Rod Serling and the Antioch College Connection

“I really didn’t know what the hell I wanted to do with my life, but I went to Antioch because my brother had gone there.”

So Rod Serling took his GI bill and began his educational adventure at a small Midwestern college that would shape the rest of his professional and personal life.

About Antioch College

Horace Mann Founded in 1850 by the Christian Connection, the college opened its doors in 1852. Politician and education reformer Horace Mann was the first president. Horace Mann worked tirelessly for education reform in the United States. Even though he had relatively little formal education himself, he read voraciously, making great use of public libraries. He graduated from law school, and was elected to the state legislature of Massachusetts and later to the United States Congress. After a failed run for Governor of Massachusetts, he accepted the presidency of Antioch College where he remained for the final seven years of his life, teaching economics, philosophy, and theology.

Leonard Nimoy Notable Antioch alumni besides the Serling brothers include:

Coretta Scott King would go on to win a scholarship to the New England Conservatory of Music. The latter two would go on to appear in episodes of The Twilight Zone.

Yellow Springs, Ohio

The small village of Yellow Springs, Ohio, population just under 3,500 as of the last census in 2010, is a typical idyllic Midwestern town containing a very atypical college. Located approximately 20 miles from Dayton and 65 miles from Cincinnati, Antioch is where the traditional meets the open minded. Activism and calls for racial equality and diversity were hallmarks. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave the commencement address in 1965.

Antioch was recognized by The Huffington Post on its list of “Top Non-Traditional Colleges” and is regularly included in the guidebook Colleges That Change Lives.

In His Brother’s Footsteps

Serling’s admiration for his brother, Robert, who was seven years older, was easy to understand. After graduation from Antioch College with a degree in journalism, the elder Serling began a distinguished career with United Press International. A novelist and aviation writer, he is perhaps best known to the general public for his novel “The President’s Plane Is Missing” which was made into a TV movie in 1973 with Buddy Ebsen in the starring role. He won many awards throughout his career, including the the 1988 Lauren D. Lyman Award “for distinguished achievement in the field of aviation and aerospace journalism.” He actually worked for his younger brother as a consultant for the Twilight Zone episode, “The Odyssey of Flight 33.”

Antioch Student

In 1946, Rod Serling began his years at Antioch College, initially studying physical education. If this seems odd, remember that Serling was an outstanding boxer in the Army, and as a paratrooper, he had to be in top physical condition. Serling had wanted to work with children as well. However, his need for self-expression wasn’t being met and he quickly changed his major to language and literature.

Writing for the Armed Services Radio during the war provided a great background to draw upon as Serling nearly single-handedly ran the Antioch Broadcasting System radio workshops by the 1948-1949 school year. It was a great learning experience for him, but Serling would later refer to his writings then as a “cheap imitation of Hemingway.”

In 1946, Serling met fellow Antioch student Carolyn Kramer and the two were married just two years later. They would remain married until Serling’s death in 1975. They had two daughters, Jody and Anne.

Upon finishing his degree in 1950, Serling plunged into the world of writing, first for radio and eventually for television, eventually developing The Twilight Zone. His next encounter with Antioch College was on the other side of the desk, as a teacher.

Antioch Professor

By the fourth season of Twilight Zone, Serling was becoming exhausted with the weekly grind of churning out one script after another. He accepted a one-year teaching position as writer in residence at Antioch College. During the 1962–63 school year, his classes included writing, drama, and a survey course on “social and historical implications of the media.” He also worked on his new screenplay, “Seven Days in May,” which was produced for the big screen and starred Burt Lancaster.

Homage to Antioch

“The Changing Of The Guard” from season 3 is Rod Serling’s salute to his alma mater. The main character, Professor Ellis Fowler, who has taught for 51 years is being forced to retire. Depressed, he considers suicide, and upon seeing a statue of Horace Mann, the first president of Antioch College, with his famous quote, “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity” he is convinced he must go through with it. Before he can pull the trigger, though, the ghosts of former students appear, lauding him with great appreciation for the impact he made in their lives.

Antioch in the 21st century

In 2007, Antioch College faced closure to severe financial difficulties. This was no new development. Monetary struggles had dogged the college since its inception. Several years of legal wrangling followed before Antioch would graduate its next class in 2015, numbering only 21 students. The Higher Learning Commission granted Antioch College accreditation on June 30, 2016 and will host a review for reaffirmation of accreditation in 2019-2020. Like so many small colleges, existence remains a continuing challenge.