Richard Matheson was born in New Jersey on February 20, 1926 and was raised by his mother in Brooklyn, New York. Matheson published his first short story at the age of eight and that was the beginning of one of the most prolific writing careers in horror literature history.
Best known for: ‘I Am Legend’, ‘What Dreams May Come’, ‘A Stir of Echoes’, ‘Hell House’. Do yourself a favor and firmly insert your nose into those amazing novels as soon as humanly possible.
Matheson took pride in dissecting the human psyche and unlocking primal secrets within man in his tales. Horror and science fiction were the fuel that powered these vehicles, but the motor of Matheson’s stories has always been the humanity within his characters.
My personal favorite: I personally idolize him for his short story “Duel”, which was later adapted into a screenplay for a TV movie, directed by a relatively unknown filmmaker named Steven Spielberg. The short story was initially formed in Matheson’s mind following a harrowing incident in which Matheson and fellow scriptwriter Jerry Sohl were aggressively tailgated by a large truck – on the day of JFK’s assassination.
His screenplay for THE DEVIL RIDES OUT, quite possibly the best occult horror film ever created, is another example of just how incredible a writer Matheson was. Many point to Matheson’s screenplay as the reason the film works so well, as Matheson was able to firmly and easily grasp the mood of the book the film was based on.
Proud resident of THE TWILIGHT ZONE: Mr. Matheson wrote sixteen episodes for the original ‘Twilight Zone’ series, as well as host Rod Serling’s opening and closing statements on the show. Matheson is the man who wrote arguably the most famous ‘Twilight Zone’ of all time, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”, starring a young and dashing William Shatner.
The Poe Man: Matheson adapted five Poe tales into screenplays for iconic filmmaker Roger Corman. It should come as no surprise that three of the five adaptations are widely regarded as some of Corman’s best work – THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM, HOUSE OF USHER and THE RAVEN.
Matheson is everywhere: Besides being a heavy influence on the horror world, Mr. Matheson also directed an episode of STAR TREK (“The Enemy Within”, first aired on October 6, 1966) which saw Shatner’s Captain Kirk split into two people, with neither the good or bad Kirk able to function properly while separated. Matheson also penned the screen play for THE NIGHT STALKER and THE NIGHT STRANGLER, Carl Kolchak films that further entrenched Matheson in pop culture fame.
Matheson’s work has been acknowledged as laying the groundwork for future horror masterpieces ROSEMARY’S BABY and THE EXORCIST, as Matheson wove tales of the supernatural with a scientific and humane touch like no other.
In elite company: Matheson was a part of the Southern California Sorcerers, also known as The Group among several other nicknames, a Rat Pack of sorts of some of the most talented creators in film and television history. The association included Matheson, Sohl, Ray Bradbury, Rod Serling, Robert Bloch, Harlan Ellison and Charles Beaumont, among several others. The group would share notes, discuss plots and story ideas, plan their marketing campaigns with one another and find strength and confidence from one another as their careers blossomed.
Not all horror: In the 1990’s, Matheson wrote four Western novels that were well-received. Matheson also wrote several Western stories in the 1950s.
‘What Dreams May Come’ is considered one of the most moving and affirmative spiritual books of its time, with Matheson taking heartfelt pleasure in knowing his work helped ease the mind of thousands – perhaps millions – of people as they faced questions of their own mortality.
The Matheson bloodline: Three of Mr. Matheson’s four children are writers. Matheson and wife, Ruth Ann, were married in 1952.
The awards.. oh, the awards!: Matheson is a member of the Science Fiction Hall of Fame (inducted in 2010) and has won a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Horror Writers Association in 1991, as well as a World Fantasy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1984.
Inspiring the icons of fright: Matheson is cited by name as inspirations of Stephen King, George A. Romero, Anne Rice, Spielberg, Corman and Edgar Wright.
Mr. Matheson passed away in Los Angeles, on June 23rd, 2013 at the age of 87. A man recognized as a founding father of the science fiction and fantasy literature movement may be gone, but a career that spanned sixty-three years continues to be celebrated and regarded as one of the greatest catalogs ever created.
As I close out this salute to one of the all-time greats in the literary field, let’s take a moment to hear from Mr. Matheson himself as he explains how he’d like to be remembered. I’d say he’s accomplished that and so much more. Via the Archive of American Television:
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