ITHACA, NY—A script deemed too sensitive for television in 1956 will have its first-ever reading as part of the Ithaca College conference on “The Life and Legacy of Rod Serling” March 28–29. The conference will include a presentation on how Serling had to turn a black teenaged boy into an elderly Jewish man in order to have his script aired.
Emmett Till was a black 14-year-old from Chicago who while on a 1955 visit to Mississippi had made the fatal mistake of whistling at a white woman. The two men accused of kidnapping and brutally murdering Till were acquitted, though they later admitted to the crime.
Serling’s socially conscious scripts for “Patterns” and “Requiem for a Heavyweight” had made him one of the most celebrated writers during television’s “golden age” of the 1950s, and he wanted to take on Till’s story. When word got out about the topic of his script for “The United States Steel Hour” on ABC, thousands of protests poured in to the network and the show’s sponsor from members of the White Citizens Councils. By the time “Noon on Doomsday” finally aired, the victim had been transformed into an old Jewish pawnbroker in New England, with his killer a “neurotic malcontent” who is protected from conviction by his neighbors.
“Untilled Serling: Rod Serling’s Attempts to Dramatize the Emmett Till Story” will be presented on Friday, March 28, from 1:45–3:15 p.m. in Park Hall Auditorium. Researchers Tony Albarella and Amy E. Boyle Johnston will discuss how Serling twice tried to dramatize Till’s murder and the shocking acquittal of his killers. Using film clips, detailed research and Serling’s own words, they will discuss how in both cases Serling met with sponsor censorship and network interference that diluted his final work.
“Table Reading: Noon on Doomsday” will be presented on Saturday, March 29, at 8 p.m. in Park Hall Auditorium. Students in Ithaca College’s Department of Theatre Arts will bring to life Serling’s original, never-before-produced script.
In addition to those programs, the “Life and Legacy of Rod Serling” conference will include two additional events that are free and open to the public.
A “Twilight Zone Marathon” will be held beginning at 8 p.m. on Friday, March 28, in Park Hall Auditorium. See original episodes of the classic show, digitally restored and on the big screen. Episodes have been chosen by popular online vote and will be introduced by scholars of Serling’s work.
On Saturday, March 29, excerpts from this year’s winners of the Rod Serling Short Feature Scriptwriting Competition will be read and discussed by some of the winning writers and members of the judges panel at 1 p.m. in Park Hall Auditorium. “The Donor,” by 2006 scriptwriting competition winner Paula Smith, will also be screened.
For more information on the conference, visit www.ithaca.edu/rhp/serling.