Did you know there was another inspiration for Robert Bloch’s famed PSYCHO killer Norman Bates? While Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein gets the lion’s share of real-life inspiration for the fictional slay-crazed mamma’s boy, Bloch fully admits he wasn’t aware of the full details of Gein’s murderous intent until years later.
At the heart of PSYCHO is Norman Bates and his pathological relationship with his domineering mother, Norma. Eyewitnesses suggest there was another individual well known in horror/fantasy circles who never went anywhere without his oppressive dominating mother. Author Bloch was an intimate of the strange couple long before penning his horrific classic. Did he base Norman and his mother partly on this haunting twosome?
The world is most familiar with the filmic version of Norman as portrayed by Anthony Perkins in Alfred Hitchcock’s ground-breaking 1960 classic. But the depiction of Norman as the twitchy, boy-next-door is strictly a Hollywood whitewashing of the novel’s grotesquerie.
In Bloch’s novel, Norman is described as a morbidly obese middle-aged man with a splotchy skin, stringy long hair who delights in masturbatory pornographic reveries. Norman is also a heavy boozer who kills after alcoholic blackouts. The novelistic Norman more resembles moribund actor Victor Buono, perhaps best known for his starring role as THE STRANGLER (1964) than clean-cut Anthony Perkins.
Bloch, in his 1993 autobiography, admitted to knowing next to nothing about the Gein murders when researching his novel. Multiple sources have claimed that there were a real-life monster mom and dutiful son whom Bloch was more than acquainted with. Their disturbing relationship was the actual inspiration for the Bates family dynamics.
During the late 1950s, there were a small group of New York based sci-fi & horror film devotees – including Bloch – who were acolytes of H.P. Lovecraft’s. Among them, Bloch was said to be fascinated with one Calvin T. Beck (who later published CASTLE OF FRANKENSTEIN) magazine and his mother Helen.
Calvin was obese, wore thick glasses, with long stringy hair, had a sallow complexion and was wall-eyed – if you were talking to him, one eye would be fixed on you while the other looked elsewhere of its own accord. Wherever Beck went he was accompanied by his diminutive, shrill mother, Helen, who never went without a heavy fur coat even in the heat of summer.
Thanks to a horror convention coordinator pal, I had coffee with both Becks in the early 1970s. I was advised to not engage Mrs. Beck in no uncertain terms by my pal. While we chatted over Chock full o’Nuts, Helen chided her son, publicly clucking her tongue in disapproval – lambasting him. To say this meeting was unsettling is an understatement and at the time I was blissfully unware of their PSYCHO connection. Needless to say, I wanted to get away from both of them as fast as humanly possible! Her high-pitched hen-pecking and his low voiced acquiescence to her demands filled me with dread and a mounting queasy sensation.
Film historian Tom Weaver’s site, The Astonishing B-Monster, addressed the long-standing Becks-Bates rumors. His investigation included testimony from friends and former collaborators who confirmed that Bloch used the Becks as a partial template for Norman and Norma Bates.
Noel Carter, the wife of SF author Lin Carter, described Helen Beck “as a noisy, dominating little Greek woman who followed him most everywhere.” Helen had told her that she had even monitored Calvin’s college classes much to his chagrin. Carter also revealed that Bloch had admitted using the Becks, but never publicly acknowledged it fearing a potential lawsuit.
If one visited the Becks’ home in North Bergen, New Jersey, Calvin would prop open the door slightly while his unseen mother could be heard screaming in the background, lambasting her docile son at the top of her lungs. Reportedly, she’d shriek his name over and over until Calvin quickly finished with the unwelcome visitor, slamming the door abruptly.
Despite this oddest of couples, Beck managed to attract top talent to his monster magazine which offered a more thoughtful, serious response to Forrest J. Ackerman and James Warren’s pun-filled FAMOUS MONSTERS. Among the notables were a young film critic, later turned filmmaker Joe Dante, CINEMA OF THE FANTASTIC author Chris Steinbrunner, SF/fantasy writer Lin Carter, film historian William K. Everson, comic artists Frank Brunner, Jim Steranko and Richard J. (Bojak) Bojarski whose in-house panel strips poked fun at his publisher’s long standing Orson Welles obsession.
A CASTLE OF FRANKENSTEIN contributor who preferred to remain anonymous recalled the one time Beck openly complained to him, “He said, ‘You have to understand my mother. I’m the only son she has, and I have to live with it.’ …He said to me, ‘She never allows me to have any friends.’
Other sources said that Helen often dressed in funereal black, attending her son’s business conferences, sitting stony-faced throughout, casting an uneasy pall upon the proceedings. She reportedly hated her husband, publicly saying that she had sex with him only once and that lone coupling produced Calvin. She later became ill and became bed-ridden. Never seen, her shrieking voice reverberated throughout the house as she berated and verbally humiliated Calvin from upstairs.
“Calvin’s mother was extremely possessive and controlling, and quite mad,” former COF writer Charles Collins divulged.
Reportedly, Beck had heard of his connection to PSYCHO’s Norman and simply laughed before abruptly changing the subject. Beck joined his mother in death in 1989.