LAST STOP, THE TWILIGHT ZONE
An excerpt from the book:
ROD SERLING RETURNED FROM JAPAN in late December 1945 and was discharged by the army January 13, 1946. His service to the United States fell twenty-one days shy of three years. But like most other young men who experienced the war in the South Pacific, he had aged much more than just three years. As he later conceded in an interview, the war remained forever the emotional low point of his life: “I was convinced I wasn’t going to come back,” he said.
Admittedly bitter and depressed, Serling could not even return to the Binghamton of his boyhood to salve the emotional wounds. Following Sam Serling’s death, Esther had wanted, indeed demanded, to move into Bob Serling’s bachelor apartment in Washington, D.C., where he had taken a job as a reporter with United Press International. “I was a fat, happy, twenty-seven-year-old having the time of my life,” he says, “and she announces she wants to come make a home for me.” Without her husband to play wife to, and her children to mother, Esther had no identity. She was caught as poorly prepared to be a widow at age fifty as she was surprised to have to be. She could not even write out a check by herself. Fortunately for Bob, her sister Betty convinced Esther to move to Schenectady with her and her husband Ed.
Everything had changed in those three years. His mother gone, Serling no longer had roots in Binghamton, except for the strongly romantic images of the place he had lived in before the war changed him—images he would retain and idealize the rest of his life. Jim Haley remembers seeing him unexpectedly one day after the war, standing on Court Street in front of the Security Mutual Building, staring straight up at the most famous (neoclassic) architecture in Binghamton. Other times, Serling would knock on the door of his old house on Bennett Avenue and ask the new owners for a quick look around—”just to see what you’ve done with the place.”
The gentle memories of his childhood contradicted the war’s bitterness and his father’s sudden death, making Binghamton seem all the more like a storybook land, and he expressed that mythic sense often through his later work. In Walking Distance, one of his most heartfelt Twilight Zone episodes, a successful man (Gig Young), the same age as Serling when the show aired, accidentally falls back in time to his childhood hometown, where he tries to recapture his youth. “And perhaps across his mind there will flit a little errant wish, that a man might not have to become old, never outgrow the parks and the merry-go-rounds of his youth,” Serling said in his closing narration. The resolution of that struggle—of having to own up to the responsibilities of adulthood—was the very conflict he now faced after the war.
Copyright 1989 and 2014 by Joel Engel. Reprinted by permission of the author.