Moore was born on January 24, 1911 in Indianapolis, Indiana. She was chronically ill as a child and spent much of her time reading literature of the fantastic. She left college during the Great Depression to work as a secretary at the Fletcher Trust Company in Indianapolis.
The Vagabond, a student-run magazine at Indiana University, published three of her stories when she was a student there. The three short stories, all with a fantasy theme and all credited to "Catherine Moore", appeared in 1930/31. Her first professional sales appeared in pulp magazines beginning in 1933. Her decision to publish under the name "C.L. Moore" stemmed not from a desire to hide her gender, but to keep her employers at Fletcher Trust from knowing that she was working as a writer on the side.
Her early work included two significant series in Weird Tales, then edited by Farnsworth Wright. One features the rogue and adventurer Northwest Smith wandering through the Solar System; the other features the swordswoman/warrior Jirel of Joiry, one of the first female protagonists in sword-and-sorcery fiction. Both series are sometimes named for their lead characters. One of the Northwest Smith stories, "Nymph of Darkness" (Fantasy Magazine (April 1935); expurgated version, Weird Tales (Dec 1939)), was written in collaboration with Forrest J Ackerman.
The most famous Northwest Smith story is "Shambleau", which was also Moore's first professional sale. It originally appeared in the November 1933 issue of Weird Tales, netting her $100, and later becoming a popular anthology reprint.
Cover of Weird Tales
, October 1934, featuring "The Black God's Kiss" by Moore (painting by Margaret Brundage
Her most famous Jirel story is also the first one, "Black God's Kiss", which was the cover story in the October 1934 issue of Weird Tales, subtitled "the weirdest story ever told" (see figure). Moore's early stories were notable for their emphasis on the senses and emotions, which was unusual in genre fiction at the time.
Moore's work also appeared in Astounding Science Fiction magazine throughout the 1940s. Several stories written for that magazine were later collected in her first published book, Judgment Night (1952)[a] One of them, the novella "No Woman Born" (1944), was to be included in more than 10 different science fiction anthologies including The Best of C. L. Moore.
Included in that collection were "Judgment Night" (first published in August and September 1943), the lush rendering of a future galactic empire with a sober meditation on the nature of power and its inevitable loss; "The Code" (July 1945), an homage to the classic Faust with modern theories and Lovecraftian dread; "Promised Land" (February 1950) and "Heir Apparent" (July 1950), both documenting the grim twisting that mankind must undergo in order to spread into the Solar System; and "Paradise Street" (September 1950), a futuristic take on the Old West conflict between lone hunter and wilderness-taming settlers.
Marriage to Henry Kuttner and literary collaborations
Moore met Henry Kuttner, also a science fiction writer, in 1936 when he wrote her a fan letter under the impression that "C. L. Moore" was a man. They soon collaborated on a story that combined Moore's signature characters, Northwest Smith and Jirel of Joiry: "Quest of the Starstone" (1937).
Moore and Kuttner married in 1940 and thereafter wrote many of their stories in collaboration, sometimes under their own names, but more often using the joint pseudonyms C. H. Liddell, Lawrence O'Donnell, or Lewis Padgett — most commonly the latter, a combination of their mothers' maiden names. Moore still occasionally wrote solo work during this period, including the frequently anthologized "No Woman Born" (1944). A selection of Moore's solo short fiction work from 1942 through 1950 was collected in 1952's Judgement Night. Moore's only solo novel, Doomsday Morning appeared in 1957.
The vast majority of Moore's work in the period, though, was written as part of a very prolific partnership. Working together, the couple managed to combine Moore's style with Kuttner's more cerebral storytelling. They continued to work in sf and fantasy, and their works include two frequently anthologized sf classics: "Mimsy Were the Borogoves" (February 1943), the basis for the film The Last Mimzy (2007), and "Vintage Season" (September 1946), the basis for the film Timescape (1992). As "Lewis Padgett" they also penned two mystery novels: The Brass Ring (1946) and The Day He Died (1947).
Career after Kuttner's death
After Kuttner's death in 1958, Moore continued teaching her writing course at the University of Southern California but permanently retired from writing any further literary fiction. Instead, working as "Catherine Kuttner", she carved out a short-lived career as a scriptwriter for Warner Brothers television, writing episodes of the westerns , Maverick, and The Alaskans, as well as the detective series 77 Sunset Strip, all between 1958 and 1962. However, upon marrying Thomas Reggie (who was not a writer) in 1963, she ceased writing entirely.
Moore was the author guest of honor at Kansas City, MO's fantasy and science fiction convention BYOB-Con 6, held over the U. S. Memorial Day weekend in May, 1976.
In 1981, Moore received two annual awards for her career in fantasy literature: the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement, chosen by a panel of judges at the World Fantasy Convention, and the Gandalf Grand Master Award, chosen by vote of participants in the World Science Fiction Convention. (Thus she became the eighth and final Grand Master of Fantasy, sponsored by the Swordsmen and Sorcerers' Guild of America, in partial analogy to the Grand Master of Science Fiction sponsored by the Science Fiction Writers of America.)
Moore was an active member of the Tom and Terri Pinckard Science Fiction literary salon and a frequent contributor to literary discussions with the regular membership, including Robert Bloch, George Clayton Johnson, Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, Norman Spinrad, A. E. van Vogt, and others, as well as many visiting writers and speakers.
She developed Alzheimer's disease but that was not obvious for several years. She had ceased to attend the meetings when she was nominated to be the first woman Grand Master of the Science Fiction Writers of America; the nomination was withdrawn at the request of her husband, Thomas Reggie, who said the award and ceremony would be at best confusing and likely upsetting to her, given the progress of her disease. That caused dismay among the former SFWA presidents, for she was a great favorite to receive the award. (Former presidents and current officers select a living writer as Grand Master of SF, no more than one annually.)
Moore died on April 4, 1987 at her home in Hollywood, California after a long battle with Alzheimer's.