Interview by Binny Lum
This conversation with the creator of The Twilight Zone was recorded in Melbourne in 1963. We uncovered the tape in the archives of The National Film and Sound Archive of Australia.
The Animated Transcript
Binny Lum was a popular radio and television personality in Australia who interviewed a host of international celebrities in the 1960s.
Well, it’s a very beautiful day, and it’s made infinitely more pleasant for me by the fact that I am going to talk to Rod Serling. So many of you have enjoyed his television shows. The Twilight Zone I think is the one that everybody talks about. I’ve just confessed to Rod that I haven’t seen it.
Believe me, Binny, some of my best friends are quite unaware of this program back in the States, including relatives, I might add.
We’ve been given the story you and your wife travel on different planes.
Yes, indeed. It’s that we don’t have any close relatives who would be able to look after two rather small girls. I suppose statistically this is nonsensical to travel on separate planes. I rather think it’s far more dangerous to climb into a taxi, really, anywhere on earth. We’re on our way to Japan shortly here, and we’re told that the Japanese cabs are called ‘kamikazes’ and that you literally take your life in your hand when you drive in these things.
I was in the paratroops during the war and I have since talked to old colleagues of the ‘chutes,’ we call it, who have traveled in Japan. They tell me it’s far easier to get up in a jump stick on a C-47 aircraft, leap out into enemy territory than it is to climb into the rear seat of a Japanese taxicab. I think probably they’re going to start giving medals and ribbons for service in back seats in Japanese cabs.
Rod, for the benefit of people who haven’t seen this, I think just a very brief description of what the series is about would be a good idea.
Well, the Twilight Zone is in essence an imaginative itinerary of storytelling in which we utilize bases of fantasy, science fiction, the occult, extrasensory perception, anything that is imaginative, wild, or, as in the States we call it, ‘kooky.’ In normal earthbound drama, if a man is on top of a building and it’s burning, of necessity he has to crawl down either a ladder, or go through a skylight, or is rescued by a helicopter. In The Twilight Zone he grows wings and he flies off.
But, as I say, this is a program of imaginative storytelling, and utilizing the idea of going back in time or forward in time, this has provided considerable bases of storytelling in our particular series. I’m the kind of a guy who is now in that aging late ’30, early ’40 bracket in which, suddenly, there is a tremendous bittersweet, poignant feeling about wanting to go back to another time. In my case it would be the pre-war or early teens time, which were particularly happy for me.
On occasion I will go back to my old hometown and walk through the streets and the places that I grew up in and feel a sense of great loss that I wish I could recapture it. I think the answer is, much as Wolfe said, “You simply cannot go home again.” It’s quite impossible.
As evidenced by the youngsters liking this show, I’ve always felt this was wonderful, because the most unfettered imagination belongs to young people, and they don’t walk through life; they fly, and that’s marvelous. They defy the law of gravity, mentally, anyway. That’s the reason I think we have astronauts orbiting now, and that’s the reason we’re planning a trip to the moon. People talk about science fiction being very far out, very wild. I don’t think it’s any of these things. Everything we see in the way of space travel, space concept, scientific advancement, medical discoveries, was already predicted by good science fiction twenty-five years ago.
As a little boy, did you find that you invented things? Did you ever get picked on for telling fibs?
Oh, indeed. I was a … I haven’t utilized a euphemism. I’ll say I was imaginative. A lot of people would say I was a liar. As a matter of fact, when I played small-boy games and if a bad guy, so-called, would put a gun to my head and fire, I would say I had an invisible shield, which I pushed a button and it got in front of me. Or, for example, if they lassoed me, I’d say, “You didn’t really lasso me, because I pushed a button and went through a trap door at that given moment.” And my friends called me “Impossibility.” That was the name they gave to me, but I think it pointed the way toward professionally what I would do with my life. Some liars go to prison; others write television shows. It’s as simple as that.
This is the nicest interview I’ve ever had. I feel warm and belonging here.
Oh, that’s a compliment, indeed. I find that talking to someone who’s creative is always inspiring.
Well, it depends. Creativity, of course, comes at odd times. I’ve done so much talking, Binny, in the past couple of weeks. I hope I’m not pontificating. I hope talking is the correct word. I feel sort of talked out.
Well, I certainly have enjoyed chatting with you.
And I with you, Binny.
Thank you very much.
Right-o. Thank you, Binny.
Everyone, you have met Rod Serling.
Listen to The Full Interview
A Writer’s Life
“I am like most writers. I’m a very disciplined guy. I write every morning at 8:00, seven days a week and I write upwards of three and four hours at a time. Even on my boat I write. I generally dictate; I don’t type anymore. Part of good writing is discipline. If you can fall into that … Let’s not call it a ‘rut.’ Let’s call it a ‘level.’ If I can subscribe to this and hold to it, it’s much better for me.”
Censorship: The Dark Side of TV’s First Golden Age
In the early days of television, advertisers were explicitly involved in the content that made it on to the airwaves. They did not want to be linked with anything deemed controversial or unfriendly to consumers. Serling was one of the most vocal opponents of this brand of censorship and consistently fought with networks to preserve his scripts. Serling wanted to explore political and social themes in his writing for television, but knew he would only be able to do so by creating his own show where he had complete creative control. And so The Twilight Zone was born…
LIFE with Serling, 1955
“I have a very odd breed back there, either very sycophantic, given to tremendous back-slapping, or the reverse is sometimes the case, where, because you are a blood relation, they go out of their way not to show favoritism and become your most critical audience.”
“To My Children,
I’m dedicating my little story to you; doubtless you will be among the very few who will ever read it. It seems war stories aren’t very well received at this point. I’m told they’re out-dated, untimely and as might be expected – make some unpleasant reading. And, as you have no doubt already perceived, human beings don’t like to remember unpleasant things. They gird themselves with the armor of wishful thinking, protect themselves with a shield of impenetrable optimism, and, with a few exceptions, seem to accomplish their “forgetting” quite admirably.
But you, my children, I don’t want you to be among those who choose to forget. I want you to read my stories and a lot of others like them. I want you to fill your heads with Remarque and Tolstoy and Ernie Pyle. I want you to know what shrapnel, and “88’s” and mortar shells and mustard gas mean. I want you to feel, no matter how vicariously, a semblance of the feeling of a torn limb, a burnt patch of flesh, the crippling, numbing sensation of fear, the hopeless emptiness of fatigue. All these things are complimentary to the province of War and they should be taught and demonstrated in classrooms along with the more heroic aspects of uniforms, and flags, and honor and patriotism…”
– excerpt from a dedication to an unpublished short story, “First Squad, First Platoon”; from Serling to his as yet unborn children (Goodreads)
Jumping Out of Planes
Serling served in the Pacific theater in both a paratrooper division and a demolitions unit during World War II. By his own admission, he wasn’t a natural combat soldier:
“It was the point of the service that, if you didn’t jump in time, you’d be five miles beyond where you were supposed to go with the comparative comfort of your own colleagues; so, it behooved you to get out that door as fast as you could. You were supposed to yell, ‘Geronimo.’ This was the war cry of the American paratrooper. For the life of me, I could never get up enough courage to yell anything but “Ahhh.” That was pretty much the story of my service.”
Serling must have developed a taste for adrenaline though, because after the war he earned extra money testing parachutes for the U.S. Army. He earned $50 for each successful jump, even taking on hazardous jumps for a higher wage. He once earned $1,000 testing a jet ejection seat, which had killed the three previous testers. (Wikipedia)
The Best Twilight Zone Intro Ever?
Among The Apes
Outside of The Twilight Zone, Serling is probably best known for co-writing the screenplay for the 1968 film Planet of the Apes. In fact it was Serling who came up with the films legendary closing scene, where the lead character, played by Charlton Heston, escapes from his primate captors only to stumble upon the ruins of the Statue of Liberty and realize, to his horror, that this is what has become of human civilization.
“Dances And Dames”
Paul Pritchard “Descent Into Darkness”
Nigel Mark Bates “Alien Zone”
Eric Caspar “UFO Story”
Sarah Natasha Penelope Warne “Uptempo Swing”