|Richard Matheson (1926 – 2013)
LOS ANGELES -- Legendary screen-television writer and novelist Richard Matheson, whose science-fiction/fantasy/horror scripts, short stories, and books influenced a generation of genre writers, died on Sunday, June 23, at his home in Calabasas, California, after a long illness at age 87.
“Richard was a legend. Even growing up in the wilds of Michigan, I became aware of and appreciated his work at a young age. I read the paperback of I Am Legend at summer camp. He, more than any other writer, inspired me to become a screenwriter. The world has lost a great one,” said Man of Steel screenwriter and WGAW Board of Directors member David S. Goyer.
“There was often a sense of wild possibility, the chance of transcending our stuffy little realities, in Matheson's work,” said sci-fi novelist and The Crow co-screenwriter John P. Shirley. “It began, for me, with the classic Twilight Zone episodes Matheson wrote. They encapsulated the human dilemma in eerie metaphor. They nudged the horror form into modernism into a new sleek sophistication.”
Born on February 20, 1926, in Allendale, New Jersey, and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Richard Matheson was one of America’s most iconic, renowned science fiction and fantasy novelists and screenwriters. He enjoyed a long and luminous writing career, starting with the publication of his first short story, “Born of Man and Woman,” in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1950 and continuing to publish a slew of well-received fantasy, horror, and mystery short stories over the decade. Several years later, he launched his screenwriter career by adapting his own novel, The Shrinking Man, for the big screen sci-fi adventure, The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), for which he received a Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, shared with director Jack Arnold.
On the television front, he was a prolific contributor to Rod Serling’s original, ground-breaking TV anthology series, The Twilight Zone, penning many of the series’ most memorable episodes, including “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” “Night Call,” “Nick of Time,” “The Invaders,” and “A World of His Own.” He also wrote for the classic sci-fi series Star Trek (including episodes such as “The Enemy Within”) and later for Rod Serling’s Night Gallery, as well as contributed to the ’80s TV reboot of The Twilight Zone. Earlier this month, three enduringly popular series that Matheson wrote for – The Twilight Zone, Star Trek, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents – were named among WGA’s 101 Best Written TV Series of all time, coming in at #3, #33, and #79 respectively.
In the film arena, during the 1960s Matheson adapted several Edgar Allan Poe classics for a string of low-budget horror hits for producer/director Roger Corman, including The House of Usher, The Pit & the Pendulum, Tales of Terror, and 1963’s The Raven, which featured a young Jack Nicholson in one of his earliest film roles.
The 1970s were a particularly fertile period for Matheson: During this decade, among many other projects, he wrote Steven Spielberg’s debut full-length directorial effort, the suspenseful TV movie Duel (for which Matheson received a 1972 WGA nomination; Television: Anthology Adapted) and penned teleplays for the highly rated vampire thriller The Night Stalker and its equally popular sequel, The Night Strangler, both of which formed the basis Kolchak: The Night Stalker, TV’s mid-’70s cult favorite supernatural series starring Darren McGavin.
Matheson’s film and TV writing continued well into subsequent decades, as the prolific author worked again with Steven Spielberg on Twilight Zone: The Movie and the TV series Amazing Stories, for which he received a 1987 WGA nomination for the episode “The Doll” (Television: Anthology Episode/Single Program). In a throwback to his ’60s work, he adapted two Rod Serling stories for the 1994 telefilm Twilight Zone: Rod Serling's Lost Classics.
In addition to writing numerous novels and screenplays, Matheson also proved a favorite author for others to adapt. His 1954 novel, I Am Legend, spawned three different film adaptations, starting with 1964’s The Last Man on Earth and most recently 2007’s I Am Legend starring Will Smith. Several of Matheson’s novels, including The Omega Man, Somewhere in Time, What Dreams May Come, and A Stir of Echoes, have all received the Hollywood treatment and been adapted into feature films – Matheson himself penned the screenplay for the film Somewhere in Time, based on his novel, Bid Time Return. Most recently, Matheson’s short story “Button, Button” (itself the basis for a classic Twilight Zone episode) was adapted for the horror film The Box (2008), and Matheson’s short story, “Steel,” was adapted for the 2011 hit Disney family film, Real Steel, starring Hugh Jackman.
For his television work, Matheson received six Writers Guild Award nominations and earned two Writers Guild Awards: one for The Night Stalker (Teleplay by Richard Matheson, From an Unpublished Story by Jeff Rice; Television – Anthology Adapted, 1973), and another for his “Yawkey” episode of TV’s Lawman (Episodic Drama – 30 Minutes in Length, 1961).
Over the course of his career, Matheson has been honored for his contributions to literature and filmed entertainment: He earned an Edgar Allan Poe Award for The Night Stalker in 1973, a Bram Stoker Awards’ Life Achievement Award in 1991, and was inducted into the Fangoria Chainsaw Awards’ Horror Hall of Fame in 2011. Just this year, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Horror Films.
Matheson’s other television credits include TV series such as Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Have Gun Will Travel, The D.A.’s Man, Markham, and Cheyenne, as well as the 1980 sci-fi miniseries The Martian Chronicles (Teleplay by Richard Matheson, Based on a Story by Ray Bradbury), for which he earned a WGA nomination (Television: Long Form Multi-Part, 1981), and TV movies
The Morning After (Teleplay by Richard Matheson, Based on the Novel by Jack Weiner), for which received a WGA nomination (Television: Anthology Adapted, 1975), The Stranger Within (Teleplay by Richard Matheson, Based on His Short Story), Scream of the Wolf (Teleplay by Richard Matheson, Based on the Book by David Case), Dying Room Only (Teleplay by Richard Matheson, Based on His Short Story), and 1975’s cult favorite horror anthology, Trilogy of Terror, featuring Matheson’s terrifying final “Amelia” segment starring Karen Black and a murderous “Zuni” doll.
Matheson’s other screenwriting credits include Master of the World (Based on Jules Verne’s Master of the World and Robur the Conqueror), Jaws 3-D (Screenplay by Richard Matheson and Carl Gottlieb, Story by Guerdon Trueblood), and thrillers such as Burn, Witch, Burn (Screenplay by Richard Matheson & Charles Beaumont, Based on the Novel Conjure Wife by Fritz Leiber), The Legend of Hell House (Screenplay by Richard Matheson, Based on His Novel, Hell House), De Sade, The Devil’s Bride (Screenplay by Richard Matheson, Based on the Novel The Devil Rides Out by Dennis Wheatley), and Die! Die! My Darling! (Screenplay by Richard Matheson, Based on Nightmare, a Novel by Anne Blaisdale).
In an article entitled “Fantastic Voyages: Exploring the Fantastique,” featuring a roundtable conversation with sci-fi/horror/fantasy writers Matheson, Clive Barker, D.C. Fontana, Haskell Barkin, and Charles Edward Pogue, published in the October 1991 issue of WGAW’s The Journal, the precursor to Written By Magazine, Matheson commented, “If fantasy is a genre, it is the fundamental genre because it recognizes that there is more…and the fantastique will radiate through all the other fields because it is the basic foundation of our existence. There is so much more around us than we are conscious of, and that is what we are dealing with – the sort of truth that will radiate through all literature.”
Late in his life, Matheson was working on several theatrical plays, including a musical version of his time travel romance Somewhere in Time, which recently made its world premiere at the Portland Center Stage.
Matheson is survived by his wife Ruth Ann and four children, three of which are writers and WGAW members: Ali Marie Matheson, Chris Matheson, and Richard Christian Matheson. Memorial service information is pending.