Koren Shadmi’s graphic novel The Twilight Man tells the story of the man behind one of tv’s greatest cult hits – The Twilight Zone. Rod Serling was a short, Jewish man who fought in World War II and came back with PTSD (called “shell shock” back then.) One thing that helped him cope was writing teleplays.
Serling’s Hollywood career began with a connection to an unlikely supporter – Desi Arnaz. Serling sold his first teleplay to CBS who wanted to produce it for an episode of Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse. The story, The Time Element, featured a man who could go back in time to warn everyone about the attack on Pearl Harbor but no one would listen to him. Advertisers were uneasy about a show featuring Pearl Harbor, considering it still too sensitive a topic. A business meeting with Arnaz and his heavy support brought them around. (Who would want to go against Desi Arnaz, especially in the 1950s?) But advertiser reluctance and censorship would be a problem that plagued Serling’s entire career.
Some consider the Desilu production to be an unofficial pilot for The Twilight Zone, and it’s easy to see why. The story was twisty and fantastical in a way that would become Serling’s trademark. Always keen to provide social commentary, Serling figured out early that if he added in elements of science fiction, he could skate pass censors with what he really wanted to say. The Time Element was a critical and commercial success and eventually led to CBS airing The Twilight Zone. Though the show was a modest success, Serling struggled with budget cuts and writing burn out. After five years, The Twilight Zone was cancelled. Convinced to “cut his losses” Serling sadly sold his share, not anticipating the cult classic it would eventually become.
Shadmi’s biography is short and to the point, but still helps readers get a good sense of who Rod Serling was as a person. While it goes a little into his early years as a soldier and tester of parachutes (and eventually his marriage and family), the main focus is the creation of an iconic tv show that changed television and the man behind that show. The artwork is lovely, and it was fun to see Shadmi’s version of famous scenes (and actors) from The Twilight Zone. The book itself is even structurally presented as an episode would’ve been, which I liked quite a bit. If you’re a fan of The Twilight Zone or just interested in how television worked in its infancy, I think this biography would be an enjoyable and quick read.
Note: I received an ecopy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.