Last month one of the greatest UFO celebrities you might have probably never heard of departed our third dimension: Timothy Green Beckley, a.k.a. “Mister UFO,” was a sensational bridge between the bygone years of the Contactees and the modern era.
The fact that he was born on July of 1947 (the ‘summer of the saucers,’ which began with Kenneth Arnold’s sighting of Chevron-like objects over Mount Rainier and quickly spread all over the United States) could be seen as if his permanent involvement with the wacky world of UFOs was ‘preordained’, if you believe that sort of thing. He had his first sighting when he was just ten, yet that did not stop him from sending a letter describing the encounter to the local newspaper which got published, cementing his life path from then on.
He began his own newsletter as a teenager, using mimeographs and printing methods that even to an aging Gen-Xer as myself sound positively ante-diluvian; until Jim Moseley (another important figure of the early flying saucer age) took him under his wing and made him editor of Saucer News magazine. It was during this time that Tim got heavily involved with the personalities of what could be described as the East coast UFO scene –because contrary to what one might imagine, not everything in saucerdom centered around California’s sunny skies.
But even after the Contactees and the mass UFO conventions at Giant Rock became a yellowed memory, Beckley soldiered on and ended up publishing the impressing amount of over 200 publications on UFOs and other Fortean topics; his bazaar of the bizarre offered tomes under sensationalistic titles like “Screwed By The Aliens” and “Round Trip to Hell in a Flying Saucer,” usually adorned with lurid and almost carnivalesque covers.
This lack of concern for giving the UFO topic a patina of respectability –something which has become predominant nowadays, when the field is busy jumping through mass media hoops and trying out new tricks in an attempt to rid itself from the ‘woo factor’– is something that was consistent in Beckley’s parallel careers. For many years Tim also served as movie reviewer for Hustler and other male magazines, until he became an adult film publicist and adopted a new alternative alias –“Mr. Creepo”– which he also used when he got involved in the horror industry.
And he made good use of his contacts within the adult entertainment as well, because he managed to convince the editors of those nudie mags to run serious articles about real UFO cases. If you consider the circulation of those publications with the sales of your average UFO book, then it is fair to say Tim Beckley may have done more to inform the public about flying saucers than say, Jacques Vallee or J. Allen Hynek.
What may appear at first glance as an accidental mix of saucers and ‘saucy’ flicks seems almost inevitable in retrospect, once one takes into consideration the deeply transgressional nature of the two, and how the stigma surrounding ‘forbidden interests’ provoked a natural evolution from low brow publications sold on street newsstands and supermarket aisles, to the BBS forums and primitive chatrooms of the early world wide web. We built this Internet on porn and UFOs, kiddos.
It was in those archaic online groups that Beckley gathered stories about secret deals between the government and malevolent aliens who ended up double-crossing the gullible Earthlings, which he later released in different magazine articles and paperbacks using the fictitious persona of ‘Commander X’ (because we all know a good yarn is juicier when it has the seal of a retired government officer behind it, right?).
Commander X was actually a collective pen name shared by different authors like conspiracy theorist Jim Keith, and even though for many years Beckley kept maintaining this was the pseudonym of a real person choosing anonymity to reveal ‘the shocking truth’ about the extraterrestrial presence on Earth, he eventually ended up conceding that the good commander “had help” from other writers *wink wink* in other to ‘polish up’ his manuscripts and meet his publishing deadlines.
Sadly, I only got to speak with Tim Beckley once when he interviewed me and my friend Charles Topham on his radio show a few years ago; so in order to truly understand the legacy of someone like him, I asked a few friends and collaborators of mine –Greg Bishop, Adam Gorightly, Aaron Gulyas and John E.L. Tenney– to give their personal opinion about “Mr. UFO,” and why they thought posterity should not forget his name like it did with so many figures involved in saucerian history.
[Q]: When did you first come across Beckley’s work, and did you have a chance to meet him in person?
[Bishop]: Everyone who is into UFOs comes across his work. I can’t even remember when I did, but it was probably in the late 1980s. It was tabloid and funny and exciting. Perfect.
I met him in person at least once, in the mid-1990s in New York City. We went for dinner near the lower East Side. He pointed out CBGB to me on the walk there and I about swooned. We ate at a place on “Indian Restaurant Row” on 6th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues. It was a long, friendly, and funny talk over dinner.
[Gorightly]: I have no idea when I first encountered Tim, but he was one of those guys that seemed to have been around forever—and of course he kind of was, at least in terms of the Modern Era of UFOs, and chronicling UFO history over that time period in his own inimitable way.
I think for someone such as myself who became interested in UFOs back in the day (as the kids say), Tim was one of the main publishers who kept the mythos moving forward, and was so integral to the scene, dating back to when he first got involved in the late 1950s. He was someone who had a passion for the genre, and who knew everybody involved in the New York scene back in the day, such as Jim Moseley, John Keel, Gray Barker, etc.; he knew all the main researchers and trouble makers, and certainly could be considered an important player in those early days and shaping Ufology, such as it is, as we know it today.
As a teenager, Tim set up his own printing press, and published one of the first of the early flying saucer fanzine/newsletters, which in time turned into a book publishing business that eventually expanded to Tim putting on UFO conferences and hobnobbing with rockstars in New York who were interested in the subject, and meeting people like Muhammad Ali, who also claimed knowledge of the space brothers; or meeting with characters like Bill Cooper, who took Tim for a ride in his old pickup around Eager, Arizona, a firearm sitting between the two men, as Cooper shared his own alleged ET revelations; or traveling to Point Pleasant at the height of the Mothman craze with Gray Barker and Barbara Hudson to investigate that elusive red-eyed, winged creature. The dude done it all.
But it wasn’t all flying saucers with Tim. He set up one of the first psychic discussion groups in NYC back in the 1970s, and also produced horror and porno films under the guise of Mr. Creepo. So he was most definitely a renaissance man of all things weird and wonderful!
I never met Tim in the flesh regrettably, though we chatted on the phone many times, and I was a frequent guest on his podcast in recent years, and in fact I was on one of his final podcasts, just a few weeks ago, so Tim kept doing his thing, it appears, up into the very end. He was also immensely helpful when I was researching A is for Adamski with his deep knowledge of the early UFO contactee scene. He also used a lot of my writings for his many anthologies, which he kept churning out to the very end.
[Gulyas]: I first became aware of Beckley’s publishing before I knew who he was—probably from ads in Weekly World News back in the early 90s. I’m fairly certain that Commander X was involved… I never had a chance to meet him in person, unfortunately. The closest I got was appearing on his podcast earlier this year.
[Tenney]: When I was 13-years-old I found a copy of Timothy G. Beckley’s “UFO Review” at a local comic book store on the shelves between Dr. Strange and Swamp Thing. At the time I had no idea if it was a comic book or a newspaper and if it was real or fake. I bought it, read it ravenously, from cover to cover. I am still unsure as to what it was and if it was real.
Years later, I met Tim at a bizarre, chaotic UFO meeting held in what I believe was Tim’s apartment in New York and featured John Keel as its main “speaker”. I told him about finding his magazine at a comic book store and he couldn’t have been more delighted.
[Q]: What is the impact (for better or for worse) that Tim Beckley had in the UFO field by publishing books and magazines which often times promoted stories of questionable validity, such as the so-called revelations of ‘Commander X’?
[Bishop]: Since you can’t take the tabloid, carny nature out of the UFO subject, Tim’s books fit in perfectly with the genre and have a perfect home amongst the “respectable” titles. There is so much valuable history in the pages of his ridiculously laid-out and garishly-covered legacy. He once asked if I could contribute an image I collected from a Los Angeles newspaper about the strange disappearance of two men who said space people told them to rent a plane and meet them somewhere in Southern California. They were never seen again, and left strange symbols on the walls of the apartment where one of them lived. Beckley know about this story and knew I was interested in it as well. He also asked me to contribute an article for a tribute book about his late friend Jim Moseley.
[Gorightly]: For the better or worse is a vow made in marriage and my advice would be to refrain from marrying anybody mixed up in this flying saucer business!
Tim published all kinds of spurious seeming stuff, but he was a straight-up dude just the same; you always knew where he stood, and from what I knew about him, Tim was somewhat a believer in extraterrestrial visitations, certainly more than I am. But, above all, Tim was also a showman wheeler dealer type carnival barker who carved out a very cool niche for himself in the wacky world of book publishing. No easy feat.
As for Commander X, Tim was certainly upfront about writing under that pseudonym, at least in recent years he copped to it, and he wasn’t the only one! Jim Keith, I have been informed by very reliable sources (like Jim himself!), also used the Commander X pen name. So as a card carrying Discordian I can sort of appreciate the ruse, and it is ultimately up to the consumer how much of an emotional investment you want to make in regards to any particular ufo story or UFO personality.
[Gulyas]: think Beckley’s impact was—particularly particularly in the 1990s—to popularize and promulgate a UFO mythology that we take for granted now (the Commander X material, underground bases, etc) to a wide, public audience that might not have been fully clued into the UFO scene at the time. While his stories were of questionable validity, I would say *most* UFO, paranormal, or conspiracy-theory-based stories are of questionable validity. Take a random sampling of faerie stories from Passport to Magonia, sex them up, and put them between a lurid cover and you’ve got a Tim Beckley book. On the more positive side, Beckley did a lot to keep older and more obscure Contactee works available–Dana Howard, for example.
[Tenney]: Timothy’s outrageous promotion of the UFO phenomena was seen by many as a detriment to the general public’s serious acceptance of the odd experiences and situations surrounding UFO. It’s understandable that some people would misinterpret his motivations and perhaps find his hyperbole unpalatable. None the less Tim kept UFO, flying saucers and other anomalous phenomena accessible to anyone with a creative mind and an appetite for weirdness.
His books and stories, no matter how suspicious, were, I think, never meant to be the “final word” but simply a launching pad into the skies of mystery.
[Q]: If you could describe Tim Beckley’s legacy with just one sentence, what would it be?
[Bishop]: Tim constantly reminded us that the UFO subject is weird, wonderful, scary, amazing and hilarious, and lived the life to prove it.
[Gorightly]: Tim Beckley’s legacy probably deserves more than one sentence. (Oops I just ran out of my sentence allotment!)
[Gulyas]: Tim Beckley’s decades of work in chronicling and publishing a broad range of UFO mythology will likely never be equaled.
[Tenney]: “Your sense of wonder is as important as your sense of humor.”
My four colleagues’ shared opinion about Tim Beckley helped me to put into perspective my own thoughts about him. Yes, he acted like the proverbial carnival barker of incredible –and sometimes implausible– UFO cases; but just like one man’s pornography is another man’s Sistine chapel, Beckley didn’t think it was his right to discern for his readers neither what constitutes good taste or bad in the adult entertainment world, nor what was true or untrue in the UFO world; because in the end everybody has to make up their own criteria, lest we submit ourselves to the arbiters of purity and their flammable methods of persuasion.
Perhaps the greatest sin one can commit in UFOlogy is to get rid of the strange stories that don’t fit inside your neat, little model of what you think UFOs are or how they should behave; to get rid of the freaks and the clowns because you want to polish up your circus act, and make it more palatable for the higher ups and the aristocracy –sound familiar?
And after all, what you seek when you buy a ticket to the freak show is just to have a good time; nothing more and nothing less. Maybe even the carnival barker himself doesn’t know if the mermaid in display is real, or just a doll made out of rubber and taxidermized fish parts.
So fare thee well to the grand ringmaster of the Bizarre Saucer Circus, lover of Indian food and scantily clad lesbian vampires. Thank you for keeping UFOlala land fun for a while, and may you have a hell of a trip!