Richard Matheson is probably one of the most famous writers you’ve never heard of. Matheson has produced dozens of short stories, novels, and screenplays, most often with elements of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Among other honors he has received are the Bram Stoker Award for Lifetime Achievement (1990) from the Horror Writers Association and The World Horror Convention Grand Master Award (1993) from the World Horror Society.
Matheson’s first screenplay was The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), based on his novel The Shrinking Man (1956). This earned him the honor of receiving the very first Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation (1958) from the World Science Fiction Society.
Matheson spent several years writing TV Westerns such as Buckskin (1959), Wanted: Dead or Alive (1959), Have Gun – Will Travel (1960), Cheyenne (1960), and Lawman (1960).
Matheson became a writer for Roger Corman and other low-budget producers, penning such titles as Master of the World (1961), Pit and the Pendulum (1961), Burn, Witch, Burn (1962), Tales of Terror (1962), The Raven (1963), The Comedy of Terrors (1963), and Die! Die! My Darling! (1965).
Matheson wrote sixteen episodes of the original Twilight Zone, including “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” (1963), and two episodes of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery in the 1970s. Other notable TV credits include Star Trek (1966) (“The Enemy Within”), as well as episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (1962), The Martian Chronicles (1980), The Twilight Zone (1986), and Amazing Stories (1986).
Matheson scripted Steven Spielberg’s first feature, the TV movie Duel (1971), from his own short story.
In 1973 Matheson won the Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for Best Television Feature or Miniseries for his teleplay of The Night Stalker (1972), one of two TV movies he wrote that launched the series Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974).
Matheson’s seminal novel I Am Legend (1954) has been filmed at least three times: The Last Man on Earth (1964) (with Matheson contributing to the screenplay as Logan Swanson), The Omega Man (1971), and I Am Legend (2007). While not attributing its source material, Night of the Comet (1984) can clearly be seen as derived from Matheson’s concept. Many people point to I Am Legend as the first true zombie story, even though the monsters are described as vampires in the book. Matheson was certainly one of the first to try to explain vampire/zombie behavior in scientific terms, using a viral pandemic to explain its origins. Night of the Living Dead (1968) captured the spirit of I Am Legend so well, even though it was not a direct adaptation, that together these two classics have provided the basic framework for almost every post-apocalyptic undead story and movie since.
Other Matheson novels turned into notable films include A Stir of Echoes (1958) (filmed in 1999), The Beardless Warriors: A Novel of World War II (1967) (as The Young Warriors (1967)), Hell House (1971) (as The Legend of Hell House (1973)), World Fantasy Award winner Bid Time Return (1974) (as Somewhere in Time (1980)), and What Dreams May Come (1977) (filmed in 1998).
Matheson, born in 1926, is still alive and writing. His novel Other Kingdoms was published in early 2011 to positive reviews. The soon to be published anthology Steel: And Other Stories contains the short story basis for the upcoming Real Steel (2011) (previously adapted for Twilight Zone (1963)). The collection also includes “The Splendid Source” (1956) used as the basis of an episode of The Family Guy (2010).
A remake of The Incredible Shrinking Man is scheduled for 2012. A couple of other film projects based on Matheson’s works are in pre-production.
Do yourself a favor and pick up one of Richard Matheson’s books. This prolific writer deserves wider recognition.