Rodman Edward (Rod) Serling was an American screenwriter and television producer, best known for the TV series, The Twilight Zone. Serling wrote the original screenplay for the movie Planet of the Apes. He was born on Christmas Day in Syracuse, New York, and raised in Binghamton, New York (also hometown of Apes makeup artist Rick Baker). After graduating, Serling enlisted as a U.S. Army paratrooper and demolition specialist in the Pacific during World War II from January 1943 to January 1945. He was seriously wounded in the wrist and knee during combat and was awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star. Serling was deeply affected by his wartime experiences for the rest of his life, suffering from nightmares and flashbacks, and this influenced much of his writing, as did his conversion from his Jewish faith to Unitarianism in 1948 (despite holding many atheist beliefs).
After the war, he went to Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, under a GI Bill, earning his B.A. in 1950, and went to New York as a fledgling radio writer. Freelancing in radio and TV writing, he wrote ninety scripts before his contract to CBS. He wrote for Kraft Theatre, Playhouse 90, and The Hallmark Hall of Fame, from which came his Emmy-winning Patterns (1955), Requiem For A Heavyweight (1956), and The Comedian (1957) (the last two co-starring Kim Hunter). Buoyed by the unprecedented acclaim his TV scripts had received, but disappointed at some of the compromises he had been forced to accept, Serling created his own TV show, The Twilight Zone, in 1959. The hugely influential show lasted five years, and came out with a Peabody Award, two Sylvania Awards, and four Writers Guild Awards. Serling wrote 92 of the 156 episodes for the show, and maintained a high standard among the writers and crew he assembled. Many of Serling's episodes contained subtle, and occasionally less-subtle, morals based on his progressive social and political beliefs, on themes like racism, gender-equality, civil rights and military aggression. Exhausted from the volume of work the series involved, he sold the rights to CBS in 1964 and moved on to other projects.
Chief among those other projects at that time were adapting screenplays for two of his winning television plays, the screenplay for Frankenheimer's Seven Days in May (1964), and for a movie version of a little-known French novel by Pierre Boulle, translated to English as Planet of the Apes. He told Cinefantastique magazine, in a January 1972 interview: "...as talented and creative a man as Boulle is, he does not have the deftness of a science fiction writer. Boulle's book was not a parody, but rather a prolonged allegory about morality, more than it was a stunning science fiction piece. But it contained within its structure a walloping science fiction idea. The King Brothers had Boulle's book about eight or ten years ago, and called me in then. My recollection is that they were going to do a $200,000 film, and put masks on actors, at which point I said I couldn't associate myself with it." He further stated in an interview with Marvel Comics Planet of the Apes magazine, first published in August 1974: "I first became involved with Planet of the Apes about ten years ago. I was approached by an outfit called the King Brothers. who did mostly Indian-elephant pictures which were shot for about a $1.80 - because elephants didn't have a union, then! The King Brothers had a notion about doing the Pierre Boulle book as a nickle-and-dime picture. I was convinced that it could be done and at the time, as I recall, I did a whole treatment for them, a scene-by-scene breakdown of how we would lick the problem. They ultimately discarded it because of the ape population."
'King Brothers Productions' must have held the screen rights to the novel (originally published in French in January 1963, and in English in June of the same year) for only a brief time, as events seemed to move very quickly; Serling suggested that the rights were optioned again before APJAC Productions became involved: "I never heard any more about it until I got a call from Blake Edwards, who was the next individual to get into it and who was going to produce and direct it. I was told by Blake to go, not to worry about money. It was going to be a big one. My earliest version of the script featured an ape city, much like New York. It wasn't carved out rocks with caves on the side of a hill. It was a metropolis. Everything related to anthropoid. The automobiles, the buildings, the elevators, the rooms, the furniture. The script was very long and I think the estimate of the production people was that if they had shot that script it would've cost no less than a hundred million dollars — y'know, by the time they created an ape population, clothed it and built a city for them to live in." "In my initial version, the ape society was not in limbo as it was in the film. It was an altogether 20th-century technology, a New York city in which the doors and automobiles were lower and wider. All living was adjusted to the size of the anthropoid, but of course that was much too expensive to do."
At exactly what point Arthur P. Jacobs became involved is not clear; other accounts have Jacobs and director J. Lee Thompson overseeing the project in late 1963, before Edwards' involvement. A 'Final Production Information Guide' Jacobs used to promote his movie in 1968 claimed that he had purchased the movie rights "from the original French-language galley proofs prior to the novel's publication",  which would seem to contradict Serling's recollections. Interviewed in December 1971, Jacobs said: "About six years ago, I was looking for material, and I would meet with various literary agents. I said, 'What I would like to find is something like 'King Kong'.' I didn't want to make 'King Kong' again, because you can't do that. About six months later, I was in Paris, and a literary agent called me, came over, and said he had a new novel by Francoise Saigan. I read it, and wasn't too fascinated. Then he said, 'Speaking of 'King Kong', I've got a thing here, and it's so far out, I don't think you can make it.' He told me the story, and I said, 'I'll buy it - gotta buy it.' He said, 'I think you're crazy, but okay.' So I bought it, and that's how it came about."
In any case, Serling was reporting jointly to Jacobs as producer and Edwards as director by April 1964 and took up the development of a workable script. "Then Arthur Jacobs got into it, as I recall. Arthur said it could be done but not for that kind of money. So I redid it - with an eye toward a very special society, one that was semi-primitive, semi—civilized. I think I did about three drafts of the actual screenplay." "I think the major [problem] was to make apes speak and not get a laugh. The whole thing was to make an audience believe it and take it seriously. Mine was a very true adaptation of the original material. Actually, it was not an adaptation. It was 'based on' the book by Boulle. There's quite a distinction. God, it's so long since I've read the book but I believe the story ended on a completely different note. Where they go back to Earth and they land at an airport and they open the door and there are apes. The evolution has taken place on earth while they were away." "...when Arthur Jacobs got it, I was terribly taken with the idea. The basic premise that the astronauts were on a planet in which apes had reached the evolutionary ascendancy, was adhered to, but nothing else was remotely similar to the book. I worked on the screenplay for well over a year, and thirty or forty drafts came out of it. I could've taken the excess pages and made a series about it!"
As Serling's drafts rolled in, one notable change was in the ending of the movie. Being the writer of The Twilight Zone, one would expect Serling to come up with a shocking twist ending, and his initial drafts stayed faithful to Boulle's twist, where the central character returns to Earth to find apes have also taken over that planet. He evolved his own twist in a version dated May 1964 however, wherein the artefacts uncovered by Cornelius, revealing that humans had once ruled this alien planet as well, now reveal that the alien planet is in fact Earth. Another revision, from December 1964, finally introduces the most famous aspect of the finished movie: the explosions intended to destroy Cornelius digging site instead reveal a giant metal arm - the Statue of Liberty. Because this has become such an iconic image, credit for the idea has been claimed by many people. Artist Don Peters, who was commissioned to make preliminary sketches to illustrate the proposed movie, maintains that the Statue first appeared in one of his drawings. Blake Edwards broadly agreed, though said he was also involved. Arthur Jacobs claimed that he and Edwards had spotted the Statue on the wall of a delicatessen where they were discussing the movie, and that they both came up with the idea simultaneously. Mort Abrahams, who as associate producer oversaw script revisions, said "That was Rod's ending".  When asked about the ending himself, Serling said (in 1972): "The book's ending is what I wanted to use in the film, as much as I loved the idea of the Statue of Liberty. I always believed that was my idea." And when interviewer Dale Winogura added: "I'm beginning to think, from all the interviews I've done, that the end of the picture was a combination of about four or five people thinking exactly the same thing at about the same time?", he replied: "That's very possible. Visually, it's an exciting idea because a fragment can be taken from it, and still withhold what it is. That's the beauty of the Statue of Liberty." Speaking to Marvel two years later, Serling shared the credit, saying it was "In collaboration with Jacobs. Yes, it was a wild cinematic scene." Boulle, incidentally, was less impressed: "I disliked somewhat, the ending that was used - the Statue of Liberty... They had that final scene in mind from the first day.
Rod Serling presented his final draft script on 1st March 1965. According to Abrahams "...he got busy, and he felt he didn't want to return". At the same time, the producers felt that the dialogue needed improving and they began to look for another screenwriter to take over the reins. It's worth noting that when Charlton Heston committed to starring in the film in June 1965, it was Serling's script that he read, and also that when the Planet of the Apes screen-test was filmed a year after Serling's departure from the project (8th March, 1966), the dialogue was still credited to Serling. Young screenwriter Charles Eastman was hired initially to improve the dialogue, but instead produced twenty-seven pages of completely new material (in late 1966) which focused on action within the spaceship before it's arrival on the ape planet. This was considered unusable and Eastman was dismissed. Next, formerly-blacklisted screenwriter Michael Wilson (who had previously worked on Boulle's other movie adaptation, The Bridge on the River Kwai) was brought onboard, and he contributed most of the dialogue that was ultimately filmed, submitting his final draft on 5th May 1967 - shortly before filming began. Another screenwriter, John T. Kelly was then added to make final adjustments to the dialogue, though only Serling and Wilson received credit. The story itself is mainly the work of Rod Serling, and he added a fair amount of U.S. social satire; for example, the creationist views of the orangutans were not in the original Boulle novel. Abrahams later recalled: "...the backbone of the story was Rod's. Basically, I think it went through four versions with Rod and three or four with Michael... then I called in Kelly and he did two or three drafts, which was, as I say, mostly dialogue polish and added a couple of notes of humor, and a couple which Frank [Schaffner] and I added on the set, like the 'monkey-see-monkey-do' and 'see-no-evil, hear-no-evil."
Asked about his contribution to the final screenplay, Serling said: "The original script that I wrote, under the age of Blake Edwards, was considerably different than the one they ultimately used. The scene breakdown, the concept, and the thrust of the piece was mine. But the actual dialog was Michael Wilson's. I had left the premises long before Wilson came in. I owned no piece of the project at all, and they had every right to choose another writer. It was a pretty damn good film, I thought Schaffner did a corker of a job directing it." He later added: "Well, Arthur and I kept in touch over a period of time but then he decided to give the script to Mike Wilson, who in turn took away almost all of my dialogue and used his own. My recollection, though, of the shooting script is that the chronology of scenes and events was identical to mine - except that the people didn't say the same things. For example, there was the museum sequence where you see the astronauts stuffed. That was mine. But I didn't have the dialogue that covered it. Mine was much more sombre and serious dialogue. There was very little humour in my piece. If you recall, Wilson used a lot of puns and juxtaposed familiar expressions like 'I've never met an ape I didn't like', that kind of thing. I gather the humour was one of the key reasons for the success of the picture. I blew it and Wilson did it." "As I said, we'd been in touch roughly all during that time. They offered me collaborative credit almost immediately. But it's really Mike Wilson's screenplay, much more than mine." "[Franklin Schaffner] came into [the project] later [after Serling's departure]. But Frank and I worked together years and years ago for a long time - y'know, on 'Studio One' and 'Playhouse 90'. Schaffner is a brilliant director. He's tops, as far as I'm concerned." Clearly, Serling remained on good terms with the production team as he was photographed posing with Kim Hunter in her Zira makeup and costume, and with a statue of The Lawgiver. Hunter had starred in Serling's Requiem For A Heavyweight a decade earlier, and she later recalled, "Rod came by once, yes, and I even remember the scene - it was the courtroom scene." Actress Linda Harrison also met Rod when he came on to the set of Planet of the Apes.
Asked about his contribution to the final screenplay, Wilson agreed with Serling's assessment that it was mostly his (Wilson's) own work: "The first screenplay was written by Rod Serling. This, as it turned out, was a straight science-fiction story about an ape culture on another planet in another solar system. I altered all of that to make it a satire. A satire, really, on the human race. Because it turned out the apes - these civilized apes - had descended from humans on our own earth and the astronauts had inadvertently returned to our planet only to find out that earth had been wiped out by a nuclear bomb and, therefore, the dominant species that had evolved was the apes who had descended from and imitated the culture of man which had preceded it. Which accounts for the satire of the story. Which is what I did to it." "I had never done [science-fiction] before, ...and I didn’t consider this story in that category either. What I felt it needed was satire. It was too straight and too serious the way it was done before I came on." "[The humor] certainly contributed to its [success]. No question." "As I said, [my screenplay] was not straight science-fiction. It was more about the human predicament than it was about apes. I think this is the key point."
Jacobs was unexpectedly asked to provide a sequel to Planet of the Apes after it's huge success: "We didn't plan any sequel in the first one, but it became so successful that Fox said you must do a sequel, if you can come up with one. First I went to Pierre Boulle to write the screenplay. He DID write a treatment for a sequel, titled 'Planet of the Men' [the English-language copy of which is dated July 22, 1968], but it wasn't cinematic. Then, I went to Paul Dehn and Mort Abrahams in London, and spent about two weeks, walking and walking, trying to figure out where to go from the Statue of Liberty." It was perhaps at this point that Serling heard from Jacobs: "Arthur offered it to me from London and I remember spending $200 on a phone conversation about what we'd do with it. We literally got into the hydrogen bomb and the resurgence of civilization over the apes and we very much plugged the concept of the ape's desperate fear of the humans. Because the humans repeated what they'd done before which, essentially, was to wreck the earth. As it turned out, I couldn't do the script when Arthur wanted it done. I was on another assignment. So I didn't have the remotest connection with the approach Jacobs eventually went with." Michael Wilson, interviewed during the making of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, said scripting duties for (unspecified) Apes sequels were also offered to him but he was always busy on something else, and felt he had 'done his duty to the apes'. Paul Dehn finally wrote the screenplay for Beneath the Planet of the Apes, with contributions from Abrahams.
At some point, Rod Serling contributed a two-part script for episodes one and two of a Planet of the Apes TV series. His script was a peculiar mixture of an already-prepared TV series outline, a very early script written by him for the original movie, and the plot of the second movie. It is significantly different to the filmed pilot episode, although it does set up the series scenario in line with the series outline, and some of the ideas were carried over into Art Wallace's script for Escape from Tomorrow. The plot concerned Virdon and Kovak landing on a mysterious planet after a period of suspended animation - to rescue or find a crew of missing astronauts (Taylor, Thomas, LaFever and Bengsten). Here, the story begins to mimic that of Beneath the Planet of the Apes, while the names recall earlier ideas of Serling's: George Taylor is, of course from the first movie; John Thomas was the name of the central character in Serling's early draft script, subsequently changed to Taylor; Paul LaFever was also in the early script, the character later became John Landon (the other astronauts on that mission were Dodge and the deceased Blake). The continuity of Serling's story is somewhat confusing, it's almost a sequel to his first draft movie script, which was revised heavily for the movie, rather than tying-in with any of the actual filmed movies. While Serling's contribution hasn't been acknowledged (unlike his work on the movie script), the concept of a previous astronaut crew survived into Wallace's script. This plot device wasn't explored further in the series, although it might have been had the series continued.
Beginning in 1970, Serling hosted Night Gallery - an attempt to replicate the legacy of The Twilight Zone. Though the series proved popular, Serling, who had turned down the executive control he had held over The Twilight Zone, eventually became disillusioned with the series, as his scripts were rejected and his suggestions ignored. He had little involvement in the final series, airing in 1973, beyond providing the introductions. He told Marvel in his 1974 interview (one of the last before his untimely death): "I did the hosting for the new stuff and some of what they gave me to say was incredible. But I did it because I wanted out. Completely. Y'see, I had a 50% profit situation. But I didn't own any of the films or have any artistic control." Marvel noted that at that time, Serling divided his year between the East and West Coasts; six months teaching creative writing at Ithaca College in Up-state New York and the remaining six months at his homestead overlooking the blue Pacific, and as for future projects: "I'm on my third draft of a feature film based on Jerome Bixby's short story, 'It's a Good Life'. We did it originally on Twilight Zone but now we're doing a full-length version. Alan Landsburg, who produced 'Chariots of the Gods?', is producing it. It's in the fantasy-horror genre."
Speaking of his legacy in gothic-horror and science-fiction TV, Serling said: "I'm interested [in the occult], but as an aficionado, not as a knowledgeable practitioner. I know very little about it. I really can't claim to being a science-fiction man either. Fantasy was really more my bag. And I'm very much a Johnny-Come-Lately into that. The guys - the really key men — like Asimov, Clarke, Bradbury - they all preceded me by years and years and have a body of literature to show for it. I have nothing but a television show. My only claim is that I put science-fiction and fantasy into a mass media more than any other person. We predated 'Star Trek' and 'Outer Limits'. I think in its day 'Twilight Zone' was a pretty qualitative little entry. It was a fairly professional piece of work that we were all proud of. It fell down frequently as television is wont to do, but I think the effort always showed. With the reruns, the show has had a renaissance. I go out on lecture things around to the colleges and, hell, the kids watch it fairly religiously."
Rod Serling died of a heart-attack in June 1975, aged only 50. In his lifetime, he won a total of six Emmies, and countless other awards and nominations; he was posthumously inducted into the 'Television Hall of Fame' in 1985, and he is still one of the most honored and respected of writers today.
- In addition to Kim Hunter's two appearances in Serling's Playhouse 90 in the 1950s, Roddy McDowall featured in episodes of both Serling's The Twilight Zone (1960) and Night Gallery (1969), as did James Gregory (1961 and 1972, respectively).
- 'Cinefantastique Planet of the Apes Issue' (1972)
- Rod Serling Recalls - Marvel 'Planet of the Apes' UK Issue 12 (1975)
- 'Final Production Information Guide' (1968) at Hunter's Planet of the Apes Archive
- The Planet of the Apes Chronicles by Paul A. Woods (Page 52)
- The Legend of the Planet of the Apes by Brian Pendreigh
- The Planet of the Apes Chronicles by Paul A. Woods (Page 46)
- The Planet of the Apes Chronicles by Paul A. Woods (Page 43)
- Chimp Life, by Tom Weaver & Michael Brunas - 'Starlog' (November 1990)
- Woman of the Apes, by Tom Weaver - 'Starlog' (April 1995)
- 'Marvel's Planet of the Apes', USA Issue 2 (October 1974)
- Hunter's Planet of the Apes Scripts Archive