William F. Nolan was one of the grand old men from the golden age of science fiction and horror spanning pulp fiction, television and the movies. Starting out as an illustrator in Kansas City, Nolan ultimately made his way to Hollywood and became part of a group of writers within the orbit of Ray Bradbury, and subsequently Charles Beaumont, all trying to break into television. As part of the inner circle of writers, casually known as, “The Group,” little by little, Nolan gained some ground.
Category Archives: William F. Nolan
Editor’s Note: If you are heading out to Comic-Con, and you wish to learn more about what we covered in this interview, go to a special panel, “Star Trek 50th Anniversary and George Clayton Johnson Tribute,” on Thursday, July 21st, 9:00 – 10:30 PM. Room: 9 upstairs inside San Diego Convention Center. Having written the first aired Star Trek episode, “The Man Trap,” George has secured his place within Star Trek as much as Twilight Zone.
Jason V Brock is a filmmaker, writer, editor, and artist. For this interview, I draw from Jason’s extensive knowledge of golden age television and pop culture. Among his work in film, he is known for his documentary on the writer Charles Beaumont (1929-1967), which is a rich source for our talk. At the same time, Brock’s academic work is just as compelling. I consider Jason a friend in the entertainment industry: we both share a certain sensibility. I hope you enjoy this concise version our geeking out on George Clayton Johnson and related things. We were both en route to a special tribute for screenwriter George Clayton Johnson that took place this February. So, it all makes sense.
In this interview, we’re chatting about that golden time in television that was “The Twilight Zone.” This is digging deeper into the background of the show and its key talent. For this talk, we’re focusing on George Clayton Johnson along with other members of what became known as “The Group,” which met from the early 1950s to the mid-1960s. Within that gathering of writers, the leader was Charles Beaumont. Some writers from The Group went on to write for The Twilight Zone.
HENRY CHAMBERLAIN: Jason, talk about Charles Beaumont, who remains something of a mystery: a great writer on the rise, dead at age 38. And then let’s shift to George, who also remains a mystery.
JASON V BROCK: There’s an interview with Charles Beaumont that was conducted by George Clayton Johnson. It was for a show called, “The Author and the Story.” And Beaumont recites from “My Fair Lady.” We include some of that in the documentary. If you can find that interview, it is well worth seeking out. Beaumont’s illness is a mystery. It does seem to come down to two possibilities: Alzheimer’s disease or Pick’s disease. I tend to think it was Pick’s disease as it fits in with what we know about Beaumont’s activity as he declined: slow and halting speech; a greater amount of impulsivity. What Beaumont’s friends believed was the main cause of Beaumont’s premature death was his routine use of Bromo-Seltzer, which had aluminum, a cause of dementia.
During this time that Beaumont was declining in health, he and George had a falling out. George was trying to figure out a new project. And they had a sort of disagreement. But, after a while, they mended fences. It was during that time that George discovered what was happening to Beaumont. Keep in mind that these were still young guys. The dementia started for Beaumont at around age 33.
Now, George will always remain a mystery. He was an enigmatic individual to be sure. A lot of people don’t know this but he was an underwear model for a time. He did whatever to make ends meet. He was, as he liked to say, “a dog without a collar.” He wanted to do things his way and succeed on his own terms. He was punk rock before that became a thing, and I admire that about him. He was a very intelligent person. He only had an eighth grade education. He was born in a barn in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He went through many phases. He was a beatnik and then became enthralled with hippiedom, and that aspect never left. He was a vegetarian. And he was involved with supporting the legalization of marijuana. Politically, he had more of a Libertarian ideal. He was also mercurial, open to new ideas, never crystallized in his mindset.
Ray Bradbury asked, “Who can explain the mystery of personality?” And I think George fits that perfectly. You could ask him one thing and he would answer back with the most unexpected things.
There was that aspect of overcoming the odds for George and his feeling a need to prove himself.
I look at The Group and think of it as the atom with Charles Beaumont as the nucleus. They’re all in different shells around Beaumont. The atom blew apart once the nucleus was gone. Everyone went in different directions. In the hierarchy, Beaumont was at the top. But, beyond that, in relation to success, was Richard Matheson in a role as mentor. Then there was Ackerman and Bradbury who were relatively older. What’s interesting is that Nolan and Johnson told me that they felt they were lowest on the totem pole in relation to the group. However, Nolan and Tomerlin were, in fact, closest to Beaumont. And then George was next to them.
George was more responsible. The three others did as they pleased. They would go to Monaco and crash a dinner for Princess Grace. They loved Grand Prix racing. They would run off and do all these things at the drop of a hat. Go hang out with Ian Fleming. George stayed home with his family. Richard Matheson stayed home with his family. George was one of the few who bought his house. He bought it early on and lived the rest of his life there. He hungered for that stability and security.
Considering those four core members, tell us more about John Tomerlin.
What’s interesting about him is that he was a catalyst for a number of things. He started in radio and that was his big love. He wasn’t really interested in television or film. The rest of the group dragged him into that. He was interested in competing and conquering. He was feisty. He became a bridge champion, and pilot. He was mostly in love with the Norman Corwin school of writing for radio. That’s like saying today that you’d like to write like the original Twilight Zone when we’re in the midst of Kardashian cult TV. It ain’t gonna happen!
Share with us more about other members of The Group. They seem to fade into the background and yet they’re all interesting in their own ways. There’s Chad Oliver, for instance, he seems pretty obscure but I come to find that he had his cult following.
Well, Chad Oliver really did enjoy science fiction. I don’t think that was where Beaumont’s heart was. It’s weird that Johnson and Nolan would think they were lowest on the totem pole since that was not true. After you move past the core, there are the top ten. Altogether, you could say there were thirty writers associated with The Group. If you’re thinking conceptually, outside of Bradbury, Beaumont was most influential closely followed by Richard Matheson. And then, after that, Nolan.
After that, it depends, as you give merit on a story by story basis. Stylistically, Beaumont was at the top. Followed by Nolan, and then Johnson. I would place Matheson at the bottom, as a stylist. His writing was very direct; he was not an atmospheric writer. His ideas and his characterizations are his strengths, and his novel way of looking at the universe. While Beaumont’s writing was more rich, a lot more substance to his delivery. Bill Nolan was a lot like that too, especially early in his career. Later in his career, his writing is more like Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler or Hemingway. He started in the style of Bradbury, as did Beaumont. George also emulated Bradbury. And then they moved on. Bill did a lot of television with Dan Curtis. Mathewson wrote a tremendous amount for television and film, beginning with Roger Corman. His writing lent himself to screenplays. He wrote about a hundred short stories and then switched to novels.
Talk more about the dynamics of what was going on behind the scenes of The Twilight Zone: Rod Serling and Ray Bradbury.
The Group would not have happened if not for Rod Serling. It was Serling who was the big shot in television. Ray Bradbury wanted to do that too. Serling came from the East Coast and steeped in great television, like Paddy Chayefsky. Bradbury has his side of the story of what caused the great rift between them–and we cover that in our documentary. I can see that it was jealously at play: Bradbury wanted what Serling had. But, The Twilight Zone, in fact, was always on precarious ground. Then there’s Night Gallery which left Serling without creative control which he regretted very much. Writers from The Twilight Zone went on to write for Star Trek and for Night Gallery. Nolan and Johnson both wrote a number of scripts for consideration on Star Trek. And, it was Johnson who wrote the first Star Trek episode aired, “The Man Trap.”
I can understand how Ray Bradbury would have felt that he could have done a better job than Rod Serling, even if that was not the case.
Bradbury would have directly said that. Serling got to the point too describing Bradbury’s style as best for the page and not the screen. Bradbury is more in line with Edgar Alan Poe. And that is more of an internal mode of writing. It is very difficult to transfer that onto a script. On the other hand, you can say Serling’s writing can be very talky. The modern equivalent to Serling would be Aaron Sorkin. Your mind is just snapping and crackling to that kind of writing. Serling was very much like that on his work for Playhouse 90.
Clusters of writers do crop up. You think of The Lost Generation Expats in Paris, The Lovecraft Circle, The Beats, The Group. It’s very hard, if not impossible, to form this bond online. You need that human connection.
Rod Serling is quite fascinating. And he did know what he was doing even if he had not been known for science fiction and fantasy prior to The Twilight Zone.
Yes, he had always been reading in the field. He had always been interested in science fiction and fantasy, reading it since he was a boy. He just didn’t have an outlet for it yet. He wasn’t a prose writer, that wasn’t his form of writing. He started in radio, just like John Tomerlin. Serling started writing from his direct experience in the war. He was in the Pacific during World War II. I recommend a memoir by Anne Serling, “As I Knew Him,” about her father. It is very well written. She describes how her dad wrote initially in a diary form to help him overcome PTSD. This would lead him to radio and, with his clipped style of talking, he was a natural for it. Later, he wins a writing contest for television. The writer who came in second was Earl Hamner Jr., who would go on to write a number of Twilight Zone episodes.
Indulge me and go even further into the background of the writing for The Twilight Zone. For one thing, everyone involved was hip to Weird Fiction.
If you break it down, story by story, what these writers were most interested in was Magical Realism. They didn’t really call it that back then in the United States. Bradbury had that aspect. Serling definitely had it. When you start looking at other writers from The Group, John Tomerlin and Jerry Sohl were much more interested in serious and realistic stories. So, it comes down to Nolan, Matheson, Beaumont, and Johnson.
They all loved F. Scott Fitzgerald. They all loved Hemingway. They could not help but admire Hemingway as he was the big force in writing at the time. Hemingway had that succinct style that fit right in with their interest in noir. They tapped into the Magical Realism in Faulkner. They all loved Poe. And they all loved Bradbury and wanted to follow in his footsteps and write for the pulps. Beaumont loved Lovecraft. He loved Dalton Trumbo’s “Johnny Got His Gun.” Had Beaumont lived, he would have pursued more work with social commentary similar to Rod Serling. It’s very interesting as to how it all came together as it did. It is something I’d like to write about in the future.
Thank you, Jason. As always, a pleasure. I look forward to our next conversation.
Same here, Henry.
Keep up with Jason V Brock by visiting his website for his work and that of his wife, Sunni K Brock, right here.
Great fiction comes from all over: horror, dark fantasy, mystery, and so on. William F. Nolan writes in various genres. You may know him from his work with Dan Curtis, such as the classic horror film, “Burnt Offerings.” Or perhaps you know him from co-writing, with George Clayton Johnson, the classic dystopian novel, “Logan’s Run.” Mr. Nolan has gained great recognition and won numerous awards and honors. Just last year he was named the Grand Master at the World Horror Convention in Atlanta. In this interview, we spend a good time chatting about horror as well as fiction in general. And we definitely visit the subject of the Southern California Sorcerers, otherwise known simply as The Group.
During our conversation, Bill shared a very special moment regarding his friend and fellow writer, George Clayton Johnson, who passed away this last Christmas. He offers up for us a picture of a fresh-faced, and beaming, young George bursting upon the scene, circa 1957. He has shown up at a meeting of The Group and asks if he may join in with the illustrious and ambitious writers. Someone asks George what he has to show for himself. And, George, just having received his box of author copies, proudly shows the men what he’s been up to. “Hey guys,” George says, “I co-wrote this really cool thing called, ‘Ocean’s Eleven!'” And the rest is history!
This interview was conducted Monday, February 22nd. William F. Nolan is going strong, just shy of his 88th birthday on March 6th. If you love a good story, or if you are an aspiring writer yourself, or if you’d like to know something about the Sixties zeitgeist, then this interview is for you. In the span of about twenty minutes we cover a lifetime of observations and insight.
Henry Chamberlain: Thank you for getting together with me, Bill. I wanted to cover the writer’s life with you in this interview. First off, a good horror story has been compared to placing a frog in gradually boiling water. What can you tell us about the boiled frog method of storytelling?
William F. Nolan: Allow me to veer off a bit from the boiled frog to tell you how I approach telling a story. Really, how I tell a story is like the other night when I was in bed, half asleep and half awake, a state where I get all of my ideas. I was thinking of these deadly flowers. They had the power to stop the human heart. They were alive and, if you didn’t treat them right, they could turn against and stop your heart. There’s this couple who decide to rent this place on the beach. It looks like a great place. The owner lets them know that they have to take care of these special flowers but the couple ignore him, they don’t do it. And they end up being killed by the flowers. Their dead bodies are found on the beach. That’s how I form an idea for a story. I get an opening in my head for the concept and then I get the ending. Finally, I fill in the middle. That’s how I write a horror story, or any other kind of story.
HC: There’s a story of yours, “Stabbed by Rob,” in the recently published collection of dark fantasy from Dark Discoveries, edited by James R Beach and Jason V Brock. That story is a perfect example of that boiled frog method. There are a number of touches of humor, including your mentioning a glow-in-the-dark statue of Jesus. And the story keeps turning up the heat to the very last sentence.
WFN: Well, I believe you really can’t get away without some humor in a horror story. Horror is too stark, raw, and unflinching. You need to be able to live in it. You’ve got to lighten it with some humor. All my horror stories have elements of humor. You need to let the reader breathe. You can’t go from the first page to the last and do straight horror. That’s the problem with H. P. Lovecraft for me. Lovecraft has no sense of humor. He was a brilliant writer. He was a brilliant innovator. But no sense of humor. By the time you finish “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” you’re exhausted. I want my readers to relax a little, to breathe, and have a good chuckle while they’re being frightened. That’s my method of writing horror.
HC: I’m glad that you mention Lovecraft because I’ve had difficulty with him too. Your adaptation with Dan Curtis of Robert Marasco’s 1973 novel, “Burnt Offerings,” has just the right touches of humor at the start, and they give way to a more sinister mood. There’s a balance.
WFN: Yes, that was adapted from the Marasco novel which had no humor whatsoever. I told Dan Curtis, who directed, and produced the film with me, that we were going to need to lighten up the material because it was too stark. I’m glad that you appreciate the humorous elements in the film. As I say, I just don’t think you can do horror without lightening it up a little bit.
HC: Then there’s Ray Russell’s work. Perhaps more of a touch of elegance than humor. I love the way Ray Russell masterfully brings up a lot of pretty grim stuff in his work. He knows what to leave in and what to mostly imply. I’m thinking of “Sardonicus,” “Sagittarius,” and “Sanguinarius.”
WFN: Ray Russell was one of my closest friends for years. We would talk about how to write in terms of horror. And we both agreed on the same thing that you’ve got to put some humor into it in order to lighten the whole thing. I love Ray’s work. He passed on some years back. He would be happy to hear that you enjoy his work.
HC: There were all of these amazing writers that you got to be close with in social settings and in work sessions. All of you together were the Southern California Writer’s Group.
WFN: There were eleven of us. We didn’t think of ourselves as anything special. We were all trying to make a living, pay the rent, pay the mortgage, stay afloat. We wrote science fiction and fantasy in a modern vein. We took it away from the Lovecraftian type of fiction and wrote a modern type. It was sort of pioneered by Richard Matheson and Ray Bradbury who were part of our group. We all worked from the same principle: you can do modern horror but it has got to be something that people can believe in. It has to be realistic. It should happen today, in somebody’s kitchen. It could happen in a kitchen. You don’t have to go to a haunted castle, back in Transylvania, to have horror. Horror can happen on your doorstep. Horror can be a terrorist with a submachine gun that sprays lead over you while you’re eating in a restaurant. That’s horror. Horror takes many forms. We all tried to work within that scope.
Yeah, eleven of us. Matheson, Bradbury, myself…Charles Beaumont was sort of the hub of the thing. We had Jerry Sohl. We had Robert Bloch, known for “Psycho.” We’d all gather together at each other’s houses, at all-night coffeeshops and talk shop, editors, and markets. We were quite a group. All these years later, people look back on us as pioneers in the field. And that’s nice but, at the time, we were just trying to make a buck, just trying to make a living.
HC: Well, sure, you guys were so close to it all. You would need to stand back to see it clearly. What you guys did was take gothic literature and give it a modern cool. That’s essentially it.
WFN: Yeah. I still think that you can credit Richard Matheson for a lot of that. Stephen King said that he was influenced more by Richard Matheson, than any other author, because he took horror out of the castle and brought it into the kitchen. And I agree with him. We all tried to do that. We all felt that was the way to go. We weren’t interested in something ancient. We wanted something real, something of today.
HC: You list eleven members of The Group. Was there any time that all eleven of you met under one roof?
WFN: Three or four of us were into auto racing. Richard Matheson, Jerry Sohl, and Robert Bloch didn’t care at all about that. But Charles Beaumont, John Tomerlin, and myself were heavily into Grand Prix sports car racing both here and in Europe. We actually flew to Monte Carlo one year for the Grand Prix. And we went to Sebring Raceway in Florida for the races there. The Beaumont kitchen in North Hollywood, his upstairs kitchen, is where most of us would meet. George Clayton Johnson was part of that group too. We would meet there. But there was never a meeting of all eleven of us at one time. It was three or four of us at at time at different places. We’d go to movies together. We’d meet in coffeeshops.
HC: I imagine that you guys enjoyed Musso and Frank Grill.
WFN: We loved Musso and Frank Grill. It has all that history: Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and William Faulkner. The murals never changed. The seats are the same. When you’re sitting there, it’s like you’ve gone back in a time machine. We loved it. I still love it. I love to go whenever I’m in L.A.
HC: You touched upon George. I have to say that I can imagine that he loved the fact that he got to pass away on Christmas Day. Such a magical thing. Such an act of will.
WFN: That was no accident. He was ill. He was in hospice care for about a week before that happened.
HC: Oh, yeah.
WFN: The doctors were saying that he could go at any minute but George, subconsciously, since he couldn’t verbalize it at that stage, was saying that the doctors couldn’t tell him when he was going to die. He was always an independent guy. He was saying: “I want to die on Christmas Day since that was the birthday of Rod Serling, who made me famous for my writing for The Twilight Zone.” He was able to die three days past when he was expected to die. He was able to fool all the doctors. That was no accident.
HC: Yes, that’s what I meant. I was honored to interview George a number of times and got to meet him in person. Would you share with us a little more of the flavor of the era and a picture of George at one of these bull sessions at The Group that may come to mind?
WFN: Four or five of us were sitting in the living room of the upstairs apartment of Charles Beaumont one night. There was a knock at the door. This is around 1957. The Group was around from the ’50s to ’60s. So, there’s a knock at the door. We open the door and there’s George Clayton Johnson with a package under his arm. He said, “I’m George Clayton Johnson. I want to join you guys. I want to be with you. I’ve heard about you and I want to join you.” Someone asked, “Are you a writer?” He said, “Yes, I am,” and he held up the package, “It’s called, ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ and I just sold it to Frank Sinatra!” That’s what got him started with The Group.
HC: That’s beautiful. I wanted to ask you about the literary tradition that The Group worked from. I’m sure that Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mary Shelly, all the gothic writers, were subjects of conversations for all of you.
WFN: You can’t write out of a vacuum. We’re all influenced by other people. Ray Bradbury was influenced by Herman Melville, William Shakespeare, and George Bernard Shaw. We were influenced more by such horror writers as Arthur Machen and Algernon Blackwood. I started out reading H.G. Wells’s “The Time Machine” and “War of the Worlds” when I was a boy growing up in Kansas City, Missouri. And then I discovered Bradbury and Weird Tales. Ray Bradbury and I became close friends and that lasted 50 years. We’re all standing on the shoulders of other people. We all read Hawthorne and Robert Louis Stevenson. We were influenced by them but we wanted to take our fiction into a modern setting and move it forward and I believe we succeeded.
HC: I wanted to close out by asking if you could give us a little more of a flavor of Los Angeles in the ’50s and ’60s. I can just imagine: you had the ghost of Raymond Chandler; old Hollywood giving way to new Hollywood; Forey Ackerman and the rise of geek culture. L.A. in the Sixties, it doesn’t get much better than that.
WFN: I read Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, the hard-boiled school, James M. Cain. I’ve read books on Chandler and Hammett. I’m a big hard-boiled fan. Los Angeles was a hard-boiled city in those days. Dashiell Hammett glorified San Francisco. But Los Angeles was also part of that era where corruption ruled in high places. It was a violent and colorful era captured beautifully by Raymond Chandler. If you read the work of Raymond Chandler, you’re learning a lot about Los Angeles as he experienced it.
I can tell you that there was a lot of smog. I used to live in Burbank, right against the mountains. The smog was terrible. I did move around different parts of Los Angeles. It changed quite a lot during the many years I was there. It’s not the same city that it used to be.
HC: I love Los Angeles and love looking for signs of yesteryear. They’re around if you know where to look for them.
WFN: If you go to Pasadena, there’s the old bridge that Raymond Chandler wrote about in one of his novels. The bridge that Philip Marlowe drove over at night. It’s still standing there. I wrote a piece entitled, “Marlowe in Los Angeles.” I toured all the places he used to go to, including Musso and Frank Grill. Chandler was an insatiable researcher, always moving around, and usually within the greater Los Angeles area. He grew to know it beautifully. Hammett made San Francisco famous with “The Maltese Falcon.” Chandler did the same for Los Angeles with “The Big Sleep.”
HC: I wish you a great year ahead, Bill. Any projects we can look forward to soon?
WFN: I had a collection of my poetry come out last year. This year we’ll have a new collection of my essays. I’m working on a new collection of short stories. I just wrote three new stories this month. So, even though I’ll be turning 88, I feel like I’m still 28.
HC: I can feel the energy. Thanks again, Bill.
WFN: I really enjoyed this. Thank you.
You can listen to the podcast interview by just clicking the link below:
Keep up with William F. Nolan at his website right here.
The new print and ebook edition of the original novel, “Logan’s Run,” by George Clayton Johnson and William F. Nolan, is now out, published by Vintage Books, a division of Penguin Random House. Check out the new line of Vintage Movie Classics right here. This is the bestselling dystopian novel that inspired the 1970s science-fiction classic starring Michael York, Jenny Agutter, and Richard Jordan. For many of you out there, enough said. It will instantly bring to mind crystal palm flowers flickering red. If that means nothing to you, then you’re in for a treat. Perhaps knowing that such works as “The Hunger Games” and the Divergent trilogy owe much to this novel with pique your interest.
It is a beautiful new edition for longtime fans and newcomers alike. For the longest time, this title was essentially out of print, as far as a mass market printing was concerned. The original novel was a huge hit in its day, only to be magnified by its tie-in with the major motion picture. The novel was never forgotten and, in fact, its legend grew. Special edition print runs came out over the years and you could always find an old copy of the many editions that exist. For collectors, there are many iconic paperback editions to choose from. But the fact remained that the time had come for a new readily available edition and now we have it. I’ve been a big supporter of bringing out a new edition. You can read my review of the original novel and my call for a new edition right here.
The forward is by Daniel H. Wilson, author of several books on possible dystopian futures, including Where’s My Jetpack?, Robogenesis, and the forthcoming, Quarantine Zone. Wilson provides just the right balance of looking back to his own childhood experience with Logan’s Run and observations on the novel’s enduring relevance. Wilson’s enthusiasm for his subject is infectious and adds a contemporary boost to a timeless classic.
The novel, first published in 1967, paints a very compelling, and alarming, picture of a society overly dependent upon technology for all aspects of life. Youth has been conditioned to seek out distraction and pleasure over all else, including quality of life. That said, for anyone familiar with the movie, this is also one very entertaining story. The movie echoes the novel as it veers off into its own high level of kitsch. But no harm done. The movie remains a cult classic and an excellent gateway to the original novel.
I have always held a fascination with how movies adapt novels so I am thrilled to discover Logan’s Run is part of a new line of books from Vintage Books. Vintage Movie Classics includes a wide variety titles like “Night of the Hunter,” the bestselling National Book Award-finalist that inspired Charles Laughton’s expressionist horror classic starring Robert Mitchum and Shelly Winters. Other available titles: The Bad Seed, The Bitter Tea of General Yen, Back Street, Alice Adams, Show Boat, and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. This is truly astounding for the broad range and the opportunity to rediscover lost gems.
Jason V Brock is an author, artist, and filmmaker who finds himself in a very interesting place in pop culture. For starters, he has created two well-regarded documentaries that focus on two very different men, both great contributors to science fiction, horror, movies, television, and the arts in general. One is Charles Beaumont. The other is Forrest J Ackerman. We chat about them and the creative process. How do you create art? One rule of thumb: Do it yourself! We begin with a look back at Brock’s childhood and how he, a child of the ’80s, grew up with the DIY ethos. In Charlotte, North Carolina. That’s where Brock cut his teeth on comics, retro cinema, vintage LPs, pulp fiction, and Playboy. Brock began working at his local comic book shop at the age of 13. His dad was a writer and graphic designer. It sounds like an idyllic way to grow up, right out of a Ray Bradbury story.
Speaking of stories,there are so many stories to cover just in Brock’s documentary on Beaumont. Take the case of the short story, “The Crooked Man,” by Charles Beaumont. It is a classic today that was highly controversial for the time, circa 1955. It imagined a society where homosexuality was predominant while hetrosexuality was outlawed. The story was bought by Esquire but subsequently was not published. It turned out to also be too hot for the pages of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. But when Playboy published it in 1955, then that same story became okay, more than okay. Charles Beaumont sold his first science fiction story, “The Devil You Say,” to Amazing Stories in 1950. By 1954, he had written the first work of fiction, the landmark work, “Dark Country,” to appear in Playboy in 1954. This kicked off over a decade of Beaumont stories in Playboy. Writing for movies and televison soon followed including some of the best episodes of “The Twilight Zone.” All this, and so much more, before his life was cut short at 38 by a mysterious illness.
And, that gives you some sense of what to expect in Brock’s “Charles Beaumont: Short Life of Twilight Zone’s Magic Man.” You can find that documentary as well as Brock’s documentary on Famous Monsters of Filmland’s former editor, Forrest J Ackerman (Uncle Forry), “The AckerMonster Chronicles!” right here.
We also chat about Brock’s work in editing and writing his own stories. This led us to discussing a unique pairing of talents. In the course of working on the Beaumont documentary, Brock got to know one of the members of the Southern California Writer’s Group, William F. Nolan. They struck up a solid friendship. When Nolan was at a turning point on where he wanted to live next, it was a reasonable choice for him to move a bit further north from Bend, Oregon to Brock’s neighborhood in Vancouver, Washington. It turned out to be a natural fit and Brock and his wife, Sunni, could not be happier to share meals but not only that. Bill Nolan became family and you look out for family.
Among Brock’s impressive editorial work, there’s the recent anthology, from 2014, “A Darke Phantastique.” This is a 730-page lushly illustrated collection of some of the best dark horror fiction around with more than fifty stories, poems, and one teleplay. This includes Joe R. Lansdale’s “The Case of the Four-Acre Haunt”; Paul Kane’s “Michael the Monster”; William F. Nolan’s “The Last Witch”; Nathaniel Lee’s “The Wisest Stone and the Zoo”; Derek Künsken’s “The Buddha Circus”; E.E. King’s “Three Fables”; Jason Maurer’s “In Your Dark: Differing Strategies in Subhuman Integration Through Monster Academies” and S.T. Joshi’s “You’ll Reach There in Time.” “A Darke Phantastique” is published by Cicatrix Press and you can find it here.
And another recent anthology, out this year, is “Disorders of Magnitude.” This is a 336-page overview of the genres of horror, science fiction, and the supernatural. It will prove useful to anyone who wants a better understanding of the roots of one of today’s dominant forms of entertainment and art. Included in this collection are essays, reviews, and interviews. Brock studies such dynamic figures as H. P. Lovecraft, Forrest J Ackerman, Harlan Ellison, Ray Bradbury, Charles Beaumont, Richard Matheson, Rod Serling, and William F. Nolan. This collection also includes filmmakers Roger Corman, George Romero, and Dan O’Bannon, and such fantasy artists as H. R. Giger. “Disorders of Magnitude” is published by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. You can find it as Amazon right here.
You can listen to our conversation by clicking the link below. For anyone interested in writing, filmmaking, and creativity in general, there’s something here for you. Enjoy.
And be sure to visit Jason and Sunni Brock at JaSunni Productions to find out more about their products and services right here.
William F. Nolan is a writer with a brilliant career. Stephen King has acknowledged Mr. Nolan as “an expert in the art and science of scaring the hell out of people,” and Ray Bradbury has spoken of Mr. Nolan’s ability “to create an atmosphere of ultimate terror.” Crafting an interview with him can take a variety of directions. You could focus on race car driving, movies, television, horror, or science fiction. I chose to talk about genre fiction, specifically the pulp era, as Mr. Nolan is an authority on that subject. And, of course, we made our way to the biggest title that Mr. Nolan is attached to, Logan’s Run. He co-wrote, with George Clayton Johnson, the original novel and has gone on to write further Logan’s Run novels as well as the pilot episode to the television series.
Imagine yourself a young person with big plans to embark on a career in writing. It’s the 1950s. You’ve made it out to Los Angeles. You grew up reading pulp fiction. You adore it. Max Brand Westerns are the best! But you also love hard-boiled detective stories. Who better than Dashiell Hammett to deliver on that score, right? And then there’s science fiction. If only you might meet up with your hero, Ray Bradbury. Wouldn’t that be the tops? Sure enough, you meet Ray Bradbury. Not only that, Mr. Bradbury takes you under his wing and helps set your writing career on a high-flying course. That would be your first published story, “The Joy of Living”, in If magazine in 1954. Welcome to the life of William F. Nolan.
We focus on three major writers and, in turn, see how Nolan learned from them, adopted their techniques and tenacity, to become a professional writer in his own right. We talk about Ray Bradbury and his penchant to pay it forward with other writers. “We all support each other,” Nolan says. We talk about Frederick Faust, known as “Max Brand,” among other pseudonyms, and his uneasy relationship with fame. As for Faust’s all-time famous title, “Destry Rides Again,” it paled in comparison to his devotion to writing poetry, which never sold. It’s a similar case with Dashiell Hammett. Despite his wildly popular “Thin Man” stories, he wasn’t satisfied and had hoped to develop writing beyond his genre, but never did. Oddly enough, despite any reservations from Faust or Hammett, all three of these writers are held in high regard. But only Bradbury was to live to see and appreciate his place in fiction as well as his notoriety.
It’s a perplexing predicament to be, or aspire to be, a writer. “The problem is that most students of writing are lazy,” Nolan points out. “They want to become Stephen King over the weekend. Well, you can’t become Stephen King over the weekend. Stephen King couldn’t do that. People have some idea that he’s always had it easy and been rich. But, no, he spent ten years writing and struggling before ‘Carrie’ came along and made him a tidy sum of money.” And far be it for a writer to always be the best judge of his own work. As the story goes, King threw away the manuscript to “Carrie” in a fit of frustration. He tossed it into a waste basket only to have his wife fish it out and persuade him to send it to his agent. Good thing he did just that.
“Writing is like a roller coaster,” Nolan says. But he is also inspired to share the fact that hard work will pay off. What best illustrates this is just talking shop with him. For example, you get great insight exploring the work that Nolan has done with George Clayton Johnson. Among the dozen or so writers that Nolan has worked with, it is with Johnson that he wrote his first teleplay and, years later, his first novel. It was to be firsts for both of them. In 1959, Nolan and Johnson wrote their first teleplay, “Dreamflight,” for “The Twilight Zone.” It was never produced. Thanks to the jet age, the show found itself with one too many airplane-related stories. It’s since been printed in the anthology, “Forgotten Gems.” And it is a gem, a modern day take on Sleeping Beauty.
In the intervening years, Nolan and Johnson would continue to grow as writers, in no small measure due to the collaborative process they developed as part of what became known as The Southern California Writers Group. And so they did work together again, including two unproduced “Star Trek” teleplays, finally leading up to one of the best collaborations ever, the original “Logan’s Run” novel.
As we closed out our interview, I asked about upcoming projects and William F. Nolan is, at 87 this March, as busy as ever. On his list of top priority items, he included his longtime friend and collaborator, writer/artist/filmmaker Jason V. Brock, who is set to work with Nolan on a new Logan’s Run novel that will deconstruct what has come before and is entitled, “Logan’s Fall.” Also on the list: “Images in Black,” an edited collection of Ray Bradbury stories with an African-American theme; “A Man Called Dash,” a definitive biography of Dashiell Hammett; “Soul Trips,” a collection of Nolan poetry; and a Nolan horror collection for the series, “Masters of the Weird Tale,” to be published by Centipede Press.
Just click below to listen to the podcast interview. Enjoy:
There is something downright thrilling about a project that is adding to the appreciation of Logan’s Run, a franchise with numerous tropes and backstory. Logan’s Run means a lot of things to a lot of people. There are diehard fans of the original novel, the major motion picture, and the television program. This omnibus edition collects all six issues of the Bluewater Comics series of Logan’s Run Last Day. It is a story that gives a big nod to the original novel, basically makes a case for what a remake of the movie might look like, and is a fine example of what you can do to tease out more nuances to such an iconic work.
“Logan’s Run,” the original 1967 novel, written by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson, from which the 1976 major motion picture is loosely based upon, is a lost gem in science fiction. It’s been out of print since 1976 and deserves a return to the spotlight and easy accessibility. You have to seek out a used copy and those are all collectibles with prices to match. Wouldn’t it seem rather fitting to have this as an e-book too? It is an odd, poetic, and unique work.
“Logan’s Run,” the original novel, was featured in a promotional item from Crown Publishers in 2012. The promotion was a poster entitled, “The Dystopian Universe,” that featured “a collection of the most memorable apocalyptic futures and digital wastelands ever put to print. Each represents a uniquely disastrous vision of a society fantastic and familiar enough to keep you exploring every corner of this literary galaxy for years to come.” This promotion included a new tilte, “Ready Player One,” among a pantheon of classics old and new: “The Hunger Games,” “Blade Runner,” “Logan’s Run,” “The Stand,” “Neuromancer,” “World War Z,” “The Giver,” “I am Legend,” and “Snow Crash.” There must be something to the original “Logan’s Run.”
“Logan’s Run” is included in this promotion, as well it should, and yet “Logan’s Run” has been out of print for almost 40 years and not easily accessible. There is an appealing shaggy dog quality to this adventure story akin to a pulp detective novel that rewards thoughtful reading. Hollywood had to step in and chop the plot up to bits to fit into a vehicle for Micahel York, who plays Logan, and Jenny Agutter, who plays Jessica. The movie is famously known for being primarily filmed inside a Dallas shopping mall. The novel, on the other hand, is very wide in scope. People can shuttle all over the globe. It doesn’t take much consideration to sit in a tram and be bolted thousands of miles at one go. Now, compare the excitement of a shopping mall to crisscrossing the globe, and you can see how other aspects of the movie fall short of the original novel.
The movie version, as limited as it was, lost much, if not all, ground once “Star Wars” hit theaters the very next year, in 1977. If it had stayed true to the novel, it would have had much more to show for itself. Instead, key elements were streamlined and glossed over. In the movie, there is a controlled society where every citizen must die at age 30. In the book, the age limit is 21 which gives the story an intriguing edge. You have a society run by people who are just beginning to know themselves. The powers that be have set up a society of voluntary euthanasia at age 21 since it was a youth revolt that took over the world. Growing older is what led to the corruption in the first place so no more old age. Wisdom has been forgotten. Only the vitality of youth can be trusted.
Youth have destroyed the elders. Machines think for humans. The whole natural order of things has been disrupted to its very core. The government’s hub of activity is housed in a supercomputer, humanity’s brain. It resides within Crazy Horse Mountain. And things are so screwed up that the brain thinks it’s Crazy Horse. An important part of keeping the order belongs to the government agents, the “Sandmen,” who are entrusted with capturing any citizens who rebel against dying at 21 and try to run for it. But the system is threatened when one of the agents, Logan, begins to think for himself and, along with a runner, Jessica, seeks out the legendary Sanctuary, a rebel alliance led by a man who has lived beyond his legal age, Ballard.
This is another example of how the movie diverges from the book. In the novel, Ballard has figured out a way to turn off his palm flower. It never went black to alert authorities that he’d reached his expiration date. Ballard is a heroic rebel that has grown into a legend, and is a real threat to the government. The movie gives us Peter Ustinov as Ballard. It is a wonderful performance but this Ballard is senile and as menacing as a pussycat.
The book also provides us with a number of interludes not found in the movie that lift the narrative with greater energy, nuance, and irony. What William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson do is revel in the power of youth. They show us its unbounded energy and raw power. They make a case for its right to be taken seriously while also depicting its intoxicating allure. But, as is the case in any dystopian novel, you can always end up with too much of a good thing.
And there is simply more action in the book, intricate detailed action. There’s a whole scene where Logan and Jess attempt to allude their captors by blending in with an American Civil War re-enactment run by robots. It’s hilarious on one level and wonderful commentary. The book also makes much use of “devilsticks.” They are only hinted at in the movie as a band of rebels hold them like staffs. In the original novel, they are both weapon and transportation, like a witch’s broom. Imagine the visuals. It’s not like the movie had a meager budget. They could have had devilsticks do more than just stand there if they had wanted to.
I keep saying “original novel” because it’s such an important distinction. There have been countless “Logan’s Run” spin-offs. There was a TV show. And more comic books than you can imagine with more on the way. All of them have spawned from the movie as if it guaranteed success. This has left the original novel in something of a pristine state.
Let’s consider a passage from the book and you’ll get a sense of its urgency and sutblety. Here’s a depiction of one of the harsh terrains that Logan and Jessica encounter:
The firey wheel of the moon sun blistered its slow way across the Dakota sky, crowding the thin air with waves of shimmering heat. Deadwood was dust and ghost town stillness. The squat, wind-worked buildings along the main street had long since been scoured of paint, and their weathered boards reared up crookedly from the red earth.
“Logan’s Run” is an adventure story, a fable, and social commentary. The characters are bit players in a cosmic tale. Nolan and Johnson don’t concern themselves so much with fleshing out these characters and that is purposefully done. You know only what you need to know. They speak in a rather clipped fashion but not in an amateurish stilted manner. And they are thrown into numerous situations but they’re not an awkward jumble. It’s more like a grand opera or monumental painting. It’s good to keep in mind that Nolan and Johnson have been around the block a few times. These men are part of science fiction legend dating back to the Southern California Writer’s Group. They go back to a tradition of working together on projects, projects that included, among other things, scripts for “The Twilight Zone.”
Seek out “Logan’s Run.” Maybe you’ll find an old beat up copy in a used bookstore or on eBay. Ask, even demand, that it be reprinted and made available for e-books. And discover its unique quality. The movie missed the boat on this one. But it’s not too late to read the book. Any way you look at it, we are well overdue for a new edition.