Memories of Serling
How many college students can boast of having someone of Rod Serling's level of accomplishment in television and screenwriting as their professor over a period of four years? I had many wonderful experiences. I even produced a TV commercial with Rod as spokesman for a bank in Buffalo, NY, after I graduated.
Rod preferred not to fly and I picked him up at his home in Interlaken, NY in my 1971 Dodge Challenger. We drove to a TV studio in Buffalo and on the way, I told him how delicious a hometown favorite, Bocce's Pizza, was. Since my wife and I were to drive Rod back home that evening, he asked if we could order a pizza that he would serve to guests he was expecting.
At the studio while the crew was making lighting adjustments, Rod called to me in the control room. When I answered over the intercom he responded in his typical, deep and mysterious Twilight Zone voice, "Mike, can you make that two?"
I quickly called my wife and told her to order an additional pizza!
Mike Slepian '71
Having been an avid fan of both The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery (which was airing first run at the time on NBC) it was indeed a tremendous treat to be able to meet and speak with the late Rod Serling. He was one of the most modest and brilliant men I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. There was one evening in particular where I really felt I was placed in The Twilight Zone.
At Mr. Serling's invitation, a handful of Television-Radio majors assembled in the screening room and Serling graciously hosted three episodes of The Twilight Zone and also an episode of a show he did that I had never heard of called The Loner.
The Twilight Zone episodes I remember him selecting were “Walking Distance,” “An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge,” and “In Praise of Pip.” Mr. Serling prefaced the showing of “Walking Distance” by telling us he was inspired to write it by a nostalgic visit he made to Recreation Park in Binghamton. The carousel and gazebo he remembered seeing as a boy were overgrown with foliage. His mind apparently wandered and he longingly imagined that he could go home -- and it would be unchanged from when he frequented the same place as a child. Prior to the screening of "In Praise of Pip" he told us he was proud to have taken on the Vietnam War as early as 1963.
Having been a Twilight Zone fan for at least a decade at that time it was eerie and amazing to see Rod Serling introducing the episode on the screen and turning to my right and seeing him sitting next to me in the screening room at IC. I dare say, an evening everyone in attendance will never forget. I am very glad that Ithaca College in concert with Mr. Serling's family has preserved his work as a fitting tribute to one of the greatest American writers of all time.
Elliot Becker ’71
I was an undergraduate student at IC from 1969-1973. I was a history major. However, I took two non-major courses in Television-Radio and Mr. Serling was a guest lecturer coming in to give a few lectures to a couple of hundred students. His talks were always SRO. He was a bit of a rebel and fit in nicely with the climate of the times, the turmoil of the early 70s. It was obvious he really loved teaching and his students. I recall a theme he would emphasize to us over-and-over. Mr. Serling related how many of his television scripts and stories were based on his early experiences as a young man growing up. Mr. Serling grew up in the Triple Cities, in Binghamton. So did I. I was born in the Triple Cities and grew up one town over from Binghamton, in Endicott. My mother, a contemporary age wise to Mr. Serling, grew up in Binghamton. So, Mr. Serling was one of our family's celebrity heroes.
I have a humorous story that I told to some IC students this autumn when I gave a lecture on campus for the history club. My talk was on underwater archaeology at Lake George, New York, but I told this story. You see, I now work with a documentary filmmaking colleague and we make documentaries on underwater archaeology. Our mantra: "A story is not a story until the story is told." Mr. Serling would be proud to hear our emphasis on story telling, his specialty, and the most important ingredient for a successful documentary.
Anyhow, back in the early 1970s my college roommate and a friend hitchhiked downtown one Friday afternoon to enjoy happy hour at a local tavern, the Haunt. As dinnertime rolled around they decided to hitchhike back up the hill for their dinnertime meal. At this time on this day, there was often a line of IC students waiting for someone to pick them up for the several minutes long drive up the hill to the IC campus. My roommate told me that someone stopped his vehicle and invited them to get into the back sear (the front passenger seat was full with an attache case). My roommate said his buddy and he looked in the mirror to see the face of the driver and they sort of thought it might be Rod Serling. Their hypothesis was confirmed. Just before Mr. Serling turned his car left onto the IC campus, he said: “You're traveling through another dimension. A dimension, not only of sight and sound, but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. Next stop, the Twilight Zone!”
You see, as Mr. Serling's vehicle pulled onto the campus his timing was such that he was saying: Next stop, the Twilight Zone!” Perfect timing, one of Mr. Serling's hallmarks and probably sometime he did several times with students he gave a ride to campus.
Thus, IC was/is the Twilight Zone.
I was indeed fortunate to have Mr. Serling spend a few hours of his professional life sharing stories to some non-major students and giving valuable tidbits on writing. Little did I know at that time that I would use some of those words of wisdom when crafting a story for a documentary. I am proud to say he was "a professor of mine."
Joseph W. Zarzynski '73