Narciso I. Menta
Película del Mes
Rod Serling's Final Interview
Rod Serling: The Facts of Life
An Interview with Linda Breville (Published in TZ Magazine - April 1982)
Rod Serling's last interview took place at Franco's La Taverna on Sunset Strip
on March 4, 1975 - just a few months prior to his sudden death at fifty. The
restaurant was a favorite hangout of Serling's, a place where he could observe
a wide range of human types who might conceivably become models for characters
in his scripts - and where, as a celebrity, he was often observed by them as
Serling was as cooperative an interviewee as I have ever met. There was no pre-rehearsed
or packaged dialogue, no bored or weary let's-get-this-over-with routines such
as one so often finds in the famous. Without getting side-tracked, I found it
easy to take in his wit, compassion, and crusading spirit.
I regret that he was unable to complete the screenplay he was writing (an adaptation
of Morris West's The Salamander). Looking back, it seems the frequent
references to mortality lent a haunting foreshadowing to his untimely death,
and only now, as his words come drifting back, do I wonder if he knew our interview
would be his last.
"I've never planned ahead," he told me. "I just sort of go through life checking
the menu of three meals that day. I never worry about tomorrow. It's only since
I've gotten older that I've begun to wonder about time running out. Is it sufficient
unto itself that I don't plan? Because maybe next Thursday won't come one day.
And then, I'm concerned about that. But that's not uniquely the writer's concern,
that's the concern of every middle-aged man who looks in the mirror."
I miss the full-bodied voice now faded from the airwaves, except for occasional
reruns of Twilight Zone and Night Gallery at ungodly hours on
local tv stations. As for Franco's, it too is now gone - having been replaced
by another establishment not long after Serling's death. But I can't think of
a more appropriate epitaph than what was said that day. - Linda Brevelle
Brevelle: You have been cited for your outstanding achievements in writing in
the dramatic form. You have won countless awards, including six Emmies, the
Peabody, and Sylvania awards. Your peers and the public respect your talent.
Rod Serling is a household name. My question is, where do you go from here?
How can you top your previous record if you have any real need to top yourself?
Serling: Well, first of all, I've never really topped myself, because awards
in themselves really don't reflect major accomplishment. It's kind of a strange,
backslapping ritual that we go through in this town where you get awards for
almost everything. For surviving the day you're going to get awards. So I can't
suggest that those things represent any pinnacle of achievement. If indeed they
did, I suppose I'd be worried about how do I top myself. But if indeed I'm a
household name, it's a fortuitous event, really singularly undeserved, and caused
by a whole lot of extraneous, fortuitous things that have occurred. But again,
it's part of the business of really not caring about topping myself because
I really don't care what's going to happen. I think just surviving is a major
thing. I'd like to write something that my peers, my colleagues, my fellow writers
would find a source of respect. I think I'd rather win, for example, a Writer's
Guild award than almost anything on earth. And the few nominations I've had
with the guild, and the few awards I've had, represented to me a far more legitimate
concrete achievement than anything. Emmies, for example, most of that's bullshit.
Oscars are even worse. We have a strange, terrible affliction in this town.
Everybody walks around bent-backed from slapping each other on the backs so
much. It looks like arthritis but it isn't. It's hunger for recognition. And
it's sort of like, well, I'll scratch you this time if you'll scratch me next
time. That kind of thing.
Brevelle: Is it really true what they say in Hollywood that most of it is luck
or a big push from the right person at the right time in the right direction?
Serling: I think a lot of it is luck and continues to be. That in no way discounts
the terrible urgency that you have talent. It's always who you know, what marvelous
moment in time that you find him or meet him. I think one of the problems sometimes
with the writer is the personality of the writer, because it becomes a very
personal medium. Selling yourself is sometimes almost half the problem. If you
meet a producer, you have a story in mind, if you're not personable - you know,
if you're a shit, you can't deal with people - frequently that negatism moves
over into the script area. If the producer doesn't like you, consequently he
reads the script with a very negative view. But I wouldn't preoccupy myself
with that, I don't give a damn. You can be a hunchback and a dwarf and whatall.
If you write beautifully, you write beautifully, that's all.
Brevelle: Do you recall your breaking into this business, making your first
Serling: It's an incredible event. The most important thing about the first
sale is for the very first time in your life something written has value and
proven value because somebody has given you money for the words that you've
written, and that's terribly important, it's a tremendous boon to the ego, to
your sense of self-reliance, to your feeling about your own talent. I remember
the first sale I made was a hundred and fifty dollars for a radio script, and,
as poor as I was, I didn't cash the check for three months. I kept showing it
Brevelle: In the past when you were starting a writing career, how did you deal
with rejection? Has it gotten any easier?
Serling: It's gotten easier because now it's only a blow to ego, it's no longer
a blow to pocketbook. I'm sufficiently independent to know that I can live well
and comfortably all the rest of my life whether I'm rejected or not. In the
old days, Linda, you were rejected, and not only was a piece of your flesh cut
to pieces, your pocketbook was destroyed. You know - you don't have bread for
Brevelle: Writers didn't get the same money for their work they get these days.
Serling: That's right, that's right. You can become much more independent, much
more courageous with a bank account. And also, much more independent and self-reliant
when you know you have money behind you. But rejection is still rejection. It's
a very difficult, bleeding process.
Brevelle: Do you have any encouragement for writers who accumulate a lot of
Serling: Only that somehow, some way, incredibly enough, good writing ultimately
gets recognized. I don't know how that happens but it does. If you're really
a good writer and deserve that honored position, then by God, you'll write,
and you'll be read, and you'll be produced somehow. It just works that way.
If you're just a simple ordinary day-to-day craftsman, no different than most,
then the likelihood is that you probably won't make it in writing. You're going
to wind up either getting married, working for an insurance company, joining
the regular army, or what-all. But if you have a spark in you, a cut above the
average, I think ultimately you make it.
Brevelle: Should a writer who makes his first sale hold out for money or sell
for the credit?
Serling: Well, actually that carries with it the suggestion that he has an option.
Usually he doesn't. Most shows, buying shows, have a standard fee for the first
shot of the writer and if you have a very militant agent, I suppose he might
jack it up four percent or something. But in essence, you sell for what is the
going rate. I don't think you're going to be penalized for virtue of the fact
that you're not known and suddenly find yourself getting minimum for it. No,
I don't think that will happen. Conversely, you're not going to get top of show,
either. But that's the nature of it. But I would guess that the price of the
script really is secondary. The credit is much more the essence.
Brevelle: You were a member of the Council of the Writer's Guild of America,
West from 1965 to '67. A young screenwriter was quoted as saying a lot of young
writers are very anti-union and not interested in becoming a Guild member. For
those who are critical of the union, what would you say to them in defense of
Serling: Well, I think the essence of the argument has always been, first of
all, the Guild doesn't want writing on spec. And that's been a major problem
over the years. But obviously, to the young writer that's unfair and it's discriminatory,
and it can be very hurtful to one's career. But over the long haul, the minute
that you establish the propriety of writing on speculation, then you're destroyed
by it. It's the beast that will bite you. Because you're going to find yourself
over the years, much later on, exposed to five thousand writers who will write
speculatively, and it's cheap-jack labor just like in any Depression situation.
They'll go pay a fruitpicker five cents an hour if they can get him. And the
rest of us will starve. And that's what's going to happen on the basis of speculative
writing. People are going to starve, because a lot of hungry sons of bitches
are going to take advantage of us.
You must always assume that the relationship between writer and producer is
that of adversaries - however you slice it. They may be your dearest friends,
and they'll invite you to dinner, but when all the smoke clears and the ozone
lifts, your enemy is the producer, that's the guy you're competing with, and
you have to battle him, just as if you were an adversary. So I would have to
say that the Guild is well advised to lay down certain rules that they do lay
Brevelle: What has been your relationship with agents?
Serling: I don't have close relationships with agents. They're friends, but
they're not confidants. I don't know too many agents that analytically read
properly. The good agent probably is not the reader, he's just the guy who can
put together a deal. It would be a marvelous asset if there were a literate
man who could read stuff and make judgments. Not too many are.
Brevelle: Do you ever get tired of talking about writing?
Serling: That essentially is my craft. If I don't know about that, I don't know
about anything. My concern about that is that...Well, the other night I met
William Goldman at a party. He wrote Boys and Girls Together and a few
others. And I looked at him in awe, because he's written novels - brilliant
novels that I've never been able to write - and so when I'm chosen to do an
interview on writing I think to myself, "My God, what am I doing here? Why isn't
William Goldman sitting here with you? - who could tell you probably a helluva
lot more than I can."
Brevelle: What are you currently writing that you're excited about?
Serling: I just finished a - I'm not exactly excited about it - but I just finished
a Movie of the Week for ABC for Aaron Spelling called Where the Dead Are,
which is a gothic horror piece. And I'm doing a screenplay for Carlo Ponti in
Italy based on the Morris West novel, The Salamander, which is a ball-breaking
script, very difficult. That's what I left today to meet you here.
Serling: No! It's great to get away from it. It's beginning to destroy me piecemeal.
Brevelle: What do you do to avoid writing? I know that sounds funny...
Serling: Everything. Everything.
Brevelle: And your friends? How do they avoid writing?
Serling: I don't know what my friends do. Generally they become producers. That
way they can stop writing! It's the only way really to get the monkey off the
back. But in the last three months I've been so busy writing that I really haven't
been able to conjure up the luxury of excuses to keep from writing because I'm
on a clock and I have a deadline. But there are millions of ways to not be writing.
You say you're not in the mood, you'll pick it up tomorrow. You can take on
interviews with pretty girls. (Grins)
That's a cop-out right there. That's natural and normal, because I don't think
it's man's function to write. I don't think it's a normal thing like teeth-brushing
and going to the bathroom. It's a supered position on the animal.
Brevelle: What causes you to write?
Serling: I never really thought about it. If I could really conjure up an answer
to that, I suppose I'd be able to answer a lot of questions that bug me.
Why do I write? I guess that's been asked of every writer. I don't know. It
isn't any massive compulsion. I don't feel, you know, God dictated that I should
write. You know, thunder rents the sky and a bony finger comes down from the
clouds and says, "You. You write. You're the anointed." I never felt that. I
suppose it's part compulsion, part a channel for what your brain is churning
But I don't subscribe to the "Know Thyself" theory. I'm afraid that if I started
to ponder who I am and what I am, I might not like what I find. So, I'd rather
go along with this sense of illusion that I'm a neutral beast going along through
life doing everything that's preordained. I'm out of control anyway, so why
fight it. I suppose we think euphemistically that all writers write because
they have something to say that is truthful and honest and pointed and important.
And I suppose I subscribe to that, too. But God knows when I look back over
thirty years of professional writing, I'm hard-pressed to come up with anything
that's important. Some things are literate, some things are interesting, some
things are classy, but very damn little is important.
Brevelle: Is there a script you've been holding onto in your mind that you really
want to write?
Brevelle: You've written it all?
Serling: I've written all that I've wanted to write to date. This is not to
say I might not find something. I mean, I'm not an old man. I'm not a young
man, admittedly, but I'm not an old man, either.
Brevelle: Who do you write for?
Serling: Myself. If I enjoy it.
Brevelle: What do you enjoy about writing?
Serling: I don't enjoy any of the process of writing. I enjoy it when it goes
on if it zings and it has great warmth and import and it's successful. Yeah,
that's when I enjoy it. But during the desperate, tough time of creating it,
there's not much I enjoy about it. It tires me and lays me out, which is sort
of the way I feel now. Tired.
Brevelle: So it's a suffering process for you...
Serling: It is. Giving birth, you know. Waiting. Should we call the doctor?
You know, for the caesarean. It's obviously not going to come out normally.
Brevelle: What is most difficult for you about writing?
Serling: In terms of screenwriting adaptations it's trying to cut out stuff
that's extraneous, without doing damage to the original piece, because you owe
a debt of some respect to the original author. That's why it was bought.
That's been the problem with this current project, The Salamander. It's
a big book, very heavy with people and complexities and interwoven plotlines.
I'm finding it very difficult to decide what can I cut away without doing damage.
Or without leaving an audience saying, "Well, wait a minute. How did he come
into this? I never saw him before. Who's this person?" That kind of thing.
Brevelle: What's your system for getting writing done? You know, some writers
use colored paper, others write in longhand on legal pads...
Serling: I don't have any system. I dictate a lot, through a machine, and I
also have a secretary. But I used to type just like everybody else. I find dictating
in the mass media particularly good because you're writing for voice anyway;
you're writing for people to say a line and, consequently, saying a line through
a machine is quite a valid test for the validity of what you're saying. If it
sounds good as you say it, likely as not it'll sound good when an actor's saying
it. The tendency when you dictate is to overwrite, because you're not counting
pages, you don't really know what the hell the page count is. But in terms of
standing up when I write, what hour I write, that all relates very specifically
to the individual. Writers vary tremendously. Was it Tom Wolfe who stood up
or was it Hemingway who had to stand up? I don't know.
Brevelle: Hemingway. He had to space three times between words to slow down.
Serling: Was it Hemingway who had to put the thing on the mantel or something?
And I think Wolfe wrote in longhand. You know, it depends on the animal, particularly
who's doing it. In my case, the only thing I would say was part of the discipline
is that I have to start writing quite early. I write much better in the nonconfines
of the early morning than I do the clutter of the day.
Brevelle: How much time do you spend actually writing?
Serling: I would guess three full hours a day, and in terms of the pre-writing
activity, God, that's endless, it's constant, almost constant.
Brevelle: Can you write when you're angry or depressed?
Serling: Yes, I think so, except very frequently - and I'm not alone in this
- your depression and your anger find their way onto the page, and if you're
writing a comedy that can be very damaging.
Brevelle: What makes you angry?
Serling: Interesting question...Some petty things, really. But bias and prejudice
make me angry...more than anything. Somebody sent me a copy of the American
Nazi newspaper the other day - published in, I guess, Arlington, Virginia -
there were words in it like "coon" and "kike" and things like that, and I was
very distraught. That made me terribly angry. Viciously angry. Even to creating
daydreams about how I could go there and bump off some of these pricks. But
it's short-lived. I'm much too logical for that. That ticks me off. I can't
think of anything else that really makes me angry.
Brevelle: What was the lowest point of your life? Emotionally.
Serling: Emotionally? I think that was during the war. I was convinced I wasn't
going to come back.
Brevelle: You told a story in class (ed. note: Sherman Oaks Experimental
College, Hollywood) about a near-fatal experience you had in the Philippines
during the war. A Japanese soldier aimed his gun at you, you knew he would get
off a clean shot and kill you. He couldn't miss, there was nothing you could
do to avoid being a perfect target. As you stood frozen in time, unable to move,
a fellow G.I. shot the enemy soldier over your shoulder...
Serling: That incident, yeah. Well, that was sort of symptomatic of the way
I was. Fatalist, you know. About everything. And I survived through no dint
of my own courage; it was just somebody up there. But professionally, when I
first went into freelancing, I think there was a period of about eight months
when nothing happened. Everything that I wrote crumbled up, and then
it became a self-destructive thing - when you begin to doubt yourself, when
doubt turns into - it's sort of like impotence. Once impotent, you're forever
impotent. Because you're always worried about being impotent.
Brevelle: Fear of fear.
Serling: I'm told, Linda, I'm told.
Brevelle: How did you get out of that or did it just run its course?
Serling: Oh, it ran its course. I made a sale. It's as simple as that, a little
funny external thing like that. And that's all it took.
Brevelle: Tell me, is the magic still there? About writing?
Serling: Oh, yeah. There always is. If it weren't, I wouldn't be doing it. I'd
go back in the regular army and...live my life.
Brevelle: If you weren't writing, what would you do?
Serling: What would be the second choice? Jesus, I've never really thought about
it. I'd make a marvelous retiree.
Brevelle: Just sit back by the pool and-
Serling: I couldn't sit by the pool. I'd have to do something a bit more active
Brevelle: If you could, would you go back to live tv instead of filmed tv?
Brevelle: Do you miss those days? The urgency, the excitement...?
Serling: I miss...I miss the comradery of live television - the fact that you
were on the set, you worked closely with the director and the cast, that I miss.
But, no, I'm happy, I'm happy doing film.
Brevelle: What did you feel about making the transition from live television
Serling: It wasn't very difficult. Essentially, the scripts are not that different.
Let's say, in literary terms, it's the difference between writing horizontally
and writing vertically. In live television, you wrote much more vertically.
You had to probe people because you didn't have money or sets or any of the
physical dimensions that film will allow you. So you generally probed people
a little bit more. Film writing is much more horizontal. You can insert anything
you want: meadows, battlefields, the Taj Mahal, a cast of thousands. But essentially,
writing a story is writing a story. And certainly there are differences in technique
and in attitude. The major difference frequently is in time. The motion picture,
for example, gives you considerably more freedom of expression than does the
confined thirty-minute television show. But in essence, they're not that dissimilar.
Brevelle: Are teleplays today as innovative and fresh as in the fifties?
Serling: Yeah, I think they are, except that they have to much more hew to the
line because most of them are series that have to use people who are pre-set
in the series. Unlike the old days when the anthology ruled the roost, you could
write a different play each week.
Brevelle: Did you find there were any more taboos in television in those days
than in movies?
Serling: Oh, infinitely more taboos, on television. Oh, yeah. Even then you
could do much more in movies than you could on tv, and even movies were heavily
censored. But in television, the areas of timorousness were fairly laid out.
Race relations. Sex. Politics. There was a whole conglomeration of taboo themes.
And even to date, though television has become a much freer medium, it's still
far less free, far less creatively untrammeled than are the movies. They're
infinitely more adult in that respect.
Brevelle: What script changes have you most vehemently rebelled against because
of tv censorship?
Serling: I haven't rebelled vehemently against any of them. I have compromised
down the line. I've disliked it intensely in the old days when you were trying
to talk race relations and they would not allow you to talk about the legitimacies
of race relations. In the old days, you didn't talk about black, you talked
about Eskimo or American Indian, and the American Indian was assumed not to
be a problem area. Now we realize that they, too, are, in terms of their altogether
legitimate concerns. I find it very difficult to live through the censorship
of profanity on television. I find that the most ludicrous of the censorships.
Damn. Hell. Goddamn. And all that. I find that it's part of our colloquial language,
and that there's nothing sacrilegious or profane about any of it. It's the way
we speak. What the hell is so dirty about the word "hell?" And you can say "death"
all you want. You can say "kill." You can even say "rape" now. And that's not
supposed to be bad. But you can't say "hell" or "damn." You know, it's going
to reach a point where you're going to do a travelogue on Holland and you'll
say, "Well, here we are in Rottergosh and Amsterdarn!"
Brevelle: Is a dramatist of your calibre expected to make script changes dictated
by the powers-that-be, producers and the network?
Serling: Absolutely. You have to compromise all the way down the line no matter
who you are. Unless, of course - you say I'm an affluent screenwriter and all
that - I'm a known screenwriter, but I'm not in the fraternity of the
very, very major people. I would say a guy like Ernie Lehman, William Goldman,
and a few others are quite a cut above. There's a marvelous and unique man named
Frank Gilroy. He's the only writer I know who absolutely, pointedly refuses
to do any changes that he doesn't feel are absolutely essential and totally
in keeping with his own view and perspective. But not too many writers are that
independent and that strong-willed.
Brevelle: Have you ever removed your name from the credits because of changes
that didn't meet your approval?
Serling: No, I don't think I ever have. I wanted to a couple of times. But I
found out too late and I couldn't remove it, but I wanted to.
Brevelle: What projects were those?
Serling: I think one was an old Studio One and another was...I think
Brevelle: Do you think you can say more about topics of social significance
through a contemporary drama or more through the framework of science fiction
Serling: I think you can say more obviously in the framework of an honest-to-Christ
contemporary piece so that you don't have to talk in parables, in symbolisms
and the rest of it, but this is not to say that you can't make a point of social
criticism using science fiction or fantasy as your backdrop. We did that on
Twilight Zone a lot, but there's no room for that kind of subtlety anymore.
The problems are so much with us that they have to be attacked directly.
Brevelle: What contemporary issues are you most eager to write about but feel
restricted by network and sponsor censorship?
Serling: I suppose there's only one now and that's politics. The...what do we
call it - the Nixon mentality. I'd love to be able to write an indepth piece
of what causes men like Nixon and Haldeman and Ehrlichman and all the rest of
them not only to run, but what causes us to vote for them.
Brevelle: What teleplays that you've read do you think stand up as good on paper
but not as good after they've been shot?
Serling: Jeez, there may be legion. I know one on Night Gallery, for
example. I did a show called "The Different Ones," about a boy who was a freak
and ultimately he was sent to a different planet where he would be more accepted.
It was beautiful, a very sensitive screenplay which was a piece of shit when
it was done. It was a kind of an American International bug-eyed monster kind
of film which it wasn't intended to be at all. Chuck Beaumont, God rest his
soul, could tell you a lot about this because he had many shows on. The Circus
of Dr. Lao was Chuck's, and he always deeply resented what they did in the
film. I would guess that Ray Bradbury would be equally resentful of what they
did with Illustrated Man, which, you know, took a central idea thesis
of his and pissed all over it - made it into one of the worst movies ever made.
Brevelle: Are you frequently surprised by the way actors interpret lines that
Serling: Yeah, I'm frequently surprised, sometimes bugged off, and sometimes
happy, depending on the actor. It's a fact of life that just as often as not
an actor can breathe life into a line as he can destroy it by misinterpretation,
and I've been blessed frequently by having good actors. You get certain guys
like Klugman - Jack Klugman - Jack Warden, Marty Balsam - solid, dependable,
consummately skilled men, who invariably take lines and breathe great life into
them, and great vibrance, and great truth.
Brevelle: What can a director's interpretation do for a script?
Serling: Depends very much on the director. There are directors like Frankenheimer,
Schaffner, George Roy Hill, Bob Parrish, who are interpretively the tops. Very
creative guys. Also the writer who turns director, uniquely, is sensitive to
this - a guy like Richard Brooks. And then, occasionally you'll come a cropper
with a director who fancies himself the whole creator, who will dictate interpretively
different things that are quite incorrect as they stand. But again, it depends
on the individual. But over the long haul I'd say that most directors I've worked
with have been pretty sensitive to the quality of the interpreted scenes.
Brevelle: Do you have a script of your own that you have special feeling for?
Serling: I'm thinking about that...Well, I guess Requiem for a Heavyweight
as old as it is was as honest a piece as I've ever done. Tearing Down Tim
Reilly's Bar (from Night Gallery) was one of my favorites. And then
one that I just wrote called The Stop Along the Way, which is, I think,
a lovely script. But I don't know, there are a lot I'm proud of, and a lot I
wish the hell I'd never written.
Brevelle: How important is the screenplay to overall production?
Serling: You've got to be joking!
Brevelle: No. A lot of people would say it's just a blueprint.
Serling: I'd say...sixty percent of it. No, no, that varies. No, let's pursue
that a minute. An Ingmar Bergman film would probably owe a sizeable bulk of
its import and its direction and its quality to the directorial end and to the
director because it's uniquely a Bergman film. But that again is not the general
- no, that's much more the exception than the rule.
Most screenplays, most motion pictures, owe much more to the screenplay. He
has such an economy of language, so little language in his piece, it is so visual,
his moods are introduced and buttressed by camera rather than by word or character.
But again, that's unique.
Brevelle: Someone like Bergman's a total filmmaker. Have you ever thought of
having your own production company and doing what you want to do?
Serling: No. I just want to write. I - well, I couldn't direct because I'm too
impatient and I couldn't put together a package because I don't understand money.
I'd rather just do what I'm doing. Do I want to start my own production company?
No, I doubt it. I'm too old for that. I don't want to start anything.
Brevelle: Do you think writers are better off producing their own scripts through
Serling: I suppose so because that carries with it a degree of creative freedom
that they wouldn't get working with a major company.
Brevelle: What do you think entering the television writing arena does for a
Serling: It probably bends them out of shape. It frustrates - makes him feel
inferior. It makes him deathly preoccupied with his own value and his own worth,
and if he is even normally sensitive, he will very likely weep the rest of his
life and also wind up with a terrible, terrible lack of awareness of his own
worth. Because people are put down in television now, not because they're not
qualitative, not because they're not talented - but because there's no room
for them, and worse than that, there's nowhere they can find exposure. Their
own good talent may die of mourning, just for want of having somebody read what
they've written. I don't presume to say how we can best provide platforms for
new writers to get read. I don't know. But therein lies the major problem. I
suppose it's very much like actors and actresses who trod pavements and get
doors slammed in their faces. Well, the writer's no different. When he's rejected,
that paper is rejected, in a sense, a sizeable fragment of the writer is rejected
as well. It's a piece of himself that's being turned down. And how often can
this happen before suddenly you begin to question your own worth and your own
value? And even worse, fundamentally, your own talent?
Brevelle: Then you don't think a writer can separate who he is from what he
Serling: He can write completely different things from his own character, but
it's nonetheless his creation, so an extension of his mind. You know, he can
write about the Foreign Legion without ever having been in the Foreign Legion,
but that doesn't necessarily mean that what he's written doesn't necessarily
reflect the nature of him as an individual - or her. Using the male gender because
it's me speaking. I don't mean to put down the female.
Brevelle: We hear a lot about network executives having business sense and little
creative tastes. What has been your experience with network decision-makers?
Serling: I can't generalize. It depends on the individual. I've met some very
literate, very imaginative men who are network executives. I've also met dullards
and dolts and clods who are just barely literate and who may understand a ledger
but know nothing about professional writing. It depends on the individual, but
you can't generalize. There are good and there are bad.
Brevelle: Most of us can usually find what's wrong with television and find
much to criticize. On the other hand, what would you say are television's good
Serling: Well, first of all, most of it's very polished, professional. The performances
are quite good, usually, even obscure little series do pretty damn good.
Brevelle: Do you envision a particular kind of tv audience when you write?
Serling: I don't. I choose to think of them as nameless, formless, faceless
people who are all like me. And anything that I write, if I like it, they'll
like it. I don't categorize them. I don't suggest that they're idiots with negative
I.Q.'s or that they're massive intellectuals. I just think they are quote "an
audience," like any audience. There are astute, thoughtful, sensitive people
amongst them, and then there are assholes who couldn't understand anything no
matter what you said.
Brevelle: What, then, does the television industry need most?
Serling: People in positions of decision with guts and courage and a respect
for other people's creativity and less timorousness about what they assume is
going to be popular. If all three networks on their own decided "Oh, what the
hell, we won't follow what is the current rage, we won't stick on private eyes
because they happen to be successful. Some guy comes in with a marvelously brilliant
notion of a contemporary piece, let's try it, let's see what happens." I remember
when George Scott did East Side, West Side - that was twenty-six weeks
of the finest half-hour drama ever done. Little half-hour street stuff, and
it was brilliant. That died of wanting. Where is it?
Brevelle: How about some "fun questions" now?
(I reeled off a series of what I called "fun questions," which Serling was
perfectly willing to answer off the top of his head.
The supernatural was a recurring theme in Serling's work, so it wasn't too unusual
that I should choose a series of questions revolving around death, the unknown,
and worlds beyond. Looking back, I find our concentration on these areas peculiar
so short a time before the writer's own death.)
Brevelle: If you're reincarnated, what will your next life be?
Serling: I don't believe in reincarnation. That's a cop-out, I know. I don't
really want to be reincarnated. I think one time around...I think Willa Cather
did a short story called "Paul's Case," and in it, when he finally commits suicide,
it says, "He surrendered to the black design of things." And that's what I anticipate
death will be: a totally unconscious void in which you float through eternity
with no particular consciousness of anything. I think once around is enough.
I don't want to start it all over again. She said, "What happens now if I come
out as Louis XIV's donkey or something?" Or I come out as a rose? You know,
in my case, with my kind of luck, I'll have rose bugs and things eating my leaves!
I suppose if I had it to do over again, I'd like it to be just as it's been.
And to be able to make the decisions sometimes better than they've been made.
That kind of thing.
Brevelle: If you could live in another time, another era, what period would
Serling: That's a good one. Well, if I had the means, I think I would like to
be in Victorian times. Small town. Bandstands. Summer. That kind of thing. Without
Brevelle: When life was simpler?
Serling: Much. I think that's what I would crave, a simpler form of existence.
When you walked to a store and sat on the front porch. That's what I think I
would like to do: rock the rest of my life. I don't mean "rattle and roll."
I mean...you know...creak-rock. (He stubs out his cigarette.) I've failed.
This was the acid test. The first time I've sat down since I've given up smoking
or cut down when I was in a situation where it called for smoking, and I succumb.
Weak, weak man.
Brevelle: Is that a habit you have trouble giving up?
Serling: Oh, God. Jesus, would I love to give it up! I've been very good the
last seven days, smoking less than half a pack a day and there was three in...half
an hour. That's very bad. Very bad, Linda. I knew you were a destructive, negative
force the minute you sat down! (Laughs)
Brevelle: What, these days, has given you the most pleasure?
Serling: (Laughing) I refuse to answer that! Getting this last screenplay
assignment has been very pleasureable for me because it's brought back certain
self-faith that I - that had started to chip away a little bit. Personally,
my daughter's wedding gave me a tremendous pleasure. I have a daughter who is
about your age.
Serling: Jodi, Jodi! How'd you know that?
Brevelle: I read up on you.
Serling: Ah. And the wedding was a radiant event and I enjoyed it. I was afraid
Brevelle: Did you?
Serling: I'm giving to crying at odd times, and I was very much afraid of the
emotionalism of that moment, but I didn't even come close to crying. Now that
I've met her husband, I'm...(laughs) No. Very nice boy, I was just kidding.
Brevelle: When's the last time you cried?
Serling: Oh, Jeez, I don't remember.
Brevelle: Do you cry often?
Serling: Infrequently. But the urge is there.
Brevelle: The urge is there?
Serling: Frequently. But because I'm a Western-cultured man who subscribes to
the ancient saw that men do not cry, I don't cry either. I'll go to a movie,
for example, and not infrequently something triggers the urge to weep, but I
don't allow myself. I think before I die, just for the hell of it, one night
I'll spend an entire night weeping, and I'll draw up a list of things that will
motivate it. I'm now weeping for the following reasons: chronologically, for
all the shit that's out there that I should have wept at and didn't.
Brevelle: Ray Bradbury said-
Serling: I'm afraid of what he said.
Brevelle: He said, "All through history in every culture we've had to make up
mythology to explain death to ourselves and to explain life to ourselves." Do
you have any thoughts on that?
Serling: Very provocative statement. That may be, but now death is with us in
such abundance and hovers over us in so massive a form that we don't have time
to invent a mythology, nor is our creativity directed toward same. Now it's
to prevent death. It matters not one whit what form it takes - whether it's
an old man with a scythe or a pale rider on a horse or what it is. Now it's
become so omniscient and so constant that our major battle is warding it off.
(Long pause) I yield to no man in my respect for Ray Bradbury, however.
Brevelle: What do you like for people to say about your writing?
Serling: Well, I guess I like for people to enjoy it.
Brevelle: And what do you want them to say about the writer Rod Serling a hundred
years from now?
Serling: I don't care. I just want them to remember me a hundred years from
now. I don't care that they're not able to quote any single line that I've written.
But just that they can say, "Oh, he was a writer." That's sufficiently an honored
position for me.
Brevelle: Then that's what it all boils down to really?
Serling: I guess we all have a little vaunting itch for immortality, I guess
that must be it.