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Twilight Zone Interviews
By William P. Simmons
Previously published in Cemetery Dance magazine, reprinted by author's permission
Credited with writing 22 episodes of the Twilight Zone during his swift, tragic life, Charles Beaumont was responsible for some of the finest moments of terror, doubt, and existential tragedy the medium of television ever witnessed. Whereas Rod Serling, creator and main writer of the Twilight Zone favored stories which focused on social injustices and shifting views of morality, merging traditional fable with political satire, Beaumont, like his friend and sometimes writing partner Richard Matheson, was first and foremost a writer a storyteller in love with words and their power, fiction for its own sake rather than for any one moral or political stance. Beaumonts scripts were un-apologetically terrifying and awe-evoking. He was one of the few writers with the skill and willingness to weigh in each season with grim tales of unremitting tragedy, paranoia, and the terror of misplacement in a cosmos malignant and/or unconcerned with a species rarely capable of understanding its own nature. Featuring outsiders and Everymen battling themselves no less often than threats of supernatural or psychological uncertainty, Beaumonts scripts were rarely straight fantasy or realism. Instead, Beaumont created aesthetic borderlands between the expectations and genre restraints of such extremes, focusing on characters, settings, and events that were neither completely real nor impossible, naturalistic or occult, but rather unique glimpses of seemingly typical things in a half-light of shadows.
His fantasies stood out (and continue to influence) not so much by showing realities overwhelmed by impossibilities or by approaching the speculative from a matter-of-fact point of view so much as they appeared as extensions of our waking everyday worlds. Questioning the nature of reality, fantasy, and the very power of perception, his memorable scripts charted the confusion and struggles of men and women who found themselves in an existence far removed from what they initially envisioned, resulting in stories of terror, enchanting fantasy, scathing humor, and, perhaps more importantly, penetrative comments on the nature of the human animal the mind and heart in constant conflict with only the frail feelers of sensory glands and philosophies to guide them. A writer whose imagination intensity, daring, and instinctive understanding of the human condition allowed him to approach the unknown with authenticity and nerve, Beaumont evoked images and entire personalities with minimal effort, saying in few words what others at the time (and ours) couldnt summon with pages. He did it quickly, with almost superhuman speed, and he did it honestly not the honesty of a drab realist who sees only the cloud in the sky, but with the foresight and visionary wisdom of a fantasist who not only sees clouds but the possibilities of space and time beyond them.
Publishing short stories, novels, and non-fiction, Beaumont joined creative forces with fellow fantasy legend Richard Matheson when breaking into television. Together they scripted several shows for the Golden Age Of Television. Both, however, wrote independently on the Twilight Zone, each secure in his ability to usher viewers into other dimensions. Such macabre and supernatural classics as In His Image, A Nice Place To Visit, and Perchance To Dream are evidence of Beaumonts mature sense of character, place, and defining incident. These visionary works are as capable of making audiences fear and feel today as they were when first crafted, ensuring a place for the storyteller decades after his untimely death from Alzheimer's disease on February 21, 1967.
Beaumonts meticulously plotted, passion-laced scripts of men and women falling into cracks between the frail parameters of reality and fantasy will soon be collected as never before by editor Roger Anker, who is preparing THE TWILIGHT ZONE SCRIPTS OF CHARLES BEAUMONT for Gauntlet Press. Anker is no stranger to Charles Beaumont. Editor of the Bram Stoker award-winning The Selected Stories of Charles Beaumont, which collected several famed and never-before published stories from Beaumont supplemented by personal reminiscences by such friends and fiction alumni as Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury, and Harlan Ellison, Anker has long been a devoted fan, critic, and scholar of Beaumonts work, his personal life, and his influence. In his upcoming two-volume series enthusiasm and research go hand-in-hand, presenting what may very well be the most definitive work on Beaumonts involvement in the Twilight Zone, including not only original scripts from seasons one, two, three, and four but, in addition, Gentleman, Please Be Seated, a never before published script intended for the influential series. In addition, supplemental essays by Richard Matheson, Chris Beaumont (the authors son), and evocative cover art round out a collection that is as much a story behind the stories of Charles Beaumont as it is a collection of one of last centurys leading dreamers of paranormal darkness and enchantment.
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WS: What first interested you in the work of Charles Beaumont?
RA: Watching the Twilight Zone episode of The Howling Man. I was ten years old. As a kid, Id seen the usual horror films, such as Frankenstein, Dracula, Wolf Man, but there was something about The Howling Man that stuck with me. After that, I began to look for other Zone episodes written by Beaumont. Some years later, I spotted a paperback copy of Beaumont s short fiction collection The Hunger and Other Stories in a used book store and remembered his name. After reading that, I was always on the lookout for another Beaumont story.
WS: Which aspects of his imagination called to you, and continue to do so?
RA: I enjoyed the type of story he was giving The Twilight Zone; his tales usually took on darker themes. Today, I appreciate the scope of his imagination. A Beaumont story can take you anywhere.
WS: How has your interest in Charles Beaumont changed, both professionally and personally, over the years?
RA: Professionally speaking, I ve come to appreciate just how good he was at putting words and thoughts on paper. He had an eloquent, yet compact, writing style. On a personal level, I still enjoy reading his stories. Most of them are timeless.
WS: In 1989, your Bram Stoker Award-winning collection Charles Beaumont: Selected Stories was published, which was an impressive collection of his short fiction with appreciations from authors whose lives he had touched. What was the impetus for this collection?
RA: My impetus for putting that collection together was that I wanted to find a way to get Beaumont s classic short stories back into print. I discussed the idea with Beaumont s son Chris, who is also a successful television writer, and he agreed it was worth a try. I then asked a number of writers such as Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Robert Bloch, George Clayton Johnson, Bill Nolan, Ray Russell, John Tomerlin, Jerry Sohl, Harlan Ellison, et al who had known and worked with Beaumont if they d be willing to write appreciations to his stories. I felt I d have a better chance of getting a publisher interested if I had writers of this caliber contributing to the project. Their contribution would also give the book some additional depth. In all, seventeen writers and one director (Roger Corman, who worked with Beaumont on a number of films) agreed to pitch in. I wrote a biographical introduction to set up their appreciations and the book was picked up by Dark Harvest.
WS: Did you achieve your goals with the book?
RA: My goals were definitely achieved; we not only got some of Beaumont s finest stories back in print, but I had discovered, while researching my introduction for the book (Chris had given me access to his father s files), a number of Beaumont s unpublished short stories. After reading about twenty of them, I decided to use five stories, three of which Beaumont was going to include in his fourth short fiction collection, A Touch of the Creature, (the collection was to have been published by Bantam Books in 1964, but because of Beaumont s illness, negotiations fell through). Selected Stories was issued in a signed-limited hardcover edition of 500 copies; a standard hardcover edition; and a paperback edition (retitled The Howling Man ) from Tor Books. I was also able to promote the book by writing an extensive article on Beaumont for The Twilight Zone magazine and by appearing, with Richard Matheson and Chris Beaumont, on Harlan Ellisons radio program. So all of this, for a time, brought Beaumont s work back into circulation.
WS: Gauntlet Press is releasing the first volume of The Twilight Zone Scripts of Charles Beaumont in the summer of 2004, which you edited. What inspired this project?
RA: The main inspiration was to give fans of both The Twilight Zone and Charles Beaumont an opportunity to read his very readable teleplays. In fact, some of the descriptive passages in his scripts read like his short stories. The books (there will be two volumes) will also give fans an opportunity to see additional or changed lines of dialogue, as well as scenes which were cut or altered in the televised versions I also saw this as an opportunity to expand on what had previously been written about Beaumont and The Twilight Zone; to give the fans some fresh material, particularly in the area of Beaumont s life.
WS: Could you please describe the process of planning, preparing for, and working on this collection? How daunting and/or enjoyable a task was it? How will it be unique from other books or examinations of Beaumont or The Twilight Zone?
RA: The most difficult task of putting these books together was finding all of Beaumont s original Twilight Zone scripts. Chris Beaumont didnt have all of them. In some cases I had to go to collectors or movie memorabilia outlets. After I had the teleplays, Chris and I shopped the project around to various publishers, of which about a half dozen expressed interest. After we decided to go with Gauntlet Press, I worked out the structure for both books, deciding to have three storylines running throughout: the history of each teleplay and behind-the-scenes material of the episodes based on those teleplays (which includes commentary from some of the series original writers, directors, actors, and actresses, all of which are based on interviews Id conducted over the years); a thumbnail sketch of the history of the show (part of which is based on correspondence between Beaumont and Serling); and biographical information about Beaumont, most of which is being presented in these volumes for the first time.
WS: Describe the other special features that will be included in these books.
RA: In addition to photographs, both volumes will contain a preface by Chris Beaumont prefaces which will give the reader some insight into what the Beaumont familys home life was like. Volume One will also include a Foreword by Richard Matheson and an Afterword by Earl Hamner. The second volume will open with a Foreword by George Clayton Johnson and close with an Afterword by John Tomerlin. In each case, these extraordinary writers recall their relationships with Beaumont and The Twilight Zone. Additionally, mini-chapters will follow each teleplay. In many cases, these chapters will provide the reader with quotes (taken from letters) from Charles Beaumont himself. Both books will be available in two formats: a Numbered Edition (each signed by Chris Beaumont) and a Lettered Edition (which will be limited to 52 copies and signed by Chris Beaumont, Richard Matheson, Earl Hamner and myself). It should also be noted that anyone buying either of these volumes directly from Gauntlet will receive a free chapbook. Volume One s chapbook will contain an unpublished short story written by Charles Beaumont in 1949 called The Child, a Lovecraftian-tale which explores the darker regions of the human condition. In 1951, Beaumont expanded this story to twice its length. The latter version bears little resemblance to the original and also remains unpublished. The chapbook accompanying the second volume will feature the 1951 version of The Child.
WS: How will the scripts be presented?
RA: Each script will appear in its original format; were scanning them from the actual typewritten pages. They will not be typeset or altered in any way. Also, each Lettered Edition will include an additional teleplay, which won t be found in the Numbered Editions. Volume One will include an early draft of Gentlemen, Be Seated. Volume Two will contain an early draft of Free Dirt. Both of these scripts include Beaumont s handwritten changes or notations.
WS: Charles Beaumont is credited with writing twenty-two episodes of The Twilight Zone Did he write these episodes alone, or did he have credited or unaccredited assistance?
RA: Beaumont was the sole writer of sixteen Twilight Zones. He also shared credit on two: Long Distance Call (with William Idleson), because he d rewritten Idelsons original script; and Number Twelve Looks Just Like You (with John Tomerlin), because Beaumont had asked John to adapt The Beautiful People, a Beaumont short story (the teleplay was written in its entirety by Tomerlin). Jerry Sohl also ghosted, in their entirety, three scripts for Beaumont: The New Exhibit, Living Doll, and Queen of the Nile. Additionally, Beaumont collaborated on Dead Mans Shoes with OCee Ritch, for which Beaumont received sole credit. In some cases, these collaborations or ghost-written scripts happened because of Beaumont s overwhelming work load; in other cases, Beaumont was too ill to complete these assignments
WS: Charles Beaumont, Richard Matheson, and Rod Serling are largely considered responsible for The Twilight Zones success. A) What chemistry would you suggest made this creative partnership of talented authors work so very well together? B) Are their any specific differences you could point out in the way each author approached his work?
RA: I believe these three writers (as was the case with writers who came later, such as George Clayton Johnson and Earl Hamner) shared the ability to tell imaginative stories about, in most cases, ordinary human beings caught up in extraordinary circumstances (something also done by Bradbury in the Forties). In a sense, their tales can be considered mainstream stories to which one drop of fantasy (or science fiction or horror) is added. The difference between each writer was in the type of story he chose to tell and the way he chose to tell it. Serling, for the most part, concerned himself with stories that spoke of the human condition stories which are usually rooted in sentimentality and nostalgia. Matheson s Twilight Zones tend not to deal with social issues, but they are built heavily on contemporary realism and usually start slowly and build with an inexorable tension. Beaumont simply gave us the extraordinary; he also gave us characters who were not always likeable and placed them in settings which were often unsettling.
WS: How would you say Beaumont s scripting work for The Twilight Zone was different or similar in value compared to his short fiction?
RA: They were very similar; many of his stories turn on the theme of a man with a special talent seeking recognition.
WS: You are publishing only scripts Beaumont wrote alone (not those co-written or ghost-written). Why? How difficult was discovering which were written by Beaumont and which were farmed out to other writers?
RA: I wanted to go with those teleplays which represented Beaumont s sole contribution to the series, which means that six teleplays credited to him will not be included in either volume. Of those six, Beaumont was actively involved in the rewriting of only two: Dead Man s Shoes, in which Beaumont did little more than to polish OCee Ritch s final draft, and Long Distance Call, in which he rewrote Bill Idleson. As far as The New Exhibit, Living Doll, and Queen of the Nile are concerned, Beaumont s only contribution was to plot their storylines with Jerry Sohl, who then went off and wrote the scripts which, in turn, were shot pretty much the way Jerry had written them. In fact, The New Exhibit has the distinct flavor of an Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode, for which Sohl was a staff writer. And, as mentioned earlier, every word of Number Twelve Looks Just Like You was written by John Tomerlin. So I didnt see the point of including scripts which, for the most part, werent written by Beaumont, even though he d received credit for them. Finding out who authored each script was fairly easy; I d spent a lot of time talking to Tomerlin and Sohl about their involvement with these teleplays. The rest of the information came from Beaumont s files.
WS: Each volume will contain at least one unproduced script. Would you tell us the title of each of these, and something of their plot and history?
RA: Volume One will include Gentlemen, Be Seated, the tale of a future society in which humor is outlawed. Beaumont based the script on his short story of the same title, which first appeared in the April 1960 issue of Rogue magazine, under the pseudonym C.B. Lovehill. The second volume will include Free Dirt, which concerns a miser who uses free cemetery dirt for his vegetable garden. Beaumont based this teleplay on his short story Free Dirt, which was originally published in the May 1955 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Both teleplays were commissioned by Twilight Zone producer Bert Granet and were intended for the shows fifth and final season. However, Granet suddenly left the series to produce another CBS show and his replacement, William Froug, shelved a number of scripts which Granet had in development, including the two above mentioned Beaumonts. Additionally, Volume Two will also include the unproduced Beaumont script Acceleration, which hed written in 1960.
WS: Why did you chose to publish these books with Gauntlet instead of a mass market press? What are both the benefits and drawbacks of working with a specialty publisher?
RA: There was great interest from a couple of mass market publishers to do the books as paperback originals, which didnt please me at all; I felt these books deserved to be published in a hardcover format. One of the reasons we chose Gauntlet is because they are also releasing a multi-volume set of Rod Serling s original Twilight Zone scripts (which are in the very capable hands of editor Tony Albarella, who had done a wonderful job of editing Earl Hamners recent Twilight Zone script collection). I was also impressed with the quality of Gauntlet s product and their marketing strategy. The benefit of working with a specialty publisher is that you can publish a book that s geared for the true fan of the genre; the obvious drawback is that your book is limited in its initial print run and merchant outlets. One can only hope that after the hardcover sells out the interest will be there for a mass market paperback release.
WS: Tragically short-lived, unjustly forgotten, yet remarkably talented, how would you say that the literary vision and distinct voice of Charles Beaumont still resonates? How did his work in fiction, television, and screenwriting effect his peers? The art of storytelling in general? And to be more specific, the genres of horror, fantasy, and science fiction?
RA: Beaumont s work holds up remarkably well. The reason for that, I believe, is because he was simply a wonderful storyteller. And really good story ideas and storytelling rarely dates. I also believe that his work as did the work of Bradbury and Matheson raised the literary bar of not only the fantasy-science fiction-suspense-horror genres, but also greatly influenced a host of writers from Beaumont s era to modern day masters.
WS: How would you say his spirit and character, his personal life, affected or influenced those around him? Can you offer any specific examples where Beaumont s work or personality assisted another?
RA: Beaumont was a tremendously influential figure to his loved ones, friends, and fellow writers. George Clayton Johnson said that Beaumont was largely responsible for the success of not only his writing career, but for the careers of Bill Nolan and John Tomerlin as well. Tomerlin told me that Beaumont was marvelous at talking people into doing things that they had not thirty seconds before ever dreamed they wanted to do, and suddenly discovered that it was their life-long ambition to do this thing; and the next thing you knew, youd be off and away doing that.
WS: In the 1950s and 1960s, Beaumont s work often appeared in Playboy, Esquire, and The Saturday Evening Post. Is there any evidence that he ever approached writing for the slicks with a different attitude or style/approach than for the pulps or genre publications?
RA: I don t believe Beaumont tailored his stories for any specific market In reading the correspondence between Beaumont and his literary agent, Don Congdon, it s apparent that Beaumont developed and wrote his stories in a way that fit his story ideas. For Beaumont the story came first and it was left up to Congdon to market them. Of course, for a number of years, Playboy had first refusal rights to Beaumont s fiction and non fiction; even in this case, Beaumont tended to put story first, unless he d pitched a specific idea usually non fiction to Playboy.
WS: Earning a reputation for excellence and dependability in a relatively short time, Charles died prematurely in 1967 at the age of thirty-eight, a victim of Alzheimer s Disease. Why did his name fade from relative obscurity until folks like you, critics, and fans resurrected his memory?
RA: It s difficult to say why the work of any good writer goes out of print. I suppose it depends on a number of factors, including whether or not there is a market for that writer s work. In Beaumont s case, the quality and timelessness of his stories are, for the most part, certainly there. Also, the logic for not reprinting a deceased author s stories, from a publishers standpoint, may be that if the books are successful their author won t be able to provide new material. It s interesting to note that during the 1970s Richard Matheson had tried, unsuccessfully, to get Beaumont s work back into print. And Ray Bradbury told me that he d also had difficulty in getting Beaumont s stories reprinted until he was finally able to convince Bantam Books to publish The Best of Beaumont (a short fiction collection) in 1982, for which Ray had written an insightful Introduction. But it should also be noted that during Beaumont s lifetime, sales from his novel (The Intruder) and three short fiction collections (The Hunger; Yonder, and Night Ride) did not generate much earning power. Beaumont s primary source of income came from his work in television and film.
WS: Ray Bradbury was Beaumont s writing teacher, inviting him to his home every Wednesday night to critique a story. Some critics suggest that Bradbury s influence is easily detectable in Beaumont s fiction Is this true? In which ways? Is it also noticeable in Beaumont s Twilight Zone scripts?
RA: Beaumont s literary style is difficult to pin down. As a literary stylist, he was very good. He could do synthetic Bradbury, or synthetic Thomas Wolfe, or choose a particular strong tone of voice. He could be a literary forger. Beaumont claimed that he had no distinctive style. Hed told George Clayton Johnson that what separates the Hemingways and the Bradburys apart is you can read three pages of their work and you know they wrote it. Yet there is a certain quality of Beaumont s style, the way that his sentences are put together. When I think of Beaumonts prose, I think of felicity of language; it s very fluent, very precise, very clear, extremely readable. There is a signature. But I don t believe somebody could write an imitation Beaumont sentence, not in the sense that one could write a synthetic Bradbury or Hemingway. I think his ability to utilize many styles also showed in his work for The Twilight Zone.
WS: How did you approach Christopher Beaumont about this project? How would you describe the process of working with the Beaumont family?
RA: I ve known Chris for about 20 years. And I always knew we d put out three books about his father: a definitive short fiction collection, which we ve done; a book-length biography, of which Ive written a first draft; and a collection of his Twilight Zone scripts, the first volume of which should be available in the summer of 2004. Chris and I agreed that the timing was right for the Twilight Zone books to be released; in the last six years we ve seen the publications of Richard Matheson s and Earl Hamner s Twilight Zone teleplay collections and, as mentioned earlier, spring of 2004 will see the release of Tony Albarella s As Timeless as Infinity: The Complete Twilight Zone Scripts of Rod Serling. The Beaumont family (Chris, Cathy, Elizabeth) are wonderful people. Sadly, Gregory, the youngest Beaumont child, recently passed away at the age of 38 the same age that his father died As you can imagine, a project such as this often brings back painful memories, but I ve always found the Beaumonts to be very supportive and helpful
WS: To which extent do you believe that Beaumont s offbeat (and some say Cruel) childhood influenced his imagination and art? Along the same lines, how much do you believe that his life in general influenced his art, and how much of his dark fantasy fiction spilled over into his waking life?
RA: Its true that some aspects of Beaumont s childhood can be considered cruel and offbeat. Beaumont had told friends that his short story Miss Gentilbelle, a disturbing tale in which an emotionally unstable mother not only dresses and treats her only child a young boy as a little girl, but also kills one of his pets as a form of punishment, was autobiographical (Beaumont wrote in a short autobiographical essay that in real life his mother had only threatened to kill his pet, a dog named Belshazzar.) Beaumont s childhood was also offbeat in that he was sent to live with his grandmother, who owned and operated a boarding house in Everett, Washington. It was there that he spent a great deal of time with his grandmother and five aunts, all of whom were widowed, where he would listen to them talk of, according to Beaumont, the strange deaths of their husbands. Yet Beaumont also wrote, at the age of sixteen, that as offbeat as his formative years were, he was not unhappy with his childhood:
My folks, surprisingly, are quite normal, and tend toward a rather hum-drum existence of rise-eat-work-sleep. Being an only child, the sole survivor of a bevy, I have been adequately spoiled to warrant an affable hatred for most people. I m known in the town of Everett and its outlying vicinities as an odd-ball to be [and], if not shunned, paid little attention to And I love it. Dont get the idea I m friendless though. The only thing is, these friends differ from their fellow man, mentally, physically, or both.
Beaumonts imagination and art came from the influences of Poe, Baum, and Burroughs, all of whom hed discovered while bedridden with spinal meningitis at the age of twelve.
WS: Through the process of this project what have you learned about Charles Beaumont? About yourself?
RA: One of the things Ive learned about Beaumont is that he lived life to the fullest. He didnt waste a second of time. There was never any thought of him putting off until tomorrow something which could be done today. Writing, travel, race car driving you name it; if it interested him, he gave it his undivided attention. What Ive learned from all of this is that life is indeed short. Nobody knows how much time they have on this earth. Beaumont certainly didnt. So I ve learned not to put things off. I m not saying to be reckless or impulsive. But we ve got to live life while we have the opportunity; there may be no tomorrow. We may never get a second chance
WS: Beaumont and Richard Matheson, who met in 1951, collaborated together on several western and adventure television series, worked together on a handful of small budget horror motion pictures, and went to work independently as script writers for The Twilight Zone. How do you feel each of these gentlemen influenced the other? In which ways did their talents and personal traits feed off of and/or strengthen the others writing or personalities?
RA: Richard Matheson told me that he and Beaumont were, in a nice way, very competitive and had acted as spurs to one another. In the early-Fifties, Matheson was slightly ahead of Beaumont in sales. In fact, Matheson remembered calling Beaumont on the phone, saying, I just sold a collection of short stories to Bantam, to which Beaumont replied, thanks a lot, thanks a lot, and hung up. But Beaumont eventually caught up to Matheson and, in some areas, passed him in sales; Beaumont was the first to make a sale to Playboy, first to have a mainstream novel, The Intruder, published and, during his lifetime, had more short fiction collections published. But the two of them shared a constant interchange of ideas.
WS: How much truth is in the rumors that Charles Beaumont was a wild, impulsive young man? Did this influence or add feeling to his work?
RA: Beaumont was indeed an impulsive young man. He was also someone who played and worked with enormous intensity. If he was playing, it was all playing and there was no talk about work; and if he was working, he was in another world. Whether Beaumont was writing a fantasy story or driving a race car or visiting Disneyland, he did it at the absolute edge of intensity. Beaumont never wanted to be a spectator in life; he wanted to experience it. For example, when Beaumont discovered his passion for sports cars and race car driving in 1955 he told Bill Nolan he didnt want to watch people race cars; he wanted to race cars. And Bill said, But, Chuck, you don t know anything about racing and neither do I. We can t even change a spark plug! Beaumont said, I can hire a man to come in and do nothing but change my spark plugs. He will be called The Spark Plug Man. And when my spark plugs need to be changed I will gesture and this man will walk out from the pit area, walk over to my car and change my spark plugs. Now, Nolan, are you satisfied that the spark plug situation is dealt with? Can we now talk about racing? And this was typical of Beaumont. Nolan told me that after spending a day with Beaumont a person was totally worn out. Whatever he did, he did all the way
WS: What can you share with us about future projects?
RA: In addition to freelancing for a number of publications, I m working on The Blue Angels Experience, a book-length sixty-year history of the United States Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron and, of course, The Twilight Zone Scripts of Charles Beaumont (Volume Two).