Charles Beaumont (January 2, 1929 – February 21, 1967) was a prolific American author of speculative fiction, including short stories in the horror and science fiction subgenres. He is remembered as a writer of classic Twilight Zone episodes, such as “The Howling Man”, “Miniature”, and “Printer's Devil”, but also penned the screenplays for several films, among them 7 Faces of Dr. Lao, The Intruder and The Masque of the Red Death. As best-selling novelist Dean R. Koontz has said, “[Charles Beaumont was] one of the seminal influences on writers of the fantastic and macabre.”
Life and work
Beaumont was born Charles Leroy Nutt in Chicago, to Charles H. and Letty Nutt. His mother is known to have dressed him in girls' clothes, and once threatened to kill his dog to punish him. These early experiences inspired the celebrated short story “Miss Gentilbelle”, but according to Beaumont, “Football, baseball and dimestore cookie thefts filled my early world.” School did not hold his attention, and his last name exposed him to ridicule, so he found solace as a teenager in science fiction. He dropped out of high school in tenth grade to join the army. He also worked as a cartoonist, illustrator, disc jockey, usher and dishwasher before selling his first story to Amazing Stories in 1950.
“Charles Beaumont” is the name of the villain in White Zombie (1932) who hires a zombie master (Lugosi) to accomplish his nefarious purpose.
In 1954, Playboy magazine selected his story “Black Country” to be the first work of short fiction to appear in its pages. It was also at about this time that Beaumont started writing for television and film.
Beaumont was energetic and spontaneous, and was known to take trips (sometimes out of the country) at a moment's notice. An avid racing fan, he often enjoyed participating in or watching area speedway races, with other authors tagging along.
His cautionary fables include “The Beautiful People” (1952), a futuristic short story about a rebellious adolescent girl who lives in a largely-conformist society in which people obligatorily alter their physical appearance (adapted as an episode of The Twilight Zone: “Number 12 Looks Just Like You”), and “Free Dirt” (1955), about a frugally gluttonous man who gorges on his entire vegetable harvest, but instead dies from having consumed the magical soil he used to grow it.
His short story “The Crooked Man” (also published by Playboy, in 1955) presented a dystopian future scenario wherein heterosexuality is stigmatized in the same way that homosexuality then was, and depicts heterosexuals living as furtively as pre-Stonewall gays and lesbians. In the story, a man meets the woman he loves in a gay orgy bar. They try to make love in a curtained booth (she dressed in male drag), and are caught.
Beaumont wrote several scripts for the Twilight Zone, including an adaptation of his own short story, “The Howling Man”, starring John Carradine and the hour-long “The Valley of the Shadow” in which a newspaper reporter stumbles upon a cloistered technological Utopia, disguised as an ordinary small town in the middle of nowhere, which refuses to allow its startingly-advanced science discoveries to be given to the outside world, citing humanity's previous misusue of another scientific formula E=mc2 as their cautious rationale. Beaumont famously scripted the film Queen of Outer Space from an outline by Ben Hecht, deliberately writing the screenplay as a parody. According to Beaumont, the directorial style is not informed by this satiric intent.
He did pen one episode of Steve Canyon; “Operation B-52”; a story where Canyon and his crew attempt to set a new around the world non-stop speed record in a B-52 with a newsman aboard who hates Air Force pilots. The newsman later learns that flyboys aren't so bad after all.
Beaumont was much admired by the well-known colleagues who outlived him (Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, Richard Matheson, Robert Bloch, Roger Corman), and his work is currently in the process of being rediscovered. Many of his stories have been re-released in posthumous volumes (Best of Beaumont (Bantam, 1982) and The Howling Man (Tom Doherty, 1992)), and a set of previously unpublished tales, A Touch of the Creature (Subterranean Press, 1999), is now available. In 2004, Gauntlet Press released the first of what is to be two volumes collecting Beaumont's Twilight Zone scripts.
Illness and death
When Beaumont was 34 and overwhelmed by numerous writing commitments, he began to suffer the effects of what has been called “a mysterious brain disease”. He began to age rapidly. His speech slowed and his ability to concentrate diminished.
“He was rarely well,” his friend and colleague William F. Nolan (who went on to co-write the science fiction novel Logan's Run) would later recall. “He was almost always thin, and with a headache. He used Bromo-Seltzer like most people use water. He had a big Bromo bottle with him all the time.” Other symptoms were of the professional as well as physical persuasion, Nolan went on: “He could barely sell stories, much less write. He would go unshaven to meetings with producers, which would end in disaster. You've got to be able to think on your feet [as a script writer], which Chuck couldn't do anymore; and so the producers would just go, 'We're sorry, Mr. Beaumont, but we don't like the script.'”
Some (including friend and early agent Forrest J Ackerman) have asserted that Beaumont suffered simultaneously from Alzheimer's and Pick's diseases, but it has also been speculated that the condition was related to the spinal meningitis he suffered as a child. The former diagnosis was echoed by the UCLA Medical Staff, who subjected Beaumont to a battery of tests in the mid-1960s. As recalled by Nolan, the UCLA doctors sent Beaumont home with a death sentence: “There's absolutely no treatment for this disease. It's permanent and it's terminal. He'll probably live from six months to three years with it. He'll decline and get to where he can't stand up. He won't feel any pain. In fact, he won't even know this is happening.” Nolan himself sums up what happened: “Like his character 'Walter Jameson,' Chuck just dusted away.”
Several fellow writers, including Nolan and friend Jerry Sohl, began ghostwriting for Beaumont in his final years, so that he could meet his many writing obligations. Privately, he insisted on splitting these fees.
Charles Beaumont died in Woodland Hills, California at the age of 38. But at that time, said his son Christopher later, “he looked ninety-five and was, in fact, ninety-five by every calendar except the one on your watch.” Beaumont's last residence was in nearby Valley Village, California. He left behind his devoted wife Helen, and two sons and two daughters. One son died in 2004 of eerily similar circumstances. The other, Christopher, is a successful writer in his own right.