Original Air Date: February 14, 1963
Writer: Earl Hamner, Jr.
Director: Buzz Kulik
“The Twilight Zone has existed in many lands in many times. It has its roots in history, in something that happened long, long ago and got told about and handed down from one generation of folk to the other. In the telling the story gets added to and embroidered on, so that what might have happened in the time of the Druids is told as if it took place yesterday in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Such stories are best told by an elderly grandfather on a cold winter’s night by the fireside in the southern hills of the Twilight Zone.”
Our haunting rural folklore story begins in a square dancing scene. Billy-Ben Turner (James Best) steps outside the communal barn to propose marriage to the daughter of the town’s most prosperous farmer Ellwyn Glover (Laura Devon). Upon announcing their engagement, the town begins celebrating –excluding Billy-Ben’s shadowy but alluring ex-lover named Jess-Belle (Anne Francis).
Jess-Belle visits a remote witch named Granny Hart (Jeanette Nolan) who makes a deal: she gains Jess-Belle’s soul in exchange for a love potion which makes Billy-Ben fall madly in love with her. However, Jess-Belle soon realizes that her bargained has transformed her into a witch as well, with the capability of transforming into a large wildcat. Despite pleading with Granny Hart Jess-Belle can never be changed back into a normal woman, and one evening the men in town chase down the loose wildcat and shoot it.
Now with the disappearance of Jess-Belle, Billy-Ben and Elly resume their romance but on their wedding night they are haunted by the ghost of Jess-Belle. Elly becomes possessed by Jess-Belle and Billy-Ben rushes to Granny Hart demanding to be released from this torment. In order to do so, he must fabricate an effigy of Jess-Belle and stab it through the heart. At the last moment, he sees a vision of Jess-Belle as she is finally released from the witch’s curse.
“Fair was Elly Glover,
Dark was Jess-Belle.
Both they loved the same man
And both they loved him well.”
The Twilight Zone Trivia:
- Jess-Belle” is a homonym for Jezebel, an allusion to the infamous manipulative Biblical Queen of Israel.
- This spooky love story aired on Valentine’s Day 1963.
- This is the only episode in The Twilight Zone series not to feature closing narration from Rod Serling, instead it features a recitation of the folk song heard earlier in the episode. The song was sung by Terrea Lea.
- Set in the Blue Ridge Mountains, this story was penned by creator/narrator of The Waltons Earl Hamner, Jr. Of the eight Twilight Zone episodes he wrote, this was his personal favorite according to an interview with Marc Scott Zicree in The Twilight Zone Companion.
- This episode had to be shot on a tight deadline after another script scheduled for production fell through.
- This was another characteristic story by Earl Hamner, Jr. who tended to focus on folkloric stories of the rural South. In “Jess-Belle” the setting is again in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Producer Herbert Hirschman actually requested a folkloric script like “The Hunt” from Hamner as an emergency replacement for this episode. While the script initially called for a tiger or cougar, they settled on using a leopard for the production.
- Anne Francis and James Best both appeared together in Forbidden Planet, a film with a long series of connections to The Twilight Zone.
Click here to return to my survey of The Twilight Zone series.