Rod Serling left a legacy in his hometown, just don't call them a fan club

The man with a menacing voice was actually a sweet, smiling childhood friend to many.

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Witness a transformation: A witty, young boy from an idyllic New York town in the 1930s becomes the master of anthology in the Golden Age of television. You are now entering The Twilight Zone creator's humble beginning.

Rod Serling grew up delivering packages for his father's butcher shop, was a captain on his high school debate team, and used to write patriotic newspaper editorials. Serling took a big turn with his writing, a twist only he could have written for his life story. 

Those who grew up with Serling in his hometown of Binghamton, New York, said their Rod Serling was not the sinister narrator who introduced chilling tales such as "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street," and "Nightmare at 30,000 Feet."

In a 1989 interview with The Hanford Sentinel, former classmates and family members of Serling talked about his past.

"He was always gregarious and wasn't a bit Edgar Allen Poe-ish," said Helen Foley, Serling's junior high drama teacher. "He was very funny and witty and charming."

Fourteen years after Serling's death, a group of friends formed The Rod Serling Memorial Foundation, located in Binghamton. The foundation was started to keep Serling's memory alive.

The foundation has over 150 members nationwide, but don't call it a fan club.

"We don't want to be called fans," Foley said. "Fans sound as though we're a bunch of clucks like those Star Trek people."

His brother, Robert Serling, remembered staging plays with the future star. Figuring out why The Twilight Zone captivated audience members the way it did, "would be like describing the color red," he said.

"Part of it was Rod's voice and appearance, the way he set the mood," his brother said. "Part of it was... the unexpected twist, the surprise ending. And part of it was that Rod masqueraded a sermon in his scripts. He sent messages to people without them realizing they were being preached to."

His friends in Binghamton remember Serling not as a star but as the smiling boy at the center of every high school group picture.

"We often wonder what he'd be writing today," former classmate, Robert Keller said. "If he were alive I'm sure he'd have something in the running for the Oscars."

Serling wrote 92 of the The Twilight Zone's 156 episodes, and became its host after the producers' first choice, Orson Wells, was too expensive.

Nerves caused Serling's hushed tones at first, but as he grew more comfortable in front of the cameras, he stuck with his menacing voice because it fit the show. Although Serling may have been different in person, his passion for The Twilight Zone struck a chord with those who knew him well. 

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25 Comments

Pacificsun 17 months ago

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The infamous clucks of the Star Trek entire Franchise have probably earned about a billion dollars from the Sixties to the present, when you consider all the iterations of Star Trek entertainment.

Wonder if Foley can boast to that good fortune among his foundation. Perhaps well intentioned, maybe scholarships and such things. But there's a hint of snobbery behind his callous comment.
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WhiteRook 18 months ago
My grandmother's friend a finnish lady was the Serling family housekeeper, she always heard him typing his TZ scripts in his den. His home was on the west shore of Cayuga lake near Trumansburg,ny hence Cayuga Productions. Rod Serling had a fondness for upstate new york. The bus station in "Mirror Image" is the Ithaca ny bus station. The carousel in "Walking Distance" is from Rods hometown near Johnson City ny. The waterfalls near Ithaca ny are mentioned in "Midnight Sun"' It is sad he was a heavy smoker and climblng the steep hilly ground around his home may have put a undo strain on his heart.
Pacificsun WhiteRook 17 months ago
Thank you for sharing!
scp 19 months ago
My father's cousin went to school with Serling. I always liked how he never forgot where the came from.
Avie 19 months ago
Bad enough that the above quotes this Foley calling "Star Trek" fans "clucks" (which makes Foley sound like the real "cluck" here), but I really can't sit still for the below:

"Serling wrote 92 of the The Twilight Zone's 156 episodes, and became its host after the producers' first choice, Orson Wells, was too expensive."

It's Orson Welles, nitwits. WELLES.
Avie 19 months ago
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kensall 19 months ago
Also, for those who wanting to learn about all of the works of Rod Serling in his stellar career, I'd highly recommend "Rod Serling: His Life, Work, and Imagination" by Nick Parisi. https://www.amazon.com/Rod-Serling-Life-Work-Imagination/dp/1496817508/
joeski 19 months ago
Rod Serling wrote some of the best scripts ever used in television. The serious messages delivered in episodes like "The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street", "The Obsolete Man", "The Shelter", "The Gift", "I
Am The Night" and "He's Alive" are as relevant and important today as they were 60 years ago - maybe more so.
kensall 19 months ago
For a great personal account of the man, see his younger daughter Anne Serling's book "As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling". https://www.amazon.com/As-Knew-Him-Dad-Serling/dp/1948986310/
LalaLucy 19 months ago
Fascinating read on a very talented man. He had such insight and creativity.
tootsieg 19 months ago
Very interesting article. The foundation is a wonderful tribute to a very talented man and the best show of the 1960’s.
Catman 19 months ago
"...a bunch of clucks like those Star Trek people."
LOL. Yeah, at least Y'ALL are normal.
Jeffrey 19 months ago
My Mother knew Rod Serling, I think she even went to High School with him. Not sure though.
Runeshaper 19 months ago
Rod Serling was a super talented guy and I think that the foundation is a GREAT way to keep his memory alive (-:
WordsmithWorks 19 months ago
I wouldn't call Serling's voice "menacing."
LalaLucy WordsmithWorks 19 months ago
Yes, I was thinking that was the wrong word. More like solemn. He knew he had a serious message to send in a very creative way.
MrsPhilHarris 19 months ago
He died so young. Such as shame. Who knows what he would have written.
BrittReid 19 months ago
They broke the mold after Mr. Serling. Talented writer with a great voice. He was a former boxer and Army paratrooper who earned many medals. Thank you for the TZ and Night Gallery. (Some of those episodes were very scary).
cperrynaples 19 months ago
Fun Fact: Next Sunday [Christmas Day] would have been Rod's 98th birthday!
LoveMETV22 19 months ago

Rod Serling High School Photo.
Rod Serling with his teacher Helen Foley in BInghamton Central High School in 1968.
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Truly an amazing individual. In every respect.
Moody LoveMETV22 19 months ago
I played baseball & basketball against Binghamton Central in the early 70s.
LoveMETV22 Moody 19 months ago
That's cool.
I can hear the play by play.....
Ok folks....Welcome to the seventh inning stretch, and as we return to play we have:
On the mound for the Binghamton Central team we have Rod Serling pitching.
Stepping up to the plate from the MeTV All-Stars team.. #1 Mr. Moody. Moody has an ERA....
I'll stop there with the baseball talk. I'm sure you and tex could have fun filling in the rest
Jeffrey Moody 19 months ago
Where did you go to School, Moody?
texasluva LoveMETV22 19 months ago
ERA is for a pitcher Earned Run Average- When you come to bat it is BA-Batting Average. His was probably below the Mendoza Line. Ask him what that is. He'll know. 😁
LoveMETV22 texasluva 19 months ago
ROFL. Forgive my error in terminology. If we put Moody on the mound that would be correct? We'll let Moody choose if he wishes to be the pitcher or batter.
texasluva LoveMETV22 19 months ago
No problemo. You can actually have both if you pitch and then hit when its your turn the next inning. There are nine positions in baseball. Now though they have the designator hitter for the pitcher (DH). Back in those days everyone batted. The DH just came into play in 1973 for the American League and just this year for the National League. Pitchers can still bat but they can't usually hit worth a lick. Only one player does both now and that is Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angles Angels. Why? Because he can hit better then 90% of all players. Not sure if they have that in HS baseball though.
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