Rod Serling was determined to create an extraordinary life for his family.
“He was brilliantly funny,” his daughter Anne Serling recently told Closer Weekly. “Just playful, silly and fun to be with. He’d do things like disappear into the other room and come back with a lampshade on his head. He was a practical joker and loved anything for a laugh.
“I can remember him frequently telling a joke and getting hysterical in the middle of it, going to slap his knee, missing it and unable to finish the joke,” she shared. “I guess it’s the total opposite of what you’d imagine.”
Serling, the television writer, producer and narrator who became best known as the host of “The Twilight Zone” and “Night Gallery,” passed away in 1975 at age 50 following complications after open-heart surgery, the New York Times reported.
Anne previously published a memoir about growing up with the famous patriarch titled “As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling.” The 65-year-old told the outlet she wanted to set the record straight about the star.
“[He has been depicted] as this dark, tortured soul, but that’s not who he was,” she said.
“The Twilight Zone,” a series about ordinary people finding themselves in extraordinary situations, aired from 1959 until 1964. Anne said Serling would be stunned to learn of the show’s lasting legacy in pop culture.
“No one would be more surprised than my father that we’re still talking about ‘The Twilight Zone’ and talking about him all these decades later,” she explained. “I’m not the first person to say this, but it’s still in our vernacular because his issues that he dealt with are still so relevant and prevalent. He dealt with the human condition and things, sadly, don’t change. We’re still dealing with prejudice and mob mentality and the resurgence of nationalism; he’d be deeply, deeply saddened by all of this.”
Serling was an Army paratrooper during World War II as well as an amateur boxer before he found fame in Hollywood, the New York Times reported. Following the war, he majored in English literature and drama at Antioch College. Afterward, he took jobs at local radio stations where he began turning out scripts. By the time he graduated , Serling had sold scripts for both radio and TV.
“He hadn’t set out to be a writer; he was going to teach physical education to kids because he liked working with kids, but as he said, the war put an end to that,” said Anne. “He was quite traumatized and broken after the war and his father died while he was overseas as well, so there was a lot of unresolved grief.
“When he came back he went to Antioch on the GI bill and he said he went there because his brother went there, but like with so many vets, there’s PTSD - which wasn’t even a term back then,” Anne shared. “It was shell shock. But he finally changed his major to language and literature, because he said he had to get it all out of his gut.”
Anne admitted it was painful exploring Serling’s time during WWII.
“One of the most difficult and painful parts of [writing the book] was when I read the letters that he wrote to his parents when he was in training camp,” she said. “He sounds like a kid at summer camp writing home for chocolate and gum. And it really broke my heart, because my son was the same age at the time as I was writing the chapters, and I just think about how young these guys are that we sent to these horrific wars and how deeply it affects them.”
Anne said she witnessed how the war had a profound impact on the Emmy winner.
“I remember my dad having nightmares and in the morning I would ask him what happened and he would say that he dreamt the enemy was coming at him,” she said. “It was part of his everyday life. He was also wounded in the war, hit by shrapnel in his wrist and his knee. His knee would frequently go out when he was going down the stairs and he would fall, or it would spontaneously bleed. So he had not only all the emotional wounds but the physical ones as well.
“But with the nightmares he was still having, that was one of the reasons I wrote my book,” Anne revealed. “I was really tired of some people who described him having this dark and tortured soul because that is not who my dad was. That’s not who he was to his family. That’s not who he was to his friends. He was brilliantly funny and even as a teenager I loved to hang out with him and so did my friends. Because he was fun. He was a practical joker, he was silly.”
Anne said that over the years, fans of “The Twilight Zone” have reached out to her and described how her father had a lasting impact on their lives -- one for the better.
“Some of them came from very tumultuous childhoods and remember watching ‘The Twilight Zone’ and just feeling so connected to him,” said Anne. “I hear from others who say they became writers because of my father. It’s just really heartwarming to hear these lives that he touched. So many people. He had no idea, but again, how grateful he’d be to know that.”
According to Anne, Serling was once asked what he would want on his gravestone. Serling replied, “He left friends.” Anne said that when she was finally able to visit his grave after coping with his death, someone had left a message on a piece of tape attached to a flag that read, “He left friends.”
While “The Twilight Zone” has been reimagined in Hollywood over the years, Anne said none can compare to what her father created.
“Buck Houghton, a producer of the original ‘Twilight Zone,’ said… ‘The key element of Rod Serling is missing.’”