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From “Dust” to the Zone

Few Twilight Zone fans have seen “A Town Has Turned to Dust,” a live teleplay written by Rod Serling that aired on June 19, 1958. But if it weren’t for that show, the Zone might never have existed.

Specifically, it was the frustrating experience of trying to get it on the air intact that helped convince Serling that allegory, not straight drama, might be a better way to get his points across.

rod serling mic

“A Town Has Turned to Dust” was based on the case of Emmett Till, a black teenager tortured and murdered by a group of white thugs in 1955 Mississippi. His offense: allegedly making some off-color remarks to a white female shop-keeper. Till was hunted down, beaten, shot and thrown in a river. This heinous crime shocked the nation, and led Serling to dramatize the events in “A Town Has Turned to Dust” for Playhouse 90.

But as Marc Scott Zicree and other biographers have noted, the show’s sponsors were nervous about offending certain customers, especially in the South. They pored over the script, demanding numerous changes (many of them quite petty). It morphed from a story about homicidal prejudice in the present-day Deep South, to one about a white murdering a Mexican in a U.S. southwest town in the 1870s.

Shatner Dust

The teleplay stars a young William Shatner, who would go on to star in two memorable Twilight Zone episodes.

“By the time the censors had gotten to it, my script had turned to dust,” the understandably irritated author later commented. “They chopped it up like a room full of butchers at work on a steer.” Read the rest of this entry