Rod Serling was president of the student government of Binghamton Central High School in 1940. I was the president of the student government of BCHS in 1970. When Serling came to give an address to the student body in 1970, it was incumbent upon me to introduce him.
His public speaking teacher back in 1937 was a woman named Helen Foley, a charming, ferocious woman who taught public speaking to me three decades later, and who died only a couple years ago. She also taught the late Richard Deacon, “Mel Cooley” on the Dick van Dyke Show.
Miss Foley helped write (or mostly wrote) this introduction I was to give to Rod Serling’s address, how he was a paratrooper during World War II, and other such detail that none of the students cared about; he was the creator of “The Twilight Zone”(!), which often cribbed Binghamton-area street names and character names (including “Helen Foley”) in his stories. I was in the middle of dutifully repeating my too-long monologue when Rod Serling just walked out on stage! I was mortified, of course, but in retrospect, he was right; the assembly was only for an hour, after all.
Later, he was in Miss Foley’s last period public speaking class. I must have had a study hall and gotten a pass, because I got to be in the class, listening as the writer wove one wonderful tale after another, how being the on-air personality of The Twilight Zone wasn’t his favorite thing, etc. What struck me, though, was that he was smoking his constant cigarette in the classroom!
Rod Serling would have been 81 on Christmas Day. Unfortunately, those constant cigarettes killed him in 1975.
Nevertheless (and despite the fact he was actually born near Syracuse), he was my hometown hero, who scared the bejesus out of me as a child, and continued to surprise a few years later.