Charles Beaumont: The Short Life of Twilight Zone’s Magic Man
I am very glad this documentary got made, but I wish it had been made with a bit more care. As it is, it sprawls all over the place and strays way off its titular subject. It could have been trimmed by twenty minutes and not have lost anything.
Beaumont was one of the masters of the short story in the ‘50s, along with Robert Sheckley and Frederick Brown and several others. I grew up reading him and, later, watching the many Twilight Zone episodes he wrote. Until now I knew nothing other than that about him. I was shocked to learn that he died at the age of 38 from a horrible combination of early-onset Alzheimer’s and Pick’s disease. His friends said that he looked 80 years old in his last days. What an amazing amount of terrific writing he managed to squeeze into his short career!
So, aside from some grainy and jerky home movies and a few scenes from his movies and teleplays, what we have here is a lot of interviews with some old men. Really old men, some of whom I was mildly surprised to see are still alive. (Frank Robinson and Richard Matheson have since died; William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson are still alive.) They reminisce about those days, along with Rod Serling, Forrest J. Ackerman, Harlan Ellison, and Roger Corman. All of them have the greatest respect for Beaumont, who seems to have been an odd but very likeable fellow, prone to impulsive trips all over the globe, and deeply into car racing back in the days when guys raced actual cars, and not fiberglass shells built around exotic engines.
I’m sure that if anyone knew of any recordings of his voice, any sound film interviews or the like, the director would have tracked them down. So the only example we have of him speaking is, strangely enough, a small part he played in a movie he scripted, Roger Corman’s The Intruder, about racial unrest in the South. There are a lot of funny stories told here about that movie, which was not one that made the KKK happy.
The main problem here is that some of the interviews carried on a bit too long, in my opinion. (The worst was George Clayton Johnson, who couldn’t seem to shut up.) And the movie was further compromised by some wildly gratuitous camera joggling and deliberately out-of-focus crap designed to give you a headache. And some of the sound recording was just way beyond awful. Somebody didn’t bother to learn how to operate a microphone, it sounded like to me.