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Seeking Rod Serling (in Beverly Hills) by Steve Schlich
by Steve Schlich

To quote the current TV hit Fringe—which owes much to Rod Serling—there's more than one of everything.

When I was a kid, the Twilight Zone was a foreign country.  I lived in suburbia, far from the surreal urban landscape of episodes such as "Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room" and "What You Need."  I yearned to visit that imaginary city full of mid-century chic, sleazy back alleys, and exotic characters both good and evil. I wanted to go there and poke around.

Bandstand in Recreation Park
The Recreation Park Bandstand

In 2000 I finally visited Binghamton, NY, and it offered me a second version of the Twilight Zone—especially the downtown with its magnificent period architecture that must have influenced young "Roddy" Serling.  Binghamton is a recognizable American city, more industrial than exotic, and quite clearly the shrouded-in-nostalgia hometown of "Walking Distance."  Ride the carousel and stroll around the bandstand at Recreation Park; this incarnation is sentimental rather than surreal.

Ten years later, my wife and I stepped into a third version of the Twilight Zone: downtown Beverly Hills.  It's a wholly different flavor of recognizable American city.  Fish out of water?  You bet: we handed the keys for our peeling 1999 Honda Civic to a bemused parking valet and climbed a flight of stairs to the sidewalk of Rodeo Drive, where you can spend a month's paycheck on a pair of shoes.

For me, a return to the surreal.

Paley Center in Beverly Hills
The Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills

We walked one block to an ultramodern building, The Paley Center for Media (named after CBS founder William H. Paley), at the intersection of Santa Monica Boulevard and North Beverly Drive.

The Rod Serling exhibit there opened in 2002, back when the place was named the Museum of Television and Radio.  Between the hours of Noon and 5PM on any weekday, you could view any of 269 programs that feature Rod Serling's written word, or his narrating voice, or the man himself.

Thankfully, you still can (although it's Wednesday through Sunday now with slightly different hours).  It took me eight years to visit the place and see just one of these videos—and I live in the same state, north of San Francisco.  Getting there wasn't cheap, either.  But I'll complain about the sad facts of inaccessibility later.  Serling's work is always worth the effort to see.

Paley Center tickets

Fortunately, as the folks at The Paley Center add new exhibits, they keep the old ones.  All reside digitally in a vast upper floor that they call The Library. (Wait, I thought that was a Star Trek episode!) You sit at a booth with one to four chairs clustered around a single screen, wearing headphones and watching whatever two hours of video that you've requested from a workstation in another room.

It was all so vast and impressive—and deserted.  Most of the viewing stations were empty.

The multiple greeters downstairs and librarians upstairs were friendly and generous with their time, anxious to be of help to anyone with a video itch to scratch.  More people should come through these doors.  Many more!

The ground floor is exposed to the street by clear glass walls.  It gleams with cleanliness and, as previously noted, mostly empty space. 

Paley Center Beverly Hills
The lobby on a Thursday afternoon

The half of the lobby that was not empty contained a giant display of photos of black entertainers, and we paused to check it out. Attractive, impressive, but to my mind, too large a space for the contents. 

The impression was like opening the towering plastic box of a 1990s desktop computer: most of the inside was air.  Even the stairs took up more space than I expected. Maybe I just need to adjust my expectations. I was disappointed that a place which honors the crowded and dusty past of all radio and TV programs since the media's beginnings didn't itself feel more crowded, and dusty. 

I wanted the place to make me claustrophobic, like the upper floor stacks of a college library.  Perhaps in time, it will. There was a lot of space upstairs too, much devoted to passageways that during our visit were filled with Hirschfeld sketches of TV and movie stars.  Quality, interesting art that stimulated a lot of childhood TV memories.

Paley Center Beverly Hills
The lobby during an event

A visit to their website gave me a different perspective on the empty lobby. Check out their daily schedule. This cavernous space is busy with an event on most evenings that it is open.

Today we're nearly alone, but there is still much to see. I could go to the screening room, which shows their program-de-jour.  These change monthly or so. I could check out the various exhibits, or go upstairs to the video library.  Of course, I was here online months ago. I knew exactly what I wanted, so we headed for the stairs. 

Finally, we reached the upstairs lobby and counter, with more people eager to assist us.  In fact, one of them operated the workstation that found the show I wanted to see.  I felt less a participant and more a detached observer—but try searching their website at home. It takes some practice. If you don't know the exact name of the show you're seeking, you may not find it. There's help with that at the end of this article.

The show was "The Rank and File," a Playhouse 90 episode from 1959 starring Van Heflin, Luther Adler, and Charles Bronson. It's a classic Serling drama that saddles a conflicted protagonist with heavy moral choices and shows the heartbreaking consequences of his actions.  Rod's forte. This show also pushed the envelope for live productions of the time, combining taped outdoor scenes with live indoor scenes to tell a story that spans several years.

It was all in crude but watchable kinescope, which is a 16mm film taken from a TV monitor that is broadcasting the show.  I saw exactly what live viewers saw at home on the original broadcast (Saturday, May 28, 1959): introductions, commercials, any gaffes committed by the actors, and live-action previews of next week's show.

Characters evolved and devolved, argued and interacted, and kept me engaged for the full 90 minutes.  I want to see it again, to dig for details, but of course that would involve another trip to Beverly Hills.

As we left, I saw too few other viewing stations occupied.  At one, a middle-aged man was watching an episode of the TV show 24.  Maybe it was a function of being there on a Thursday afternoon, but I was shocked that with so much available for viewing, so much in that library which could be viewed nowhere else, one of the few visitors would be watching something that is out on DVD. I hope he donated the suggested ten bucks.

I wanted to see more Serling dramas, the shows that cannot be found anywhere else. But even a Paley Center membership will buy you just three hours of viewing per day.  So many of the shows here, and so much of the Serling stuff, will go unwatched.  I can't stay here and come in for three hours day after day. You can't get these shows on DVD or VHS, you can't even find them on 16mm through eBay.  We at the Foundation know, because we are constantly looking.

The only way to see "The Rank and File" is to go to New York City or Beverly Hills.  That is a sad necessity, but it's also a shame because how are the folks in Topeka or Oshkosh ever going to receive Rod Serling's enlightenment?  There's so much more to his work than The Twilight Zone.

And in fact, there are also many other artists from the Golden Age of TV whose work is exemplary but not as well known.  Reginald Rose and Paddy Cheyevsky come to mind, and their work is right there alongside Rod Serling's.

Here's where I whine about cost...

Go to the Google map
Google Map of the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills

If you're going to build the world's biggest video library anywhere, L.A. and New York are the obvious places.  There are more potential viewers there.  But getting there is prohibitively expensive for the rest of us.  I'm the webmaster for the Rod Serling Memorial Foundation, and thus someone with special motivation ...but it took me eight years to justify the expense of a trip to L.A.: my wife's nephew graduating from Medical School.  That's because it really did take an investment, in transportation and lodging, to accomplish that visit. 

I do understand why this stuff is not out on DVD—it has too few potential buyers and would be too easily copied.  Forget profit—you couldn't even pay for the conversion from 16mm to mass market DVD.  But it seems a different type of crime that Rod Serling's work, once broadcast for free on the airwaves, now costs such big bucks to view.  So here are some suggestions for making your visit to the Paley Center as inexpensive as possible...

LODGING

  • Google your choices: B&Bs, inexpensive hotels; stay further away from Beverly Hills and drive in. For example, I stayed in Santa Barbara the night before and visited on my way through to Whittier for that night.
      
  • Live nearby.  If you do, you've got the worst part beaten.  RSMF Board member Tony Albarella lives within sight of New York City and goes to see Serling videos several times each year.  If you live anywhere near New York City or Beverly Hills, take advantage of that proximity! 
      
  • Double up a business or vacation trip.  If you've got a reason to be in L.A., why not plan a few hours in Beverly Hills and take in an obscure Serling masterpiece? But even that isn't easy: for example, traffic could make Paley Center a two-hour drive from Disneyland.
      
  • Crash with a friend.  Go visit that aspiring actor buddy who lives in West Hollywood. Take him out to dinner and sleep on his couch. Better yet, take him (or her) with you to see the video!

BEVERLY HILLS ON THE CHEAP

  • Park beneath the Paley Center itself, free for the first two hours with validation for your donation at the front counter.  Parking is also free, or nearly so, in outdoor lots nearby.  Drive around the block, take a long look. Just a few minutes of reconnaissance would have saved me $25, which is more than we spent on lunch.
      
  • Recon works well with the vicinity cuisine, too. We ate $6 fish tacos at a crowded Mexican restaurant but could easily have spent ten times that much.

The important thing is: Go! There are several dozen Rod Serling gems there, that you'll find nowhere else.  He won six Emmys, only two of them for Twilight Zone.  And he wrote a lot of gripping stuff that won no awards at all. This is a great place to discover all of that.

BROWSING THE LIBRARY ONLINE

Paley Cnter for Media - Beverly Hills

Go to http://www.paleycenter.org but don't use the search box there. Click on the link The Collection. Once there, use THAT search box. If you search for "Rod Serling" you will get shows he was in (for instance as narrator of many Jacques Cousteau specials). You'll find commercials, game show appearances, interviews and much more. Lots of interesting stuff, but in my opinion not worth the money you've invested to get to New York City or Beverly Hills. Go there to view the writing of Rod Serling!

For this, you would need to search for episode names, or actor names, or show names. I've done that for you, and my list appears below. (Most Twilight Zone and Night Gallery episodes are in the Paley Center library, but they are also available on DVD and thus not included here.)

 
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"The Sergeant"
Armstrong Circle Theater
Tuesday, April 29, 1952

"I Lift My Lamp"
Hallmark Hall of Fame
Sunday, August 17, 1952
Starring: Maria Riva

"Horace Mann's Miracle"
Hallmark Hall of Fame
March 8, 1953

"Man Against Pain"
Hallmark Hall of Fame
June 21, 1953

"Old MacDonald Had a Curve"
Kraft Television Theater
August 5, 1953

"Nightmare at Ground Zero"
Suspense
August 18, 1953

"The Blue for Joey Menotti"
(sic) - The Blues for Joey Menotti
Kraft Television Theater
August 26, 1953
Starring: Dan Morgan, Constance Ford

"A Long Time Till Dawn"
Kraft Television Theater
November 11, 1953
Starring: James Dean

"Herman Came By Bomber"
Studio One
February 1, 1954

"The Strike"
Studio One
June 7, 1954
Starring: James Daly

"The Worthy Opponent"
Center Stage
August 24, 1954
Starring: Charles Coburn

"U.F.O."
Studio One
September 6, 1954
Starring: Parkey Fennelly, Dorothy Sands, Jack Warden

"Knife in the Dark"
Danger
December 7, 1954
Starring: Paul Newman, James Gregory

"Patterns"
Kraft Television Theater
January 12, 1955
First repeated TV broadcast, ever!
February 11, 1955
Starring: Everett Sloane, Richard Kiley, Ed Begley

"The Champion"
Climax
March 31, 1955
Starring: Rory Calhoun, Wallace Ford

"The Rack"
The U.S. Steel Hour
April 12, 1955
Starring: Marshall Thompson, Wendell Corey, Keenan Wynn

Portrait in Celluloid
Climax
Saturday, November 24, 1955
Starring: Kim Hunter; Jack Carson

"The Man Who Caught the Ball at Coogan's Bluff"
Studio One
November 28, 1955
Starring: Alan Young, Horace MacMahon

"The Arena"
Studio One
April 9, 1956
Starring: Wendell Corey, Chester Morris

"Noon on Doomsday"
The U.S. Steel Hour
April 25, 1956
Starring: Everett Sloane, Jack Warden, Lois Smith, Philip Abbott, Albert Salmi

"Forbidden Area"
Playhouse 90
PH90 premiere episode
October 4, 1956
Starring: Charlton Heston, Tab Hunter, Vincent Price, Jackie Coogan

"Requiem for a Heavyweight"
Playhouse 90
October 11, 1956
Starring: Jack Palance, Keenan Wynn, Kim Hunter, Ed Wynn, Max Baer

"The Comedian"
Playhouse 90
February 14, 1957
Starring: Mickey Rooney, Edmond O'Brien, Mel Torme, Kim Hunter

"Bomber's Moon"
Playhouse 90
May 22, 1958
Starring: Robert Cummings, Martin Balsam, Rip Torn

"A Town Has Turned to Dust"
Playhouse 90
June 19, 1958
Starring: Rod Steiger, William Shatner, James Gregory

"The Time Element"
Westinghouse-Desilu Playhouse
November 24, 1958
Starring: William Bendix, Martin Balsam, Jesse White

"The Velvet Alley"
Playhouse 90
January 22, 1959
Starring: Art Carney, Jack Klugman, Leslie Nielsen

 

"The Rank and File"
Playhouse 90
May 28, 1959
Starring: Van Heflin, Luther Adler, Charles Bronson

Note: Most Twilight Zone episodes are in the Paley Center library.

"In the Presence of Mine Enemies"
Playhouse 90
Saturday, May 18, 1960
Starring: Charles Laughton; Arthur Kennedy; Robert Redford

"Slow Fade to Black"
Bob Hope Presents: The Chrysler Theater
March 27, 1964
Starring: Rod Steiger, Robert Culp, Sally Kellerman

"Carol For Another Christmas"
United Nations Special
December 28, 1964
Starring: Sterling Hayden, Robert Shaw, Steve Lawrence, Pat Hingle, Ben Gazzara

"The Vespers"
The Loner
September 25, 1965
Starring: Lloyd Bridges, Jack Lord

"The Lonely Calico Queen"
The Loner
October 2, 1965
Starring: Lloyd Bridges, Jeanne Cooper

"One of the Wounded"
The Loner
October 16, 1965
Starring: Lloyd Bridges, Anne Baxter

"Window on the Evening Stage"
(sic) - Widow on the Evening Stage
The Loner
October 30, 1965
Starring: Lloyd Bridges, Katherine Ross

"The Oath"
The Loner
December 4, 1965
Starring: Lloyd Bridges, Barry Sullivan

"The Doomsday Flight"
Made for TV movie
December 13, 1966
Starring: Jack Lord; Edmond O'Brien; Van Johnson; John Saxon; Michael Sarrazin; Ed Asner; Greg Morris

"A Storm in Summer"
Hallmark Hall of Fame
February 6, 1970
Starring: Peter Ustinov

Note: Most Night Gallery episodes are in the Paley Center library.

"The Time Travelers"
1976 Made-for-TV movie

Starring: Sam Groom, Richard Basehart


View Rod Serling's Complete Filmography