Of all the books in one’s Rod Serling library, none is as personal and intimate as his daughter’s memoir.
By Gail Flug
from the Spring 2021 newsletter
AS I KNEW HIM: MY DAD, ROD SERLING presents Rod as a devoted family man with a mischievous sense of humor and a deep love for animals. Anne also writes of a tormented soul haunted by his time in combat and someone who tried his best not to fall under the pressure of his job demands. Her honesty of his smoking dependence, her awareness of his celebrity and her experience going through the grief process allows the reader an extraordinary connection. It is not only of interest to Serling enthusiasts, it is a heartfelt story of a young woman mourning the loss of her father.
First published in 2013, the book received high acclaim. Anne has written a revised edition with an updated afterword and more personal photos to be published this spring. As honest as her written text, she recounts the personal experience of writing the book and the reaction of those who read it.
What brought on the desire to write the first edition in 2013?
This was a very long process as many books are. Like my dad (and others) I find writing cathartic. When my father died, I felt paralyzed. I did not know how I would/could ever accept his death or exist in a world without him. I wrote and I wrote and I wrote which transformed to a book I titled, “IN HIS ABSENCE,” but I couldn’t finish it; I hadn’t even begun to navigate that whole minefield of grief.
AS I KNEW HIM was (at least) seven years in the writing and begun decades after the other book.
How were you able to trace your dad’s roots back to your grandparents?
When I was in college I took a class in genealogy. My mother helped me trace the heritage of both her family and my father’s. Her side of the family was much better documented than my dad’s. A cousin also gave me some material.
I am sure you always hear from fans who have read the book. What are some of the things which they say surprised them about your dad?
I guess the thing I hear most is that they are surprised my father was funny, that he was normal. That he was so prolific and yet always present as a husband and as a father. That he was down to earth and so warm.
What were some of the surprising things you learned about your dad when you were writing the book?
I was surprised to discover the sheer volume of his writing. My dad has been described as “a comet.” He was only on this planet for 50 years- 25 or so of those were as a writer and yet what he created in that brief time I find stunning.
It is incredible you found the correspondence your dad had with your grandparents during his time at war. Where did you find it? And who kept it all?
My father kept these letters in a large white box. I have vivid memories of him carrying that box out to the yard, going through the letters and then carefully folding them back up and replacing them in their envelopes. Many, I know, were from his parents and when my dad was done he would just stare off. As I wrote in my memoir: “I see that same inaccessible look I will come to know and, even as a child, understand.”
I also kept almost every letter my dad wrote me. I wonder if, like him, I had some prophetic knowledge that I would want (and need) all those words someday.
I love the fact that you continued the book through your mourning process and therapy. I think anyone who has lost a parent can relate to it. Was it hard to re-visit this challenging time in your life for the book?
The difficulty was that I knew of course where I would ultimately have to wind up- at my father’s death. In terms of writing about that my editor said, “Your grief is so central to this book; you need to be more open.” It was then that I just allowed the floodgates to fly open.
Before I finished the book I did a reading at the Paley Center and a woman came up to me afterward and told me her dad was very ill and that he would be gone any day. She said that after hearing me read she knew she would be ok. That was so unexpected and for her to share that with me was such a profound moment. It brought me tremendous relief that something I had said helped her because I never anticipated that but so many of the letters I have received over the years are from people who tell me about their losses and how they could relate to what I wrote. Grief, is, after-all, something we all share.
What were some of the other memories that you had problems keeping your emotions in check?
This isn’t a memory but I would say reading those letters my dad wrote while he was in training camp was particularly difficult. They sounded like he was simply off at summer camp writing his Mom and Dad requesting candy, more mail, a watch. My own son was the same age as my dad when I went through those letters and so it really punctuated just how young these kids are that we send off to these terrible wars.
I knew that my father, like so many, was traumatized by the war. I was also aware that there was no treatment back then. PTSD wasn’t even a term and I remember my dad having terrible nightmares. But reading his letters to and from his parents saddened me deeply.
In the book, you recall your parents’ engagement in assassinations during the late ‘60s, politics, and civil rights. Where do you think your dad got that from? It seems he had it since high school.
Certainly from his own parents who were both progressive. His mother used to write letters to the editor about various causes.
Are there any particular teleplays or episodes that stand out to you emotionally, whether it be pride, happiness, or sorrow?
My dad wrote a beautiful story called, “A Storm in Summer.” It’s about the friendship between an African American fresh-air kid and a cantankerous delicatessen owner in upstate New York. Sometime after my dad died, I watched the show again, listening over and over to the lines about the impact of death on those left behind:
“You feel like your life has ended. That some vital part of your body has been stripped away. That you’ll never heal, never smile, never laugh. That the sorrow is just unbearable and that the tears will never end. But they do. Somehow, someway, the crying does come to an end.”
I took great comfort in those words as if they were in a way a message from my dad.
Other teleplays of my dad’s that stand out for me are certainly the Twilight Zones about going back in time like “Walking Distance,” or the similar episode “They’re Tearing Down Tim Riley’s Bar” from Night Gallery. But it was his script “In Praise of Pip” that particularly impacted me. I hadn’t watched many of the Twilight Zones until after my father died and when I did, it was mostly to see him. As I wrote in my memoir:
“What was so striking, so personal, (for me) and so moving about that particular story was some of the dialogue.
‘Who’s your best buddy, Pip?’
‘You are, Pop.’
Just like the words of my dad’s and my routine…”
Watching that episode brought a reconnection with my dad in a most unexpected way.
What made you want to republish the updated version, and how is it different?
The updated edition has new photos, afterward and anecdotes.
What do you think your dad would think that his legacy is still going strong after 60 years after the Twilight Zone and his other works?
My dad would be so surprised, so honored and humbled. As he said in an interview, he felt his writing was, “momentarily adequate,” that it “would not stand the test of time.”
He would also be saddened, though, that so many of the themes he wrote about- racism, mob mentality, etc. are still so relevant and prevalent today.
In closing, I want to thank you for this beautiful memoir. You revealed unmeasurable memories and a perspective about your dad – for who I have deep respect and admiration – which otherwise would not be known. It also made me miss my dad even more.
Thank YOU Gail!
The updated edition of “As I Knew Him” will be available at Amazon.com and rodserlingbooks.com.