Charles Beaumont — A Child of the Pulps

Jan 2, 2019 by

What were the pulps?

Cheaply printed, luridly illustrated, sensationally written magazines of fiction aimed at the lower- and lower-middle-classes.

Were they any good? No. They were great.

DOC SAVAGE, THE SHADOW, THE SPIDER, G-8 AND HIS BATTLE ACES, THE PHANTOM, ADVENTURE, ARGOSY, BLUE BOOK, BLACK MASK, THRILLING WONDER STORIES, MARVEL TALES — and all the hundred-and-one other titles that bedizened the newsstands of America in the halcyon days — provided ecstasy and euphoria of a type unknown to this gloomy generation. They made to crawl deliciously young scalps. They inspired, excited, captivated, hypnotized — and, unexpectedly, instructed — the reckless young . . .

We gave ourselves over wholly to the habit and pursuit of the most potent literary drug known to boy, and all of us suffer withdrawal symptoms to this day.

Charles Beaumont wrote these words for the September 1962 issue of PLAYBOY. He later expanded “The Bloody Pulps” into a chapter for his last book — REMEMBER? REMEMBER? — published by MacMillan in 1963.

A prolific writer of both fiction and nonfiction, Beaumont was born Charles Leroy Nutt on this very day in 1929. According to award-winning writer and editor Roger Anker, “In a career which spanned a brief thirteen years,” Beaumont wrote and sold “ten books, seventy-four short stories, thirteen screenplays (nine of which were produced), two dozen articles and profiles, forty comic stories, fourteen columns, and over seventy teleplays.”

As a teenager, Charles Beaumont published his own fanzine, UTOPIA, and began writing letters to the science fiction pulps. He also began to draw. Collaborating with Ronald Clyne, Beaumont broke into print with a cartoon, published in the October 1943 number of FANTASTIC ADVENTURES. Although he “worked hard, managed to crack most of the pulp magazines with illustrations, graduated to book jackets and slick magazine cartoons,” Beaumont decided he was not an artist. Instead, he turned to writing.

During the summer of 1946, Beaumont met author Ray Bradbury in Los Angeles. Through a mutual interest in comic strips, the two became friends. Bradbury also became Beaumont’s writing mentor, reading and critiquing the budding author’s work. “When I read the first one, I said: ‘Yes. Very definitely. You are a writer,’ recalls Bradbury. ‘It showed immediately. . . . Chuck’s talent was obvious from that very first story.'”

Charles Beaumont’s professional writing career began with the novella, “The Devil, You Say?” published in the January 1951 issue of AMAZING STORIES. Before long, he was appearing in the pulps of his day — primarily digest magazines — IF, IMAGINATION, INFINITY SCIENCE FICTION, THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION, MANHUNT, ORBIT SCIENCE FICTION and others. In September 1954, Beaumont’s “Black Country” appeared in PLAYBOY. Before long, his stories were appearing in prestigious magazines such as COLLIER’S, ESQUIRE, and THE SATURDAY EVENING POST.

Beaumont also began to write for television, authoring episodes for programs including ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, THE D. A.’S MAN, FOUR STAR PLAYHOUSE, HAVE GUN, WILL TRAVEL, NAKED CITY, ONE STEP BEYOND, ROUTE 66, THRILLER, WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE, and, most importantly, THE TWILIGHT ZONEBeaumont wrote twenty-two episodes for Rod Serling’s classic series. He also penned a number of screenplays including THE HAUNTED PALACE, THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH, and THE CIRCUS OF DR. LAO.

At the height of his writing career, Beaumont began to suffer from a mysterious ailment. “By 1964, he could no longer write. Meetings with producers turned disastrous. His speech became slower, more deliberate. His concentration worsened. . . . after a battery of tests at UCLA, Beaumont was diagnosed as having Alzheimer’s Disease; he faced premature senility, aging, and an early death.” Charles Beaumont died on February 21, 1967 at the age of thirty-eight.

Today, we honor the ninetieth anniversary of the birth of Charles Beaumont. From August 15 – 18, PulpFest 2019 will celebrate this fine author and other “Children of the Pulps.” You can click here to download the convention’s 2019 member registration form. You can also book a room directly through the PulpFest website. Just below the PulpFest banner at the top of the convention’s home page,  you’ll find a link that reads “Book a Room.” Click the link and you’ll be redirected to a secure site where you can place your reservation.

We hope to see you this August at the beautiful DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Pittsburgh – Cranberry in Mars, PA.

(Charles Beaumont was about ten years old when the first issue of PLANET STORIES — dated Winter 1939 and featuring front cover art by Frank R. Paul — appeared on American newsstands. He was the perfect age to become “A Child of the Pulps.” Again, we quote from Beaumont’s “The Bloody Pulps,” first published in the September 1962 PLAYBOY:

“If you were a prepubescent American male in the Twenties, the Thirties or the Forties, chances are you performed the ritual. If you were a little too tall, a little too short, a little too fat, skinny, pimply, an only child, painfully shy, awkward, scared of girls, terrified of bullies, poor at your schoolwork (not because you weren’t bright but because you wouldn’t apply yourself), uncomfortable in large crowds, given to brooding, and totally and overwhelmingly convinced of your personal inadequacy in any situation, then you certainly performed it.

Which is to say, you worshiped at the shrine of the pulps.”

Although Beaumont would break into the pulps proper with a story in the January 1951 issue of AMAZING STORIES, most of his early fiction would appear in the science fiction digests. One of these — ORBIT SCIENCE FICTION — featured three Beaumont tales, including “Hair of the Dog” in its July-August 1954 number. Leading pulp artist, Rudolph Belarski, would contribute the front cover art for the issue.)