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The Strange Death of Charles Beaumont

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I was not interested in politics until my sister's boyfriend gave me a box of recently published paperbacks. I was 15 at the time and my reading up to that time consisted of comics and football magazines. The first book I took from the box was "The Intruder" by Charles Beaumont. The novel, published that year in 1959, is a story about a character called Adam Cramer who visits a small Southern town on the eve of integration. His main objective is to incite the people against letting black children into the town's white school. At the time I knew nothing about Jim Crows laws and the KKK. The novel stimulated interest in American politics and it resulted in me getting history books from my local library on the subject.

Later, I tried to get other books by Beaumont from Amazon but discovered it was the only novel he ever wrote. Last night I watched "Seven Days in May". I looked up the scriptwriter, Rod Serling on the web. I discovered he had very left-wing views and was very frustrated by the amount of political censorship he suffered. In 1959, he began producing The Twilight Zone. He stated in an interview that the science fiction format would not be controversial and would escape censorship unlike his earlier work on television. In reality the show gave him the opportunity to communicate social messages in a more veiled context. He recruited his friend and fellow radical, Charles Beaumont to write scripts for Twilight Zone.

However, in 1963, Beaumont began to suffer the effects of what has been called "a mysterious brain disease". His speech slowed and his ability to concentrate diminished, arresting his creative output. He died on 21st February, 1967.

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In 1952 Charles Beaumont wrote a short story entitled The Beautiful People. In 1962 it was adapted for the Twilight Zone (Number 12 Looks Just Like You). This is the opening narration in the Twilight Zone: "Given the chance, what young girl wouldn't happily exchange a plain face for a lovely one? What girl could refuse the opportunity to be beautiful? For want of a better estimate, let's call it the year 2000. At any rate, imagine a time in the future when science has developed a means of giving everyone the face and body he dreams of. It may not happen tomorrow — but it happens now in the Twilight Zone. ”

This is the synopsis of the story that appears on Wikipedia:

In a society of the future, Marilyn Cuberle chooses not to undergo "The Transformation", which happens to everybody at the age of nineteen (either by convention or by law; it isn't made clear) and makes them beautiful and immune to disease.

Many years before, wise men decided to try to eliminate the reasons for inequality and injustice in the world. They saw that physical unattractiveness was one of the factors that made men hate, so they charged the finest scientific minds with the task of eliminating ugliness in mankind. As they learned to reshape the features and remove the body, they also learned to eliminate most of the causes of illness, and thus to prolong life. Before "The Transformation" a person could expect to live 70 or 80 or perhaps 90 years, but with "The Transformation" a person can live two or three times that long. "The Transformation" must be performed when the body and the tissue are at the proper state, which is at nineteen years old.

Nobody else can understand why Marilyn does not want to undergo "The Transformation" and sees nothing wrong with her own, distinctive appearance. Her "radical" beliefs were fostered by her father, who came to regret his own Transformation years earlier (and, as we learn, committed suicide in a fit of depression.) By reading her deceased father's diaries and books (banned in that time), she comes to realize that when everyone is beautiful no one is because without ugliness there can be no beauty. That the leaders of society don't care whether people are beautiful or not, they just want everyone to be the same. In a fit of despair she eventually undergoes the procedure and--surprisingly--is enchanted with the beautiful result. Why this is so is ambiguous: does "The Transformation" alter personality, too? Or is Marilyn so seduced by her lovely new form that her objections have simply melted away?

The closing narration: “Portrait of a young lady in love — with herself. Improbable? Perhaps. But in an age of plastic surgery, body building and an infinity of cosmetics, let us hesitate to say impossible. These and other strange blessings may be waiting in the future — which after all, is the Twilight Zone."

One critic noted the anti-capitalist theme of the programme and wrote: "Rod Serling begins to seem like a living-room Bertolt Brecht."

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This is a subject dear to my heart. My novel "The Unreals" has been described as a book length episode of "The Twilight Zone," and I can't really argue with that. Charles Beaumont epitomized "The Twilight Zone" mentality, even more than Rod Serling. Beaumont's scripts were always, in my view, the wildest and weirdest ones.

Beaumont was a fascinating guy in real life. I read where people would be half enthralled and half terrified to hang out with Beaumont, because he seemed to be out there on the edge, and would often make those in his company believe they were themselves entering the Twlight Zone.

I know he died way too young, but wasn't aware of his politics. I agree that he was a brilliant writer- it's certainly a shame he didn't write more fiction.

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