Rodman Edward Serling was born in Syracuse, N.Y., on December 25, 1924, and grew up in Binghamton, the son of a wholesale meat dealer. By his own account, he had no early literary ambitions, though from an early age, he and his older brother, Robert, immersed themselves in movies and in such magazines as Astounding Stories and Weird Tales.
On the day he graduated from high school, Serling enlisted in the U.S. Army 11th Airborne Division paratroopers, and after basic training (during which time he took up boxing and won 17 out of 18 bouts) he was sent into combat in the Philippines and wounded by shrapnel.
After being discharged in 1946, Serling enrolled at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, where he majored in Physical Education. He soon switched to Language and Literature, and began writing, directing and acting in weekly productions on a local radio station. While still a student, Serling sold his first three national radio scripts — and even his first television script, "Grady Everett for the People," which he sold to the live half-hour anthology series Stars Over Hollywood (NBC 1950-51) for $100.
Serling married Carolyn Louise Kramer in 1948. After graduation, the pair moved to Cincinnati, where Serling became a staff writer for WLW radio and collected rejection slips for his freelance writing — 40 in a row at one point!
Serling's fortunes changed when he began writing full-time. From 1951 to 1955, more than 70 of his television scripts were produced, garnering both critical and public acclaim. Full-scale success came on Wednesday, Jan. 12, 1955, with the live airing of his Kraft Television Theatre script "Patterns." Deemed a "creative triumph" by critics, and the winner of the first of Serling's six Emmy awards, the acclaimed production was actually remounted live to air a second time on Feb. 9, 1955 — an unprecedented event.
Serling went to work on screenplays for MGM and as a writer for CBS' illustrious Playhouse 90, for which he crafted 90-minute dramas — including both the series' 1956 debut, "Forbidden Area," starring Charlton Heston, Vincent Price, Jackie Coogan and Tab Hunter; and the multiple-Emmy Award-winning "Requiem for a Heavyweight," starring Jack Palance and Keenan Wynn that later was turned into both a feature film and a Broadway play. Remarkably, in a milieu that included such writing legends as Paddy Chayefsky and Reginald Rose, Serling took the writing Emmy again the following year for his Playhouse 90 script "The Comedian," starring Mickey Rooney.
A critical and financial success, Serling shocked many of his fans in 1957 when he left Playhouse 90to create a science-fiction series he called The Twilight Zone.
CBS would air 156 episodes of The Twilight Zone, an astonishing 92 of which were written by Serling, over the next five years. His writing earned him two more Emmy Awards. The show went on to become one of television's most widely recognized and beloved series, and it has achieved a permanent place in American popular culture with its instantly recognizable opening, its theme music and its charismatic host, Serling himself. With early appearances by such performers as Robert Redford, Burt Reynolds, Dennis Hopper and many others, The Twilight Zone became a launching pad for some of Hollywood's biggest stars.
After the production of The Twilight Zone ended in January 1964, Serling remained active in television and movies, winning an Emmy for his Bob Hope Presents The Chrysler Theatre adapted script "It's Mental Work," and hosting and writing episodes of the 1970-73 anthology series Rod Serling's Night Gallery. There, his script "They're Tearing Down Tim Riley's Bar" earned an Emmy nomination as the year's Outstanding Single Program. Serling returned to Antioch College as a professor and lectured at college campuses across the country. Politically active, Serling spoke out against the Vietnam War in the late '60s and early '70s.
Rod Serling died on June 28, 1975, in Rochester, N.Y., of complications arising from a coronary bypass operation.
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