On this day in 1975, screenwriter and TV producer Rodman Edward Serling passed away at age 50. Better known as simply Rod Serling, he was the creator and narrator of The Twilight Zone, a CBS-TV series which first aired in 1959.
Born on Christmas Day 1924 in Syracuse, New York, Serling was raised in Binghamton, a city located in the southern tier of the Empire State. Even after his "Hollywood success," Serling kept a summer home on Cayuga Lake, in New York's Finger Lakes region (which inspired the name "Cayuga Productions" for use on his Twilight Zone productions).
Originally a U.S. Army paratrooper and demolition specialist (he was awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star), Serling broke into television in 1951. He wrote scripts for such early series as The Doctor, Fireside Theater, Hallmark Hall of Fame, Lux Video Theater, Kraft Television Theatre, and Studio One. One script in particular in 1955 for Kraft Television Theatre propelled Serling into the limelight. His episode titled Patterns became a hit and was re-aired a week after its original showing (unheard of in the early days of TV). It established Serling as a television playwright.
Although successful, he was tired of seeing his scripts censored and so decided to create his own show. The Twilight Zone, an anthology series, first premiered on October 2, 1959. It ran for five seasons on CBS from 1959 to 1964 (and remains syndicated to this day). Serling served as executive producer/head writer and wrote 92 of the show's 156 episodes. He also served as the show's host, delivering on-and-off-screen monologues at the beginning and end of each episode. While having a loyal fan base, the program never had huge ratings and was surprisingly canceled twice ... only to be revived. But after 5 years, Serling decided to let the third cancellation be final. (Today even Disney fans who were born years after the show ended know of Serling's supernatural series through the popular park attraction The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.)
Serling went on to have success in the early 1970s with another similar TV series called Night Gallery. It focused more on Gothic horror and the occult (while The Twilight Zone had a more paranormal/futuristic theme). Over his professional career, Serling won 6 Emmy Awards, 3 Hugo Awards, 2 Sylvania Awards, and a Golden Globe. He was also a communications professor at Ithaca College in New York.
A chain smoker, Serling had survived two heart attacks prior to entering Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester for heart bypass surgery on June 27, 1975. Sadly he had a third heart attack during the operation and died the following day, June 28. He is interred at the cemetery in Interlaken, New York.
"Imagination... its limits are only those of the mind itself." -Rod Serling
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