Matheson in 2008
|Born||Richard Burton Matheson
February 20, 1926
Allendale, New Jersey, United States
|Pen name||Logan Swanson|
|Occupation||Novelist, Short story writer|
|Genres||Science fiction, Fantasy, Horror|
Richard Burton Matheson (born February 20, 1926) is an American author and screenwriter, primarily in the fantasy, horror, and science fiction genres. He is perhaps best known as the author of What Dreams May Come, Somewhere In Time and I Am Legend, all three of which have been adapted as major motion pictures.
Matheson was born in Allendale, New Jersey, the son of Norwegian immigrants Fanny (née Mathieson) 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 in 1952 and has four children, three of whom (Chris, Richard Christian, and Ali Matheson) are writers of fiction and screenplays.
His first short story, "Born of Man and Woman," appeared in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1950. The tale of a monstrous child chained in its parents' cellar, it was told in the first person as the creature's diary (in poignantly non-idiomatic English) and immediately made Matheson famous. Between 1950 and 1971, Matheson produced dozens of stories, frequently blending elements of the science fiction, horror and fantasy genres, making important contributions to the further development of modern horror.
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 "Mad House" (1953), "The Curious Child" (1954) and perhaps most famously, "Duel" (1971) are tales of paranoia, in which the everyday environment of the present day becomes inexplicably alien or threatening.
He wrote a number of 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; adapted the works of Edgar Allan Poe for Roger Corman and Dennis Wheatley's The Devil Rides Out for Hammer Films; and scripted Steven Spielberg's first feature, the TV movie Duel, from his own short story. He also contributed a number of scripts to the Warner Brothers western series Lawman between 1958 and 1962. He wrote the Star Trek episode "The Enemy Within", considered one of the best. 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 Talullah Bankhead and Stefanie Powers.
Matheson's first novel, Someone Is Bleeding, was published in 1953. His novels include The Shrinking Man (filmed as The Incredible Shrinking Man, again from Matheson's own screenplay), and a science fiction vampire novel, I Am Legend, (filmed as The Last Man on Earth (1964), The Omega Man (1971), and I Am Legend (2007)). Other Matheson novels turned into notable films include What Dreams May Come, Stir of Echoes, Bid Time Return (as Somewhere in Time), and Hell House (as The Legend of Hell House) and the aforementioned Duel, the last three 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.
In 1960, Matheson published The Beardless Warriors, a nonfantastic, 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.
Matheson cites specific inspirations for many of his works. Duel derived from an incident in which he and a friend, Jerry Sohl, were dangerously tailgated by a large truck on the same day as the Kennedy assassination. A scene from the 1953 movie Let's Do It Again in which Aldo Ray and Ray Milland put on each other's hats, one of which is far too big for the other, sparked the thought "what if someone put on his own hat and that happened," which became The Shrinking Man. Somewhere in Time began when Matheson saw a movie poster featuring a beautiful picture of Maude Adams and wondered what would happen if someone fell in love with such an old picture. In the introduction to Noir: 3 Novels of Suspense (1997), which collects three of his early books, Matheson has said that the first chapter of his suspense novel Someone is Bleeding (1953) describes exactly his meeting with his wife Ruth, and that in the case of What Dreams May Come, "the whole novel is filled with scenes from our past."
According to film critic Roger Ebert, Matheson's scientific approach to the supernatural in I Am Legend and other novels from the 1950s and early 1960s "anticipated pseudorealistic fantasy novels like Rosemary's Baby and The Exorcist."
In the August 7, 2009, issue of Entertainment Weekly devoted to vampires, Anne Rice stated that when she was a child, Matheson's short story "A Dress Of White Silk", was a prime early influence on her interest in vampires and fantasy fiction.
In Richard Christian Matheson's novel Created By, the hero's father is named Burt, a reference to Matheson senior's middle name.
Richard's son, Richard Christian Matheson, penned the screenplay for "Battleground" for the first segment of Stephen King's Nightmares & Dreamscapes. He paid homage to his father by including the Zuni fetish doll from the last segment of Trilogy of Terror in a scene.
M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening, about inexplicable mass suicide, has a parallel with Matheson's short story Lemmings, which is also about inexplicable mass suicide.
A character named "Senator Richard Matheson" appeared in several episodes of The X-Files. The series' creator, Chris Carter, was a fan of Matheson's work on two series that influenced The X-Files (The Twilight Zone and Kolchak: The Night Stalker). Also, the TV series adaptation of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids had the Szalinski family relocating to the town of Matheson, Colorado.
In the Babylon 5 TV series, the episode "A Spider in the Web" mentions a ship called the Matheson as one of many requesting permission to leave the station.
The telepath "John Matheson" in Crusade was named in honour of Matheson.
A villain of the week on Burn Notice was named after Matheson.
Homage to Matheson is paid daily by Disney Imagineers who distinctly included the chalk markings (which marked the portal wall from The Twilight Zone episode "Little Girl Lost") in the boiler-room area of the famous Disney thrill-ride "The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror."