Burns: On Richard Matheson, R.I.P.

[A reposting of the author’s comment on the Classic Horror Film Board about the passing of Richard Matheson.]

By James H. Burns: What did I write, now, over three decades ago, in my intro to the Twilight Zone mag interview….

Something like, of fantasy and science fiction’s top ten ambassadors to the worlds of celluloid, Richard Matheson would be three of them.

I was referring, of course, to writers!

And Matheson, as has already been pointed out here, did oh so much more than that!

I think it’s safe to say, at the least, he’s one of the great American fantastists.

A couple of years ago, I took a look at that original manuscript, about twenty thousand words, to begin the process of refining it for republication —

I think perhaps as much as a fourth — or more — didn’t make it to the final article, although it ran as a two-parter.

I also began doing a bunch of research, reading much of the work Matheson had produced in the last three decades.

And, as some of you know, particularly in the ’80s, as I recall, there were a PLETHORA of scripts for films and mini-series, all well paid for, that never saw the light of day (or, for that matter, the spectrum of the old cathode tube).

I couldn’t help but recall Matheson’s comment that when a film or TV project didn’t turn out well, it wasn’t as though you could run down the street, script in hand, yelling, No, no, look at what it was supposed to be!


And I know there had to be some happiness for him, in seeing some such older projects, printed in some of the limited edition volumes that seemed to have had a Matheson vogue there, for a while.

It is the least of his accomplishments, perhaps — and one he may not have been pleased by, but I wonder how many people realize that he could be considered the father, or grandfather, anyway, of the zombie film phenomenon.

George Romero, in a statement that gets too often overlooked, stated that Night of the Living Dead was originally written as an adaption of I Am Legend.

(Matheson once told me he never thought of suing; that such things could be more bother than he felt, sometimes, anyway, they were ultimately worth.)

I sometimes forget that I first met Matheson (by phone, that is), when doing a different article, a preview of Somewhere in Time, for Steranko’s Prevue. 

In all of our conversations, Matheson was indeed the gentleman you’ve heard him described as.

And if he resented the hours it took to chat, he certainly never gave a hint of it.

I remember how thrilled Carol Serling was to learn that Matheson would be in the Twilight Zone magazine…

And how good an idea Matheson thought it was, to perhaps host his own anthology show!

(Matheson remained very grateful to Rod Serling. Whenever there was a script opportunity that Serling didn’t have the time or inclination to do, he would think of recommending Matheson, or one of his compadres.)

I also remember reading What Dreams May Come, in preparation for the interview, and saying to Matheson that it almost seemed like a primer, a gentle one, at that, for those getting ready to near the end.

(In the years to come, Matheson would write more about such realms of possibility.)

Matheson said that that was indeed his intention with the novel.

I know that Matheson’s legacy will be immense, one of the most basic being that at any time, anywhere, someone will be able to pick up a Matheson short story, and read those most often good words.

And it may be impossible to describe accurately the writer’s influence.

But late this afternoon, on this oh so humid day in New York, just about thirty miles from the Brooklyn where Matheson grew up, as the electricity raises in the local atmosphere, the thunder indeed just beyond the range of doubt: I can’t help but hope, simply, that Matheson’s final curtain was a kind one.

Memories From Matheson’s Publisher

Gauntlet Press publisher Barry Hoffman has penned a highly interesting, story-filled tribute to the late Richard Matheson

Lastly (I could relate dozens of anecdotes), there was his aversion (early on) to dustjackets for his books. The first book of Richard’s we published was I Am Legend. He wanted just a red cover with his signature stamped on the front cover along with a blue slipcase. When I prepared to publish Hell House I asked him what color cover did he desire. He said to make it just like Legend, red with a blue slipcase. I mentioned this to his son, Richard Christian Matheson, whom I had become friendly with. R.C. almost screamed through the phone, “Hell House can’t be red!!! It has to be black with a black slipcase.” I persuaded R.C. to talk it over with his father. Richard called me and agreed to the black book/black slipcase. He then paused a few seconds. “What is the next book going to be … pink?”

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian for the story.]

Richard Matheson (1926-2013)

Richard Matheson

Richard Matheson

Richard Matheson, author of many iconic works of sf and horror, died June 23 at age 87. His death came just three weeks after he announced his health was not good enough to permit him to attend the 2013 WFC where he is a GoH.

Matheson’s famous novel I Am Legend was made into three movies – but he wondered in an interview why it kept being optioned when no one ever made a movie that actually followed the book. The films What Dreams May Come, Somewhere in Time and The Shrinking Man also were based on his stories,

Once asked how he identified with his characters, Matheson frankly admitted:

RM: Pretty much the main character is always me. The man in I Am Legend is me. The man in The Shrinking Man, that’s me. Stir Of Echoes, that’s me. What Dreams May Come, me.

He wrote 14 episodes of The Twilight Zone, including the classic “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.” For Star Trek he wrote “The Enemy Within” where a transporter malfunction divides the Captain into Good Kirk and Evil Kirk. And he adapted his 1971 short story “Duel” into a TV movie for young director Steven Spielberg.

He won World Fantasy Awards for Richard Matheson: Collected Stories (1990) and his novel Bid Time Return (1976). Matheson received an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for his teleplay for The Night Stalker (1973).

Matheson was the 1958 Worldcon guest of honor. He was inducted to the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2010, and was the recipient of World Fantasy Award, Bram Stoker Award, and International Horror Guild Award lifetime achievement honors, as well as being named a World Horror Grandmaster.

He served in the infantry during World War II. In 1949 he earned a journalism degree from the University of Missouri. He moved to California in 1951 and married Ruth Ann Woodson the following year. They had four children.

Here is a short commentary by Matheson about his Twilight Zone story “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.”

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian for the story.]

Update 06/24/2013: Corrected date of death per comment.

Nightmare Bobble Heads


Fandom.com may be long gone but others have stepped in to serve “fervent consumers” with the “willingness and discretionary income to indulge their passions” for merchandise like this.

Richard Matheson’s classic 1959 Twilight Zone episode “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” now is immortalized in a pair of commemorative bobbleheads.

There’s the Gremlin:

This ultra-creepy bobble head is authentically designed and exactly painted in a black-and-white motif and measures 6-inches tall x 5-inches wide x 3-inches long. Inspired by one of the most memorable scenes from the show, the remarkable airplane-wing base has Gremlin sitting on the engine housing, tearing pieces from the wing!

And there’s ”Bob Wilson”:

Based on the character played by William Shatner in the terrifying “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” episode, it sports an authentic black-and-white color scheme and a cool airplane-themed base.


[Thanks to John King Tarpinian for the story.]

Matheson Senior Will Miss WFC 2013

Although World Fantasy Con 2013 counted on hosting both Richard Matheson (Twilight Zone’s “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” The Legend of Hell House) and his son Richard Christian Matheson as guests of honor, it’s not going to work out. The elder Matheson’s health isn’t good enough to allow for a trip overseas.

Richard Christian Matheson’s message explaining his father’s decision was recently released by the comittee:

I have disappointing news. My father recently informed me that after much thought, he won’t be able to attend World Fantasy Convention 2013 because of ongoing health concerns. We are, of course, heavy-hearted, as I know you must be reading this. He wants you to know how much he appreciates the organiser’s dedication to making WFC 2013 the best yet, and how they’ve tried every means available to assure his safety and presence. Still, I’m afraid it’s just not in the cards and, while his challenges aren’t life threatening, travel for him is extremely taxing. I know he’s wise in this decision. He’ll be in Brighton, in spirit, and on our mutual behalf, I’ll still be attending and look forward to seeing old friends and meeting new ones. Thank you for your understanding.

Richard Senior also wrote a note:

I certainly appreciate the organisers of World Fantasy Convention 2013 choosing me and my son RC as Guests of Honour. I am very pleased and honoured. I am regretful I cannot respond to it and be there in person, due to health. I wish everyone a marvellous time.

WFC 2013 says Richard Matheson will remain an Honorary Guest of Honour and his career will be celebrated throughout the con’s program.

[Via Andrew Porter.]

WFC 2013 Names Mathesons as GoHs

Richard Matheson (Twilight Zone’s “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” The Legend of Hell House) and his son Richard Christian Matheson (TV, movie and short story writer) are the first authors to be announced as Guests of Honor at World Fantasy Con 2013.

The con takes place in Brighton, England over Halloween Weekend 2013.

The full press release follows the jump.

[Thanks to Andrew Porter for the story.]

Continue reading

Matheson Interviewed by Cinefantastique

Richard Matheson is interviewed in Cinefantastique about Charles Beaumont, subject of a forthcoming DVD documentary: 

LAWRENCE FRENCH: You and Charles Beaumont each did four scripts for Roger Corman, mostly for his Edgar Allan Poe films. The big exception was when Charles Beaumont did the rather daring script for The Intruder in 1961, which was about racial tensions in the south. Did either Beaumont or Corman ask you to appear in that picture?

RICHARD MATHESON: Yes, they did but I just didn’t feel like going out to Missouri while they were shooting it. The Intruder may actually be Roger’s best picture, yet it was the only time he made a film that didn’t make any money. I thought William Shatner was superb in it.

Trivial Pursuit Postscript: Richard Matheson was Westercon’s first repeat guest of honor — Westercon 9 in 1956, and also GoH of the merged Worldcon/Westercon of  1958. Eyeballing the Westercon long list, it looks like the next repeat didn’t happen until the Portland Westercon of 1984 which reprised three past GoH’s, Harlan Ellison (previously a 1966 GoH) and F.M. & Elinor Busby (1963 GoHs); artist Alex Schomburg was the only first-timer at Portland.

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian for the link.]

Bradbury Coming to Egyptian Theater

Ray Bradbury will speak before a showing of the Charles Beaumont documentary at the Egyptian Theater on Saturday, March 27 (the theater’s March calendar has yet to be posted online, so no direct link.) 

The new Beaumont documentary features a long interview with Harlan Ellison, as well as Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, S.T. Joshi, John Shirley, the late Forry Ackerman, George Clayton Johnson, Bill Nolan and Marc Scott Zicree.

Johnson, Nolan and Zicree will answer questions after the March 27 screening.

That same weekend the Egyptian will show Logan’s Run (March 26). The novel’s author’s Bill Nolan and George Clayton Johnson will be there, and they will be back for the showing of The Intruder on March 28.

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian for the story.]

Martian Chronicles from Subterranean Press

Martian Chronicles cover

Martian Chronicles cover

Review by John King Tarpinian: What can one say about Ray Bradbury’s Martian canon that is not known? In this volume there are more than 50 stories, essays, introductions and two full-length screenplays by Bradbury, just fewer than 800 pages. Over the past five decades and in different editions of Martian Chronicles stories have migrated in and out of the book that was currently in print. What Subterranean Press and PS Publishing have done is bring EVERY known Martian story of Ray’s together in one volume,  The Martian Chronicles: The Complete Edition. This includes ones that have never been in any book with the title Martian Chronicles and a few that have never been in print before, forty-nine stories in all. To add to the pleasure of this volume are two screen plays written by Bradbury. His introduction to the 40th anniversary edition is included. Lastly, in his own words, “How I Wrote This Book.”

The seven previously unpublished Martian stories are: The Disease, Dead of Summer, The Martian Ghosts, Jemima True, They All Had Grandfathers, The Wheel and The Marriage.

There are a few other contributors, writing introductions (really more like essays) to the different parts of the book. Reading a few of their words made my eyes mist up. They are Meeting the Wizard introduction by John Scalzi, Undiscovered Mars, Unseen Bradbury by Joe Hill, Lost Mars, the Unpublished Martian Stories of Ray Bradbury by Marc Scott Zicree and For Ray Bradbury by Richard Matheson.

The book is truly a work of art with Bradbury’s words being the canvas. This is the first and probably the last chance one will ever have to own ALL Martian stories in one volume. All of which came to life from the mind of a then little boy who read Edgar Rice Burroughs and since he could not afford to buy another John Carter novel went about writing his own Mars.

[The Table of Contents follows the jump.]

Continue reading

Honoring Twilight Zone at the Egyptian

The 50th anniversary of Twilight Zone will be celebrated at American Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theatre on October 30th (click link and scroll to bottom of page), with showings of Emmy-winning episodes and discussions with Carol Serling (schedule permitting), Richard Matheson, Earl Hamner Jr., George Clayton Johnson, H.M. Wynant, Robert Butler, and Arlene Martel.

Marc Scott Zicree, author of The Twilight Zone Companion, told the Los Angeles Times:

“He created a new form of television… Science fiction was basically viewed as kids’ stuff,” [Zicree] says. “There is a great interview that Mike Wallace did with Rod just prior to ‘The Twilight Zone’ where he says to Rod, ‘Now you are doing this kind of kids’ stuff, are you giving up writing anything important?'”

Among the episodes tentatively scheduled to screen Friday are: “It’s a Good Life,” by Serling, starring Billy Mumy as a 6-year-old boy who is a little monster; “Kick the Can”; “The Howling Man,” by Beaumont, about a scholar who unleashes the devil; “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” by Matheson, about a young man (Shatner) recovering from a nervous breakdown who sees a monster on the wing of the airplane; and Serling’s “Time Enough at Last,” about a bookish man who survives a nuclear holocaust.