Henry Kuttner

Active - 1953  |   Born - Apr 7, 1915 in Los Angeles, CA  |   Died - Feb 4, 1958 in Santa Monica, CA  |   Genres - Science Fiction

Share on

Henry Kuttner was one of the more prolific science fiction authors of the middle 20th century. Often working with his wife, C.L. Moore, and publishing under a multitude of pseudonyms in those collaborations and on his own, the two were counted among the most influential genre authors of their era, and mentioned in the same company as A.E. Van Vogt and Clifford Simak. And although Kuttner's direct influence on movies was limited to a small handful of stories, it lured producers and was felt for decades after his death.

Born in Los Angeles in 1915, Kuttner grew up in San Francisco in relative poverty following the death of his father in 1919. A sickly youth with a small, wiry frame who suffered from a heart murmur, his great passion was writing. He was a huge fan of H.P. Lovecraft's work, an influence that would manifest itself at various points in his career. At the age of 21, Kuttner's stories began being printed in the pulp magazine Weird Tales; among the earliest of his works was the very Lovecraft-like short story The Graveyard Rats. He later began writing for Heroic Fantasy, and it was there that he introduced the character Elak of Atlantis, a creation very much influenced by Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian, and which was, in turn, the antecedent to Michael Moorcock's sword-and-sorcery hero Elric of Milnibone. Kuttner also wrote science fiction for Thrilling Wonder Stories, and it was there, in 1940, that he published the novella Dr. Cyclops. This work, impressive in its own right, attracted considerable attention on several levels. Some film sources erroneously describe the story as the genesis for the 1940 Universal movie Dr. Cyclops, directed by Ernest B. Schoedsack, while others correctly identified it as a novelization of the screenplay. A somewhat longer version (which Kuttner denied was his work), credited to the pseudonym Will Garth, appeared at a later date in hardcover (and was reprinted in 1976), also led to some confusion. But because of the movie's enduring appeal as a finely crafted special-effects showcase and a very exciting sci-fi chase thriller, Kuttner's Dr. Cyclops became one of his most well-known and oft-reprinted stories, including a paperback edition (grouped with other authors' works) from Popular Library in 1967 and in the anthology Science Fiction Classics: The Stories That Morphed Into Movies in 1998, which incorrectly identified it as the source for the movie.

Soon after he started writing professionally, Kuttner received a letter from Catherine Moore, a reader, fan, and fellow writer, and the two began a series of correspondences that led -- reportedly with some urging from author/editor John W. Campbell Jr. -- to a creative collaboration. The first Henry Kuttner/C.L. Moore joint effort, Quest of the Star Stone, appeared in Weird Tales in 1937. They married in 1940, and most of their joint work over the next 14 years was published either under Kuttner's name or various collective pseudonyms, including Lewis Padgett and Lawrence O'Donnell, although some of the Lewis Padgett-credited stories, such as Mutant, were published in later editions solely under Kuttner's name. Kuttner also collaborated with Arthur K. Barnes, and published some of his work under the pseudonyms Kelvin Kent, Peter Horn, and Keith Hammond. It was as Lewis Padgett, in 1942, that Kuttner and Moore wrote the short story The Twonky, which was later adapted into a 1953 Arch Oboler film with the same title starring Hans Conried. The original story dealt with a radio-like device that insinuated itself into the world of its user, but by the time it was filmed by Oboler, The Twonky had become associated with the medium of television, which somehow seemed more suitable. In 1945, Kuttner and Moore wrote the story What You Need, which was adapted into a fine, albeit darker, installment of The Twilight Zone. Their 1946 novella Vintage Season (credited to Lawrence O'Donnell) was adapted into the 1992 made-for-TV feature Grand Tour: Disaster in Time.

Ironically, although Kuttner was a highly respected and popular writer during the 1930s, '40s, and '50s -- and the couple often used his name or a male pseudonym for their joint work (he commanded higher fees than his wife) -- he was overshadowed to some extent in later years by Moore. As a woman writer of science fiction and fantasy, she was embraced by feminist readers in the 1970s and '80s, and achieved greater stature than her husband. The authorship of some works credited to either of them has occasionally been disputed, as well, with several of the same stories appearing at different times credited to one or the other, and various scholars insisting that a piece was actually written by the uncredited author. The couple also occasionally stepped outside of the science fiction genre, producing a handful of mysteries.

Kuttner's health began to decline during the late '40s, and the couple, who had been living in Red Bank, NJ, moved back to the gentler climate of Laguna Beach, CA. Their work in science fiction continued into the early '50s, although they turned increasingly to the mystery genre and the writing of radio and television scripts. In the mid-'50s, Kuttner entered a university program to earn an advanced degree, but died of a heart attack in 1958 while preparing his thesis. His work still attracting filmmakers and fans, his short story The Graveyard Rats was adapted into one section of Trilogy of Terror II in 1996, 38 years after his death and 60 years after it was written.