Archive | October, 2014

Rod Serling–As she knew him

28 Oct

It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly 40 years since Rod Serling passed away. The intense TV writer/producer/director/star with the smoky voice and those haunting eyes that greeted viewers each week to his creation, The Twilight Zone, passed in June 1975. Though I was just a youth myself when the original show aired from 1959-1964, I vividly recall many episodes that continued to play in syndication for years to come. Like so many others, my perception of Mr. Serling was that he was dark, serious, intimidating, and very mysterious.

But then, I never knew him, until I read a book by someone who did—his daughter, Anne.

Anne Serling

Anne Serling

Her brilliant memoir of her father, “As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling,” pays a great and deserved tribute to one of Hollywood’s most amazing talents. Serling was a man who fought for his craft, for human rights, for freedom of speech, and who never was fully appreciated. Anne was only 20 at the time of her father’s death (at age 50), but decades later, she finally took to putting down on paper what was written in her heart—a true portrait of her father.

“I’d actually started writing another book, because like my dad, I find writing very cathartic,” she said, speaking to ON and BEYOND from her home in NewYork. “I couldn’t finish it, because I was stuck in the grief process. So I worked on this book for seven years. I wanted to set the record straight about who my dad was.”

Anne said that because her father was so connected to The Twilight Zone, “people thought he was a scary and dark person. That couldn’t be further from the truth. He was very warm, very friendly, and lots of people adored him. My dad could make you feel comfortable within minutes.”
As I Knew Him FINAL COVER

Her book tells about Rod Serling’s life from the beginning, his U.S. Army service in the Philippines, meeting his future wife (and Anne’s mother) Carol at Antioch College, the birth of their two daughters, their move to Pacific Palisades in California, and his years as creator and gatekeeper for The Twilight Zone. He wrote or co-wrote 148 of the show’s 156 episodes, an enormous task over just a six-year period. As Anne wrote his story, she came to discover through notes and letters he’d written the tremendous battles he fought and challenges he faced. Through it all, Rod Serling never lost sight of who he was, what he believed, or what he strived to achieve both on camera, and off.

“I found letters he’d written to his parents while at basic training,” she said. “I may have read them years before, but as I began this book, they had a lot more meaning. Learning what these young men went through before being sent off to war—even then, my father was writing constantly. His plan when he got out of the Army was to major in Phy. Ed. But the war left him so traumatized that he changed his major to ‘Language.’”

Anne recalls visiting the MGM sound stage where The Twilight Zone was filmed. She says the first episode she remembers watching on TV with her dad starred a then-unknown actor named William Shatner in the classic Zone episode where he sees a little green man on the wing of an airliner, and eventually breaks down. Shatner was just one of dozens of actors and actresses who got their first breaks by starring for Rod Serling on The Twilight Zone.

“My father launched The Twilight Zone in part because he was tired of censors and bluelines,” she recalled. “The sponsors were always nervous, but I think Dad realized that an alien could say things that a Democrat or Republican could not. Writing the memoir showed me how hard my dad tried to write meaningful scripts that would not be torn apart to the point that his writing was unrecognizable and the meaning completely lost.”

It wasn’t lost on critics. Serling won two Emmys, a Golden Globe and three Hugo Awards for the program. And the family tradition of winning continued this year when Anne won the Killer Nashville Silver Falchion Award for Best Memoir for “As I Knew Him.”

“People have been so kind to me about the book, and about my father,” she said. “Many have said the book touched them and helped them. My mother was very pleased and happy with it, and we’ve been all over the country to speak to groups about my father’s work and achievements. I’ve felt very blessed with the reception and reviews I’ve received.”

But to get there meant having to relive those final days with her dad, when he was in a New York hospital fighting for his life after suffering a heart attack, and then another after surgery. Anne recalls that afternoon when her father’s medical team of two doctors and a nurse meet with the family in the waiting room, one doctor finally saying, “We are so sorry. He’s gone.”

“Gone? Gone where?” she writes. “That’s the thing about euphemisms. They never really speak the truth. They leave all sorts of questions and dangling expectations. ‘Gone’ would imply he’ll return, or he’s just momentarily slipped away. Gone would not necessarily mean’ never coming back’.”

“As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling” is moving and beautifully written. Anne said writing it and recalling all the moments with her father helped her as a mother.

“My father had a quick and furious temper. He could storm out of a room, furious, only to return moments later asking, ‘Have you seen my twin brother anywhere?’” she said. “I loved him so very dearly.”

I’ve had the pleasure of Anne’s friendship for some time, and when she was notified about the Nashville award, she said, “I only wish Dad could be here to see it and be part of it.” As I along with so many others have told her, he has been…continuing to inspire Anne and her family who’ve shared Rod Serling. As they knew him.

–Tom Haraldsen

Rachael Yamagata: Touring and connecting again

19 Oct

Ten years ago, singer/songwriter Rachael Yamagata released her first album as a solo artist, “Happenstance.” What followed has been an ever-growing fan base, a blossoming career, and new musical accomplishments for the native of Arlington, Va. Now, she’s launched a 10th anniversary tour celebrating “Happenstance,” and it’s a two-tier experience.

She’s in the middle of a seven-week traverse across the country, visiting some of the venues where her solo career took flight. And she’s using the tour to promote Pledge Music, a forum for independent artists and their new projects. In her case, it means fan support for a new album she’s in the midst of putting together.
Rachael Yamagata
“It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years,” she said during a telephone interview for On and Beyond from her home on the East Coast. “Time really does exist on another planet for me—my reality is sort of a different rhythm. I wasn’t even aware of it until someone said, ‘Are you going to do a 10-year anniversary of your record? It hit me out of the blue.”

To celebrate, Yamagata and her band have two different types of musical sets planned. At some concert locations, she’ll literally perform every song off that first album.

“The first record is such a milestone, based off so many years of life and experiences and emotions. It’s sort of a memory lane for me, because I’ve never played that particular record all the way through,” she said. “It’s a fun tribute, and kind of a unique experience, doing the record front to back with a new band.”

At other sites, she’ll mix both the old favorites with new songs from an album she’s working on now.

“So it’s been ambitious—almost like preparing for two different tours,” she said. “I want to make the shows as different as possible. It’s fun, but also terrifying.”

She became the vocalist for the Chicago-based group Bumpus in the late ‘90s, touring and writing for them for six years. In 2002, she got a two-record deal with Arista’s Private Music, released a self-titled EP and then “Happenstance.” Two years later, she toured with Mandy Moore and contributed to Moore’s “Wild Hope” album.

Rachael’s music has been featured on many TV shows as well, starting when she performed her song “Elephants” on daytime drama “One Life to Live” in 2009. Her songs have also been heard on “The L Word,” “Charmed,” “How I Met Your Mother,” “ER,” “Alias,” “Brothers & Sisters” and “Grey’s Anatomy,” among others.
Rachael again

Like most artists, however, what she loves most is playing in front of audiences, and having direct contact with fans.
“It’s great to be with fans who are invested and engaged,” she said.

She’s very passionate about Pledge Music (you can read more on her website at rachaelyamagata.com).

“This is a platform for independent artists to have direct contact with their fans,” she said. “It’s a mutual exchange of the artists wanting to make a recording and tour, and fans who want to invest in that, fans you believe in you.”

The way it works is fans buy into an artist’s project up front, then get a behind-the-scenes vision of the process of making music and preparing for a tour. It’s similar to Kickstarter, but much more artist-focused.

“They get footage of things they normally wouldn’t have a chance to see, as well as VIP passes, special signed items, etc.,” she said. This is the second campaign of her, and with more than 100 days remaining, she’s already achieved nearly 90 percent of her pledge goal.

“It gives me a good read on who’s listening and who’s interested in what I’m doing. It’s fun, nice, and empowering to give the fans a chance to be invested in the artists.” She’s also offering 5 percent of the money pledged to Music Heals, a charity dedicated to healing through music.

–Tom Haraldsen