March 2, 2000
Well, I have finally been able to merge two components (1) having the Lifetime Learning presentation tape re-recorded at an appropriate level and (2) finding the time to plant myself at the computer and write this. So, herein you will find the tape and my recollection of our acquaintance with the Serlings.
We first met them when I invited Mr. Serling to speak at the annual meeting of the American Advertising Federation 2nd District in October of 1973. The AAF is an international advertising association comprised of advertisers, agencies, colleges and universities and advertising clubs. To my best recollection, the 2nd District encompassed New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, the District of Columbia and Delaware My friend William Donovan of Scranton, PA was First Lieutenant Governor of the District and charged with staging the event. I served as a member of the committee, representing the Advertising Club of Elmira where I managed a radio station. We agreed that if we could obtain a figure of Rod Serling's stature in television as a main speaker it would make attendance at the conference at Pocono Manor very attractive to our high-powered big city members ... and it did!
Rod had already had enormous success in television and since we were not able to offer more than what we hoped would be a pleasant expenses-paid weekend in the Pocono Mountains (no honorarium), I was most pleasantly surprised when Rod said yes to my invitation He and Carol drove in from Ithaca, as 1 recall, on Thursday afternoon. The conference began Friday morning and Rod was scheduled to speak at our ADDY Awards competition dinner Saturday evening. He and Carol were most gracious throughout the weekend My wife LaVerne and 1 and Bill Donovan and his wife Miriam had the real pleasure of spending a lot of time with Rod and Carol and found them to be delightful Rod even agreed to make the trophy presentations to the ADDY winners. However, there were two instances when Rod's passion for the truth and his innate integrity pierced his urbane and pleasant manner. Imagine the scene ... Saturday night, a crowded ballroom, jammed with more that 200 of the top advertising and media folk in America., having enjoyed the pre-dinner cocktail party, replete with a good dinner and eagerly awaiting the results of an advertising competition that could elevate their work above their highly competitive peers ... and about to listen to one of the most creative writers in television whose Playhouse 90, Twilight Zone and even Night Gallery scripts had earned him the highest accolades of the industry. This extremely competent, well-regarded, and quite self-satisfied audience was in for quite a shock as for the next thirty to forty minutes they found their industry excoriated and taken to task. Rod ripped into the ad industry in television for its interference in the creative process, its sometimes inane interruptions, its exercising of control over script content and its covert toadying to the almighty sponsor... and to my amazement, he made them love it. When he finished, the audience was on its feet for a long standing ovation. Then he joined me for the next forty-five minutes handing out awards to them for their outstanding work!
The second incident occurred Sunday morning at breakfast. It was October 21st, the morning after Richard Nixon had ordered Elliot Richardson to fire the special prosecutor in the Watergate investigation. Richardson refused and the resultant purge became known as the Saturday Night Massacre. Rod and Carol joined us for breakfast. He was absolutely livid over the events of the right before, so much so that this nonpareil wordsmith was sputtering. He would begin a sentence and find himself at a: loss for words. I thought it quite intriguing that at these junctures Carol would quietly supply the appropriate word, he would seize on it, go on until his rage brought him to an impasse ... and the process would be repeated.
We parted at the conclusion of the conference with the usual admonitions to "keep in touch". Quite frankly, however, I thought that it would be unlikely that we would ever have much additional contact, despite the fact that we lived in reasonable proximity to each other. This would probably be our brief brush with this famous man and his charming wife. Not too long after, however, I called Rod to invite he and Carol to join us and some friends for dinner at a delightful Ithaca area restaurant then extant called L'Auberge du Cochon Rouge and somewhat to my surprise, they accepted. We had a wonderful evening of good food and great conversation.
Sometime after that, the Serling's returned to Pacific Palisades. Rod and I corresponded intermittently and I particularly recall one letter in which with great humor he inquired if I knew anyone in the upstate New York area who might hire his son who was graduating from hotel management. I sent him some possibilities. Shortly thereafter he advised me the young man had found gainful employment in his field. During this correspondence, we kicked around the idea that Rod might create a serial type of "Twilight Zone" programs for radio, perhaps as short as five minutes in length to be aired in syndication throughout the country. He was, I believe, genuinely interested in the idea, although he said it would be quite a challenge. I left the broadcast station in Elmira to function as a consultant in Naples, Florida. I had been offered the manager's position at a competitive station in Elmira, but had to wait out the purchase of that station by anew ownership. It was during my tenure is Florida that I went into the station` offices on a Saturday morning to learn from a news story off the wire service that Rod had died during an operation at Strong Memorial in Rochester. Only moments after I had read the bulletin, my wife called to give me the news. She was concerned that I would be alone when I learned of it. We both were devastated, for though we knew of his heart problem. Rod had made light of it in our last communication. We contacted Carol and expressed our sorrow for she and the family, but because of my Florida commitment we were unable to do much more.
As will happen, we lost contact with Carol after Rod's death. I am not at all sure that she will remember us from that time in her life, but we remember both she and Rod vividly. Our time with them was brief, our acquaintance in all probability far more treasured by us, but I am sure we will always remember Rod's passion, his humor, his genuine concern for his art and the less fortunate of the world as we will remember Carol's obvious devotion, her down-to-earth friendliness, and her rock solid steadiness as the anchor for a brilliant creative comet.
I hope these recollections will be of some use to you and the Foundation, Andy. I have but one photograph with Rod (which I cherish) in which we are re-enacting the presentation of an ADDY trophy on that most memorable Saturday night at Pocono Manor. If it would be of any value to you, I will have a copy made and forward it to you.
Thank you for all your cooperation and your interest. As I said in my last e-mail, I hope to have the opportunity to meet you and visit the museum on our next visit to Binghamton in late April.
G. Robert Johnson