling when he had his epiphany. Maybe not a big deal, unless you believe in another dimension, a dimension of both shadow and substance, a dimension only found…in The Twilight Zone.