Monday, October 6, 2014

Rod Serling, King of My Heart

I would have lost TV privileges for a month if anyone had caught me sneaking behind the sofa to watch television late at night, but that's the irresistible fixation I had with a terrifying television series when I was little. It wasn't sci-fi, like Outer Limits, and it wasn't horror, like Alfred Hitchcock, what it was, was something I was ready to risk any form of punishment for.

I'm talking about the Twilight Zone.

As a kid, I hungrily gobbled up every rerun in the "dimension of not only sight and sound, but of mind. A journey into a land whose boundaries are that of imagination ... at the signpost up ahead, your next stop ... the Twilight Zone.”
It's the 55th anniversary of the Twilight Zone. Each week, when I would hear the adrenaline-inducing doodoo-doodoo of the Twilight Zone's theme music, I would hide behind the sofa and not a sound would leave my lips as I watched the episodes behind my teen sisters' backs. The episodes lasted 20 minutes, but in that time, Rod Serling created a depth in his stories that made his tales complete. He had no story line that carried over from the week before, and there was no drama series to string the episodes together, but he managed to expertly satisfy us with a recounting that always promised a twist. Oh, you knew the twist was coming, your clenched stomach didn't let you forget that, but you didn't know when, or what, or from whom, and that's what kept you chewing on your fingernails, eyes bugged open, gripping the sides of your chair. Every time the crux of the story was revealed, I came *this close* to giving away my hiding spot with the sound of my gasps.

When my children were old enough to watch the Twilight Zone, which was about ten years older than I was when I shouldn't have been watching, I began our weekly family TZ viewing. On weekend nights, their imaginations and senses are hooked and drawn into supernatural stories that they don't even notice the show is in black and white (often a complaint).

Rod Serling holds you spellbound because the man can tell a story. His everyday character who finds himself in a shocking twisted world made me bite the tips of my fingers off from my secret viewing spot. If something could happen to someone who was as normal as they are, I'd tell myself, then it could happen to me! That was the frightening, yet fascinating, magic right there. You could be that poor victim of an outrageous fate. A bent reality booby trap was possible for any of us! You uncomfortably squirmed as you witnessed their logical mind slowly begin to unravel. I knew I should look away, but I couldn't help myself. I kept watching, my eyes peeking out from in between my fingers.

55 years ago, Rod Serling wrote of things we find ourselves still fearing today: nuclear war, technology dominating our lives, social isolation, prejudice, inhumanity, the government's increasing presence and role in our life. As an adult, I see him as a visionary, but as a little girl, he was the man responsible for my life-long love of storytelling.

As well as for my first nightmares.

If you're barely familiar with the Twilight Zone, before you watch, I have to warn you: You won't easily fall asleep without checking under the bed after seeing my Top Four favorites:

"Eye of The Beholder"
"Young Man's Fancy"
"The Hunt"

And, best for last: "Living Doll."

You will be screaming at the screen, "Turn around!" with the psychological thrill of "Young Man's Fancy". You'll be terrified in ways you didn't think possible. But with "Living Doll?" So not a good idea if you anthropomorphize the toys in your bedroom, much like this once little girl did.

No doll for me, thanks, Mom. Not for my birthday, or Christmas, or any other occasion under the sun.



  1. ha. i loved twilight zone...i used to sneak and watch it and alfred hitchcock presents...i remember one when the mans wife was attacked and he took her out to identify the guy...and when he did the husband killed him...and then she pointed to the next guy...oy...creep-o

  2. SO terrifying, and so much fun to watch, Brian.

  3. Hate Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock and weird stories. Yuck. Give me Laura Ingalls or Love Boat any day. :-)

  4. Do you remember the episode "Last Stop Willoughby"? That was actually based on my hometown-- For real!!! And it's still caught in The Twilight Zone-- unchanged all these years later.

    xo jj

  5. Lady Jennie-- WHAT?? No way. Don't you LOVE enthralling stories???
    Joanna: Oh yes, I LOVE Last Stop Willoughby so much. WOW to it being your hometown. I read there is a celebration every year b/c of the TZ episode.



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