"118-Pound Bulldog" Comes Home Heavier


It was clearly the resumption of a love affair. Rod Serling, resplendent in dark blue mohair and rotisserie suntan, had come home.

There had been the commencement address yesterday afternoon, free of the usual "the world is yours" clichés.

Now he was in the library at Binghamton Central High School signing autographs for students and teachers, greeting old classmates and cutting up touches with Miss Helen Foley.

She was his English teacher it Central back m the early 1940s and who is still at it, hopeful of discovering another Serling.

"Unless you've reached my age and are as familiar with the taste of Serutan as you are with bourbon," Mr. Serling had said at one point, "it's unlikely that you can understand what kind of bitter?sweet poignance attends the return of a man like myself to this city ... this school ... this room."

AND HE HAD reminisced about his undergraduate days "when these 140?odd pounds of gristle were 118." He recalled the late Henry Merz, who died last summer of a heart attack, patiently explaining to him why he coup' not be a varsity football player.

"He found it difficult to reconcile a quarterback who weighed less than the team bulldog," Mr. Serling said.

Had he really come all this way just to make a commencement address? he was asked.

"Let me put it this way. I had some business appointments in New York. When they asked me to speak here, I arranged the business appointments to coincide," he said.

When he winds up his business in New York sometime next week 11?r. Serling it head??mg for Washington to meet the man whose presidential aspirations he is supporting, Senator Eugene McCarthy.

THE MINNESOTA Democrat has challenged President Johnson's hold on the party's nomination this summer.

As anyone familiar with the forcefulness of Mr. Serling's writings can imagine, his advocacy of Senator McCarthy is not half-hearted.

He is distressed over the war in Vietnam and he says so.

"We got into it through a back door," he said, "and I don't think people were aware of how our role was escalating."

He is alarmed, too, over what he feels is a dearth of intellect and imagination in the highest chambers of government.

"There is very little of merit in either major party," he told an inquisitive school girl who had asked him about his own party affiliations.

We are dying of old age in the halls of Congress," he said. "You listen to what is, said in Congress and you wonder how some of those men got there. Well, obviously they got there by dropping out of high school."

MR. SERLING is a member of Dissenting Democrats of California, a group that opposes President Johnson's war policies.

Dissenting Democrats numbers many entertainers in its ranks, among them actor Robert Vaughn, one of the group's most vocal activists.

"I've heard that NBC's decision to drop Bob Vaughn's show (The Man From U.N.C.L.E) when it did was helped along by Bob's activities," he said. "Bob denies it, but I suspect there--was some pressure."

The state of California politics in general is an affront to the Serling sensibilities.

He is appalled by the presence in the governor's mansion of Ronald Reagan, and the presence in the United States Senate of George Murphy.

He is proud, however, that the California electorate did scuttle the congressional hopes of Shirley Temple Black.

"I've met Shirley Temple Black," he said. "She is a charming, lovely, Northern California housewife. She has about as much business going to Congress as I do. When she is confronted with anything requiring any amount of thought, she becomes noticeably short of breath."

THE PRESS OF OLD friends, autograph seekers and the just plain curious soon put an end to political discussion.

Among the crowd of well-wishers was one named Andrew Bezek, still about as trim as he was as a Central basketball great eat 28 years ago.

Mr. Bezek, like so many others, wanted a Serling autograph, but for a different reason. He got it on an old Central Block B certificate, signifying that he was entitled to a varsity letter for basketball.

Mr. Bezek had Mr. Serling sign the certificate right underneath the signature of the 1941 General Organization president who authorized the award--fellow named Rod Serling.


photo caption: ONCE MORE FOR OLD TIME'S SAKE ? Andrew Bezek, right, a former Binghamton Central basketball star, shows Rod Serling a Central block letter certificate that was signed by Mr. Serling when he was the school's General Organization president. Mr. Serling signed it again.


Entertainments Editor

"You're traveling through another dimension. A dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. Your next stop, The Twilight Zone!"

--Rod Serling

Back when Rod Serling was a pint-sized boy living in Binghamton, N.Y., his father, the local butcher, would send him out to deliver meat to the local Elks Club with instructions that he walk in with smile and announce to all just where the meat came from.

"I used to hate that," he would recall years later to his one-time schoolteacher, Helen Foley. But as be spoke, he would smile and a twinkle in his eye would indicate he still missed something about those times--even the trips to deliver meat to the Elks Club.

It's a simple story, but one impressive in its longing for the past, a period to which one can never truly return. One would wonder why Serling would want to return anyway, considering the success he obtained as a radio and TV writer after leaving Binghamton.

Famous scripts such as "Requiem for a Heavyweight" and "Patterns" won him more Emmys than any other writer, and his work on "The Twilight Zone" made him a cult figure overnight. But he also came back to Binghamton frequently to savor the past.

He died in 1975, at age 50, after complications following open heart surgery but his essence lives on ? not just in syndicated reruns of his hit, "The Twilight Zone," which has now been made into a movie, but in the minds of those who knew him like Helen Foley.

"I never saw him anytime where he didn't come down and hug me," recalled Miss Foley, who taught Serling is grades seven through nine and maintained close ties with him throughout his life. "You can't imagine what that did for my ego--and my reputation."

Like everyone 'Isle In Binghamton, Miss Foley (a friend of Abilenian Fran Adams) turned out for the world premiere of "Twilight Zone--The Movie," which Warner Bros. held in Serling's hometown in mid-June. She was pleased to see the town honor a favorite son's memory.

"I was disappointed in it," Miss Foley said of the movie. "But I was glad Binghamton made such a fuss over it. Rod loved this town and he always stopped back." The town has been slowly shrinking in recent times and "It hasn't been this lively to 35 years."

As for the movie. Miss Foley feels it missed the mark. "Well, it didn't hit me," she said. describing the first episode involving Vic Morrow as a racist who gets a taste of his own medicine as "so heavy-handed it was propoganda and had no part in it."

What made the sequence so tragic was that, during filming of this episode, Morrow and two Vietnamese children were killed when a helicopter was caught in an explosion and crashed upon the three. (Nothing of the accident shows up in the movie).

She deemed the segment about the man who revitalizes old folks in nursing homes "insipid." As for that involving a boy who can create his own world through mindpower, she found it cloying, especially when the boy and teacher drive off at the end.

"Next thing you know, they're going down this yellow brick road and all these flowers are sprouting up In the field." she said. "It was ridiculous." She said this even though the young woman in the segment, like the TV episode on which it was based, bears her own name.

"I thought the gal was beautiful, and she did a wonderful lob." said Miss Foley of Kathleen Quinlan, who plays "Miss Foley" In the sequence. "If that's what Rod thought of me, that's marvelous." However, she still had reservations about the segment.

She did enjoy the final segment about a man terrified of flying and already a nervous wreck when he peers out the window and discovers, to his horror, a gremlin on the wing tearing away at the engine.

It was sad, she said, to make it all a joke at the end.

Even so, Miss Foley hopes the best for the movie's success and thinks that, with its large share of special effects, children will love it. "If I hadn't seen Rod Serling's old Twilight Zone. I probably wouldn't have been as disappointed."

She noted that Serling's own work had that sense of longing for the past "I think there's lot of nostalgia in his work," she said. "I think he was always homesick for his hometown, what it meant to him, to keep it as his hometown."

These sentiments frequently turned up on "The Twilight Zone" TV series in such episodes as "Walking Distance," in which a man visits his hometown and slips 30 years into his childhood, and "The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine." Both were penned by Serling.

Miss Foley met Serling when he was in seventh grade. "He was fun. He was real cute, He wasn't very tall. He had rosy cheeks and white teeth."

While he never got much taller than her (she's 5-feet 4 inches), "He was very big guy in his approach."

Size didn't dissuade him from sports. She recalled when he went out for football. He was told by someone, "They think you're the football." However, he made it on the team and took up other sports, too, including boxing.

Miss Foley, who taught public speaking, drama and English, remembered him as a "wonderful speaker and a wonderful actor, and I would use him in everything on stage." She noted how he had a very relaxed presence in speaking.

He also distinguished himself early as an individual of principle. Whether it was determination to get on the football team or, years later, fighting networks over censoring parts in his scripts or, near the end, Vietnam, he held to his ideas.

"That's what I liked about him," said Miss Foley, recalling his fighting spirit even to the last of his days. "He said what he thought and believed. He was anti-Vietnam and very anti-things that were wrong--anti-unkindeess. He was against bullies."

Although his anti-Vietnam stance won him some enemies near the end of his life, he was "extremely patriotic," she recalled. He almost quit school to fight in World War II but was too young. Eventually, he did join the service as a paratrooper.

Serling's later successes never went to his head, and his family kept him in line. His wife, Carol, went everywhere with him, and their marriage worked "because they really loved each other. They had two of the loveliest girls, and all of them were very modest."

Even though Serling eventually honored his teacher by naming a character for her in his TV series (she liked Janice Rule's portrayal of "Miss Foley" on the old episode), Miss Foley doesn't take much credit for the way Serling turned out. Once she asked him why he seemed to hold her in such high regard.

"Oh, it was nothing special," she recalled him saying to her. "But, you met kids on your own level. You didn't talk down to them." Everytime he came through Binghamton, he would stop by the school and, if she wished, speak to her class.

As one might imagine of a man who longed for the past, Serling was also concerned about the future. "He never wanted to grow old. He never did grow old." To the end, he continued to look youthful, even after the California sun baked wrinkles into his skin.

He also always exhibited "decency and fairness and a goodness of heart," even in his conflicts. He would tell her classes that each student would have to meet the future somehow, and that it would involve a making choices.

"You know," Miss Foley said, "he was a pretty good thinker."