MATHESON, Richard (Burton)

MATHESON, Richard (Burton)
   US author of stories, novels and filmscripts, initially thought of as primarily an sf writer but from the 1960s increasingly recognized as one of the most significant modern creators of terror and fantasy in both fiction and film. He began publishing sf with "Born of Man and Woman" for The MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION in 1950. He had regarded thisas a simple terror story but, on finding it praised as sf, decided to cash in on the then-current sf boom. He included most of his best early work in Born of Man and Woman (coll 1954; with 4 stories cut vt Third from the Sun1955). The famous title story tells in affecting pidgin English of a terrifying MUTANT child and of his break towards a kind of freedom (CHILDREN IN SF). The element of terror in the tale nearly overrides aperfunctory sf base, as in his first sf novel, I Am Legend (1954; vt The Omega Man: I Am Legend 1971), a post- HOLOCAUST story in which only oneman remains unaffected by a bacterium that induces vampirism (SUPERNATURAL CREATURES). RM scripted the first film version of this, L'ULTIMO UOMO DELLA TERRA (1964; vt The Last Man on Earth) but, angered by the rewrite of his script, used the pseudonym Logan Swanson for his screenplay credit; he was not responsible for the script of the second film version, The OMEGA MAN (1971). He did, however, adapt The Shrinking Man (1956), his second sf novel, as The INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957),which won a 1958 HUGO; indeed, he sold it to Universal only on condition that he could write the screenplay, thus gaining an entry into the film business. This novel uses an sf component to shape the story of a man who, after exposure to radiation and insecticide, begins to shrink inexorably to microscopic size (GREAT AND SMALL). RM's next major commission was for the tv series The TWILIGHT ZONE in 1959; all told, 14 of his scripts appeared in the series.In 1960 he wrote the screenplay for the first of Roger CORMAN's adaptations of horror stories by Edgar Allan POE, The Houseof Usher (1960; vt The Fall of the House of Usher UK), and subsequently he scripted a number of fantasy/horror films, once in collaboration with Charles BEAUMONT, for Corman and other directors: The Pit and the Pendulum(1961), Tales of Terror (1962), Night of the Eagle (1962; vt Burn Witch Burn) - based on Conjure Wife (1953; vt Burn Witch Burn 1962) by Fritz LEIBER, screenplay written with Beaumont - The Raven (1963), The Comedy of Terrors (1963), Fanatic (1965), The Devil Rides Out (1968) and De Sade (1969). His tv work has included several scripts for STAR TREK and later for ROD SERLING'S NIGHT GALLERY. He also scripted a number of made-for-tv feature films, by far the best being Duel (1971), from his own story; the film was Stephen SPIELBERG's first significant work as a director, and was given theatrical release in the UK. Others included The Night Stalker (1972) and The Night Strangler (1973) (KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER), DyingRoom Only (1973), Dracula (1973), Scream of the Wolf (1974), The STRANGER WITHIN (1974) and The MARTIAN CHRONICLES (1979). His script with William F. NOLAN for the tv movie Trilogy of Terror (1975) was based on three of his own stories. Of his feature-film scripts, that for MASTER OF THE WORLD (1961) is the most obviously sciencefictional. Hispsychological-cum-supernatural melodrama Hell House (1971) was filmed as The Legend of Hell House (1973), again with his own screenplay. Here, too,there are borderline sf elements; indeed, RM's entire career has cross-fertilized sf with HORROR.Further volumes of stories with some sf interest are The Shores of Space (coll 1957) and Shock! (coll 1961; vt Shock I: Thirteen Tales to Thrill and Terrify 1979), though the lattervolume's successors, Shock II (coll 1964), Shock III (coll 1966), Shock Waves (coll 1970) and Shock 4 (coll 1980 UK), are primarily assemblages offantasy stories. The 86 stories assembled in Richard Matheson: Collected Stories (coll 1989) cover his career 1950-71. A fantasy, Bid Time Return(1975; vt Somewhere in Time 1980), once again powerfully utilizes devices from sf (in this case TIME TRAVEL) in a story whose emotional satisfactions are not dependent on a successful sf resolution of the problems that arise; it was filmed as Somewhere in Time (1980) from his own script, and was later assembled with What Dreams May Come (1978) as Somewhere in Time/What Dreams May Come: Two Novels of Love and Fantasy(both texts rev, omni 1991). The latter novel, an afterlife fantasy, shares with its predecessor a carefully controlled pathos occasionally reminiscent of Robert NATHAN. Earthbound (1982 as by Logan Swanson; text restored as by RM 1989 UK) is a ghost story. RM has also written some short fiction - including "Where There's a Will" (1980) - in collaboration with his son Richard Christian MATHESON. Though RM cannot be considered as in any primary sense an sf writer, his influence as one of the "liberators" of magazine sf in the early 1950s keeps his name vividly inmind.The dominant theme in RM's work has always been PARANOIA, whether imagined in GOTHIC or in sf terms. In Duel a truck inexplicably attacks a car; in Dying Room Only a woman's husband disappears in a motel toilet but no one will believe her; though the pregnancy in The Stranger Within did not result from infidelity, that is the way it seems to the woman's sterile husband. I Am Legend (one man against a world of vampires) is, in its obsessive images of persecution, perhaps the very peak of all paranoid sf.
   Other works: A Stir of Echoes (1958); Through Channels (1989 chap); Journal of the Gun Years (1992), The Gunfight (1993), By the Gun (coll 1994) and Shadow in the Sun (1994), all Westerns; 7 Steps toMidnight (1993), a thriller.As Editor: The Twilight Zone: The Original Stories * (anth 1985), with Martin H. GREENBERG and Charles G. WAUGH.
   About the author: Richard Matheson: He is Legend: An Illustrated Bio-Bibliography (1984 chap) by Mark Rathbun and Graeme Flanagan.

Science Fiction and Fantasy Encyclopedia. . 2011.

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