By TOM WEAVER
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]!
not as if she were a maniac -- a raving thing. She
just goes -- a little mad sometimes."
Norman Bates (Anthony
- "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
boy? You have the guts, boy?"
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."
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
"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
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
a boy's best friend is his mother." Norman Bates
"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
"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
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
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
"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
"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
ON THE BECK-"PSYCHO" CONNECTION
Tom Weaver is the author of Science Fiction and
Fantasy Film Flashbacks, Attack of the Monster Movie
Makers and many others available from McFarland
Thanks to John Antosiewicz, Ted Bohus, James H. Burns,
Noël Carter, John Cocchi, Charles Collins, Richard
Gordon, Bob Madison, Mr. X and Tony Timpone