Anne Serling, daughter of Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling, will be the studio announcer for WVXU's production of her father's 1955 baseball comedy, O'Toole From Moscow.
WVXU and the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music are coproducing a radio adaptation of O'Toole From Moscow, a comedy about confusion between Russians and the Cincinnati Reds at the height of the "Red Scare" over possible Communist infiltration of American institutions during the Cold War. The radio play will be directed by Richard Hess, CCM professor of acting and directing.
Rod Serling, who started his career in 1950 at WLWT-TV after graduating from Antioch College in Yellow Springs, wrote the one-hour television play for NBC Matinee Theatre. It was broadcast only once – on Dec. 12, 1955 – at one o'clock in the afternoon. The performance was not filmed or recorded.
His daughter, who was unaware of O'Toole From Moscow until contacted by WVXU, was not surprised that her father had written a teleplay about baseball in 1955, four years before The Twilight Zone premiered.
"My dad was a huge Dodgers fan. I have vivid memories of driving with him – the radio on full blast – as he listened to baseball games and slapped the steering wheel (with great enthusiasm) over certain plays," she says.
Anne was born after her parents moved in 1954 from Cincinnati to Greenwich, Conn. The family moved to Hollywood before The Twilight Zone debuted on Oct. 2, 1959. She wrote a book in 2014 about her father, As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling.
Rod Serling died in 1975, at age 50, from complications after a heart bypass operation in Rochester, N.Y.
In O'Toole From Moscow, a Russian embassy staffer named Mushnick is 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) hop a train and go as far as their money will take them – which was Cincinnati.
In Cincinnati, Bishofsky goes to the Reds office to turn himself in to a bewildered general manager. Mushnick bursts in and explains that Joseph – whom he calls "O'Toole" – is an outfielder wanting a tryout. The Reds manager (Hall of Fame manager Leo Durocher) gives O'Toole a shot, and he ends up being a better slugger than Ted Kluszewski – until the Russians find him.
CCM students will record O'Toole From Moscow later this year. Cincinnati Public Radio will add the sound effects and music. The plan is for WVXU to broadcast O'Toole From Moscow next year as the baseball season begins.
Full disclosure here: Finding and reviving O'Toole From Moscow is my passion project. I've known about the show since the late 1980s, when I first wrote about Serling's Cincinnati life as the Enquirer's TV columnist. Last year, a three-page synopsis of O'Toole From Moscow appeared in Nick Parisi's new book, Rod Serling: His Life, Work and Imagination.
Through my connections with Serling historians, I finally tracked down the O'Toole script for Cincinnati Public Radio. This summer I adapted the TV script for radio.
"Thank you so much for reviving the teleplay, John. Beyond being honored, I think my dad would be absolutely tickled. I struggle for a better word, but that seems fitting," Anne says. "I imagine him with an enormous grin, shaking his head, 'How about that?!' It really is quite something after all these decades. And a writer's dream."
For more information, see my story, "WVXU To Produce Rare Rod Serling Show About Cincinnati Reds."