Once upon a time, in an era where LGBT relationships did not have even the acceptance they do today there was a grand master of words who envisioned something entirely different. Charles Leroy Nutt, a heterosexual writer who had published in science fiction and fantasy magazines and written for comic books, penned a “daring” story titled “The Crooked Man,” which first appeared in the August 1955 issue of Playboy and followed a man, “Jessie,” described as a “pervert” through a world of furtive hookups and clandestine sex (even if the sex could only be implied.)
Charles Leroy Nutt’s other published fiction included gems like “The Devil You Say?” where Satan (as “Mr. Smith”) causes havoc while working for a small-town newspaper; “Elgy,” about astronauts who land on an asteroid where they find tableaux of everyday life recreated like department store windows, only to find out that some of the “mannequins” are dead and the world is a cemetery; “The Beautiful People,” about a girl who rebels against treatments which will make her appearance conform to the gorgeous, perfect members of her future society.
If those sound familiar, Charles Leroy Nutt wrote them after changing his name to Charles Beaumont, and those were among his stories adapted for the original “Twilight Zone” T.V. series. But back to “The Crooked Man.”
The story takes place at “The Phallus,” a gay hookup club with hot young waiters selected for their looks; booths with beaded curtains for privacy and areas in the back for intimate rendezvous. It quickly becomes obvious that in this future Earth gay relationships are the norm to the extent that heterosexual relationships are forbidden. Jessie is at The Phallus for a clandestine meeting with a disguised woman. He is an extremely closeted heterosexual.
The world of “The Crooked Man” is a familiar one in Beaumont’s works; repressive, with electronic monitoring systems everywhere (Published in 1955, remember!) and a system where those who do not conform are forcibly altered with surgeries and drugs. Rebellion against conformity is a recurring theme in Beaumont’s fiction; whether he also intended “The Crooked Man” to be an early pro-LGBT salvo or just another general swipe against repressive elements in society, will never be known.
Charles Beaumont’s fiction was often the stuff of nightmares. And his own ending was nightmarish. A disease that prematurely aged him in mind and body took him in 1967. He wasn’t even 40 years old.
But his “Twilight Zone” episodes and movies he scripted (like “The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao”) still are shown. And his short works have been reprinted in “The Howling Man,” and the recent “Perchance to Dream.” https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/318165/perchance-to-dream-by-charles-beaumont-foreword-by-ray-bradbury-afterword-by-william-shatner/They are well worth the reader’s time.
ADDENDA: As this column was being written the events of January Sixth took place. As a reader, I could not help but think of worlds like those Beaumont and Orwell wrote about. Vigilance, integrity and open communication sound fluffy but they are also weapons in this undeclared war with nothing less than oppression which may be at our doorstep. Hopefully we will overcome the evil that has boldly surfaced in our midst. —-j.s.b.
Jeff Baker blogs about reading, and writing sci-fi, fantasy and horror and other sundry matters on or about the thirteenth of every month. He and his husband Darryl have been spooked by Charles Beaumont’s stories since the sixties. His fiction has appeared in QSF’s “Innovation,” (as by “Skip Hanford”) and his non-fiction has been posted on the “Amazing Stories” site. He regularly posts fiction on his blog https://authorjeffbaker.com/2021/01/10/i-owe-a-lot-to-iowa-pot-flash-fiction-draw-challenge-story-for-january-2021-by-jeff-baker-january-11-2020/ and can be found on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/Jeff-Baker-Author-176267409096907at Jeff Baker, Author.