February 7, 2016

Author Richard Matheson dies

He influenced some of the nation’s best fantasy, science-fiction, and horror writers. He wrote some of the most famous science fiction novels and short stories in American Literature. And one of the several stories he wrote for the TV series “Twilight Zone” is considered a television classic.

University of Missouri graduate Richard Matheson has died at the age of 87. 

Matheson was a journalism student in Columbia after World War Two.  It was there, he recalled in an interview for The Archive of American Television (excerpts are on YouTube) that he learned the importance of outlining his story before starting to write it.  “You’d put things on 3×5 file cards and then you’d get them in the proper order,” he explained in talking about writing term papers.  “There was one novel which I never finished becaue it was going to be too long, and I had an entire room, I had cork boards on the entire wall and every one of them was covered with file cards. I had thousands of file cards.”                         

Matheson, a 1949 journalism school graduate, recalled a few years ago that many of his early ideas came from movies–especially bad movies that let the mind wander.  “Something in the picture would make my mind drift into a different area. When I saw ‘Dracula’ my mind drifted off and I thought, ‘ If one vampire is scary, what if the whole world is full of vampires, which ended up as my novel ‘I am Legend.'” That novel has been made into three movies: “The Incredible Shrinking Man” of 1954 (which starred Missouri native Vincent Price), Charleton Heston’s 1971 “The Omega Man,” and the Will Smith version in 2007.   Another of his well-known novels is “The Shrinking Man,” which also became a movie, in 1957.

Among his other movies is “Time and Again,” which starred Jane Seymour and Christopher Reeve, and was based on his novel, “Bid Time Return,” which begins at Stephens College in Columbia.  He paired with noted horror film producer Roger Corman to write six of the eight  filmed adaptations of stories by Edgar Allen Poe (all of which starred Price).  His short story, “The Duel,” became Stephen Spielberg’s first feature film, featuring Joplin native Dennis Weaver as a motorist threatened on the road by a mysterious semi. 

Others will recall Matheson as the author of fourteen “Twilight Zone” episodes, most notably “Terror at 20,000 feet,” which starred William Shatner as a panicked airline passenger who claimed to see a monster tearing up the wing of the airliner he was riding.