Writer Richard Matheson dies at 87
Richard Matheson, a prolific American science fiction author and screenwriter whose stories were made into movies and TV episodes, has died. He was 87. He died at his home in Los Angeles on Sunday, according to his son. “As monumental as he is as a writer, he was every bit that as a husband, father, grandfather and friend,” Richard Christian Matheson said on his Facebook page. “He was my hero and my best friend and I loved him deeply. I will miss him forever. I know we all will.”
During a career that spanned more than 60 years, the elder Matheson wrote more than 25 novels and nearly 100 short stories, plus screenplays for TV and film. Several of his novels were made into movies. “I Am Legend,” released in 1954, inspired three films, including 2007’s movie of the same name that starred Will Smith. His 1956 novel “The Shrinking Man” was adapted for the big screen, becoming “The Incredible Shrinking Man”. Matheson was a major contributor to Rod Serling’s classic TV series “The Twilight Zone,” penning more than a dozen scripts from 1959 to 1964, including “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.” He also wrote for “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour” and was the creative force behind the classic “Star Trek” episode “The Enemy Within”.
“He was just so influential. He raised the bar for writing thrillers; he brought that high standard and sophistication to everything he did,” Shirley said on Facebook. “And his works … as books and movies, influenced me to have hope for meaning in life, and in the afterlife … he affected my point of view on life.”
One of the most influential sci-fi writers of all time
Richard Burton Matheson was born in Allendale, New Jersey, on February 20, 1926, the son of Norwegian immigrants Fanny and Bertolf Matheson, a tile floor installer. Matheson was raised in Brooklyn and graduated from Brooklyn Technical High School in 1943. He then entered the military and spent World War II as an infantry soldier. In 1949 he earned his bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and moved to California in 1951. He married Ruth Ann Woodson on July 1, 1952 and had four children, three of whom (Chris, Richard Christian, and Ali Matheson) became writers of fiction and screenplays.
Matheson’s first published short story was “Born of Man and Woman” in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Summer 1950, the new quarterly’s third issue. It is the tale of a monstrous child chained by its parents in the cellar, cast as the creature’s diary in poignantly non-idiomatic English. Later that year he placed stories in the first and third numbers of Galaxy Science Fiction, a new monthly. Between 1950 and 1971, he produced dozens of stories, frequently blending elements of the science fiction, horror and fantasy genres. He was a member of the Southern California School of Writers in the 1950s-1960s, which included Charles Beaumont, William F. Nolan, Ray Bradbury, Jerry Sohl, George Clayton Johnson, and others. Matheson appears in two documentaries related to this era: Jason V Brock’s Charles Beaumont: The Life of Twilight Zone’s Magic Man, and The AckerMonster Chronicles!, which details the life of agent and editor Forrest J Ackerman.
Several of his stories, like “Third from the Sun” (1950), “Deadline” (1959) and “Button, Button” (1970) are simple sketches with twist endings; others, like “Trespass” (1953), “Being” (1954) and “Mute” (1962) explore their characters’ dilemmas over twenty or thirty pages. Some tales, such as “The Funeral” (1955) and “The Doll that Does Everything” (1954) incorporate zany satirical humour at the expense of genre clichés, and are written in an hysterically overblown prose very different from Matheson’s usual pared-down style. Others, like “The Test” (1954) and “Steel” (1956), portray the moral and physical struggles of ordinary people, rather than the then nearly ubiquitous scientists and superheroes, in situations which are at once futuristic and everyday. Still others, such as Hell House (1953), “The Curious Child” (1954) and perhaps most of all, “Duel” (1971) are tales of paranoia, in which the everyday environment of the present day becomes inexplicably alien or threatening. “Duel” was adapted into the TV movie of the same name.
He wrote 14 episodes for the American TV series “The Twilight Zone”, including “Steel” (mentioned above), and the famous “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”, plus “Little Girl Lost”, a story about a young girl tumbling into the fourth dimension. On all of Matheson’s scripts for “The Twilight Zone”, he also wrote the introductory and closing statements spoken by creator Rod Serling. He also contributed a number of scripts to the Warner Bros. western series Lawman between 1958 and 1962. He adapted the works of Edgar Allan Poe for the Roger Corman’s Poe series including “House of Usher” (1960), “The Pit and the Pendulum” (1961) and “The Raven” (1963).
He wrote the popular “Star Trek” episode “The Enemy Within”. For Hammer Films he adapted Dennis Wheatley’s “The Devil Rides Out” (1968). In 1973, Matheson earned an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for his teleplay for “The Night Stalker”, one of two TV movies written by Matheson that preceded the series “Kolchak: The Night Stalker”. Matheson also wrote the screenplay for “Fanatic” (US title: Die! Die! My Darling!), starring Tallulah Bankhead and Stefanie Powers.
Matheson’s first novel, “Someone Is Bleeding”, was published by Lion Books in 1953. His early novels include “The Shrinking Man” (1956, filmed in 1957 as “The Incredible Shrinking Man”, again from Matheson’s own screenplay) and a science fiction vampire novel, “I Am Legend”, (1954, filmed as “The Last Man on Earth” in 1964, “The Omega Man” in 1971, and “I Am Legend” in 2007). Other Matheson novels turned into notable films include “What Dreams May Come”, “A Stir of Echoes” (as “Stir of Echoes”), “Bid Time Return” (as “Somewhere in Time”), and “Hell House” (as “The Legend of Hell House”), the last two adapted and scripted by Matheson himself. Three of his short stories were filmed together as “Trilogy of Terror” (1975), including “Prey” (initially published in the April 1969 edition of Playboy magazine) with its famous Zuni warrior doll. Matheson’s short story “Button, Button”, was filmed as “The Box” in 2009, and was previously adapted for a 1986 episode of “The Twilight Zone”.
In 1960, Matheson published “The Beardless Warriors”, a non-fantastic, autobiographical novel about teenage American soldiers in World War II. It was filmed in 1967 as The Young Warriors though most of Matheson’s plot was jettisoned. During the 1950s he published a handful of Western stories (later collected in By the Gun); and during the 1990s he published Western novels such as “Journal of the Gun Years”, “The Gunfight”, “The Memoirs of Wild Bill Hickok” and “Shadow on the Sun”. He has also written a blackly comic locked-room mystery novel, “Now You See It…”, aptly dedicated to Robert Bloch, and the suspense novels “7 Steps to Midnight” and “Hunted Past Reason”.