Monday, August 12, 2019

GAMMA: A showcase for the writers of The Twilight Zone

Cover art by Morris Scott Dollens
for Gamma 2 (1963)
    A guide to the short-lived fiction magazine based in Hollywood which published many of the science fiction film and television writers of the day.     

          Gamma was a digest-sized fiction magazine which appeared on newsstands in the spring of 1963, around the time the fourth season of The Twilight Zone was coming to a close. Reluctant to label itself science fiction, the magazine was instead subtitled “New Frontiers in Fiction” and featured an eclectic and sometimes experimental (poetry, drama, etc.) assortment of science fiction, fantasy, and horror fiction, along with interviews and original art. It lasted two years, with five issues irregularly appearing between 1963 and September, 1965. A sixth issue was advertised and anticipated but never appeared. An irregular publishing schedule and distribution problems plagued the magazine from the beginning and ultimately caused its demise as a dedicated readership was difficult to cultivate under those conditions.
Gamma was published by Star Press, Inc., a venture out of North Hollywood created by Jack Matcha (1919-2003), a journalist and playwright turned novelist who assumed the roles of Publisher and Executive Editor on Gamma as well as the short-lived crime fiction magazine Chase published by Health Knowledge, Inc. As a novelist Matcha wrote a hardboiled paperback for Fawcett Gold Medal (Prowler in the Night, 1959), several Brady Bunch mysteries for the Tiger Beat (from the teen magazine) imprint of New American Library, and novels of erotic pulp sleaze, the latter a service he also provided under the pseudonyms John Barclay and John (or James) Tanner. The Star Press team also included Publisher/Editor Charles E. Fritch and Managing Editor William F. Nolan, who departed his position after three issues.

Gamma can be counted among the many genre fiction magazines which folded as financial problems or a crowded newsstand brushed them away after a few issues. What separated Gamma, however, were the contributors to the magazine. Modeling itself on the high literary standards set by Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and, especially, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Gamma served as a showcase for the Southern California Group of writers and their associates, many of whom were also writing for film and television at the time. The Southern California Group (so-named by The Los Angeles Times literary critic Robert Kirsch) was a collective of close friends who formed creatively under the mentorship of Ray Bradbury (and later Charles Beaumont) and were those writers Rod Serling gathered around him to bring The Twilight Zone to life on television.
Nearly every major contributing writer to The Twilight Zone can be found in the pages of Gamma. Rod Serling, Richard Matheson, Charles Beaumont, Ray Bradbury, George Clayton Johnson, and John Tomerlin all appear in the first issue and most would appear again later. Other names, such as Robert Bloch, Ray Russell, Fritz Leiber, Robert Sheckley, Dennis Etchison, Patricia Highsmith, and Forrest J. Ackerman, will certainly ring familiar. Gamma also distinguished itself by including work from writers not known for speculative fiction, such as William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, and Bernard Malamud.
Gamma crowded a lot of material into its five issues, including dense but concise contributor biographies and insightful interviews. For a brief time in the early 1960s the magazine was the perfect vehicle of expression for a group of writers who would exert a wide-ranging influence upon American popular culture.

Below is a cover gallery, contents list, and notes for the five issues of Gamma. A gallery of the magazine’s interior art follows.

-JP

























Gamma 1 (vol. 1, no. 1, 1963)
Cover art: Morris Scott Dollens
Editor & Publisher: Charles E. Fritch
Executive Editor: Jack Matcha
Managing Editor: William F. Nolan

Contents:

-“About Our Cover Artist” – Biographical essay on Morris Scott Dollens (1920-1994) who was also a successful commercial photographer with many of Ray Bradbury’s book jacket author photos to his credit.

-“Gamma” – Mission statement editorial.

-“Mourning Song” by Charles Beaumont. Beaumont (1929-1967) was struggling with the ill-effects of early-onset Alzheimer’s at this time and “Mourning Song” was one of the last pieces of fiction he would write. It is also one of his finest, an ironic and meditative dark fantasy about fate and consequence. Judith Merril included the story in The 9th Annual of the Year’s Best SF (1964) and it was collected in the career retrospective Charles Beaumont: Selected Stories, ed. Roger Anker (1988).

-“Crimes Against Passion” by Fritz Leiber. A short play.

-“Time in Thy Flight” by Ray Bradbury. This story originally appeared in the June-July, 1953 issue of Fantastic Universe. It was collected in the second of Bradbury’s two collections for younger readers, S Is for Space (1966).

-“The Vengeance of Nitocris” by Thomas Lanier “Tennessee” Williams. The first reprinting of an early story from the American playwright which originally appeared in the August, 1928 issue of Weird Tales.

-“Itself!” by A.E. van Vogt. This is reprinted from the January, 1963 issue of Scientific American. It was collected in The Far-Out Worlds of A.E. van Vogt (1968).

-“Venus Plus Three” by Charles E. Fritch. Fritch (1927-2012) was a prolific novelist and short story writer equally adept at science fiction and suspense. He was a core member of the Southern California Group and memorialized the group in perhaps his best-known story, “Big, Wide, Wonderful World,” from the March, 1958 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. “Venus Plus Three” was collected in Horses’ Asteroid (1970).

-“A Message from Morj” by Ray Russell. Russell (1924-1999) was the fiction editor for Playboy until he moved from Chicago to Los Angeles in the early 1960s to begin a screenwriting career working with directors Roger Corman and William Castle. Russell collaborated with Charles Beaumont on the script for Corman’s The Premature Burial (1962).

-“To Serve the Ship” by William F. Nolan. This story was reprinted a few months later in Nolan’s Impact-20 (1963). Some time back we interviewed Nolan about his long career. You can read that here.

-The Gamma Interview: Rod Serling. This interview is relatively brief but insightful and much of the discussion centers on The Twilight Zone.

-“The Freeway” by George Clayton Johnson. Johnson (1929-2015) remains well known for his television scripts, including such The Twilight Zone episodes as “A Game of Pool,” “Nothing in the Dark,” and “Kick the Can.” “The Freeway” was reprinted by William F. Nolan in the anthology Man Against Tomorrow (1965) and collected in the career retrospective All of Us Are Dying and Other Stories (1999).

-“One Night Stand” by Herbert A. Simmons. A science fiction story from the reclusive African American writer. William F. Nolan reprinted the story in the 1970 anthology A Sea of Space.

-Advertisement for the sale of copies of The Ray Bradbury Review. The Ray Bradbury Review, a 1952 booklet featuring essays from Anthony Boucher, Chad Oliver, and Henry Kuttner, among others, was the first of William F. Nolan’s biographical and bibliographical works on Bradbury, which also includes The Ray Bradbury Companion (1975) and Nolan on Bradbury (2013).

-“As Holy and Enchanted” by Kris Neville. Neville (1925-1980) was a highly-regarded specialist in the SF short story who had largely abandoned SF writing by the time this tale appeared, reprinted from the April, 1953 issue of Avon Science Fiction and Fantasy Reader.

-“Shade of Day” by John Tomerlin. Tomerlin (1930-2014) was a novelist, short story writer, and scriptwriter for such television programs as Thriller and Wanted: Dead or Alive. He collaborated with Charles Beaumont on the 1957 suspense novel Run from the Hunter, published under the joint pseudonym Keith Grantland, and adapted Beaumont’s 1952 story “The Beautiful People” for the fifth season Twilight Zone episode, “Number 12 Looks Just Like You.”

-“The Girl Who Wasn’t There” by Forrest J. Ackerman. This story was originally written by Tigrina (1921-2015) (Edythe Eyde), a secretary at RKO Studios and fanzine editor now remembered for creating the first lesbian periodical in the U.S., Vice Versa in 1947. Ackerman supplied the ending to the story for its first appearance in the fanzine Inside. For its appearance in Gamma, the story was rewritten by Charles E. Fritch and William F. Nolan. It was reprinted, with credit to all four authors, in Science Fiction Worlds of Forrest J. Ackerman & Friends (1969).

-“Death in Mexico” by Ray Bradbury. A second appearance by Bradbury in the issue with this poem, collected in When Elephants Last in the Dooryard Bloomed (1973).

-An Editorial – More or Less. Brief essay explaining the type of fiction a reader can expect from the magazine and the reason the magazine is reluctant to label itself a science fiction magazine.

-“Crescendo” by Richard Matheson. Matheson (1926-2013), Grandmaster of fantasy and writer of such Twilight Zone classics as “Nick of Time,” “The Invaders,” and “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” appears with a lesser-known tale. It was collected in Shock III (1966).



























Gamma 2 (vol. 1, no. 2, 1963)
Cover art: Morris Scott Dollens
Interior art: Burt Shonberg, Luan Meatheringham
Editor/Publisher: Charles E. Fritch
Executive Editor/Publisher: Jack Matcha
Managing Editor: William F. Nolan

Contents:

-Not Really an Editorial, But. Essay detailing the response to the first issue of the magazine. Lists a number of writers expected to appear in a future issue, most of whom do not.

-“The Granny Woman” by Dorothy B. Hughes. A tale of witchcraft from the noted mystery writer Hughes (1904-1993). The tale was reprinted in the 1970 MWA anthology Crime Without Murder.

-“The Old College Try” by Robert Bloch. Forever to be known as the author of Psycho (1950), Bloch (1917-1994) was the prolific author of scores of horror, fantasy, science fiction, and mystery novels and stories, many of which were adapted for film and television, often by Bloch himself. Bloch wrote the novelization of Twilight Zone: The Movie (Warner Books, 1983), which we reviewed. “The Old College Try” was reprinted by William F. Nolan in A Sea of Space (1970) and collected in Fear Today, Gone Tomorrow (1971).

-“Michael” by Francesca Marques. A debut story.

-“Deus Ex Machina” by Richard Matheson. Collected in Shock Waves (1970).

-“The Kid Learns” by William Faulkner. An early story from the American Nobel Laureate. The story originally appeared in the New Orleans Time Picayune during Faulkner’s time living in the city.

-“King’s Jester” by Jack Matcha. A story from the Publisher and Executive Editor.

-“Here’s Sport Indeed!” by William Shakespeare, assisted by Ib Melchior. Melchior (1917-2015) was the Danish-American son of the opera singer Lauritz Melchior. Ib is best-remembered for his scriptwriting work on such films as Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964) and Planet of the Vampires (1965). Here he selects passages from Shakespeare’s works which reflect a tour through our solar system.

-Portfolio by Burt Shonberg. Shonberg (1933-1977) was an American artist and fixture on the Southern California art scene. He co-owned the controversial Laguna Beach coffee house Café Frankenstein with George Clayton Johnson and provided paintings for Roger Corman’s films House of Usher (1960) and The Premature Burial (1962). Shonberg also provided the cover for George Clayton Johnson’s career retrospective, All of Us Are Dying and Other Stories (1999).

-Everybody Out There Likes Us . . . Quoted praise for Gamma from an impressive roster of talents, including Rod Serling, Robert Kirsch, Ray Bradbury, Anthony Boucher, and August Derleth.

-“The Undiscovered Country” by William F. Temple. A reprint of the British SF author’s 1958 story, first published in Nebula Science Fiction, number 35. William F. Nolan reprinted the tale in A Sea of Space (1970) and it was collected in A Niche in Time and Other Stories (2011).

-Chase. An advertisement for the crime fiction magazine. Chase lasted only three issues, with the first issue dated January, 1964 and ending with issues in May and September of that year.

-The Gamma Interview: Robert Sheckley. An interview with the prolific SF writer. Sheckley (1928-2005) frequently contributed to the early issues of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine, including a brief tenure as books reviewer.

-Attention SF Fans! Advertisement for William F. Nolan’s first collection of SF stories, Impact-20, published by Paperback Library in November, 1963. There is brief quoted praise from Rod Serling, Alfred Hitchcock, and Anthony Boucher. The book included an introduction from Ray Bradbury.

-“Castaway” by Charles E. Fritch. Reprinted by William F. Nolan in the 1969 anthology A Wilderness of Stars.

-“Something in the Earth” by Charles Beaumont. Reprinted in The Bradbury Chronicles: Stories in Honor of Ray Bradbury, ed. William F. Nolan and Martin H. Greenberg (1991). I reviewed that volume here.

-Soon to Be Released – An advertisement for the imminent release of “a suspenseful paperback anthology,” A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Morgue, which I could not verify ever appeared, at least under that title. Contributing authors included Ray Bradbury, Charles Beaumont, Richard Matheson, Robert Bloch, and Anthony Boucher.

-“I’m Only Lonesome When I’m Lonely” by William F. Nolan. Reprinted in the German horror anthology Horror Expert (1972).

-A Note on Ernest Hemingway. A short essay explaining that the editors originally planned to reprint a fantasy story from the American Nobel Laureate, “The Good Lion,” first published in the March, 1951 issue of Holiday magazine, before being denied by the late author’s publishers, Scribner’s. The essay also directs the reader to another Hemingway work, Today Is Friday.

-“Sombra Y Sol” by Ray Bradbury. Collected, as “El Dia de Muerte,” in The Machineries of Joy (1964).



























Gamma 3 (vol. 2, no. 1, 1964)
Cover art: Morris Scott Dollens
Interior art: Luan Meatheringham
Editor/Publisher: Charles E. Fritch
Executive Editor/Publisher: Jack Matcha
Managing Editor: William F. Nolan

Contents:

-“The Girl of Paradise Planet” by Robert Turner. The brief biography which accompanies this tale states that Turner (1915-1980) sold over one thousand stories to magazines. Turner also wrote for television, notably two episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. His collection Shroud 9 (1970) collects 18 of his short crime and horror stories.  

-“The Feather Bed” by Shelly Lowenkopf. Lowenkof (b. 1931) is a retired UCLA writing professor and prolific novelist who at this time was also the Associate Editor of the short-lived crime fiction magazine Chase.

-About Our Interior Artist. A biographical essay on Luan Meatheringham.

-“Angel Levine” by Bernard Malamud. Reprinted from the author’s 1959 debut collection The Magic Barrel, winner of a National Book Award.  

-“The (In)visible Man” by Edward W. Ludwig. Collected, as “The Visible Invisible Man,” in The 7 Shapes of Solomon Bean (1983).

-“Inside Story” by Miriam Allen deFord. deFord’s (1888-1975) 1961 story, “A Death in the Family,” was adapted by Rod Serling for the second season of Night Gallery, directed by Jeannot Szwarc, starring E.G. Marshall and Desi Arnaz, Jr., broadcast September 22, 1971.

-“The Birth” by George Clayton Johnson. Collected in All of Us Are Dying and Other Stories (1999).

-The Gamma Interview: Soviet Science Fiction. An interview with a Russian magazine editor going under the pseudonym Ivan Kirov. The interview was conducted at the Frankfort Book Fair.

-“Buttons” by Raymond E. Banks. The prolific Banks (1918-1996) was a fixture of the science fiction magazines in the 1950s and 1960s, writing under a number of pseudonyms.

-“Society for the Prevention” by Ron Goulart. Goulart (b. 1933) is a prolific and versatile writer best known for his humorous short stories and his works on the history of American comic books. Goulart was a member of the Southern California Group who later contributed often to the early issues of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine. “Society for the Prevention” was reprinted by William F. Nolan in the 1970 anthology A Sea of Space.

-“The Snail Watcher” by Patricia Highsmith. The first appearance of one of Highsmith’s (1921-1995) most oft-reprinted tales, a modern horror classic. The American expatriate writer was best known for her novels which have been made into films, including Strangers on a Train (1950) and The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955).



























Gamma 4 (vol. 2, no. 2, February, 1965)
Cover art: John Healey
Editor/Publishers: Charles E. Fritch, Jack Matcha
Special Outer Space Issue

-Changes this issue. Gone is Managing Editor William F. Nolan and cover artist Morris Scott Dollens.

Contents:

-Remember . . . Brief editorial describing the Special Outer Space Issue, a nostalgic issue in tribute to the older style of pulp science fiction when “you didn’t need a slide-rule and a couple years of calculus to figure out what was going on.”

-“The Clutches of Ruin” by H.B. Fyfe. Horace Browne Fyfe, Jr. (1918-1997) was a prolific writer of short stories during the Golden Age of science fiction, his career as an SF author fading out with the 1960s.

-“The Towers of Kagasi” by William P. Miller. A well-known mystery writer of the time contributing a science fiction story.

-“Food” by Ray Nelson. An early story from Nelson (b. 1931) who’s had a dual career as an SF author and cartoonist.

-“Hans Off in Free Pfall to the Moon” by E. A. Poe. An abridged version of Edgar Allan Poe’s Hans Phall – a Tale, first published in the June, 1835 issue of Southern Literary Messenger.

-The Gamma Interview: Forrest J. Ackerman

-“Open Season” by John Tanner. Tanner was a pseudonym of Publisher and Editor Jack Matcha.

-“The Woman Astronaut” by Robert Katz. A short play.

-“Happily Ever After” by William F. Nolan. Reprinted in the 1969 anthology A Wilderness of Stars and collected in Alien Horizons (1974).

-“Don’t Touch Me I’m Sensitive” by James Stamers. Stamers was a pseudonym for a California based CPA and Doctor of Law. He published a number of SF stories in the periodicals of the time under the name.

-“The Hand of Mr. Insidious” by Ron Goulart. A satirical story of the mysteries of the orient.



























Gamma 5 (vol. 2, no. 5, September, 1965)
Cover art: John Healey
Interior art: William F. Nolan, Luan Meatheringham, Bernard Zuber, Burt Shonberg
Editor/Publishers: Charles E. Fritch, Jack Matcha
Note the irregularity in numbering.

Contents:

-Across the Editor’s Desk – Editorial on the wildly different types of mail being sent into the Gamma offices. The editorial also includes a brief biographical sketch from the cover artist John Healey.

-“Nesbit” by Ron Goulart. A short novel. John Healey’s cover illustration depicts a scene from the narrative.

-“Policy Conference” by Sylvia Dees and Ted White. Dees is described as a professional photographer, an award-winning artist, and an amateur musician. Ted White (b. 1938) made his mark primarily as a longtime editor in the SF field, lifting the literary quality of such magazines as Fantastic, Amazing Stories, and Heavy Metal. White was also a notable SF fan in his early years and enjoyed a long career as a fiction writer.

-“Auto Suggestion” by Charles Beaumont. This story about a car which begins to communicate with its owner is one of Beaumont’s fugitive pieces, not appearing in any collection under the author’s name. It was reprinted by editor William Pattrick (Peter Haining) in Mysterious Motoring Stories (1987), reprinted in paperback the same year as Duel: Horror Stories of the Road.

-“Welcome to Procyon IV” by Chester H. Carlfi. A pseudonymous work by Charles E. Fritch. The story was collected in Crazy Mixed-Up Planet (1969).

-“Interest” by Richard Matheson. A lesser-known story from Matheson. It was reprinted in Matheson’s Collected Stories, issued by Dream Press in 1989.

-“Lullaby and Goodnight” by George Clayton Johnson. Collected in All of Us Are Dying and Other Stories (1999).

-“A Careful Man Dies” by Ray Bradbury. Reprinted from the November, 1946 issue of New Detective. It was collected in A Memory of Murder (1984).

-“The Late Mr. Adams” by Steve Allen. Allen (1921-2000) was a popular and influential television personality and comedian who co-created The Tonight Show. “The Late Mr. Adams” is reprinted from Allen’s 1955 collection of short stories Fourteen for Tonight.

-“Wet Season” by Dennis Etchison. Etchison (1943-2019), who recently passed away on May 29, is now regarded as one of the finest short stories writers of horror and dark fantasy in the latter half of the twentieth century. At the time of this story Etchison was still in college, having sold a handful of stories to science fiction magazines. Etchison was a student in a UCLA writing course taught by Charles Beaumont and recounts the experience in his introduction to Beaumont’s “Free Dirt” in Charles Beaumont: Selected Stories (1988). “Wet Season” was collected in Red Dreams (1984).

Interior Art:

Gamma 2:

Burt Shonberg portfolio:







Illustration by Luan Meatheringham:



Gamma 3:

Illustrations by Luan Meatheringham:







Gamma 5:

Illustration by Luan Meatheringham:



Illustration by Bernard Zuber:



Illustration by Burt Shonberg:


Cover gallery for Chase, the short-lived crime fiction magazine which shared many of the contributors to Gamma:





Grateful acknowledgement for information contained in the text and cover images:

Transformations: The Story of the Science-fiction Magazines from 1950-1970 by Mike Ashley (Liverpool University Press, 2005)

Galactic Central (philsp.com)

The Internet Speculative Fiction Database (isfdb.org)

The Internet Archive (archive.org)

5 comments:

  1. CHASE was meant to be a companion to GAMMA, but as it turned out, it was published by Health Knowledge, another small publisher which had a line of fiction magazines edited by veteran Robert Lowndes, and which included most notably the MAGAZINE OF HORROR and its heartiest sibling, STARTLING MYSTERY STORIES (which published the first professional appearances by Stephen King and F. Paul Wilson, among others). While CHASE was mostly prepared for by the folks at GAMMA, the low-budget/rather hurried packaging gives some indication of the last-minute improvisation the HK publication instead resulted in.

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    1. Thanks so much for this info. Not much out there on this. I didn't have any copies of Chase on hand and had to go with what I could find online. I've updated the post to reflect this.

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  2. You're quite welcome...a good post.

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  3. As Phil Stephensen-Payne and William Contento notate it:
    CHASE
    Total Issues: 3
    A short-lived mystery digest that never lived up to its initial promise.

    Issues & Index Sources: Jan-1964 – Sep-1964: Crime Fiction Index
    Publishers: Health Knowledge, Inc., 119 Fifth Avenue, New York 3, New York.
    Editors: Jack Matcha (first 2 issues); Robert A.W. Lowndes, final issue
    Formats: digest
    Pagecounts: 128pp

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  4. What's interesting is that, in an ad for Chase in the second issue of Gamma, it is advertised as "published by the editors of Gamma," which led me to mistake it as a companion magazine. I wonder what necessitated the move over to HK or for Lowndes to take over that last issue. Maybe just lack of interest on the part of Jack Matcha? I don't think either magazine was particularly well-designed (esp compared with HK's horror mags) which, along with an irregular publishing schedule and the glut of mystery and SF mags at the time, likely led to the early demise of both Gamma and Chase. Thanks for reading and for the info. Despite its short run Gamma has a ton of content of interest to TZ fans and it seems to have been largely forgotten by all but those who have an abiding interest in fiction magazines.

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