For many of us who sat glued to our black and white television sets for a half hour once a week in the early 1960s, the voice is immediately recognizable:
“Historians will look to the early 1970s as a turning point of concern about the world around us. This awareness centers on our environment yet today we must admit we have only begun to tackle the problem. In our nation Washington stands out as the first to address itself directly to the problems and take positive legislative action on environmental concerns. This is Rod Serling speaking for the Washington State Department of Ecology.”
How did Rod Sterling get involved?
That’s how the creator of the iconic television show The Twlight Zone starts his narration of the slide show on the fledgling Department of Ecology. Gary Amos, an ecology employee at the time, created it in 1974 for school children across the state.
Gary Amos was a 22-year-old Ecology employee in 1974. Ecology was the first government agency in the nation committed to environmental protection when it was created by the state Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Dan Evans in 1970. Ten years earlier, the original The Twilight Zone was in its second season on network television.
Like many viewers, Gary was fascinated by the show’s stories of fantasy, science fiction and psychological intrigue that often ended in a macabre twist. The endings left our imaginations racing but, as a young fan, Gary could not have imagined that he would someday meet Rod Serling, the show’s creator and producer and that Serling would help him educate the public about the Department of Ecology.
The first Earth Day
The activism of the 1970s that resulted in the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, spurred hundreds of school children to write Gov Evans’ office about environmental concerns and put Gary on the road speaking to classrooms and community groups about Ecology’s mission and challenges.
“The environment became a huge issue. I was really busy, got to travel all over,” Gary recalled.
He was a temporary employee working for Ats Kiuchi, public affairs director for Ecology, who asked Gary to “put together a program, a slide show for the kids.”
With the help of Carolyn Empey, a photographer and Ecology intern, Gary created the slide show that he first tried to narrate himself.
“That’s when I realized I didn’t have the voice,” he said.
A group of Gary’s colleagues stood around talking about what to do and half joking he asked Ats’ assistant, Linda, about getting Rod Serling to narrate the slide show. The group laughed but one thing has never changed at Ecology: administrative assistants always accomplish the impossible.
Making connections the old fashioned way
There was no Internet at that time so Linda grabbed a copy of “Who’s Who in America," looked up Serling’s address and wrote him a letter asking him if he was willing to donate his time and talents to the project.
The answer was yes but Ecology Director John Biggs asked Gary to write Serling again to make sure he knew what was meant by “donate.” Once in agreement, Gary was on his way to California. His wife and Caroyln Empey came with him but at their own expense.
Then Gary was startled when his pager went off while waiting for his plane at Sea-Tac Airport. Serling had called the agency to cancel their meeting because of an unexpected obligation. Gary reacted quickly and was able to call Serling back and work out an alternative.
Gary, his wife and Carolyn flew to Los Angeles and met Serling at a recording studio near MGM Studios where Serling recorded his narration of the Ecology slide show.
It's no mystery. Rod Sterling cared about the environment
“We didn’t get charged for the studio, the technician’s time or the editor’s time,” Gary said. “The only thing I had to pay for was the spool of tape.”
A year later, Serling would be dead of a heart attack. He was only 50 years old. “He donated his time and talents because he thought it was such an important endeavor. He was concerned about pollution and air quality,” Gary said.
It was a heady experience for Gary who left Ecology shortly after completing the slide show and actually never had an opportunity to use it in a classroom presentation. He worked several years as a public school teacher but for the past 35 years has been an investment advisor in Yakima.
"It’s probably my claim to fame,” Gary said of his encounter with the creator of the Twilight Zone, “and when it’s over I hope they mention it at my funeral.”
Earth Day 2014
For Earth Day 2014, Ecology resurrected the slide show and interjected fresh information in it on the progress our agency has made in intervening decades on cleaning up and protecting the air, water and land of Washington state. Watch it now!