Wednesday, July 21, 2021

William F. Nolan (1928-2021)


William F. Nolan

We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of writer, editor, collector, and cultural historian William F. Nolan. He leaves behind an enormous body of work in a career that spanned seven decades. He died Thursday, July 15, 2021. He was 93.

Nolan (far right) goofing around with (R to L) fellow
Group members Richard Matheson, 
Charles Beaumont, and Chad Oliver
(shared from the June, 1989 issue of 
Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone Magazine)
Nolan was the last living member of what Los Angeles Times literary critic Robert Kirsch labeled The Southern California School of Writers. Known simply as The Group, Nolan was a key member of a close-knit circle of writers living in the Los Angeles area during the 1950’s and 1960’s, a collective that included Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Charles Beaumont, George Clayton Johnson, Chad Oliver, Jerry Sohl, and John Tomerlin, among others. These writers produced or contributed to many of the most celebrated works of fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and horror of the twentieth century, including The Twilight Zone. An enthusiastic and pioneering chronicler of popular culture, Nolan is largely responsible for preserving the legacy of many of the writers in his circle of friends, notably the works of Twilight Zone writer Charles Beaumont, who died in 1967 at the age of 38.
Nolan (right) on a trip to Paris with Charles Beaumont
(shared from the June, 1989 issue of
Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone Magazine)

Although Nolan never saw his work appear on The Twilight Zone, he is a part of the show’s legacy all the same. His friendship with Charles Beaumont and the rest of the show’s writers had a substantial creative impact on both their work and his own. Nolan was the inspiration for Beaumont’s season four episode “Miniature” and the episode's protagonist, Charley Parkes, is a direct characterization of Nolan. There are also several characters on The Twilight Zone that are deliberately named after Nolan, including a character in our most recently reviewed episode, Richard Matheson's "Steel." Around the same time that his friends were writing for The Twilight Zone, Nolan was collaborating on articles, short stories, and television scripts with Beaumont, Jerry Sohl, and John Tomerlin. He raced cars with Beaumont, Tomerlin, and OCee Ritch, and edited anthologies and magazines featuring stories and essays from The Group, as well as the works of other contemporary writers. Early in their careers, Nolan and Beaumont worked together at Whitman Publishing Company, writing children’s comics under pseudonyms. Later, as The Group coalesced, Nolan and his friends often stayed out all night, driving around Los Angeles, occupying booths at coffee houses, and talking about their craft. They took spontaneous trips across the country to hang out with Hugh Hefner or Ian Fleming. Nolan traveled with Beaumont and company to Missouri to appear in Roger Corman’s screen adaptation of Beaumont’s novel The Intruder (1962). Nolan was the first archivist of the works of his friend Ray Bradbury, producing an important body of work on the great American writer, including a pioneering journal (Ray Bradbury Review), book-length studies, and an anthology dedicated to Bradbury. In 1967, he and George Clayton Johnson published the landmark science fiction novel Logan’s Run, which firmly established him as an important voice in the fantasy community. Years earlier, the two collaborated on a teleplay for The Twilight Zone titled “Dreamflight” which they sold to producer Buck Houghton near the end of the show’s third season. Due to a lack of sponsorship, however, the show was briefly cancelled--the first of three near cancellations--and “Dreamflight” was never made. It was later published in the 2005 anthology Forgotten Gems from the Twilight Zone, volume 2, edited by Andrew Ramage. 

Back cover of Nolan's 1968 novel
Death is for Losers (Sherbourne Press)

Nolan's most well-known works include his Sam Space detective series, his Bart and Nick Challis series, and his Black Mask Murders series. His 1991 horror novel Helltracks is also highly regarded. Nolan established himself as a screenwriter specializing in the horror genre with frequent collaborator Dan Curtis. Nolan wrote screenplays for several of producer/director Curtis’s films including Trilogy of Terror (1975), an anthology film comprised of adaptations of stories by Richard Matheson (a sequel followed in 1996), and Curtis's adaptations of The Turn of the Screw (1974) and Burnt Offerings (1976).

Nolan was named a Grand Master by the World Horror Society, an Author Emeritus by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, and a Living Legend in Dark Fantasy by the International Horror Guild. He also received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Horror Writers Association, a World Fantasy Convention Award, and the Edgar Allan Poe Award from the Mystery Writers of America.  

Illustration by Rick Shelton for Nolan's story,
"The Strange Case of Mr. Pruyn,"
from Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine
(December, 1956).

One of the greatest pleasures afforded us since we began this blog was the opportunity to interview Mr. Nolan, where he spoke about The Group, his memories of that heady time when The Twilight Zone was being produced, and his approach to the craft of writing. To read that interview click here.

William F. Nolan at imdb
William F. Nolan at isfdb