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Two perspectives on Charles Beaumont: interviews with Chris Beaumont and Roger Anker

by William P Simmons

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Newscaster of the Unconscious: an interview with Chris Beaumont

A Touch of the Creature by Charles BeaumontA writer whose inner conflict, impressive depth of imagination, and mature understanding of the human condition allowed him to approach subjects of subversive terror, whimsical fantasy, and cynical speculative fiction with an honesty and evocative sense of imagery rare in any field, Charles Beaumont was a writer's writer, weaving words like a primal Shaman to better make sense of a world that often eluded understanding. That he did so with wit and intelligence is evident by even a cursory reading of some of his short stories of the supernatural. That he did so with intense emotion, heart, and a love of his characters (both human and otherwise) is best seen in the evocative, highly stylized, and stunningly original scripts which he wrote for Rod Serling's Twilight Zone during that show's five year run.

While the stories that Serling often contributed to his series where stamped with his own undeniable love of humanity and talent, they were just as often recognizable by their political emphasis and social conscience. If Rod Serling, the father of the Twilight Zone, was its social conscience, crafting moral allegories, fables, and fantasies with clearly formed messages often delivered and stressed in the dialogue of characters, than Charles Beaumont was its chief storyteller, more concerned with crafting an entertaining provocative story for its own sake than with putting fourth political dissertations. While there is no lack of cultural urgency, contextual meaning, or social commentary in Beaumont's scathing and suspenseful forays into the Twilight Zone, even those episodes with the most pronounced possible leanings value characterization, pacing, and story structure over crass moralization.

Credited with writing 22 episodes of the Twilight Zone during his all too short and tragic life, Charles Beaumont is responsible for several fine moments of fantasy and terror. His outsiders, loners, and men fighting against shadows both of the supernatural and the worst part of themselves often challenged the perceptions of viewers, the standard boundaries of genre, and people's pre-conceived perceptions of the world -- perfect for a series whose primary power laid in its ability to attract writers capable of subverting reality and questioning the appearances of logic, science, and superstition. Beaumont's scripts -- leanly written with convincing dialogue, quick pacing, and the feeling of dark modern myth -- went one step further. Questioning not only the nature of, and difference between, reality and fantasy but, in addition, the very dependability of perception -- that tool by which human beings define both themselves and the possible worlds of flesh and spirit around them -- his scripts seemed to specialize in cultural outsiders whose internal and external differences, purposely or inadvertently forced them at odds with a malign universe, each other, or themselves.

Beaumont's life was as odd as his fiction. Born Charles Nutt in Chicago (1929), he lived with his parents until age twelve, and by all counts the strangeness and isolation of this part of his life led to the development of his adventurous, somewhat eccentric personality and interest in the fantastic. Becoming a young man of great ambitions, Beaumont longed to become an actor, an artist, and a writer. Thankfully he also had more than just a smidgen of talent, and when he appeared in Los Angeles he began the struggle to break into print. Working a variety of jobs, and married to Helen Broun, it was here, amidst the struggle and wonder of the movie industry that he would meet Ray Bradbury and begin a relationship of several years. It was also here that he soon fell in with other influential authors of what would become known as The Southern California Group, which consisted of such genre legends as Richard Matheson, William F. Nolan, Jerry Sohl, and various other writers who would shape fantasy fiction.

Publishing short stories, novels, and other pieces in increasingly better (if not always well paying) markets, Beaumont and Richard Matheson joined forces when breaking into the television market, scripting together shows for the Golden Age Of Television, including work on such iconic pieces as "Have Gun, Will Travel" before being called in by Rod Serling to contribute to his new fantasy series, which the gentleman did separately. When folks are asked to name writers whose work they most enjoyed on that series, Beaumont and Matheson come second only to Serling. Although George Clayton Johnson and Jerry Sohl wrote some of the scripts credited to Beaumont, including "Living Doll," which was for years unknown to have been Sohl's work, Beaumont's legacy stands tall, and his contribution to the language and excellence of the fantastic unquestionable. Writing 22 episodes of the series, Beaumont's are widely acknowledged as the Zone's most terrifying, artfully deceitful, and archetypical visitations into the supernatural and occult, with the rich symbolism and world timeliness of "The Howling Man" and the dark humor of "Printer's Devil," based on his own short stories (something he and Matheson often did), leading the pack. Preoccupied with such complex issues as alienation and self identification, Beaumont's scripts attacked expectations. There is no way of not reacting to the profound terror and joy of such classic scripts as "In His Image" or "A Nice Place To Visit." No possible way to casually ignore the existential terror of "Elegy," "Perchance To Dream," or the joyful, unrepentant oddness of "The Prime Mover."

The worlds of television, film, and literature lost much of their elegance and immediacy of emotion when he passed away on February 21, 1967 of Alzheimer's. Outside his short stories, the Twilight Zone scripts remain some of his beloved works. Works that for the first time ever have been collected by editor Roger Anker for the two volume The Twilight Zone Scripts of Charles Beaumont, published by Gauntlet. We were lucky enough to speak with Chris Beaumont, a fine writer in his own right, speak about his father's work and the Twilight Zone scripts that will preserve the visions of one of fantasy literature's greatest practitioners.

WS: Gauntlet Press will be publishing, in two volumes, The Twilight Zone Scripts of Charles Beaumont in the next few years, edited by Roger Anker. Why did you give your permission for this undertaking?

CB: I gave my permission for these Twilight Zone scripts to be published because I think my father would be thrilled to know that there's still interest after all these years. Anything that keeps his work alive is okay by me, as long as the work is presented in an appropriate venue.

WS: What are your hopes for these books?

CB: My hope is that these books will remind people of a time when television took the kind of chances that Twilight Zone represents. It will also, I hope, introduce a new generation to the stories that appeared on the show.

WS: Your father is credited with writing 22 episodes of the Twilight Zone, and is considered one of the major writers for the series, next to Richard Matheson. What role did the Twilight Zone play in your father's life? Your family in general? What pressures or pleasures has it exerted in your own?

CB: I remember my father referring to the Twilight Zone as a gift. I think he knew how fortunate he, and Rod, and Rich Matheson were to have found a place that so suited their style of writing. Those years were quite magical around our house. I remember the excitement that built each week, whether it was one of dad's or Rich's, or whomever. I think they all felt a part of something wonderful.

WS: What appealed to your father about the medium of television? What did its structure and imagery allow him to express not available in other creative formats?

CB: I think my father's feelings about the medium of television were ambivalent at best. He had some success before The Twilight Zone, but even back then, in the late fifties, there were network executives to deal with and my father was used to have a pretty free hand with his work. I think it's one of the reasons he appreciated The Twilight Zone so much. It was a relatively new area for television and so Rod had quite a bit of power to protect his writers. As far as the structure and imagery of television, I think that, in addition to tapping into some really terrific writing, Rod also put together a fantastic crew of directors, production design and art directors that created a very distinctive look for the show. My memory is that all the writers were pretty pleased with what they saw on the screen.

WS: Charles and Richard Matheson collaborated on several television and film projects, including the television series "Buckskin," "Have Gun Will Travel," and "Wanted Dead Or Alive" before working separately on their retrospective Twilight Zone episodes. How do you feel they worked together?

CB: Rich Matheson and my father had a wonderful, rare friendship that included collaboration, healthy competition, as well as mutual support for each other throughout their years together. They not only complimented each other style-wise, I think they inspired each other to do their best work. Even though I was very young at the time, I remember many nights at our home when Rich, as well as Bill Nolan, John Tomerlin, Chad Oliver, and many others would read each other's work aloud and offer suggestions. It was a rare time and I think Rich and my dad decided to work separately on their Twilight Zone scripts because so many of them came from short stories that they had each written on their own.

WS: What would you say were the major differences in your father and Matheson's work?

CB: I think the main difference between my father's work and Rich's is that Rich is always had a keen interest in the metaphysical that was only of peripheral interest to my father. Not that my father didn't use it as a device to illuminate a character or plot, but I don't remember him having the kind of interest that Rich has had throughout his career.

WS: What are your earliest memories of your father? Your last?

CB: My earliest memories of my father are of his incredible energy, his passion, and his love for telling stories and investigating all the dark, and not so dark, corners of what it is to be human. My last memories of my father are, sadly, are of the slow, painful diminution of that life force.

WS: On another personal note, could you share with us some of the fondest memories you have of your father? Likewise, can you offer us one of the saddest?

CB: My fondest memories of my father include the raw excitement that possessed his being when he had an idea that he wanted to share with the family; some trip he planned in the last five minutes and for which we should prepare to leave in the next fifteen. The saddest memory is watching the light in his eyes begin to slowly dim as he disappeared into Alzheimer's.

WS: How -- if at all -- was Charles Beaumont the writer different from Charles Beaumont the man?

CB: I don't think there was much difference between Charles Beaumont the writer and Charles Beaumont the man. His stories came from his heart and soul. They were crafted, and labored over, but the genesis of all of them was his view of the world and the passion he brought to it.

WS: What would you like people to know about your father as an artist? As a man?

CB: I hope people remember my father as an artist who had a keen interest in his fellow man and a rare ability to reveal hidden parts of our common experience, and to do it with humor as well as compassion. As a man, I think Charles Beaumont will be remembered by those who knew him as someone with enormous energy, a generous heart and tremendous courage.

WS: What did Charles Beaumont contribute to the arts? To the fiction of fantasy?

CB: Charles Beaumont was an integral part of a group of writers who were pushing, against tremendous odds, to make fantasy and science fiction a part of mainstream literature. When he, and Matheson, and others were starting out, it was incredibly difficult to get legit publishers to take them seriously, artistically or financially. But by putting out the kind of quality work they did, and with some help from magazines like Playboy, they were able to create a base of fans who, years later, made Stephen King a multimillionaire. But nobody knew that was the way things would go, and still these guys continued to write from their hearts.

WS: Charles wrote around 22 scripts for the Twilight Zone. What particular merits or characteristics do you believe his scripts had that make him unquestionably his?

CB: When I think of a Charles Beaumont Twilight Zone script, I think of the questions he posed. Where Rod was such a master of the twist ending, I think my father saw the show as an opportunity to ask profound, philosophical questions in the guise of a good yarn. What is the nature of evil and does the evil really exist? ("Howling Man") If a robot experiences emotion, is he still nothing more than a robot? ("In His Image") So many of his scripts asked questions that need to be asked, and then left the viewer to come up with his own answer.

WS: Did the furious work pace of your father ever clash with family life? Why do you feel he wrote so excessively and quickly, as though he was in race with himself?

CB: My father did indeed write a pace that seemed to come from some foreknowledge of his early death. The only discipline problem he had was his frequent inability to turn down work that he couldn't possibly finish on time (hence his "farming out" assignments to friends). And, of course, his work schedule did conflict with his family life. I have a fantasy that, had my father lived, he might have slowed down a bit and spent more time with his four children. But what he gave his family was so full of love, and passion, that we all seem to have managed to put together our lives quite well.

WS: Charles created some of the best loved, most memorable segments of the Twilight Zone, including "In His Image," "Perchance To Dream," "Passage On The Lady Anne," and "Miniature." A) Which do you believe are his most powerful works?

CB: My personal favorite of my father's scripts is "Passage On The Lady Anne." I'm not sure if it's the best crafted or the most brilliant of all his work, but I was present at it's inspiration and so it has always had a place in my heart. The idea was born on a trip to Europe that we took as a family. I was only seven years old at the time and I was the only child on board. My parents were, as in the episode, younger by decades than most of the other passengers, and I remember my father, at dinner, wondering out loud whether we had accidentally wandered onto a "farewell tour" of an old and stately ship.

WS: His most confessional or personal?

CB: Unfortunately, my father didn't live long enough for me to ask him such questions. My guess would be that "Miniature" was an expression of his own insecurities, his own feelings of being an outsider in this world, trying, like most writers, to create a better one with his pen.

WS: How closely did your father's art imitate his life, and his life imitate his art?

CB: It's uncanny how Twilight Zone-esque my father's life turned out. In "Long Live Walter Jamison" we see a man age before our very eyes. And, sadly, that's exactly what my family, as well as my father's friends, had to watch as the effects of his disease inflicted a sort of "fountain of youth" in reverse.

WS: Which aspects of his work and imagination called to you, and continue to entertain and speak most deeply to you?

CB: As I mentioned before, my father's ability to pose the most interesting philosophical, and sometimes theological, questions in a wonderfully entertaining story.

WS: What was your father afraid of? What did he love? And was writing at all therapeutic for him?

CB: My guess is that my father was afraid of boredom. Luckily he never experienced it. His loves were numerous enough that Ray Bradbury referred to his mind as a "Pomegranate, bursting with ideas."

WS: Describe how you are involved in the arts and entertainment as well? What traits of your father do you see in yourself?

CB: My father died when I was sixteen years old. My mother dies three years after that. With three children to support I did the one thing one should never do for the money; I became an actor. Somehow I was able to earn enough to give us all a fairly nice life until my youngest brother came of age and left the house. After that, I turned to writing and have made a living as a television writer ever since (although science fiction has never interested me, other than as a reader).

WS: Tragically short-lived, unjustly forgotten, yet remarkably talented, how would you say that the literary vision and distinct voice of Charles Beaumont still influences fans and professionals? How did his work in fiction, television, and screen-writing effect his peers?

CB: The kinds of questions posed and the kinds of stories told by my father will never go out of style. We will always need to ask ourselves; what is the nature of good and evil, or temptation and surrender. What does it mean to be human?

WS: The art of story telling in general?

CB: I can't tell you how many of my father's friends get misty when they speak of him. He was the "hub" to a wheel of creative men who remember those days as the best in their lives.

WS: And to be more specific, the genres of horror, fantasy, and science fiction?

CB: I think my father's style of writing was, and is, a unique blend of humor and the deadly serious. I know that Stephen King, as well as other current writers have cited my father, as Rich, as major influences on their style.

WS: How would you say his spirit and character, his personal life, affected or influenced those around him? Loved ones and fellow writers? Can you offer any specific examples where Beaumont's work or personality assisted another?

CB: Harlan Ellison just called me a few months ago to share a story of his first days in L.A. Someone had given him my father's phone number and he called with literally one dime in his pocket. My father dropped what he was doing, took him out for a round of pool, a meal, and set him up with some contacts that got Harlan started in town. Harlan just wanted me to know, all these years later, what that meant to him. There are dozens of stories like that.

WS: As the story goes, Ray Bradbury was Beaumont's writing teacher, inviting him to his home every Wednesday night to critique a story. Some critics suggest that Bradbury's influence is easily detectable in Beaumont's fiction? Is this true? How important was Bradbury to your father?

CB: I think Bradbury and Beaumont, while their styles are, in my opinion, quite different, share an incredible joy of discovery, and a fearlessness about looking in all the corners to find a twist or a turn in a story.

WS: Speaking of the Twilight Zone, how did your father relate to, feel about, Rod Serling? The Twilight Zone itself?

CB: I think that my father felt warmly towards Rod. He was a dinner guest on several occasions and I'm pretty sure most of the writers appreciated the freedom they had on the show and Rod's part in securing that.

WS: Beaumont's scripts and stories charted the secret geography of nightmare and dream, merging the realistic with the fantastic, often blurring the lines between each. Would you agree? If so, for what personal or artistic reasons?

CB: I know from friends that many of his stories were transcriptions of episodes that visited his dreams. Even before he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, he suffered terribly from headaches and insomnia.

WS: What can you tell us about your father's childhood? How influential was it on his craft and growth?

CB: My father's childhood was a mix of joy and horror, much like the elements found in his work. He was raised, in large part, by four aunts whose idea of fun was to fake their own death to see his reaction. He seems to have turned this macabre treatment into a style of writing and a body of work. I guess he got the last laugh after all.

WS: Beaumont's fiction and the Twilight Zone scripts often merged the beautiful with the nightmarish, illustrating the paradoxical relationship between both. In which stories do you most see this?

CB: All of them.

WS: A concern for humanity, interest in character, and love of the fantastic is apparent in "Perchance To Dream," "A Nice Place To Visit," "The Howling Man," "In His Image" and various other Twilight Zone scripts. What do you feel were his primary goals when writing for the Twilight Zone? For writing in general?

CB: As you say, a concern for humanity, an interest in character, and a love of the fantastic. I would also add to this list, a lack of patience with exclusion, and a loathing of hypocrisy.

WS: Your father appeared to favor stories that suggested borderlands of experience -- slips, if you will -- between realms of normalcy and the imaginary, such as the arguments between realism and the imagination, logic and desire, in such scripts as "Perchance to Dream" and "Miniature." Why?

CB: It's impossible to answer, and perhaps even more impossible not to ask whether or not my father's stories didn't come from, at least in part, an altered state of mind that was the beginnings of the disease that finally took him. Would he have written the stories he wrote, and written them at such a furious pace, if he didn't somewhere know his time was short? I don't know. Personally I would like to think they came from the man, not the disease.

Shadows at Twilight: an interview with Roger Anker on Charles Beaumont

The Twilight Zone Scripts of Charles BeaumontCredited with writing 22 episodes of the Twilight Zone during his swift, tragic life, Charles Beaumont was responsible for some of the finest moments of terror, doubt, and existential tragedy the medium of television ever witnessed. Whereas Rod Serling, creator and main writer of the Twilight Zone favored stories which focused on social injustices and shifting views of morality, merging traditional fable with political satire, Beaumont, like his friend and sometimes writing partner Richard Matheson, was first and foremost a writer -- a storyteller in love with words and their power, fiction for its own sake rather than for any one moral or political stance. Beaumont's scripts were un-apologetically terrifying and awe-evoking. He was one of the few writers with the skill and willingness to weigh in each season with grim tales of unremitting tragedy, paranoia, and the terror of misplacement in a cosmos malignant and/or unconcerned with a species rarely capable of understanding its own nature. Featuring outsiders and Everymen battling themselves no less often than threats of supernatural or psychological uncertainty, Beaumont's scripts were rarely straight fantasy or realism. Instead, Beaumont created aesthetic borderlands between the expectations and genre restraints of such extremes, focusing on characters, settings, and events that were neither completely real nor impossible, naturalistic or occult, but rather unique glimpses of seemingly typical things in a half-light of shadows.

His fantasies stood out (and continue to influence) not so much by showing realities overwhelmed by impossibilities or by approaching the speculative from a matter-of-fact point of view so much as they appeared as extensions of our waking everyday worlds. Questioning the nature of reality, fantasy, and the very power of perception, his memorable scripts charted the confusion and struggles of men and women who found themselves in an existence far removed from what they initially envisioned, resulting in stories of terror, enchanting fantasy, scathing humor, and, perhaps more importantly, penetrative comments on the nature of the human animal -- the mind and heart in constant conflict with only the frail feelers of sensory glands and philosophies to guide them. A writer whose imagination intensity, daring, and instinctive understanding of the human condition allowed him to approach the unknown with authenticity and nerve, Beaumont evoked images and entire personalities with minimal effort, saying in few words what others at the time (and ours) couldn't summon with pages. He did it quickly, with almost superhuman speed, and he did it honestly -- not the honesty of a drab realist who sees only the cloud in the sky, but with the foresight and visionary wisdom of a fantasist who not only sees clouds but the possibilities of space and time beyond them.

Publishing short stories, novels, and non-fiction, Beaumont joined creative forces with fellow fantasy legend Richard Matheson when breaking into television. Together they scripted several shows for the Golden Age Of Television. Both, however, wrote independently on the Twilight Zone, each secure in his ability to usher viewers into other dimensions. Such macabre and supernatural classics as "In His Image," "A Nice Place To Visit," and "Perchance To Dream" are evidence of Beaumont's mature sense of character, place, and defining incident. These visionary works are as capable of making audiences fear and feel today as they were when first crafted, ensuring a place for the storyteller decades after his untimely death from Alzheimer's disease on February 21, 1967.

Beaumont's meticulously plotted, passion-laced scripts of men and women falling into cracks between the frail parameters of reality and fantasy have been collected as never before by editor Roger Anker, who has prepared The Twilight Zone Scripts of Charles Beaumont for Gauntlet Press. Anker is no stranger to Charles Beaumont. Editor of the Bram Stoker award-winning The Selected Stories of Charles Beaumont, which collected several famed and never-before published stories from Beaumont supplemented by personal reminiscences by such friends and fiction alumni as Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury, and Harlan Ellison, Anker has long been a devoted fan, critic, and scholar of Beaumont's work, his personal life, and his influence. In his upcoming two-volume series enthusiasm and research go hand-in-hand, presenting what may very well be the most definitive work on Beaumont's involvement in the Twilight Zone, including not only original scripts from seasons one, two, three, and four but, in addition, "Gentleman, Please Be Seated," a never before published script intended for the influential series. In addition, supplemental essays by Richard Matheson, Chris Beaumont (the author's son), and evocative cover art round out a collection that is as much a story behind the stories of Charles Beaumont as it is a collection of one of last century's leading dreamers of paranormal darkness and enchantment.

WS: What first interested you in the work of Charles Beaumont?

RA: Watching the Twilight Zone episode of "The Howling Man." I was ten years old. As a kid, I'd seen the usual horror films, such as Frankenstein, Dracula, Wolf Man, but there was something about "The Howling Man" that stuck with me. After that, I began to look for other Zone episodes written by Beaumont. Some years later, I spotted a paperback copy of Beaumont's short fiction collection The Hunger and Other Stories in a used book store and remembered his name. After reading that, I was always on the lookout for another Beaumont story.

WS: Which aspects of his imagination called to you, and continue to do so?

RA: I enjoyed the type of story he was giving The Twilight Zone; his tales usually took on darker themes. Today, I appreciate the scope of his imagination. A Beaumont story can take you anywhere.

WS: How has your interest in Charles Beaumont changed, both professionally and personally, over the years?

RA: Professionally speaking, I've come to appreciate just how good he was at putting words and thoughts on paper. He had an eloquent, yet compact, writing style. On a personal level, I still enjoy reading his stories. Most of them are timeless.

WS: In 1989, your Bram Stoker Award-winning collection Charles Beaumont: Selected Stories was published, which was an impressive collection of his short fiction with appreciations from authors whose lives he had touched. What was the impetus for this collection?

RA: My impetus for putting that collection together was that I wanted to find a way to get Beaumont's classic short stories back into print. I discussed the idea with Beaumont's son Chris, who is also a successful television writer, and he agreed it was worth a try. I then asked a number of writers -- such as Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Robert Bloch, George Clayton Johnson, Bill Nolan, Ray Russell, John Tomerlin, Jerry Sohl, Harlan Ellison, et al -- who had known and worked with Beaumont if they d be willing to write appreciations to his stories. I felt I d have a better chance of getting a publisher interested if I had writers of this caliber contributing to the project. Their contribution would also give the book some additional depth. In all, seventeen writers and one director (Roger Corman, who worked with Beaumont on a number of films) agreed to pitch in. I wrote a biographical introduction to set up their appreciations and the book was picked up by Dark Harvest.

WS: Did you achieve your goals with the book?

RA: My goals were definitely achieved; we not only got some of Beaumont's finest stories back in print, but I had discovered, while researching my introduction for the book (Chris had given me access to his father s files), a number of Beaumont's unpublished short stories. After reading about twenty of them, I decided to use five stories, three of which Beaumont was going to include in his fourth short fiction collection, "A Touch of the Creature," (the collection was to have been published by Bantam Books in 1964, but because of Beaumont s illness, negotiations fell through). Selected Stories was issued in a signed-limited hardcover edition of 500 copies; a standard hardcover edition; and a paperback edition (retitled The Howling Man ) from Tor Books. I was also able to promote the book by writing an extensive article on Beaumont for The Twilight Zone magazine and by appearing, with Richard Matheson and Chris Beaumont, on Harlan Ellison's radio program. So all of this, for a time, brought Beaumont's work back into circulation.

WS: Gauntlet Press is releasing the first volume of The Twilight Zone Scripts of Charles Beaumont in the summer of 2004, which you edited. What inspired this project?

RA: The main inspiration was to give fans of both The Twilight Zone and Charles Beaumont an opportunity to read his very readable teleplays. In fact, some of the descriptive passages in his scripts read like his short stories. The books (there will be two volumes) will also give fans an opportunity to see additional or changed lines of dialogue, as well as scenes which were cut or altered in the televised versions I also saw this as an opportunity to expand on what had previously been written about Beaumont and The Twilight Zone; to give the fans some fresh material, particularly in the area of Beaumont's life.

WS: Could you please describe the process of planning, preparing for, and working on this collection? How daunting and/or enjoyable a task was it? How will it be unique from other books or examinations of Beaumont or The Twilight Zone?

RA: The most difficult task of putting these books together was finding all of Beaumont's original Twilight Zone scripts. Chris Beaumont didn't have all of them. In some cases I had to go to collectors or movie memorabilia outlets. After I had the teleplays, Chris and I shopped the project around to various publishers, of which about a half dozen expressed interest. After we decided to go with Gauntlet Press, I worked out the structure for both books, deciding to have three storylines running throughout: the history of each teleplay and behind-the-scenes material of the episodes based on those teleplays (which includes commentary from some of the series original writers, directors, actors, and actresses, all of which are based on interviews I'd conducted over the years); a thumbnail sketch of the history of the show (part of which is based on correspondence between Beaumont and Serling); and biographical information about Beaumont, most of which is being presented in these volumes for the first time.

WS: Describe the other special features that will be included in these books.

RA: In addition to photographs, both volumes will contain a preface by Chris Beaumont -- prefaces which will give the reader some insight into what the Beaumont family's home life was like. Volume One will also include a Foreword by Richard Matheson and an Afterword by Earl Hamner. The second volume will open with a Foreword by George Clayton Johnson and close with an Afterword by John Tomerlin. In each case, these extraordinary writers recall their relationships with Beaumont and The Twilight Zone. Additionally, mini-chapters will follow each teleplay. In many cases, these chapters will provide the reader with quotes (taken from letters) from Charles Beaumont himself. Both books will be available in two formats: a Numbered Edition (each signed by Chris Beaumont) and a Lettered Edition (which will be limited to 52 copies and signed by Chris Beaumont, Richard Matheson, Earl Hamner and myself). It should also be noted that anyone buying either of these volumes directly from Gauntlet will receive a free chapbook. Volume One s chapbook will contain an unpublished short story written by Charles Beaumont in 1949 called "The Child," a Lovecraftian-tale which explores the darker regions of the human condition. In 1951, Beaumont expanded this story to twice its length. The latter version bears little resemblance to the original and also remains unpublished. The chapbook accompanying the second volume will feature the 1951 version of "The Child."

WS: How will the scripts be presented?

RA: Each script will appear in its original format; we're scanning them from the actual typewritten pages. They will not be typeset or altered in any way. Also, each Lettered Edition will include an additional teleplay, which won t be found in the Numbered Editions. Volume One will include an early draft of "Gentlemen, Be Seated." Volume Two will contain an early draft of "Free Dirt." Both of these scripts include Beaumont's handwritten changes or notations.

WS: Charles Beaumont is credited with writing twenty-two episodes of The Twilight Zone Did he write these episodes alone, or did he have credited or unaccredited assistance?

RA: Beaumont was the sole writer of sixteen Twilight Zones. He also shared credit on two: "Long Distance Call" (with William Idleson), because he d rewritten Idelson's original script; and "Number Twelve Looks Just Like You" (with John Tomerlin), because Beaumont had asked John to adapt "The Beautiful People," a Beaumont short story (the teleplay was written in its entirety by Tomerlin). Jerry Sohl also ghosted, in their entirety, three scripts for Beaumont: "The New Exhibit," "Living Doll," and "Queen of the Nile." Additionally, Beaumont collaborated on "Dead Man's Shoes" with OCee Ritch, for which Beaumont received sole credit. In some cases, these collaborations or ghost-written scripts happened because of Beaumont's overwhelming work load; in other cases, Beaumont was too ill to complete these assignments

WS: Charles Beaumont, Richard Matheson, and Rod Serling are largely considered responsible for The Twilight Zone's success. A) What chemistry would you suggest made this creative partnership of talented authors work so very well together? B) Are their any specific differences you could point out in the way each author approached his work?

RA: I believe these three writers (as was the case with writers who came later, such as George Clayton Johnson and Earl Hamner) shared the ability to tell imaginative stories about, in most cases, ordinary human beings caught up in extraordinary circumstances (something also done by Bradbury in the Forties). In a sense, their tales can be considered mainstream stories to which one drop of fantasy (or science fiction or horror) is added. The difference between each writer was in the type of story he chose to tell and the way he chose to tell it. Serling, for the most part, concerned himself with stories that spoke of the human condition -- stories which are usually rooted in sentimentality and nostalgia. Matheson s Twilight Zones tend not to deal with social issues, but they are built heavily on contemporary realism and usually start slowly and build with an inexorable tension. Beaumont simply gave us the extraordinary; he also gave us characters who were not always likeable and placed them in settings which were often unsettling.

WS: How would you say Beaumont's scripting work for The Twilight Zone was different or similar in value compared to his short fiction?

RA: They were very similar; many of his stories turn on the theme of a man with a special talent seeking recognition.

WS: You are publishing only scripts Beaumont wrote alone (not those co-written or ghost-written). Why? How difficult was discovering which were written by Beaumont and which were farmed out to other writers?

RA: I wanted to go with those teleplays which represented Beaumont's sole contribution to the series, which means that six teleplays credited to him will not be included in either volume. Of those six, Beaumont was actively involved in the rewriting of only two: "Dead Man s Shoes," in which Beaumont did little more than to polish OCee Ritch s final draft, and "Long Distance Call," in which he rewrote Bill Idleson. As far as "The New Exhibit," "Living Doll," and "Queen of the Nile" are concerned, Beaumont's only contribution was to plot their storylines with Jerry Sohl, who then went off and wrote the scripts which, in turn, were shot pretty much the way Jerry had written them. In fact, "The New Exhibit" has the distinct flavor of an Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode, for which Sohl was a staff writer. And, as mentioned earlier, every word of "Number Twelve Looks Just Like You" was written by John Tomerlin. So I didn't see the point of including scripts which, for the most part, weren't written by Beaumont, even though he d received credit for them. Finding out who authored each script was fairly easy; I d spent a lot of time talking to Tomerlin and Sohl about their involvement with these teleplays. The rest of the information came from Beaumont's files.

WS: Each volume will contain at least one unproduced script. Would you tell us the title of each of these, and something of their plot and history?

RA: Volume One will include "Gentlemen, Be Seated," the tale of a future society in which humor is outlawed. Beaumont based the script on his short story of the same title, which first appeared in the April 1960 issue of Rogue magazine, under the pseudonym C.B. Lovehill. The second volume will include "Free Dirt," which concerns a miser who uses free cemetery dirt for his vegetable garden. Beaumont based this teleplay on his short story "Free Dirt," which was originally published in the May 1955 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Both teleplays were commissioned by Twilight Zone producer Bert Granet and were intended for the show's fifth and final season. However, Granet suddenly left the series to produce another CBS show and his replacement, William Froug, shelved a number of scripts which Granet had in development, including the two above mentioned Beaumonts. Additionally, Volume Two will also include the unproduced Beaumont script "Acceleration," which he'd written in 1960.

WS: Why did you chose to publish these books with Gauntlet instead of a mass market press? What are both the benefits and drawbacks of working with a specialty publisher?

RA: There was great interest from a couple of mass market publishers to do the books as paperback originals, which didn't please me at all; I felt these books deserved to be published in a hardcover format. One of the reasons we chose Gauntlet is because they are also releasing a multi-volume set of Rod Serling s original Twilight Zone scripts (which are in the very capable hands of editor Tony Albarella, who had done a wonderful job of editing Earl Hamner's recent Twilight Zone script collection). I was also impressed with the quality of Gauntlet s product and their marketing strategy. The benefit of working with a specialty publisher is that you can publish a book that s geared for the true fan of the genre; the obvious drawback is that your book is limited in its initial print run and merchant outlets. One can only hope that after the hardcover sells out the interest will be there for a mass market paperback release.

WS: Tragically short-lived, unjustly forgotten, yet remarkably talented, how would you say that the literary vision and distinct voice of Charles Beaumont still resonates? How did his work in fiction, television, and screenwriting effect his peers? The art of storytelling in general? And to be more specific, the genres of horror, fantasy, and science fiction?

RA: Beaumont's work holds up remarkably well. The reason for that, I believe, is because he was simply a wonderful storyteller. And really good story ideas and storytelling rarely dates. I also believe that his work -- as did the work of Bradbury and Matheson -- raised the literary bar of not only the fantasy-science fiction-suspense-horror genres, but also greatly influenced a host of writers from Beaumont s era to modern day masters.

WS: How would you say his spirit and character, his personal life, affected or influenced those around him? Can you offer any specific examples where Beaumont s work or personality assisted another?

RA: Beaumont was a tremendously influential figure to his loved ones, friends, and fellow writers. George Clayton Johnson said that Beaumont was largely responsible for the success of not only his writing career, but for the careers of Bill Nolan and John Tomerlin as well. Tomerlin told me that Beaumont was marvelous at talking people into doing things that they had not thirty seconds before ever dreamed they wanted to do, and suddenly discovered that it was their life-long ambition to do this thing; and the next thing you knew, you'd be off and away doing that.

WS: In the 1950s and 1960s, Beaumont s work often appeared in Playboy, Esquire, and The Saturday Evening Post. Is there any evidence that he ever approached writing for the slicks with a different attitude or style/approach than for the pulps or genre publications?

RA: I don t believe Beaumont tailored his stories for any specific market In reading the correspondence between Beaumont and his literary agent, Don Congdon, it's apparent that Beaumont developed and wrote his stories in a way that fit his story ideas. For Beaumont the story came first and it was left up to Congdon to market them. Of course, for a number of years, Playboy had first refusal rights to Beaumont's fiction and non fiction; even in this case, Beaumont tended to put story first, unless he d pitched a specific idea -- usually non fiction -- to Playboy.

WS: Earning a reputation for excellence and dependability in a relatively short time, Charles died prematurely in 1967 at the age of thirty-eight, a victim of Alzheimer's Disease. Why did his name fade from relative obscurity until folks like you, critics, and fans resurrected his memory?

RA: It s difficult to say why the work of any good writer goes out of print. I suppose it depends on a number of factors, including whether or not there is a market for that writer s work. In Beaumont's case, the quality and timelessness of his stories are, for the most part, certainly there. Also, the logic for not reprinting a deceased author s stories, from a publisher's standpoint, may be that if the books are successful their author won t be able to provide new material. It s interesting to note that during the 1970s Richard Matheson had tried, unsuccessfully, to get Beaumont's work back into print. And Ray Bradbury told me that he d also had difficulty in getting Beaumont's stories reprinted until he was finally able to convince Bantam Books to publish The Best of Beaumont (a short fiction collection) in 1982, for which Ray had written an insightful Introduction. But it should also be noted that during Beaumont's lifetime, sales from his novel (The Intruder) and three short fiction collections (The Hunger; Yonder, and Night Ride) did not generate much earning power. Beaumont's primary source of income came from his work in television and film.

WS: Ray Bradbury was Beaumont's writing teacher, inviting him to his home every Wednesday night to critique a story. Some critics suggest that Bradbury's influence is easily detectable in Beaumont's fiction Is this true? In which ways? Is it also noticeable in Beaumont's Twilight Zone scripts?

RA: Beaumont's literary style is difficult to pin down. As a literary stylist, he was very good. He could do synthetic Bradbury, or synthetic Thomas Wolfe, or choose a particular strong tone of voice. He could be a literary forger. Beaumont claimed that he had no distinctive style. He'd told George Clayton Johnson that what separates the Hemingways and the Bradburys apart is you can read three pages of their work and you know they wrote it. Yet there is a certain quality of Beaumont's style, the way that his sentences are put together. When I think of Beaumont's prose, I think of felicity of language; it s very fluent, very precise, very clear, extremely readable. There is a signature. But I don t believe somebody could write an imitation Beaumont sentence, not in the sense that one could write a synthetic Bradbury or Hemingway. I think his ability to utilize many styles also showed in his work for The Twilight Zone.

WS: How did you approach Christopher Beaumont about this project? How would you describe the process of working with the Beaumont family?

RA: I've known Chris for about 20 years. And I always knew we'd put out three books about his father: a definitive short fiction collection, which we've done; a book-length biography, of which I've written a first draft; and a collection of his Twilight Zone scripts, the first volume of which should be available in the summer of 2004. Chris and I agreed that the timing was right for the Twilight Zone books to be released; in the last six years we've seen the publications of Richard Matheson's and Earl Hamner's Twilight Zone teleplay collections and, as mentioned earlier, spring of 2004 will see the release of Tony Albarella's As Timeless as Infinity: The Complete Twilight Zone Scripts of Rod Serling. The Beaumont family (Chris, Cathy, Elizabeth) are wonderful people. Sadly, Gregory, the youngest Beaumont child, recently passed away at the age of 38 -- the same age that his father died As you can imagine, a project such as this often brings back painful memories, but I ve always found the Beaumonts to be very supportive and helpful

WS: To which extent do you believe that Beaumont's offbeat (and some say Cruel) childhood influenced his imagination and art? Along the same lines, how much do you believe that his life in general influenced his art, and how much of his dark fantasy fiction spilled over into his waking life?

RA: It's true that some aspects of Beaumont's childhood can be considered cruel and offbeat. Beaumont had told friends that his short story "Miss Gentilbelle," a disturbing tale in which an emotionally unstable mother not only dresses and treats her only child -- a young boy -- as a little girl, but also kills one of his pets as a form of punishment, was autobiographical (Beaumont wrote in a short autobiographical essay that in real life his mother had only threatened to kill his pet, a dog named Belshazzar.) Beaumont's childhood was also offbeat in that he was sent to live with his grandmother, who owned and operated a boarding house in Everett, Washington. It was there that he spent a great deal of time with his grandmother and five aunts, all of whom were widowed, where he would listen to them talk of, according to Beaumont, the strange deaths of their husbands. Yet Beaumont also wrote, at the age of sixteen, that as offbeat as his formative years were, he was not unhappy with his childhood:

"My folks, surprisingly, are quite normal, and tend toward a rather hum-drum existence of rise-eat-work-sleep. Being an only child, the sole survivor of a bevy, I have been adequately spoiled to warrant an affable hatred for most people. I m known in the town of Everett and its outlying vicinities as an odd-ball to be [and], if not shunned, paid little attention to And I love it. Don't get the idea I m friendless though. The only thing is, these friends differ from their fellow man, mentally, physically, or both."

Beaumont's imagination and art came from the influences of Poe, Baum, and Burroughs, all of whom he'd discovered while bedridden with spinal meningitis at the age of twelve.

WS: Through the process of this project what have you learned about Charles Beaumont? About yourself?

RA: One of the things I've learned about Beaumont is that he lived life to the fullest. He didn't waste a second of time. There was never any thought of him putting off until tomorrow something which could be done today. Writing, travel, race car driving -- you name it; if it interested him, he gave it his undivided attention. What I've learned from all of this is that life is indeed short. Nobody knows how much time they have on this earth. Beaumont certainly didn't. So I ve learned not to put things off. I m not saying to be reckless or impulsive. But we ve got to live life while we have the opportunity; there may be no tomorrow. We may never get a second chance

WS: Beaumont and Richard Matheson, who met in 1951, collaborated together on several western and adventure television series, worked together on a handful of small budget horror motion pictures, and went to work independently as script writers for The Twilight Zone. How do you feel each of these gentlemen influenced the other? In which ways did their talents and personal traits feed off of and/or strengthen the others writing or personalities?

RA: Richard Matheson told me that he and Beaumont were, in a nice way, very competitive and had acted as spurs to one another. In the early-Fifties, Matheson was slightly ahead of Beaumont in sales. In fact, Matheson remembered calling Beaumont on the phone, saying, I just sold a collection of short stories to Bantam, to which Beaumont replied, "thanks a lot, thanks a lot," and hung up. But Beaumont eventually caught up to Matheson and, in some areas, passed him in sales; Beaumont was the first to make a sale to Playboy, first to have a mainstream novel, The Intruder, published and, during his lifetime, had more short fiction collections published. But the two of them shared a constant interchange of ideas.

WS: How much truth is in the rumors that Charles Beaumont was a wild, impulsive young man? Did this influence or add feeling to his work?

RA: Beaumont was indeed an impulsive young man. He was also someone who played and worked with enormous intensity. If he was playing, it was all playing and there was no talk about work; and if he was working, he was in another world. Whether Beaumont was writing a fantasy story or driving a race car or visiting Disneyland, he did it at the absolute edge of intensity. Beaumont never wanted to be a spectator in life; he wanted to experience it. For example, when Beaumont discovered his passion for sports cars and race car driving in 1955 he told Bill Nolan he didn't want to watch people race cars; he wanted to race cars. And Bill said, "But, Chuck, you don t know anything about racing and neither do I. We can t even change a spark plug!" Beaumont said, "I can hire a man to come in and do nothing but change my spark plugs. He will be called The Spark Plug Man. And when my spark plugs need to be changed I will gesture and this man will walk out from the pit area, walk over to my car and change my spark plugs. Now, Nolan, are you satisfied that the spark plug situation is dealt with? Can we now talk about racing?" And this was typical of Beaumont. Nolan told me that after spending a day with Beaumont a person was totally worn out. Whatever he did, he did all the way

WS: What can you share with us about future projects?

RA: In addition to freelancing for a number of publications, I m working on The Blue Angels Experience, a book-length sixty-year history of the United States Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron and, of course, The Twilight Zone Scripts of Charles Beaumont (Volume Two).


William P Simmons 22 July 2006

A Touch of the Creature by Charles Beaumont The Twilight Zone Scripts of Charles Beaumont
The Twilight Zone Scripts of Charles Beaumont (vol 1) is published by Gauntlet Press (September 2004; ISBN: 1887368736).
A Touch of the Creature: Unpublished Stories by Charles Beaumont, with an introduction by Christopher Beaumont, is published by Subterranean Press (February 2000; ISBN: 1892284456).

Order online using these links and infinity plus will benefit:
... The Twilight Zone Scripts of Charles Beaumont from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk

... A Touch of the Creature: Unpublished Stories
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