The Rod Serling Holiday

Near twin Gordon has decreed, and I have capitulated, to try to make both Bogie Day and Serling Day the holidays of choice in the blogosphere. Why? “Because both men were born on December 25th, and both encapsulate the ultimate in pop culture coolness.”

But I just don’t have enough to say about Humphrey Bogart, though I did see The African Queen, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and one of my favorite films in the whole world, Casablanca. One of the times I saw Casablanca was in Rochester, NY outdoors in a park with my old neighbor from New Paltz, Debi. How I came to even be in Rochester involves lost brain cells. Oh, yeah, and I have a recording where expounds on the value of baseball.

As for Rod Serling, what more can I say that I didn’t already say here or here, where I discuss meeting him or any number of other posts about episodes and whatnot.

It occurred to me, though, that I may never have mentioned the fact that I attended the world premiere(!) of Twilight Zone: The Movie, 13 days before it officially opened. The event took place, naturally, in Binghamton, NY, my hometown, on June 11, 1983 at the Crest Theater on Main Street, which had a seating capacity of approximately 800. I saw lots of movies at the Crest growing up. Hmm, I wonder if Serling saw any movies there growing up? It was a walkable, certainly a bikeable distance from his house on Bennett Avenue.

Some of the details have faded to memory, such as how I got tickets. I DO recall that it was very hot outside, waiting there for the dignitaries to come in. Of course, Rod was not one of them, having died eight years earlier from smoking cigarettes.

And I DO recall that this was a Very Big Deal for this small city where Rod Serling’s family moved to from Syracuse before he turned two. One of the dignitaries was Helen Foley, Serling’s beloved high school English teacher. Another was Richard Deacon (pictured below with Betty White, circa 1983) who was on Leave It To Beaver, but was best known as the put-upon producer Mel Cooley on The Dick van Dyke Show. Deacon, who died in 1984, was born in Philadelphia in 1921 but also grew up in Binghamton.

As for the movie itself, well, I’d have to see it again. I did think the first segment, a vague remake of A Quality of Mercy (Season 3, episode 80), was almost unrecognizable from the original. The filming of that segment led to the accidental deaths of actor Vic Morrow and two child actors. Whereas the remake of Nightmare at 20,000 Feet (Season 5, episode 123) felt pretty much like the William Shatner version, at least in my memory.

The movie segment It’s a Good Life, featured a character named Helen Foley (played by Kathleen Quinlan), which got a big laugh from the audience; oddly, “Helen Foley” was not the name of a character in the original episode, but rather in the Nightmare as a Child television version.

*An episode guide of the television series can be found here.*


Pictures of Rod Serling c. 1955; all photos from LIFE.com.
ROG

B is for Binghamton

Binghamton is a city located on the Southern Tier of New York State. It is the county seat of Broome County. It was named after a rich guy named William Bingham, how owned the land in the 1790s. Yet, the place has often been misspelled as Binghampton, as though it were part of the Hamptons of Long Island. Google “Binghampton” and you’ll find some references to Binghamptons in Illinois and Tennessee, among others, but also many erroneously referring to a place in in New York State, such as this one. The most egregious error I ever saw was on a road map book. The New York State map actually was accurate, but the Pennsylvania map – Binghamton is less than 20 miles from the PA border – spelled it Binghampton. It’s BINGHAMton, town of Bingham.

Why am I obsessing on this? Because it’s my hometown.

You can read about Binghamton in its Wikipedia posting, and it seems accurate as far as it goes. It is at the confluence of two rivers; I was almost arrested for swimming in one once, a long time ago. It WAS called the Parlor City, and I recall a Parlor City Shoe Store when I was lived there in the 1960s.

I grew up in the First Ward of Binghamton, or “The Ward”, a melting pot of largely people of southern and eastern European stock (Italian, Czech, Ukrainian, Russian, and especially Polish). I remember halupki and pierogies, plus the regional favorite, the spiedie.

Binghamton’s school district used to do something quite interesting when I was growing up. Instead of starting school only in September, kids could start in September or February. the kids that started in the winter had birthdays in December through March, generally. While my sisters (born in May and July) went to school in September, I started in February because my birthday was in March. Of course, our class sizer was smaller because it was taken from a different calendar pool. One of the things I recall is that, while we had the same teacher for kindergarten (Miss Cady) all year, we had eight different teachers for Grades 1 through 4. At least two of the teachers left because they were “in the family way”, as they used to call pregnancy.

What was particularly important in my growing up was that our school, Daniel S. Dickinson, was a K-9 school, with the younger kids on the lowest floor and the junior high kids on the third floor. There were 16 kids in my sixth grade class, nine (including me) who had gone to kindergarten together. Seventh grade meant an infusion from other elementary schools including the Catholic parochial school nearby. Yet by the end of ninth grade, we still only had 16 kids, including the same none from K. Dickinson was razed a couple decades ago for a housing development.

I went to Binghamton Central High School back in the day when there were two public schools, Central and North. The declining city population, from over 80,000 in 1950 to under 50,000 in 2000 meant that the blue and white of the Central HS Bulldogs and the red and blue of the North HS Indians gave way in 1982 to the red, white and blue of the Binghamton HS Patriots.

For many years, the area used to have a baseball team called the Triplets, named for Triple Cities of Binghamton, Johnson City and Endicott, though the latter two were actually villages rather than cities. It was never called, in my hearing/reading, Binghamton Triplets except in out-of-town box scores. It was primarily a farm team of the New York Yankees, though other teams had brief affiliations. Johnson Field, in Johnson City, was razed in the late 1960s that Route 17, the major east/west corridor from the northern suburbs of New York City to western New York State, could be rerouted through the area. Binghamton was without a minor league baseball team (or stadium for same) until the early 1990s, when the Binghamton Mets, a farm team of the New York Mets, came to town.

I recall vividly Christmas Eve 1971 when downtown Binghamton was bustling with activity at McLean’s and Fowler’s department stores, plus a variety of other shops. The decline in downtown was easily visible to anyone who had been there over time, with one department store, Boscov’s in the old Fowler’s building now a primary guardian against a massive collapse of the downtown business district.

I know it’s a story not unusual in the so-called Rust Belt of the Northeast and Midwest United States, where formerly thriving industrial towns are now struggling. I myself thought of Binghamton like the Simon & Garfunkel song My Little Town; Billy Joel’s Allentown also comes to mind. It is, though, http://www.streetsblog.org/2006/09/11/binghamton-revitalizing-around-livable-downtown/ trying to make a comeback.

Still, it was where I was rooted. It is a comfortable place to return from time to time. I mean, it’s the carousel capital of America; the one in Recreation Park inspired Rod Serling, who grew up in Binghamton in the late 1930s, to write an episode of his television series, the Twilight Zone in the 1960s. So it was with no small bit of surreal horror when I discovered on April 3 of this year, that my little town was the site of another case of mass violence. I don’t have much more to say on it than I said here, except to reiterate that it wasn’t just an assault on the city, but of the specific location, one with which I had more than passing familiarity.

Binghamton was incorporated as a village in 1834, so this year marks 175 years since that event, though it wasn’t incorporated as a city until 1867. I wish my hometown hope and healing.

The map is c. 1920. The high school noted was my high school, the cemetery south of Prospect Street is Spring Forest Cemetery, where my material grandmother and many of her relatives are buried, and very close to where she lived. I lived just off Front Street, north of the railroad tracks. The First Ward is north of the tracks and west of the north/south running Chenango River.

ROG

Carlin and other family-friendly topics

So I wake up at four a.m. for the third time in the night, because I still can’t find a comfortable sleeping position, probably because I didn’t take my pain pills all day yesterday, because I didn’t want to become habituated to them, so I get up and check Evanier, who notes George Carlin has died, and he writes: “Seven words come immediately to mind. All are appropriate for the occasion.” And I check my blog and note that I’d only mentioned Carlin thrice, twice on baseball and football, and once on education, but I recall how I’d been watching Carlin for decades, from the “hippy, dippy weatherman I remember him doing on the “Ed Sullivan Show” to one of the sharpest minds of social commentary, and there’s a pain in my heart AND my side. DAMN! (Not one of the seven words.)
***
Since one Kelly Brown specifically requested me to take this test, what could I do?

75

As a 1930s husband, I am
Superior

Take the test!

And speaking of family things, something I saw on the bus last week: Woman and daughter waiting for the bus, get on the bus. Woman sees child’s father on the bus, apparently to the surprise of all concerned. She says to child, “Oh, your father’s on the bus,’ hands the child to the father, saying “YOU take her!!” then gets off the bus. Child cries for mommy a couple blocks, but is eventually soothed by daddy; Arthur would have been pleased.

At least that a better bus story than my wife experienced, which involved a three-year old running on the bus, failing, crying, and the mother screaming at the wailing child, “I told you not to run on the bus.”
***
I was watching Bill Moyers again, and I must recommend it. It deals with race in America. One segment is about Slavery by Another Name, Douglas A. Blackmon’s book about what the subtitle calls “the Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II.”
Under laws enacted specifically to intimidate blacks, tens of thousands of African Americans were arbitrarily arrested, hit with outrageous fines, and charged for the costs of their own arrests. With no means to pay these ostensible “debts,” prisoners were sold as forced laborers to coal mines, lumber camps, brickyards, railroads, quarries and farm plantations. Thousands of other African Americans were simply seized by southern landowners and compelled into years of involuntary servitude.
Blackmon has a website addressing the issue.

Moyers also previewed the documentary which opens the 21st season of P.O.V. TRACES OF THE TRADE: A STORY OF THE DEEP NORTH, which tells the story journey of discovery into the history and consequences of slavery and which will air on my PBS station Tuesday night.
***
Someone tipped me about Twilight Zone radio plays produced in 2004 for CBS radio using Rod Serling’s original scripts, with Stacey Keach narrating and hosting.

ROG

Roger Answers Your Questions, Gordon

Gordon, who knows I’ve met Rod Serling, asks these questions:

1) What’s your favorite Twilight Zone episode?

Certainly, Time Enough At Last with Burgess Meredith:

The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street with Claude Akins and Jack Weston, and A Game of Pool with Jack Klugman and Jonathan Winters are up there. It’s a Good Life with Billy Mumy and The Dummy with Cliff Robertson and Frank Sutton scared me as a kid.
But perhaps, as a librarian, I relate most to The Obsolete Man with Burgess Meredith and Fritz Weaver, about librarians and religion and politics, which can be seen, in three parts, below:


Yes, it’s heavy-handed and preachy, but that’s OK by me.

2) What have you been asked to do professionally that has you going, “I can’t believe they pay me to do this?”

When I worked at the Schenectady Arts Council on a CETA grant in 1978 into January 1979, I was hired as a bookkeeper and to run a biweekly craft show, but there really wasn’t that much to do to fill 35 or 40 hours a week, though I was on the telephone selling ads for a benefit to revitalize Proctor’s Theatre for a couple weeks. So I found other things to take on. The dancer, Darlene, was teaching elementary school kids dance in the elementary schools, including disco, and she needed a partner, so I was drafted. The secretary, Susan, decided that she and I would go sing to the developmentally disabled from time to time. I loved that job, loved dealing with artists and musicians, and we stopped only because the money ran out.

3) What’s the deal with “Chocolate Rain”? I don’t get it.

You mean this thing that got 16 million hits and won some YouTube award?


Damned if I know. I have little idea WHY something becomes a hit on the Internet: LOLcats or lonelygirl15 – don’t really get it.
That said, let me spitball here. It may be the juxtaposition of the unexpected. This nerdy-looking black guy with a deep voice that one might not be anticipating, with lyrics that seem to be saying SOMETHING, but we’re not sure what; better play it again. Or maybe it’s that he’s put his listeners in a trance with the keyboards.
***
The footer to an e-mail I received yesterday (no, I don’t know the parties involved)-
Mr. Diefenbaker:…I mentioned the cost of living a moment ago, and while I speak the cost of living has gone up.
Mr. St. Laurent: You should stop speaking.

ROG

Rod Serling’s 1968 Binghamton Central High School Commencement Address


A January 28, 1968 address at his alma mater. (I started school there in February 1968 – nuts):

If conscience dictates that you disapprove of it—speak out that disapproval. Carry a sign, if you like. Or a placard or a banner. Yell out the slogan that comes to mind and that comes from heart. Too many wars are fought almost as if by rote. Too many wars are fought out of sloganry, out of battle hymns, out of aged, musty appeals to patriotism that went out with knighthood and moats. Love your country because it is eminently worthy of your affection. Respect it because it deserves your respect. Be loyal to it because it cannot survive without your loyalty. But do not accept the shedding of blood as a natural function or a prescribed way of history—even if history points this up by its repetition.

Find the whole speech here. It’s a link on a Serling pathfinder.

An essay (or sermon) on Rod.

ROG