Film to honor Serling

Published in the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin on September 18, 1994

Behind the curtain of the Helen Foley Theatre at Binghamton High School, Rod Serling’s friends opened their memories for cameras from the public television series American Masters yesterday.

The creator of The Twilight Zone…Night Gallery and numerous scripts during what is often called “the Golden Age of Television,” Serling lived in Binghamton from the age of 2 until he joined the U.S. Army Air Corps as a paratrooper in 1943.

Because the television and screen writer appeared to have an idyllic childhood in Binghamton, said co-producer Tom Wagner, some of the documentary will be set in the places where Serling was raised and went to school.

Over the past two days, the film crew from WNET, the producing public TV station in New York, shot location film at Recreation park, Binghamton High School and on Bennett Avenue where Serling grew up.

Serling was only 50 when he died from complications of heart surgery in 1975. During his life, he returned to Binghamton several times to visit friends and to do speaking engagements. At the time of his death, he had a home near Ithaca and taught at Ithaca College.

The crew filmed interviews with old school friends Robert Keller, a Binghamton artist and teacher; Suzanne Fischer-Hersch, now of Elmira, who recalled their childhood; Helen Foley, a teacher of Serling’s and a founder of the Rod Serling Foundation; and former Army buddies Jerry Shea of Apalachin and Vern Hartung of Binghamton.

Keller recalled bicycle-riding with Serling and having picnics in a local cemetery. Shea recalled he met Serling on the train going to their induction and they were friends all through the war, serving three years as paratroopers.

“He called whenever he got to town and we’d go have dinner and re-hash old war stories,” said Shea, a retired trucker.

“He never flaunted his achievements, he was very down to earth,” said Shea’s wife, Arlene.

Doing the interviewing was Susan Lacy, the producer-director of the American Masters series.

Wagner said the completed film is likely to be the definitive documentary on Serling because it has the cooperation of his widow, Carol, the Serling estate and CBS, which owns much of the early work and Twilight Zone episodes.

After filming here, the crew was heading to Los Angeles to interview colleagues of Serling’s from his early television days.

Serling was selected as an American Masters subject because he and a handful of other writers created the discipline so that television drama could emerge, Wagner said.