In Psycho, Mother's most annoying trait -- apart from wholesale murder -- is the way she berates and belittles her mama's boy son. "Probably [Calvin Beck's mother] did that, too, but I can't be certain of that," says Noël Carter. (Author John Cocchi casts a "no" vote.) "But her behavior toward him was extremely aggressive," Carter continues. "We were in a hotel in New York and there was a big convention going on, and everybody went downstairs to the restaurants. Lin was in the men's room and so was Calvin, and I guess they were in there, standing around talking with people. Lin came out, and Mrs. Beck was standing outside the men's room. She finally knocked on the door of the men's room and shrieked out, 'Calvin! Calvin! Come out of there! You've been in there long enough!' That sort of gave me an idea what it must have been like to be a teenage Calvin, hanging out in the bathroom [laughs]!

"It's not as if she were a maniac -- a raving thing. She just goes -- a little mad sometimes." Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins)

"To me she said that the sun rose and set on Calvin. But I believe Mrs. Beck hated men, and I think it must have been very easy, once the husband wasn't around, for her to sometimes take out her aggressions on Calvin. So it would not surprise me to learn that someone had heard her reviling him in some way."

"Only once or twice he got mad," says Mr. X. "One day in the living room of their home she was picking on me, and he turned on her and chewed her out. That was the only time I ever saw him do that. He bawled her out, and she left the room. I kind of admired Calvin for doing that -- I'd never seen it happen before."

"Huh, boy? You have the guts, boy?" Mother

Ted Bohus: "A lot of times, I'd say, 'Hey, Calvin, let's go out. Let's do something.' 'Oh, no, no, I can't, I can't.' And he would never come out. So we'd meet at conventions. Once he was there at the show, we'd sit down and talk, and he was fine. But it was a weird thing: He would go out and go to a show, and then get sucked back into that little world of his with the mother. But I liked him. I liked Calvin Beck."

"I'm not saying that you shouldn't be contented here. I'm just doubting that you are." Sam Loomis (John Gavin)

"I could sympathize with Calvin, because my mother also could sometimes be protective," says Cocchi. "It was out of concern for me -- which I never appreciated! His mother, I think, was just overly possessive. I don't know how much she loved Calvin; she never demonstrated any affection around us. But he could never get rid of her unless he said, for instance, 'The Carters don't want you to come, I can't take you'-- and he had to force her to stay home. Which I'm sure she didn't appreciate! I don't know how much she loved him, but she did seem to have pride in his accomplishments. And she tolerated all his weird friends -- who were pretty weird!

"Calvin was a very knowledgeable buff. He was interested in all the old movies, as we were, and he kept up with the new films, especially the genre-type films that he liked. And I thought his magazine was the best of its kind. I thought Castle of Frankenstein was far better than Famous Monsters, because he took the subject seriously. Famous Monsters was a joke. Calvin never ridiculed the films he was writing about, unless it was a piece of utter junk you couldn't say anything good about. Occasionally I'd loan Calvin some material -- you know, stills, and maybe some press material on the films he was writing about. And occasionally I even got it back [laughs]!"

"A lot of the writers who worked for Calvin had a hard time getting any money from him," says Charles Collins, who handled CoF's book review column. "Mrs. Beck would tell them, 'Calvin is giving you a break. You should be paying him for contributing to his magazine!' I got to know some of the other writers, who were all more or less people with talent who were just kind of starting out. And Calvin was great at exploiting people like that. He pulled a couple of things on me that were not nice, but he was a very likable person and I couldn't really get mad at this fella. Despite the underhanded things that he did, the next time you'd get together it was like nothing had happened!"

Beck may not have been crooked, but he certainly was suspected of beginning to curl, at least by folks who sent their hard-earned bucks for merchandise advertised in CoF (an act equivalent to tossing it down the nearest manhole). According to Dick Bojarski, Beck's mother was in charge of the mail order end, so perhaps the sticky fingers were hers and not Calvin's. Calvin, however, took the heat when he'd be confronted at cons by CoF customers. "That happened on several occasions," says Mr. X. "I also used to bring it Calvin's attention, but he'd sort of pooh-pooh it. He'd say, 'We send that stuff out. They've got nothing to complain about.'

"Beck claimed [CoF] was a small magazine and he couldn't pay much," he adds. "But from time to time, whenever I visited his office-home, I would see a new TV set there, or some kind of expensive-looking hi-fi equipment. I'd ask him, 'I see things are picking up, Calvin. Do you think you'll be able to pay me a little more money?' And he'd say, 'I'm getting these things on installments' -- he always had some kind of excuse."

Did Beck know he and his mom had provided the basis for the combined Norman-Mother character? "He had to have heard about it," says Noël Carter, "but he never said anything. But, you see, people realized that it would be [a sore subject]. When the book came out is probably when it was discussed and when he was aware of it. No one would have dreamed when the book came out that eventually it was going to be blown up into a major film by a major director. It was after the movie was made that people became more reticent, because they didn't want to hurt Calvin's feelings. But when the book came out, it was a topic of conversation among writers that one of their ilk [Bloch] had a book published, and they all knew who the book was based on."

"Well, a boy's best friend is his mother." Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins)

"Oh, yeah, Calvin was aware of it," says Cocchi. "He always made a joke of it." Mr. X got the same reaction: "I mentioned it to Calvin one time, and he just gave a hearty laugh and sort of sloughed it off and changed the subject. But his mother could be difficult."

The Castle of Frankenstein was razed in the mid-1970s, after issue #25 (June 1975), although Beck kept busy with book projects. Then, in the early 1980s, Beck did something that his friends admit they never thought he would ever do: "He married," Noël Carter marvels. "And she [Sharon Kayser] was just as dominating and forceful as his mother. He was led around by a ring in his nose, just as he had been by his mother."

"They married pretty shortly after he first met her," adds Cocchi, "and they were all three living together in the house. There was always animosity between the mother and Sharon -- obviously -- because the mother was so possessive. I don't really think that Sharon encouraged it, because she had nothing against the mother that I know of. Although I'm sure she would have been happy if the mother lived somewhere else!"

"His wife was as crazy as his mother," Charles Collins chimes in. "Oh, she was insane! Very domineering, very paranoid. Sort of spiritual, but in a very bizarre way."

Cocchi: "Sharon was very much into religion, and about once a year she'd change her religion. I think she was raised as a Catholic, but she tried a lot of other religions. As I remember it, Calvin's mother got sick and was in the hospital, and then Calvin was ill, too. At one point, they were in the same hospital! Calvin had a stroke a little bit before his mother died, and he was paralyzed through the last few years of his life. Through virtually all his married life, he was paralyzed, and Sharon took care of him." And the strange behavior continued: When Cocchi told Fangoria's newly minted editor Tony Timpone that Beck was down to his last nickel, Timpone offered Beck a job as one of Fango's freelance reviewers and sent him some new books. Like the money CoF readers mailed in for merchandise in decades past, the Fangoria package vanished into the Black Hole at 9008 Palisade Avenue; despite his poverty, Beck never took Timpone up on his offer of employment.

On May 14, 1989, Calvin Beck, age 56, went to that big Editorial Office in the Sky. Sharon Beck told an obit writer that her husband was a political visionary who (back in the 1950s) predicted the impeachment of Richard Nixon; a civil rights activist who marched with Martin Luther King and was shot and jailed in Alabama; and a movie-TV "ghost writer" whose credits included episodes of Star Trek and Mork and Mindy.

"After Calvin passed away, I told Sharon that I would be interested in buying part of Calvin's collection," says Charles Collins. "She kept me dangling for a long, long time, at least a year. Then she called one day and said she was interested in selling the collection. (She said, 'I got a sign from Calvin. It's okay to sell it.') So we made a deal and I go over there one afternoon; I brought a friend to help box it up and take it out to the car. By this time, the house was a real rat trap, and you could barely get into the room the books were in. You had to excavate to get into an area, you'd go through the books you could get at and then excavate a little bit more to get into the next area. And she only gave us a certain amount of time, because at four o'clock she had to meditate, and we couldn't be in the house when she was meditating!

"All the time that we were there, in the next room was this enormous Doberman on a leash attached to a doorknob. The Doberman was barking and howling, and I was thinking that if she had a mood swing and released that Doberman, we were in trouble [laughs]! And all the time she kept talking to the Doberman, saying, 'What's the matter, baby? You miss Calvin? You miss Calvin?' My friend was terrified, he thought that at any moment she would unleash the beast [laughs]!" Sharon Beck later moved to an Arizona trailer park; when Cocchi wrote to her in 1997, he got a letter back notifying him that she, too, had passed away.

The Becks are gone, but Calvin lives on through his magazine, still revered by many readers as the number one horror/sci-fi/fantasy mag of the baby boomer era. "I always thought that Calvin did all the articles and all the reviews in Castle of Frankenstein," says Cocchi, "but then I read this so-called 'appreciation' of Calvin some time after he died by Bhob Stewart, Calvin's associate editor. In it, he wrote that he did all the work on the magazine. Which may or may not be true. In case it is true, I have to say that Bhob Stewart may be a great writer, but I feel that Calvin probably inspired him, told him what he wanted done. Then Calvin would have proofread it and changed whatever was written to suit his point of view. Which a lot of editors do. Henry Hart did it at Films in Review; he changed every article that was ever written, and every reader's letter, to reflect his rather narrow-minded point of view about things!

"Calvin wouldn't be that radical about it, but he would put his own point of view in. And the articles sounded like him talking, when you'd read them and think of Calvin speaking normally. I always thought he was quite sophisticated and very intelligent and well-informed. Not everybody would agree with that assessment, because he was odd-looking, and he acted oddly. But he was very gregarious. When we were out at dinner, he'd always want to be the center of attention, and we always thought of ourselves as sort of his 'pupils.' We were always asking him what he thought about the new horror films and his opinion on what was on TV -- you know, Star Trek and all the other shows. He was in touch with studios to get material for his articles, so we figured he had a line on what was going on."

"All of this stuff I've been telling you -- I don't mean to really disparage Calvin or talk about this in a mean sense," says Charles Collins, who speaks (I like to think) for my other interviewees as well. "Calvin was certainly a very jovial guy and a lot of fun to socialize with. But there came a time when I realized that, yeah, he's okay to go out with, but you don't do any business with him. 'Cause then you'll get screwed!"

"Put aside all these stories about him not always paying writers and forgetting to return materials," James H. Burns insists. "When you would talk with Calvin on the phone about movies or literature, or run into him at a convention, he was this delightful, funny guy who was actually very insightful. You'd get finished with a long telephone conversation with him, and you'd just have a smile on your face. It's important to remember, despite all these rumors, that the other part of Calvin was that he was this very, very bright guy who, with a few other breaks going in his direction, might have had a quite successful career. With all these years past, it seems unfair to me to remember Calvin as being anyone other than the person who inspired a terrific magazine."


Tom Weaver is the author of Science Fiction and Fantasy Film Flashbacks, Attack of the Monster Movie Makers and many others available from McFarland & Co.

Thanks to John Antosiewicz, Ted Bohus, James H. Burns, Noël Carter, John Cocchi, Charles Collins, Richard Gordon, Bob Madison, Mr. X and Tony Timpone

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