Rodman “Rod” Edward Serling was an American screenwriter, television producer, and narrator best known for his live television dramas of the 1950s and his science fiction anthology TV series, The Twilight Zone. Serling was active in politics, both on and off the screen and helped form television industry standards. He was known as the angry young man of Hollywood, clashing with television executives and sponsors over a wide range of issues including censorship, racism, and anti-war politics.
Serling was born December 25, 1924 in Syracuse, New York, the second of two sons born to Esther and Samuel Lawrence Serling. Serling’s father had worked as a secretary and amateur inventor before having children, but took on his father-in-law’s profession as a grocer in order to earn a steady income. Sam Serling later took up the trade of butcher after the Great Depression forced the store to close. Serling’s mother was a homemaker.
He and his family spent most of his youth in Binghamton, in upstate New York, after moving there in 1926. Even as a boy he was known for his imagination and outgoing personality. Family members remember a child with an engaging smile, beautiful brown eyes, and a love for entertaining others. As a performer he was encouraged by his parents from his earliest days. Sam Serling built a small stage in the basement where Rod, with or without the aid of neighborhood children, would often put on plays. His older brother, author Robert, recalled at the age of six or seven, Serling could entertain himself for hours by acting out dialogue from pulp magazines or movies he’d seen. Rod was often found talking to the people around him without waiting for answers. On an hour trip from Binghamton to Syracuse the rest of the family remained silent to see if Rod would notice their lack of participation. He didn’t, talking non-stop through the entire car ride.
Throughout his life Serling was the life of the party, often using imitations to entertain those around him. Some of his most memorable impressions were Jekyll and Hyde, King Kong, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. A practical joke Serling liked to play on his older brother was to imitate the family rabbi’s voice perfectly over the phone and invite him to non-existent meetings. Those who grew up with Rod were surprised that he chose a career behind the camera instead of in front of it.