Punching in a nightmare
November 20, 2014 7:13 PM   Subscribe

Requiem for Rod Serling "In his work, Serling would return often to the hardships of the war-weary, but he reserved some of his most powerful observations for broken-down boxers, particularly those who failed to achieve stardom."
posted by bitmage (25 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
"Serling recounted his frustrations in trying to bring an unvarnished account of the murder of Emmett Till to air on The United States Steel Hour in 1956... [he] knew he needed to escape even further, to other planets if necessary, to smuggle his socially conscious messages onto American airwaves."
posted by mr. digits at 7:28 PM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

This post's title made me think of The Naked and Famous, and thus Cabin in the Woods, as well as everything wonderful that Rod Serling has ever done. Now I'm smiling and probably going to stay up all night watching amazing horror/drama/scifi. Thanks! ^_^
posted by trackofalljades at 7:37 PM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

And Jack Palance: “When he was 14, he would walk to Freeland, which was seven miles from his hometown. He would box, and usually win. He’d get his $5 and then walk home seven miles. Imagine going to a boxing match and you walk home?” And he shadow boxed into his 80s. So that's why that guy could do one-armed pushups at the Oscars.
posted by mr. digits at 7:45 PM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Serling was amazing. "Requiem for a Heavyweight" is powerful, and seems to have at least partially inspired one of my favorite Ben Folds songs.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 7:53 PM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

The original TV version of Requiem for a Heavyweight with Palance is well worth seeking out. I have it on a Criterion collection of early TV dramas. Searing stuff.
posted by octothorpe at 7:59 PM on November 20, 2014

Reading this made me remember how recurrent and constant the battered-boxer motif is in Twilight Zone episodes, even if the character isn't actually a boxer per se. It's not always a corny sympathetic portrayal either; "The Four of Us Are Dying" (mentioned in the Grantland piece) is a portrait of the boxer-as-scumbag, a shifty-eyed sweating coward who denies that he knows his own father (with the twist that the guy occupying the boxer's body isn't really the boxer at all).
posted by blucevalo at 8:52 PM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's amazing that The Twilight Zone aired in any era. It's especially amazing that it aired when it did. There were only four networks, NBC, CBS, ABC and PBS.

Here is Mike Wallace interviewing Rod Serling in 1959. (21:39)
posted by vapidave at 8:59 PM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

My first exposure was not Twilight Zone, although it was referred to, but Night Gallery. Many of my Eldritch terrors were awakened by that show. Twilight Zone seemed so cerebral after that...
posted by Windopaene at 9:22 PM on November 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

With Steel, a remarkable episode from 1963, Serling got to portray two broken-down fighters at the same time. It’s based on a 1956 Richard Matheson story about boxing in the future (1974!) when only robots are allowed in the ring. The human, now a robot’s manager, is played by Lee Marvin, who refuses to quit the business long after he should have.

It looks like the concept of robot boxing (with Hugh Jackman in the Marvin role, and a $100+ million budget) was gussied up in the 2011 feature film Real Steel.
posted by LeLiLo at 9:59 PM on November 20, 2014

vapidave, the original TZ went off the air in 1964, but PBS wasn't created until 1970.
posted by dhartung at 9:59 PM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

"The Rod Serling Home for Broken-Down Boxers"
posted by clockzero at 10:02 PM on November 20, 2014 [4 favorites]

Serling and Marvin both saw hardcore action in the Pacific during World War II. Serling was wounded three times during the liberation of the Philippines. Marvin was wounded during the Battle of Saipan.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:12 PM on November 20, 2014

God, so many great observations here. I consider myself to be a bit of an amateur Twilight Zone scholar and so much of this article has me nodding along. The preoccupation with scary faces - I see this guy's face any time of the day or night and I still get literal goosebumps, and I haven't seen the episode in years. It wasn't even that good an episode story-wise. And there's nothing about the face that actually stands out - if I saw a guy who looked like that in a crowd I don't think I'd even notice him. But the way his face is used in the context of the episode makes it fucking unforgettable. I can think of half a dozen faces like that from other TZ episodes, too.

I actually left Interstellar thinking that while there was a lot in it that wasn't like TZ at all, there was so much in it that hearkened back to the show for me - not going to spoil anything by saying what, but it was definitely a nice surprise for me to watch it and be so reminded of my many hours watching Twilight Zone in the middle of the night and thinking about what it means to be human and all that. Then I got to wondering what Serling would have done with 3 hours and a seemingly infinite FX budget.
posted by town of cats at 10:37 PM on November 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

"vapidave, the original TZ went off the air in 1964, but PBS wasn't created until 1970."

I must have been been confusing PBS nationally with KCTS locally. They are conflated in my little kid memory. I was born in 1964. Thanks for the clarification.
posted by vapidave at 10:43 PM on November 20, 2014

You grow up watching TV shows, like Twilight Zone reruns, and the things you see get filed away in your mind as part of the world outside your kid life. Then you become an adult and you look around and don't see these things in the world. Boxers and boxing -- young up-and-coming boxers, old broken-down boxers, boxing gyms -- how did they drop out of American life? Of course people still watch televised title fights, but old TV and movies gave me the impression that boxers would be a common sight on city streets, and going to boxing matches would be a way ordinary people spent their time. Reading this article brought all that back to mind. Rod Serling set his fantasy stories in the daily life of his era, so the change must have happened between the '50s and the '00s.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 12:12 AM on November 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

In the early 60s everything had to quiet down in our house for the Friday Night Fights. My father had been in Golden Gloves and wouldn't miss a boxing match. Twilight Zone was my favorite show - no one had to tell us to be quiet during that show. In one half hour Twilight Zone could sidetrack a person's mind for at least the next eight hours - all through the night anyway.

The names here - oh, what good actors we had then! Jack Palance and Lee Marvin! They just don't get any better. Great post - thank you.
posted by aryma at 1:05 AM on November 21, 2014

Cracked.com published an article, "4 Things I Missed About The Twilight Zone as a Kid," and one insight particularly struck me: just how old everyone looks on the show. Gladstone points out that characters are explicitly identified as being in their thirties, but they don't look it; they all look ten years older. And sure enough, the actors were in their forties at the time. He posits that this was due to the influence of Serling, himself a man in his thirties who, due to his time in the ring and on the battlefield, bore the face of a man much older than his years.
posted by Faint of Butt at 4:13 AM on November 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Walking Distance, Third from the Sun, Twenty Two, and especially The Trouble with Templeton are my favorites.

My mom and grandmother used to watch As the World Turns and my sisters and I watched Stan Boreson. Otherwise the television was off except for the news.

Twilight Zone was homemade pizza night. I got to stay up late to watch it. Shortly after it went off the air our old TV blew up for the last time and my family went without until the summer of 1972.
posted by Pudhoho at 4:35 AM on November 21, 2014

I bet Paul Simon was a Serling fan when he was littler.
posted by bukvich at 5:20 AM on November 21, 2014


I see what you did there.
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:41 AM on November 21, 2014

Cracked.com published an article, "4 Things I Missed About The Twilight Zone as a Kid"

Wherein we find:
[Rod Serling] also wrote the original Planet of the Apes. Think about that Twilight Zoney ending.
Point of order: The "original Planet of the Apes" is the 1963 novel La Planète des Singes by Pierre Boulle.

Rod Serling adapted this to write the first screenplay for the 1968 film, but it was much reworked and script-doctored; about all that's left of Serling in the final film is "that Twilight Zoney ending."
posted by Herodios at 7:55 AM on November 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

posted by zooropa at 11:08 AM on November 21, 2014

Serling's crucial partner in creating the rhetoric and mythos of TZ noir: Charles Beaumont.

Also, Lethem on Serling.
posted by batfish at 12:33 PM on November 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I got to play Rod Serling's role for a videotaped (betamax-taped) performance of "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street" when I was in 6th grade. Watching The Twilight Zone on late night TV influenced me pretty deeply I think.
posted by kmartino at 4:03 PM on November 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I didn't get the anti-Steven Spielberg claim in the Cracked piece. Didn't Spielberg get his start directing a Night Gallery episode?
posted by dr_dank at 11:21 AM on November 24, 2014

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