Antioch College had impact on creator of ‘The Twilight Zone’

Recently, I worked with the 30th Anniversary Celebration committee of the Antioch Writers’ Workshop to put together a display of historical mementos for the workshop’s summer program.

As we explored the workshop’s collection, held at Wright State University Special Collections & Archives, we were delighted and charmed to discover that a forerunner to the Antioch Writers’ Workshop was a writers’ workshop held at Antioch College in honor of Rod Serling, now best remembered for his creation of and writing for “The Twilight Zone” from 1959-1964. The show continues to resonate in our culture’s imagination and inspire other writers and artists.

Rod Serling grew up in upstate New York and was accepted into Antioch College in Yellow Springs, the alma mater of his brother Robert, a novelist and aviation writer. However, Rod enlisted in the U.S. Army during World War II, fighting in Pacific campaigns. After being discharged in 1946 and recovering from war wounds — an injured knee never completely recovered — he attended Antioch College, planning to study physical education. There, Rod met his future wife, Carol Kramer, and became active in the campus radio station, changing his major to Literature. He and Carol married in 1948; he graduated from Antioch College in 1950.

Recently, I reached out to Anne Serling, one of Rod’s two daughters, and author of the memoir, “As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling,” to find out more about Anne’s recollections of her father and any stories he might have shared about the impact of Antioch College on his work.

Anne, who now lives in upstate New York and began writing 10 years ago after a career as a pre-school teacher, says “I was so grief-stricken when my father died, I could barely walk. We were very close. It took all these years before I could gain a perspective to write about him and growing up with him. His work often explored the dark side of humanity — he said he wrote in part to get the war off his chest and out of his head — but he was funny, sweet and warm. We always felt comfortable in his company, and friends did too.”

Rod died at age 50 in 1975 after a heart attack; Anne was still in college when her father died.

Anne was born in and grew up in Los Angeles, but spent a memorable year of her childhood in Yellow Springs in 1962.

Though Rod won or was nominated for numerous Emmy Awards for his work on The Twilight Zone and, earlier, for other teleplays, CBS was thinking of dropping the show in 1962.

“We came to Yellow Springs so Dad, who loved speaking and teaching at workshops and conferences about film, writing and media, could teach at his alma mater, Antioch College,” Anne explains.

Rod taught classes in writing, drama and an adult class on the social and historical impact of the media.

“It was a much-needed break for him, and it was a memorable experience for me and my sister. I still have great memories of Yellow Springs, riding our bikes to and from school, getting out of Los Angeles and away from the pressures there, and enjoying a more relaxed place.”

Anne says that the philosophies of Antioch College fit well her father’s outlook; he was interested in social activism and justice even in high school, and his experiences during the war solidified that.

“Antioch College further honed my father’s interest in themes of social justice, equality, humanitarianism,” Anne said. “I remember him talking about how Antioch College was interested in not just educating students but the whole person.”

Near the end of his term of teaching at Antioch College, Rod did an interview on WYSO, the college’s radio station. Anne shared one of her favorite quotes from that interview, which she feels underscores the lasting impact of Antioch College on her father’s work and legacy, and its strong ripple effects in popular culture: “ [C]ertainly there are truths, but all truths are questionable. Certainly there are facts, but all facts are changeable. Certainly there are opinions, but opinions are alterable. I find that dynamic process of change after change is one of the marvelous aspects of this college, that we’re not mired in any ruts here. We’re not anchored to any traditions of the past.”

Anne also points out that in the Twilight Zone episode, “The Changing of the Guard,” about a professor forced into retirement and questioning the value of his life’s work, the pivotal scene features the professor approaching a statue of Horace Mann, engraved with his famous quote, “be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.” The professor repeats the quote again at the end, upon realizing has made an impact after all on, as Rod’s voice over puts it, “the campus of the Twilight Zone.”

Mann was the first president of the newly formed Antioch College from 1852 until his death in 1859.

Learn more about Anne, her memoir of her father, and her work at www.anneserling.com.

Literary events:

• Sunday, Aug. 23, 7 p.m., Gem City Poetry Stage, Art Street, Studio B, University of Dayton, 330 Kiefaber, Dayton OH 45409. Featured poet, MJ Abell, will come from Columbus to give a reading, followed by open mic.

• Wednesday, Aug. 26, 7 p.m., Books & Co. at The Greene — Sandra Brown will introduce her newest romantic suspense novel, “Friction.” Line numbers beginning at 6 p.m.

• Antioch Writers’ Workshop Fall Retreat (to be held Oct. 30- Nov. 1 at Maria Stein Retreat Center) — applications to attend this all-inclusive are now being accepted. Application deadline is Sept. 12. See http://www.antiochwritersworkshop.com/fall-2015-retreat.html for details and to apply.

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