Today would have been the 90th birthday of the creator of The Twilight Zone (and a colossal amount of other excellent television).
Rod Serling was born Christmas day 1924.
Twenty years to the day later he found himself engaged in ferocious combat with his fellow paratroopers on the island of Leyte, in the Philippines, and described the day itself in a 1963 magazine article:
A long line of men rested along the sides of a jungle trail—gray jump suits blending with gray-covered beard; tired inward-looking eyes reflecting nothing. A nineteen-year-old second looie got to his feet and spoke. “All right—on your feet. Let’s move out.”
We rose—the packs, the ammo belts, the weapons, all fused to us like extensions of our bodies—and plodded through the ankle-deep mud—a long line of dirty, bearded samenesses.
And then somebody far up the line stopped dead. A whispered message started down the ranks. Each man froze and held his breath because any whisper from up front might mean a machine gun or a pocket of Japanese or mines or any one of a dozen other reminders that there was a war here. But this particular message was an incredible jar to memory—a reminder of a different sort. The man in front of me whispered, “It’s Christmas.”
I continued to lift my feet one after the other, and suddenly I wasn’t aware of the cold rain or the mud. I gave no thought to the sickening ache deep inside the gut that had been with me for so many days. Someone had just transformed the world. Those two words reminded me that people still lived and that we did, too.
Then a scratchy, discordant, monotone voice way up front started to sing, O Come, All Ye Faithful. Somebody else picked it up and then we all sang. We sang as we walked through the mud. We sang as we led the wounded by the hand and carried the litters and looked back on the row of handmade crosses left behind. We sang, O Come, All Ye Faithful. It had come—the Holy Day. The day of all days. It was Christmas.
As it happened, Christmas came mere days after the terribly ironic accident that would spark in Serling’s mind the idea for The Twilight Zone.
It’s taken me a number of years to get back the rights to my biography of him that was first published in 1989. I added a new introduction and changed the title, affixing the one–LAST STOP, THE TWILIGHT ZONE–I would have used if CBS hadn’t hinted that I might be sued. As of today, it’s available for Kindle, and will soon be in other formats.
Fascinating guy, Serling. I wish he were here now, still writing.