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WVXU Records Rod Serling's 1955 Cincinnati Reds Show This Weekend

Courtesy CBS
Rod Serling publicity photo for "The Twilight Zone" premiere in 1959.

Rod Serling's 1955 comedy involving the Cincinnati Reds – broadcast only once on NBC Television – will come to life in a Cincinnati Public Radio studio this weekend.

Serling's O'Toole From Moscow, about confusion during the Cold War between Russians and the Reds, will be recorded as a radio program performed by eight University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music students under the direction of Richard Hess, professor of acting and directing.

Anne Serling, daughter of Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling, will be the studio announcer and narrator.

Credit Courtesy Anne Serling
Anne Serling wrote a book about her father in 2013 called 'As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling.'

"I am thrilled to be a part of this recording. Even more so after reading the script and recognizing expressions I recall my dad saying that I haven't heard in decades.  I thought about how young he was when he wrote O'Toole, and how his own love of baseball pours through the lines," she says.

"I am so appreciative to you for doing this and grateful to be a part of it."

Credit Courtesy Anne Serling
Anne Serling with her father.

Rod Serling, who died in 1975 at age 50, was 30 when he wrote O'Toole. His daughter did not know about the Reds-themed show until told by Cincinnati Public Radio. She says her father would be "honored" and "absolutely tickled" with the revival as a radio program.

O'Toole From Moscow will be broadcast on WVXU-FM next year as the baseball season begins.

Rod Serling, who started his career in 1950 at Cincinnati's WLWT-TV, wrote the one-hour television play for NBC Matinee Theatre. It was broadcast live on Dec. 12, 1955 – at one o'clock on a Monday afternoon. The performance was not filmed or recorded.

Credit John Kiesewetter / WVXU

In the play, set at the height of the Cold War "Red Scare," a Russian embassy staffer named Mushnick was being sent back to Moscow from New York because of his high absenteeism due to attending Brooklyn Dodgers games at Ebbets Field. So Mushnick and a strapping young, naive Russian bodyguard named Joseph Bishofsky (played by Chuck Connors, who had a brief career with the Dodgers and Cubs before starring as TV's Rifleman) hopped a train and go as far as their money took them – which was Cincinnati.

In Cincinnati, Bishofsky went to the Reds office to turn himself in to a bewildered general manager.  Mushnick burst in to explain that Joseph – whom he calls "O'Toole" – is an outfielder wanting a tryout. The Reds gave O'Toole a shot, and he ended up being a better slugger than Ted Kluszewski. Until the Russians found him.

Cincinnati Post TV columnist Mary Wood called O'Toole From Moscow "delightfully fantastic" in her review the next day. "The Reds – both Cincinnati's favorite baseball team and the Moscow variety – were mixed up in the most hilarious comedy Rod Serling has written so far," she wrote.

Credit Courtesy Mark Dawidziak
Rod Serling at work.

I've known about O'Toole From Moscow since the late 1980s, when I first wrote about Serling's Cincinnati life as the Enquirer's TV columnist. Serling was hired as a WLW radio and TV writer in 1950 after graduating from Antioch College in Yellow Springs. He also free-lanced scripts for WKRC-TV's The Storm live TV drama series in 1951-52, and for live TV network productions in New York. The Serlings moved to Greenwich, Conn., in 1954, a year before O'Toole aired. The family moved to Los Angeles before The Twilight Zone premiered in October 1959.

With the help of Serling historians, I tracked down the O'Toole script for Cincinnati Public Radio. We met with Anne Serling, and she gave her blessing to our project. (Full disclosure here: I adapted the one-hour TV play for radio, and am a producer on the program.)

Not much is known about NBC's original O'Toole From Moscow, performed live in a New York TV studio before the use of video tape was common. The cast included John Banner (later known as Sergeant Schultz on Hogan's Heroes) and Hall of Fame baseball manger Leo Durocher as the Reds manager. 

rod and anne serling
Credit Courtesy of Anne Serling
Rod Serling with his daughter Anne.

Anne Serling will record her part Friday. The CCM cast will rehearse Friday and tape the show on Saturday, under Hess's direction. Sound effects and music will be added later.

"I think my dad -- for the first time in his life -- would have been speechless to know that after all these decades  his script has come back to life," Anne Serling says.

John Kiesewetter, who has covered television and media for more than 35 years, has been working for Cincinnati Public Radio and WVXU-FM since 2015.