Tuesday, October 14, 2014

They Should Have Been in Weird Tales: Charles Beaumont (1929-1967)

In writing about Ben Hecht, I mentioned the writer Charles Beaumont. I have mentioned him before in my article about his friend, Richard Matheson (1926-2013). I will write about him again today.

Charles Beaumont has been gone for nearly half a century, yet there was a time when his name or work was in every medium--in books, comic books, magazines, television, and movies--and in essays, articles, reviews, fiction, and drama. If he had lived, it's easy to imagine that he would have joined Richard Matheson, Robert Bloch, and Ray Bradbury in a category of men whose names are synonymous in our popular culture with fantasy, fear, dread, and horror. Unfortunately, Charles Beaumont died a strange and premature death.

Born Charles Leroy Nutt on January 2, 1929, Beaumont contracted spinal meningitis as a child. In his invalid state, he began reading the Wizard of Oz books, then Edgar Rice Burroughs and Edgar Allan Poe. With that, he later said, "the jig was up." He published his own science fiction fanzine, Utopia, as a teenager and wrote letters to science fiction magazines. He even drew pictures for the pulps and co-illustrated Out of the Unknown by A.E. van Vogt and E. Mayne Hull (1948) under the name "Charles McNutt."

After knocking around for awhile (and changing his name twice), Beaumont had his first published story, "The Devil You Say," in Amazing Stories in January 1951. He turned twenty-two that month and his writing life was on. Over the next fifteen years he wrote dozens more stories published in If, Orbit, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science FictionInfinity Science Fiction, and Gamma. Playboy accepted his story "Black Country" (Sept. 1954) as its first published short fiction. Thereafter Playboy kept him on retainer and listed him as a contributing editor.

In his tenure at Playboy, Beaumont wrote a series of nostalgic articles collected in the book Remember? Remember? in 1963. Among them is an essay called "The Bloody Pulps," of which he wrote:
Happily, no sober, critical evaluation of them is possible. Like any other narcotic, they defy rational analysis. One can speak of their effect, even of their ingredients, but not, without wearisome and unconvincing pomposity, of their causes. Something in them froze the addict's critical faculties. He might entertain a difference of opinion on the relative merits of Putnam's and Shelton's translation of Don Quixote, but on the subject of Weird Tales he was, and is, adamant. (1)
Beaumont wrote for other men's magazines as well, including Manhunt, Nugget, and Rogue. His stories have been reprinted and anthologized in the years since their first appearance, including in several of his own books. The first, The Hunger and Other Stories, came out in 1957.

If you watched Twilight Zone (1959-1964) in its original run or in syndication, you could not have avoided seeing Charles Beaumont's name in the credits. He wrote or co-wrote twenty-two episodes in all, second only to the creator Rod Serling. Writer William F. Nolan remembered:
Chuck was the perfect Twilight Zone writer, more than Matheson or Rod Serling, even. Matheson is very much of a realist who can mentally lose himself in those worlds. He doesn't live in them the way Chuck lived in them. Chuck actually lived in the Twilight Zone. (2)
Beaumont also wrote scripts for Steve Canyon, Buckskin, Wanted: Dead or Alive, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Have Gun-Will Travel, Naked City, Route 66, Thriller, and other television shows. His film scripts were far fewer in number, but his list of credits is impressive. His first was Tradita from 1954. Then came Queen of Outer Space (1957) from an outline by Ben Hecht. Beaumont co-wrote (with Richard Matheson and George Baxt) the screenplay for Burn! Witch! Burn! (1962), based on Fritz Leiber's Conjure Wife. Other adaptations included Premature Burial (1962) and The Masque of the Red Death (1964), both from Poe; The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962); The Haunted Palace (1963), from "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward" by H.P. Lovecraft; and 7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964) from the novel by Charles G. Finney.

William F. Nolan observed that Charles Beaumont "actually lived in the Twilight Zone." In a way, he also died in the Twilight Zone. At thirty-four, he came down with a mysterious illness that caused constant headaches, weight loss, slurred speech, and a rapid and premature aging. Towards the end, he "looked ninety-five," according to his son Christopher. (3) Described by his friend Richard Matheson as "meteoric," (4) Charles Beaumont died on February 21, 1967, in Woodland Hills, California, after just sixteen years as a published writer and only thirty-eight years on this earth. 

Notes
(1) Page 120.
(2) Quoted in The Twilight Zone Companion by Marc Scott Zicree (1982), p. 74.
(3) Quoted on Wikipedia.
(4) The Twilight Zone Companion, p. 75.

The Hunger and Other Stories by Charles Beaumont (1957), his first book, with a cover design by Robert Clyne. 
The Hunger and Other Stories in a Bantam paperback edition from 1959. The cover art is a collage of work by Heinrich Kley and Hieronymus Bosch. 
Run from the Hunter (1957) by Charles Beaumont and John E. Tomerlin writing together as Keith Grantland.
Yonder, a second collection of stories from 1958. The cover artist is unknown, and though I wouldn't lay any money on it, it looks a little like the work of Richard Powers.
The Intruder, a hardbound novel from 1959. This might be the version with a cover by Robert Clyne. The word on the cover is ugly. It would never appear on the cover of a book today, even if people still use it. I considered not showing this cover here. But I don't think the word will go away by our ignoring it or running away from it. It will go away only when people stop thinking this way. By the way, The Intruder was made into a movie in 1962 with William Shatner in the lead role.
Night Ride and Other Journeys from 1960. The artist is unknown.
The Magic Man and Other Science-Fantasy Stories, yet another collection from 1965.  
The Magic Man in a British edition, also with a photo cover. 
The Edge, another British edition, from 1966.
Remember? Remember?, a collection of nostalgic essays from Playboy, reprinted in book form in 1963. Leo Manso designed the cover.
Charles Beaumont began his career in science fiction and fantasy as an artist named Charles McNutt. In 1948, at age nineteen, he contributed three illustrations to Out of the Unknown, a hardbound collection of stories by A.E. van Vogt and his wife, E. Mayne Hull. The cover art is by Roy Hunt.
Charles McNutt's interior illustration for "The Patient" by E. Mayne Hull. This is the only one of the three that bears his name. The others are only initialed. 
McNutt's illustration for "The Sea Thing" by A.E. van Vogt. Note the mix of scratchboard technique and pen. It seems a pretty good bet that McNutt--Beaumont--was influenced by Virgil Finlay.
An illustration for "The Wishes We Make" by E. Mayne Hull. Charles McNutt also drew pictures for Fantasy Book No. 1 (July 1947) and No. 2 (Feb. 1948). In November 1942, when the future Charles Beaumont was only thirteen, Startling Stories printed his letter to the editor in its November 1942 issue. 
Charles Beaumont (1929-1967) in a serious mood, 1960.
Text and captions copyright 2014 Terence E. Hanley

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