This is the second in a series of articles discussing the religious views of Rod Serling. The first, God and Rod Serling, can be found here.
Utahans love their science fiction. They also love their religion. Rod Sterling combined both in his classic series The Twilight Zone. In addition to discussing God, Serling also included angels in the series.
Utahans should appreciate this aspect of The Twilight Zone mythology, considering that the long-running Touched By An Angel was filmed in Salt Lake City, and Utah’s most prominent landmark, the Salt Lake Temple, is capped by a golden angel.
Serling’s religious background was a mixture of Judaism by birth and ethnicity, and Unitarianism by choice. Writing in the late 1950s and early 1960s, American culture was accepting of religious themes discussed in the media. The Ten Commandments (1956) and Ben-Hur (1959) were both silver screen smashes, earning a combined total of 12 Oscars. Serling rode their coattails with his work on the small screen.
Here are some of the angelic Twilight Zone episodes:
- “A Passage for Trumpet.” This companion to “Night of the Meek,” has Jack Klugman as a washed-up alcoholic trumpeter’s life turned around (literally) by the intervention by a veiled Gabriel.
- “The Changing of the Guard.” A professor (Donald Pleasence) forced into retirement, looks back on his life and feels himself a failure, until several of his former-war-hero students come back from the grave and reassure him.
- “One For The Angels.” In this case, the angel is the Angel of Death. A peddler makes the greatest sales pitch in his life, to save the life of a young girl.
- “A Game of Pool.” A pool-sharp gets his wish to play the greatest billiardsman ever, but learns that winning is not everything.
This last episode played Jack Klugman against Jonathan Winters, both who are famous for comedic roles. Though this episode was not a comedy—it did have the ragged ironic twist at the end—Serling did have two angels in comedic roles.
- “Mr. Bevis.” An off-beat cubical denizen with a heart of gold learns that a straight-laced life is not for him, courtesy of his guardian angel, J. Hardy Hempstead.
- “Cavendar is Coming.” This episode stars Carol Burnett as a fired usherette whose bumbling guardian angel gives her the lifestyle of the rich and famous.
These episodes are lighthearted and heartwarming. And these two owe much to Clarence the Angel in It’s Wonderful Life (Brodie and Serling, Rod Serling and the Twilight Zone, 39).
For the most part, Serling’s angels are gentle, good, and sometimes as offbeat as the foolish mortals they are trying to help. But each encounter is a teleplay version of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel—the Divine Finger touching cold clay, giving commonplace manikins a sense of divine and eternal worth.
If God was too elusive for Serling, then angels were solid substitutes.