Currently celebrating his sixtieth year as a professional writer, Richard Matheson made his first sale to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, which published his classic “Born of Man and Woman” in the Summer 1950 issue. At 84, he is now at the center of a publication flurry that would be the envy of an author half his age, including both a new novel, Other Kingdoms, due from Tor/Forge Books this coming March, and a new short story, “The Window of Time.” Reportedly somewhat autobiographical, the latter appears—aptly—in the September-October issue of F&SF, their first new Matheson story since “Girl of My Dreams” in October of 1963.
Gauntlet Press, which has released many Matheson rarities, recently assembled a number of his hitherto unpublished or hard-to-find works in Matheson Uncollected: Volume Two. Yours truly has helped to document his career in unprecedented detail in The Richard Matheson Companion (revised and updated as The Twilight and Other Zones: The Dark Worlds of Richard Matheson) and the forthcoming Richard Matheson on Screen. And his influence on a generation of writers is attested to by the list of distinguished contributors to Christopher Conlon’s He Is Legend: An Anthology Celebrating Richard Matheson, which is newly available from Tor in a trade edition.
Matheson’s long and fruitful relationship with Tor dates back to the publication of his novel 7 Steps to Midnight as one of the first titles under the Forge Books imprint in 1993. Since then it has encompassed several other new novels (Now You See It…, Hunted Past Reason), collections (Nightmare at 20,000 Feet; Duel; Button, Button), and even a work of nonfiction (The Path: A New Look at Reality), in addition to reissues of limited editions and classic works. Coinciding with the recent Will Smith version, Tor’s tie-in edition of I Am Legend hit #2 on the New York Times bestseller list, giving Matheson the best sales of his career for a fifty-three-year-old novel.
Although it has been some years since one of Matheson’s own scripts was produced, his work continues to provide Hollywood with material, the half-billion-dollar success of I Am Legend being but the most conspicuous example. Screen versions have been announced of “Death Ship” (formerly filmed on the original Twilight Zone, and currently planned as a feature, Countdown), Earthbound, and a second comedic remake of The Incredible Shrinking Man. Now in production for release in 2011, Real Steel is based on “Steel,” also a memorable Twilight Zone episode, with Hugh Jackman and Evangeline Lilly (LOST) as its stars and with Steven Spielberg among its producers.
Matheson, who resists pigeonholing in any genre, has stated that he would be happy to have the phrase “Richard Matheson—Storyteller” on his tombstone; he and his work have received such diverse honors as the Bram Stoker, Christopher, Edgar Allan Poe, Golden Spur, Hugo, World Fantasy (“Howard”), and Writers Guild of America Awards. His novels range from Westerns (Journal of the Gun Years) and crime (Noir: Three Novels of Suspense) to young adult (Abu and the 7 Marvels) and mainstream fiction (The Beardless Warriors). Matheson’s comedic side is seen in such stories as “The Splendid Source” (recently adapted on Family Guy) and films as The Raven.
Similarly, Matheson’s dual careers as both author and screenwriter show that he is not bound by any particular format: novels and short stories, fiction and nonfiction, film and television. If that didn’t already qualify him as a veritable “king of all media” (pacé Howard Stern), it is hoped that his long-overdue conquest of the stage will soon begin with a musical version of his cult classic Somewhere in Time. Matheson’s ubiquity in popular culture manifests itself in everything from collectibles to parodies and in-jokes on The Bernie Mac Show, Futurama, Saturday Night Live, 3rd Rock from the Sun, and at least four of the “Treehouse of Horror” episodes of The Simpsons.
Obviously, there is a wealth of Matheson material that we can potentially cover in these posts, which we’ll aim to run once or twice a week for the foreseeable future, and we welcome your comments regarding subjects you’d like to see explored. Since my area of expertise is his screen career, including adaptations of his work by others, I’ll obviously concentrate my own efforts there, but we’ll also try to throw some better-known voices into the mix and, down the road, to speak with the man himself regarding his “overnight success.” For our first installment we look at the various screen versions of Matheson’s seminal 1954 novel I Am Legend and its influences.
Headshot of Richard Matheson by Beth Gwinn
Matthew R. Bradley is the author of Richard Matheson on Screen, due out any minute from McFarland, and the co-editor—with Stanley Wiater and Paul Stuve—of The Richard Matheson Companion (Gauntlet, 2008), revised and updated as The Twilight and Other Zones: The Dark Worlds of Richard Matheson (Citadel, 2009). Check out his blog, Bradley on Film.