Serling’s Re-Zoning Efforts: “People Are Alike All Over”
If you’re a Twilight Zone fan, you’re used to having the rug pulled out from under you when an episode concludes. Where would the fifth dimension be without irony-laden endings?
Case in point: Season 1’s “People are Alike All Over”. Who can forget the stunned look on Sam Conrad’s face when he discovers where he’s at in the end?
(If you haven’t seen this episode before, you may want to check it out before proceeding any further. It’s on disc, as well as streaming on Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime.)
The story concerns two astronauts — Sam Conrad (played by Roddy McDowell), and Warren Marcusson (Paul Comi, in the first of three Zone roles). We meet them on the eve of their flight to Mars. No one has ever been there, of course, so they wonder what they’ll find. Will there be people? And if there are, what will they be like?
Conrad is a worrier, but the positive-thinking Marcusson reassures him. He’s convinced there’s a fixed formula for humanity that holds true throughout the galaxy. So if there are people on Mars, they must be like people on Earth. Conrad, he thinks, shouldn’t fret.
The episode’s title becomes Marcusson’s mantra. But Conrad remains skeptical, and when they crash-land on Mars, and Marcusson is killed, he’s really scared at what he’ll find outside. But to his delight, he finds … people. People who look, walk, and speak like people back on Earth.
Sure, they dress like refugees from a toga party, but why complain? Marcusson was right! And when the Martians prove to be so accommodating that they build him a house of his own, one that reflects his own personal tastes down to the last detail, he’s delighted. He was foolish to be afraid, right?
Not exactly. He soon discovers he’s a prisoner in this comfortable house — stuck behind bars in an intergalactic zoo. There’s even a sign outside that reads: “EARTH CREATURE in his native habitat”. The Martians gather outside to watch the new exhibit with eager, curious and amused expressions (except for Teenya, who is clearly distressed about Sam’s predicament).
(I wonder if they have other “creatures” on display nearby from other planets. We see only poor, shocked Conrad in his “habitat”, but it’s possible that he’s the star attraction in a zoo that showcases other species.)
You can’t help feeling sorry for Conrad. On the bright side, the Martians seem content to let him live, and in relative comfort. Beats winding up on a Kanamit dinner table!
Still — that’s pretty rough. He’s stuck there forever. And right after he’d put his fears aside. It’s hard to blame him for yelling bitterly at the sky, “Marcusson! Marcusson, you were right! You were right. People are alike. People are alike everywhere.”
“People are Alike All Over” began life as a short story that Fairman wrote called “Brothers Beyond the Void”. It was originally published in the March 1952 issue of a magazine called Fantastic Adventures.
If you’ve looked at some of my previous “Re-Zoning” posts, you know that sometimes Serling completely overhauled a story. This time, however, the basic story remains the same. We meet Conrad and Marcusson, there’s a trip to Mars, and it ends with one unlucky astronaut trapped behind bars.
But as always, Serling made several interesting changes.
Start with the most basic: In Fairman’s story, it’s a one-man trip to Mars, not a two-man trip. And the one who makes it to the red planet and winds up being ogled like a human ape? It’s Marcusson, not Conrad.
Also in Fairman’s story, Marcusson has a launch-eve meeting with Conrad, who’s portrayed as an old friend of his (and notably older than Marcusson, it seems). It’s Conrad who tells Marcusson not to worry, not the other way around. Conrad even uses some of the same language we hear in the episode to reassure his young friend:
“In constructing humankind, Nature invented a fixed formula — a pattern of behavior built upon basic instincts to meet certain physical needs and spiritual conditions. Those conditions, so far as a humanoid is concerned, are the same here on Earth as they would be in the furthest reaches of space. Physical characteristics, of course, are changeable to meet changed geographical and geological conditions. But such things are only trappings; outer garments, so to speak. The spiritual and emotional care of the humanoid is as fixed as the stars.”
“Then you believe people are the same everywhere?”
“People — wherever they are able to exist — are all the same.”
Another notable difference: The Martians in the story don’t speak English, as they do in the episode (or at least appear to, since they tell Conrad that their language is being auto-translated into English, and his into Martian). Fairman has them speaking “in a musical language — a pleasant, bird-like warble that gave off most ably the nuances of mood, thought, and inflection for which anyone unfamiliar with a language always listens.”
So Marcusson (whose first name in the story is Charles, not Warren) never hears them speaking in English. Everyone has to pantomime and try to communicate in other ways, the same way any of us would if we were trying to talk with a non-English speaker.
And when the Martians build Marcusson a house, it’s not because they read his mind. It’s because, during one of their conversations, he has sketched for them what an Earth house would look like. He’s then amazed, the very next day, to find they’ve built it for him in its entirety.
There’s very little dialogue in the short story, but as we’ve seen with other scripts, Serling is well-prepared to supply that. He creates all the conversations between the Martians and Conrad. On the page, it’s enough for Fairman to describe how they’re getting their ideas across, but on TV, conversations in English work much better.
And Teenya, played by Susan Oliver? That’s all Serling. He excelled at that sort of thing — giving intriguing tales a much-needed dose of humanity. The Martians in Fairman’s story have no names or personalities. And although they seem fairly friendly, they’re more wary of Marcusson than the Martians in the TZ episode are of Conrad.
But as I mentioned earlier, both the story and the show lead to that unforgettable ending. Serling has Conrad yelling, then grumbling at his departed friend once he’s discovered his fate. But for Fairman:
The Martians were there — hundreds of them — and more coming over the hills from the spired city.
A chill such as he had never known swept through Marcusson. He saw the bars in which he was imprisoned — the cage erected around his house — the sign in Martian lettering he interpreted into his own language and read with horror:
EARTH CREATURE — IN ITS NATURAL HABITAT
He saw the staring eyes of the Martians and realized the full, ghastly truth of Conrad’s words: People are the same everywhere.
He gripped the cage bars in his fists.
A great ending, but isn’t it even better with Serling’s narration added in?
Species of animal brought back alive. Interesting similarity in physical characteristics to human beings in head, trunk, arms, legs, hands, feet. Very tiny undeveloped brain. Comes from primitive planet named Earth. Calls himself Samuel Conrad. And he will remain here in his cage with the running water and the electricity and the central heat as long as he lives. Samuel Conrad has found The Twilight Zone.
You can read the original short story here. For a daily dose of Serling, you can follow me on Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest. You can also get email notifications of future posts by entering your address under “Follow S&S Via Email” on the upper left-hand side of this post.
Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!
Posted on 01/31/2020, in Twilight Zone and tagged Brothers Beyond the Void, Paul Comi, Paul Fairman, People Are Alike All Over, Rod Serling, Roddy McDowell, Twilight Zone. Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.