Charles Beaumont (January 2, 1929 – February 21, 1967) was an 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", "Printer's Devil", and "Number Twelve Looks Just Like You", but also penned the screenplays for several films, among them 7 Faces of Dr. Lao, The Intruder and The Masque of the Red Death. Novelist Dean R. Koontz has said, "Charles Beaumont was one of the seminal influences on writers of the fantastic and macabre." Beaumont is also the subject of a documentary, Charles Beaumont: The Short Life of Twilight Zone's Magic Man, by Jason V Brock.
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. During his time as an illustrator he briefly used the pseudonyms Charles McNutt (circa 1947/48) and E.T. Beaumont (inspired by the city of Beaumont, located in East Texas), before settling on the name Charles Beaumont. He soon adopted this name legally, and used it both personally and professionally for the rest of his life.
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), about a rebellious adolescent girl in a future conformist society in which people are obligated to alter their physical appearance (adapted as an episode of Twilight Zone, "Number 12 Looks Just Like You"), and "Free Dirt" (1955), about a man who gorges on his entire vegetable harvest and 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 wherein heterosexuality is stigmatized in the same way that homosexuality then was. It depicts heterosexuals living as furtively as pre-Stonewall gays and lesbians. In the story, a heterosexual man meets his lover in a gay orgy bar; they try to have sex 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", about a prisoner who might be the Devil, and the hour-long "Valley of the Shadow", about a cloistered Utopia that refuses to share its startlingly advanced technology with the outside world.
Beaumont 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 his satiric intent. He penned one episode of the Steve Canyon TV show, "Operation B-52", in which Canyon and his crew attempt to set a new speed record in a B-52 accompanied by a newsman who hates Air Force pilots.
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 the 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 two volumes collecting Beaumont's Twilight Zone scripts.
Illness and death
In 1963, 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 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." The disease also affected his work. "He could barely sell stories, much less write. He would go unshaven to meetings with producers, which would end in disaster. [A script writer has] got to be able to think on your feet, 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.'"
The condition might have been related to the spinal meningitis he suffered as a child. His friend and early agent Forrest J Ackerman has asserted an alternative, that Beaumont suffered simultaneously from Alzheimer's disease and Pick's disease. This claim was supported by the UCLA Medical Staff, who subjected Beaumont to a battery of tests in the mid-1960s that indicated that it might be either Alzheimer's or Pick's. Nolan recalls that the UCLA doctors sent Beaumont home: "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 summed 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 during 1963/64, so that he could meet his many writing obligations. Privately, he insisted on splitting these fees. By 1965, however, Beaumont was too ill to even create or sell story ideas. His last on-screen writing credit was for the 1965 film Mister Moses, officially a screenplay written with (but more likely written by) Monja Danischewsky.
Charles Beaumont died in Woodland Hills, California at the age of 38. His son Christopher later said that "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 was survived by his wife Helen, two sons and two daughters. One son died in 2001 of colon cancer. The other, Christopher, is a writer.