Thoughts on the Legacy of Charles Beaumont by Jason V Brock
I first met William F. Nolan when my wife, Sunni, and I were collecting interview footage for a film about Forrest J Ackerman (The AckerMonster Chronicles). During the interview (at his then home in Bend, OR), we learned that Nolan was a longtime friend of the writer Charles Beaumont. By this time, we’d already interviewed about twenty people that knew Ackerman (including Ray Bradbury, George Clayton Johnson, Richard Matheson and so on), and most of these same folks knew Beaumont as well.
So, as we were talking, we asked about his close association with the mysterious Beaumont (a key figure in the recent history of science fiction and horror). Nolan became energized: “Chuck was my best friend for ten years!” With that statement, we were off.
Nolan has been a valuable resource for understanding Beaumont (who dominated his friends and colleagues both personally and creatively: he was the driver for adventure and misadventure alike) and his contributions to the state of the art. Nolan’s keen insights into the molten, multifaceted core of this driven, intense, creative person – who, tragically, was struck down in medias res – has been both sad and inspiring. Beaumont’s untimely death at age 38 (still a mystery, but a form of pre-senile dementia), was a force in two dynamic ways: the bad — it shattered asunder the informal collective of friends and writers gathered around him (now known as “The Group”, or “The Southern California Writing School”); the good — it catalyzed these young men into a sudden (albeit uncomfortably real) adulthood. If Beaumont had lived, there might never have been a Logan’s Run, or several other works from John Tomerlin, Richard Matheson and the people that he considered his intimates.
Nevertheless, what has the world missed? That is a harder question to answer. Examine some of his works:
- The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao (one of several efforts with George Pal)
- The Intruder (William Shatner’s first starring film role; done with Roger Corman)
- The Twilight Zone (he was the main writer other than Rod Serling; this was in addition to other, lesser-known TV shows of the late ‘50s/early 1960s)
- Numerous short stories (nearly 100 published!) and non-fiction articles
- Two novels and several collections
- The Premature Burial, The Haunted Palace, The Masque of the Red Death (all for Roger Corman)
- The go-to fiction writer for Playboy and Rogue (as well as other slicks and digests of the era)
All of this in a span of just over a decade, and before the age of 35! Beaumont was also an artist, musician, actor and auto racer (the macho male status symbol of the time). He was the nucleus for The Group (which included not only Nolan, Matheson, Tomerlin and Johnson, but by extension Bradbury, Chad Oliver, Charles E. Fritch, Harlan Ellison, Ackerman, Ray Russell, Jerry Sohl, OCee Ritch, Frank M. Robinson, Robert Bloch and more), as well as a husband and father. All of these factors contributed to why we decided to finish the film on him first (Charles Beaumont: The Short Life of Twilight Zone’s Magic Man). He was a remarkable individual.
After all of this interaction with Bill Nolan, he and I have become close friends; it was perhaps inevitable that we would want to work with one another on different projects (which is quite in the spirit of The Group: they all participated in much collaboration). To date, we have written stories together, worked on several comic books (Logan’s Run: Last Day, Tales from William F. Nolan’s Dark Universe) and have co-edited The Bleeding Edge: Dark Barriers, Dark Frontiers. This last item came about as a result of lamenting the current state of the horror publishing industry. After too much grousing, we decided to do something about it, and gathered together the best and most interesting unpublished works that we could find from Bradbury, John Shirley, Dan O’Bannon, the Mathesons, Steve Rasnic Tem and others. It was a fun book to do, and one that we are quite proud of.
I like to imagine that – somewhere — Chuck Beaumont is pleased and confounded that his legacy is now captured on celluloid, and that his friends not only miss him, but are still working together, in the same spirit that he fostered all those years ago…