8, 1985 /
Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin
Serling Deserves a Theater
by David Rossie
You can call this a seconding speech if you like.
There've been a number of arguments put forward for naming Binghamton's Forum for Rod Serling, the television playwright who made his home in Binghamton and made Binghamton a part of many of his plays.
None has been more compelling than the one by my colleague, Gene Grey, that appears elsewhere in this paper. Grey points out that Binghamton cannot boast of any hometown son or daughter who comes close to matching Serling s contribution to the performing arts.
Grey also says, at one point, that I suggested honoring the comedian Hugh Herbert, who was born to Binghamton and went on to become a stage and film performer. Actually, it was Phil Carole, the music curator at SUNY-Binghamton, who came up with the Hugh Herbert suggestion. I simply passed it on.
Forum for Serling
Recently we were all privileged to see “our” hometown boy, Rod Serling, make good, as he was inducted posthumously, into the Television Academy Hall of Fame. The segment profiling Mr. Serling, as well as Mrs. Serling's acceptance speech, was memorable and touching.
At this time I wonder if the powers that be think Mr. Serling is sufficiently important as a major force within mid-20th-century American literature to merit him the following honor: to rename the Forum the Rod Serling Center for the Performing Arts.
While The Press editorial of April 29 supports this, its further suggestion of renaming Recreation Park the Rod Serling Park would not assuage the feeling of city residents and visitors that the city has slighted Mr. Serling. Mr. Serling did not pen immortality for the Department of Parks and Recreation, but for the performing arts.
To be sure, those who block this deserved honor for Mr. Serling will attempt to appease the community with naming the soon-to-be additions to the Forum the Rod Serling Dressing and Scenery Storage Rooms.
Much has been made—too much, really—of the fact that Serling wasn't born in Binghamton. So he was born in Syracuse. So what? His family moved here when he was 2, and this was his home until he went off to World War II, then college, then Hollywood.
But he came back often, not out of any sense of obligation, but because he genuinely loved the place and the people who had been part of his life when he lived here. Binghamton returned the affection.
So far, that affection has manifested itself in an exhibit in The Forum. The people determined to have the theater bear Serling's name worked long and hard and against considerable opposition to get that far. Making it the rest of the way will be even harder, and that's too bad.
The main obstacle, apparently, is an assurance made by Robert Best, who was the prime mover in transforming the old Binghamton Theater into the Forum, that it would not be named for anyone. Best's motives were probably sound. If you said up front that the theater wasn't going to be named after anyone, you avoided the need to wrestle with prospective donors who would be willing to make a contribution provided the place got named after Aunt Maude who loved the theater and went every summer to the Chautauqua, or Uncle Waldo who could have been a great concert violinist if he hadn't decided to go into dry goods instead.
The problem with that kind of a pledge, however, is that when the opportunity arises to name a place for someone most deserving—in this case Serling—you're locked into the agreement. Or supposedly locked in. What could happen if Best and others on The Forum's board should change their minds? The donors can't get their money back. Best could simply say he had a change of heart, and I can't believe that any fair minded person would fault him for it.
God knows there are enough buildings in these parts and throughout the land named after people far less deserving than Serling.
In Washington, we've got a Department of Justice building named after J. Edgar Hoover. That's a little like naming a public health clinic after Typhoid Mary. Even as this is written, there is a man running around loose in the Midwest who is trying to arrange for the addition of Ronald Reagan to Mt. Rushmore.
Hereabouts we've of or have had schools wearing the names of departed and mostly forgotten school board members, one mediocre president, a windy poet and pedagogues, some deserving, some highly undeserving.
We've got streets named after scoundrel politicians.
Chances are you could even find some ingrates who'd question all those buildings and parks that have the names Johnson and Watson attached to them.
About the only honorees you cannot argue over, are those forever young men whose names grace the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Marine Corps League posts.
The Forum is a stuffs name for a theater. In New York City they have theaters named after Helen Hayes, Brooks Atkinson, Eugene O'Neill, Mark Hellinger, Neil Simon, Alfred Lunt and Lynne Fontanne.
There's another good reason to break the rule on The Forum. No one person has done more to advance the fine arts and the performing arts around here than Robert Best. In addition to his role in creating The Forum, he has, with the help of Cecil Popolo turned the Security .Mutual Building into a gallery for local artists.
Best deserves to have something named for him and no technicality should someday prevent it.
Rossie is a local columnist who appears in the Press & Sun-Bulletin on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.