I tell Binghamton High students about their own hometown

by Tony Albarella

On June 5, 2009, at the gracious invite of Larry Kassan, Director of Special Projects for the Rod Serling School of Fine Arts, I addressed the students of Binghamton High School with a presentation designed to introduce them to the life and legacy of Rod Serling. The address marked the unofficial launch of TZ@50, a series of events intended to mark the golden anniversary of The Twilight Zone which will culminate in a four-day celebration in early October.

I drove up from New Jersey early that Friday morning, to meet with Larry and test the video I had edited for the presentation. I was met by three friends and RSMF members who showed up to support the event: President Andy Polak, Anne Sutton-Serling, and her husband Doug. Anne and Doug had driven in from Ithaca just to attend. As promised, Larry had promoted the event very well, and in addition to the two hundred or so students who attended, the media was well represented. Anne and I were interviewed by the local Fox affiliate for a television news broadcast that aired later that evening, and local PBS station WSKG recorded the talk as well.

The address itself was a 35-minute introduction to Rod Serling and his signature creation, The Twilight Zone. My focus was the local connection, and while reciting Serling’s biography I was sure to stress the immense roll Binghamton played in his life. Another point I wanted to get across was that although Serling is best remembered as creator, host and writer of The Twilight Zone, his legacy includes an award-winning, pre-TZ career as a leading television playwright during the medium’s golden age; the sociopolitical issues he addressed – and the censorship he faced – led directly to his need to create the storied science fiction/fantasy series as an outlet of creative freedom. And since the audience consisted mainly of art students and their teachers, I went over the visual aspects of the show, and screened a montage of clips that highlighted these visuals.

It’s difficult to describe the feeling I got when taking to the microphone in the same auditorium Serling frequented as a high schooler, and in front of the same stage he appeared on in 1968 for a memorable commencement address. This feeling has struck before: riding the carousel at Recreation Park, presenting at Ithaca College, and while visiting Rod’s Ithaca cottage retreat, lounging on the Cayuga Lake shoreline with my wife and two young daughters as Rod himself did half a century before. It feels like I’m chasing history, and at such times, the ghost of Serling’s presence seems very close indeed.

The address went well and was a joy to present. When it concluded, I visited BHS’s library to record a podcast interview, then enjoyed lunch with Andy, Larry, Anne and Doug. Following this, I drove over to WSKG’s studio to record a video interview that may play a role in the upcoming anniversary celebration. Later that evening, after dinner, we returned to the high school to attend the Rod Serling Video Festival awards ceremony. The hour-long event included an airing of the top videos (broadcast over WSKG) and recognition for the participants who attended in person.

All said, it was a wonderfully productive and enjoyable day, spent in the company of friends and in service of the RSMF.