Richard Matheson
Matheson in 2008
Matheson in 2008
BornRichard Burton Matheson
(1926-02-20)February 20, 1926
Allendale, New Jersey, U.S.
DiedJune 23, 2013(2013-06-23) (aged 87)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Pen nameLogan Swanson[1]
  • Novelist
  • short story writer
  • screenwriter
Alma materUniversity of Missouri
GenreScience fiction, fantasy, horror
Notable works
Notable awardsWorld Fantasy Award for Life Achievement, Bram Stoker Award for Lifetime Achievement, Science Fiction Hall of Fame (2010)
Ruth Ann Woodson
(m. 1952)

Richard Burton Matheson (February 20, 1926 – June 23, 2013) was an American author and screenwriter, primarily in the fantasy, horror, and science fiction genres.

He is best known as the author of I Am Legend, a 1954 science fiction horror novel that has been adapted for the screen three times. Matheson himself was co-writer of the first film version, The Last Man on Earth, starring Vincent Price, which was released in 1964. The other two adaptations were The Omega Man, starring Charlton Heston, and I Am Legend, with Will Smith. Matheson also wrote 16 television episodes of The Twilight Zone, including "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet", "Little Girl Lost" and "Steel", as well as several adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe stories for Roger Corman and American International PicturesHouse of Usher, The Pit and the Pendulum, Tales of Terror and The Raven. He adapted his 1971 short story "Duel" as a screenplay, directed by Steven Spielberg as the television film of the same name that year.

In addition to I Am Legend and Duel, nine more of his novels and short stories have been adapted as motion pictures: The Shrinking Man (filmed as The Incredible Shrinking Man), Hell House (filmed as The Legend of Hell House), What Dreams May Come, Bid Time Return (filmed as Somewhere in Time), A Stir of Echoes, Steel (filmed as Real Steel), and Button, Button (filmed as The Box). The movie Cold Sweat was based on his novel Ride the Nightmare, and Les seins de glace (Icy Breasts) was based on his novel Someone Is Bleeding. Both Steel and Button had previously been episodes of The Twilight Zone.

Early life

Matheson was born in Allendale, New Jersey, to Norwegian immigrants Bertolf and Fanny Matheson. They divorced when he was eight, and he was raised in Brooklyn, New York, by his mother. His early writing influences were the film Dracula (1931), novels by Kenneth Roberts, and a poem which he read in the newspaper Brooklyn Eagle,[2] where he published his first short story at age eight.[3] He entered Brooklyn Technical High School in 1939, graduated in 1943, and served with the Army in Europe during World War II; this formed the basis for his 1960 novel The Beardless Warriors.[2][4] He attended the Missouri School of Journalism at the University of Missouri, earning his BA in 1949, then moved to California.[2][3]


1950s and 1960s

His first-written novel, Hunger and Thirst, was ignored by publishers for several decades before eventually being published in 2010, but his short story "Born of Man and Woman" was published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction's summer 1950 issue, the new quarterly's third issue,[1] and attracted attention.[3] It is the tale of a monstrous child chained by its parents in the cellar, written in the form of the creature's diary and using non-idiomatic English. Later that year, Matheson placed stories in the first and third issues of Galaxy Science Fiction, a new monthly.[1] His first anthology of work was published in 1954.[3] Between 1950 and 1971, he produced dozens of stories, frequently blending elements of the science fiction, horror, and fantasy genres.

He was a member of the "Southern California Sorcerers" group in the 1950s and 1960s, a collective of west coast writers which included Charles Beaumont, Ray Bradbury, George Clayton Johnson, William F. Nolan, Jerry Sohl, and others.[5]

Matheson's first novel to be published, Someone Is Bleeding, appeared from Lion Books in 1953.[1] In the 1950s, he published a handful of Western stories (later collected in By the Gun), and in 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.

His other early novels include The Shrinking Man (1956, filmed in 1957 as The Incredible Shrinking Man, again from Matheson's own screenplay) and a science fiction vampire novel, I Am Legend (1954, filmed as The Last Man on Earth in 1964, The Omega Man in 1971, and I Am Legend in 2007). In 1960, Matheson published The Beardless Warriors, a non-fantastic, 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.

Matheson wrote teleplays for several television programs, including the Westerns Cheyenne, Have Gun – Will Travel, and Lawman.[6] He also wrote the Star Trek episode "The Enemy Within" (1966). However, he is most closely associated with the American TV series The Twilight Zone, for which he wrote more than a dozen episodes,[6] including "Steel" (1963), "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" (1963), "Little Girl Lost" (1962), and "Death Ship" (1963). For all of his Twilight Zone scripts, Matheson wrote the introductory and closing statements spoken by creator Rod Serling.[7] He adapted five works of Edgar Allan Poe for Roger Corman's Poe series, including House of Usher (1960), The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), and The Raven (1963).[3]

For Hammer Film Productions, he wrote the screenplay for Fanatic (1965; US title: Die! Die! My Darling!), starring Tallulah Bankhead and Stefanie Powers and based on the novel Nightmare by Anne Blaisdell; he also adapted for Hammer Dennis Wheatley's The Devil Rides Out (1968).[3]

1970s and 1980s

In 1971, Mattheson's short story "Duel" was adapted into the TV movie of the same name. In 1973, Matheson earned an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for his teleplay for The Night Stalker (1972), one of two TV movies written by Matheson, the other being The Night Strangler (1973), which preceded the TV series Kolchak: The Night Stalker. Matheson worked extensively with Curtis; the 1977 television anthology film Dead of Night features three stories written for the screen by Matheson: "Second Chance" (based on the story by Jack Finney); "No Such Thing as a Vampire" (based on Matheson's story of the same name); and "Bobby", an original script written for this anthology by Matheson.

Three of his short stories were filmed together as Trilogy of Terror (1975), including "Prey" (initially published in the April 1969 issue of Playboy magazine), a tale of a Zuni warrior fetish doll. The doll later reappeared in the final segment of the belated sequel to the first movie, Trilogy of Terror II (1996), and "Bobby" from Dead of Night was refilmed with different actors for the second segment of the film.

Other Matheson novels adapted into films in the 1970s include Bid Time Return (1975, released as Somewhere in Time in 1980), and Hell House (1971, released as The Legend of Hell House in 1973), both adapted and scripted by Matheson himself.

In the 1980s, Matheson published the novel Earthbound, wrote several screenplays for the TV series Amazing Stories, and continued to publish short fiction.


Matheson published four Western novels in this decade, as well as the suspense novel Seven Steps to Midnight (1993) and the darkly comic locked-room mystery novel Now You See It ... (1995), dedicated to Robert Bloch.

He also wrote the screenplays for several movies, including the comedy Loose Cannons (1990) and the television biopic The Dreamer of Oz: The L. Frank Baum Story (1990), as well as a segment of Twilight Zone: Rod Serling's Lost Classics (1994) and segments of Trilogy of Terror II. Matheson continued to write short stories, and two more of his novels were adapted by others for the big screen: What Dreams May Come (1998) and A Stir of Echoes (1999, as Stir of Echoes). In 1999, Matheson published a non-fiction work, The Path, inspired by his interest in psychic phenomena.[3]

21st century

Many previously unpublished novels by Matheson appeared late in his career, as did various collections of his work and previously unpublished screenplays. He also wrote new works, such as the suspense novel Hunted Past Reason (2002)[8] and the children's illustrated fantasy Abu and the 7 Marvels (2002).


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Several of Mattheson's stories, including "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 20 or 30 pages. Some tales, such as "The Doll that Does Everything" (1954) and "The Funeral" (1955), incorporate satirical humor at the expense of genre clichés, and are written in bombastic prose that differed 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 those of scientists and superheroes, in situations which are at once futuristic and quotidian. Still others, such as "Mad House" (1953), "The Curious Child" (1954) and "Duel" (1971), are tales of paranoia, in which the commonplace environment of the present day becomes inexplicably alien or threatening.

Sources of inspiration

Matheson cited specific inspirations for many of his works. Duel was derived from an incident in which he and friend Jerry Sohl were dangerously tailgated by a large truck on the same day as the assassination of John F. Kennedy.[3]

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."[9]

Personal life and death

In 1952, Matheson married Ruth Ann Woodson, whom he met in California. They had four children:[2] Bettina Mayberry, Richard Christian, Christopher Matheson and Ali Marie Matheson. Richard, Chris, and Ali became writers of fiction and screenplays.

Matheson died on June 23, 2013, at his home in Calabasas,[10] California, at the age of 87.[11][12][13]


Matheson received the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement in 1984 and the Bram Stoker Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Horror Writers Association in 1991. The Science Fiction Hall of Fame inducted him in 2010.[14][15]

At the annual World Fantasy Conventions, he won two judged, annual literary awards for particular works: World Fantasy Awards for Bid Time Return as the best novel of 1975 and Richard Matheson: Collected Stories as the best collection of 1989.[14][16]

Matheson died just days before he was due to receive the Visionary Award at the 39th Saturn Awards ceremony. As a tribute, the ceremony was dedicated to him and the award was presented posthumously. Academy president Robert Holguin said, "Richard's accomplishments will live on forever in the imaginations of everyone who read or saw his inspired and inimitable work."[17]


Other writers

Stephen King has listed Matheson as a creative influence, and his novels Cell (2006) and Elevation (2018) are dedicated to Matheson, along with filmmaker George A. Romero. Romero frequently acknowledged Matheson as an inspiration and listed the shambling vampire creatures that appear in The Last Man on Earth, the first film version of I Am Legend, as the inspiration for the zombie "ghouls" he envisioned in Night of the Living Dead.[18]

Anne Rice stated that Matheson's short story "Dress of White Silk" was an early influence on her interest in vampires and fantasy fiction.[19]


After his death, several figures offered tributes to his life and work. Director Steven Spielberg said:

Richard Matheson's ironic and iconic imagination created seminal science-fiction stories and gave me my first break when he wrote the short story and screenplay for Duel. His Twilight Zones were among my favorites, and he recently worked with us on Real Steel. For me, he is in the same category as Bradbury and Asimov.[20]

Another frequent collaborator, Roger Corman, said:

Richard Matheson was a close friend and the best screenwriter I ever worked with. I always shot his first draft. I will miss him.[21]

On Twitter, director Edgar Wright wrote, "If it's true that the great Richard Matheson has passed away, 140 characters can't begin to cover what he has given the sci fi & horror genre." Director Richard Kelly added, "I loved Richard Matheson's writing and it was a huge honor getting to adapt his story 'Button, Button' into a film. RIP."[22]



Short stories

Short story collections


For television films, see Television section below.



Further reading


  1. ^ a b c d e Richard Matheson at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFDB). Retrieved April 13, 2013.
  2. ^ a b c d "Richard Matheson Biography: Author, Screenwriter (1926–2013)". (FYI and A&E Networks). Archived from the original on September 13, 2015. Retrieved September 29, 2015.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Hawtree, Christopher (June 25, 2013). "Richard Matheson obituary". London. Retrieved June 26, 2013.
  4. ^ Sammon, Paul M. (October 1979). "Richard Matheson: Master of Fantasy". Fangoria (2): 26–29, 52 – via Internet Archive.
  5. ^ Conlon, Christopher (October 31, 1999). "Southern California Sorcerers". Rod Serling Memorial Foundation. Retrieved October 31, 2012.
  6. ^ a b Weber, Bruce (June 25, 2013). "Richard matheson, Writer of Haunted Science Fictionand Horror, Dies at 87". New York Times. Retrieved June 26, 2013.
  7. ^ Alexander, Chris (March 2011). "The Legend of Richard Matheson". Fangoria. New York City: The Brooklyn Company, Inc. (301): 47. ... the things Serling said at the beginning and the end, in the wraparounds, which I wrote. I wrote all the wraparounds to my Twilight Zone episodes.
  8. ^ Miska, Brad (November 4, 2009). "What Screams May Come: A Look at the Legendary Richard Matheson". Bloody Disgusting.
  9. ^ Ebert, Roger (1989). Roger Ebert's Movie Home Companion (1990 ed.). Andrews McMeel Publishing. p. 419]. ISBN 978-0836262407.
  10. ^ Bernstein, Adam (May 18, 2023). "Prolific author Richard Matheson, 87, wrote novels, screenplays, 'Twilight Zone' episodes". Washington Post. Retrieved August 18, 2023.
  11. ^ "Richard Matheson (1926–2013)". Locus Publications. June 24, 2013. Retrieved June 25, 2013.
  12. ^ Kellogg, Carolyn (June 24, 2013). "'I Am Legend' Author Richard Matheson Has Died at 87". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 24, 2013.
  13. ^ "Richard Matheson: Sci-Fi Author Dies Aged 87". Sky News. June 25, 2013. Retrieved June 25, 2013.
  14. ^ a b "Matheson, Richard". The Locus Index to SF Awards: Index of Literary Nominees. Locus Publications. Archived from the original on August 4, 2011. Retrieved April 13, 2013.
  15. ^ "Science Fiction Hall of Fame". Experience Music Project and Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on March 25, 2010. EMP SFM is proud to announce the 2010 Hall of Fame inductees: ...
  16. ^ "Award Winners and Nominees". World Fantasy Convention. Archived from the original on December 1, 2010. Retrieved February 4, 2011.
  17. ^ Barton, Steve (June 25, 2013). "2013 Saturn Awards to Present Richard Matheson's Visionary Award Posthumously". Dread Central. Retrieved February 20, 2023. The tribute anthology He Is Legend was published by Gauntlet Press in 2009."He Is Legend: An Anthology Celebrating Richard Matheson". Gauntlet Press. Retrieved February 20, 2023.
  18. ^ Christie, Deborah; Lauro, Sarah Juliet (2011). Better Off Dead: The Evolution of the Zombie as Post-Human. Fordham University Press. p. 67. ISBN 978-0-8232-3447-9.
  19. ^ Brettauer, Kevin (June 28, 2013). "'Entering the Unassailable Fortress of Forever': As a Writer, Richard Matheson Was 'One for the Books'". MTV. Retrieved February 20, 2023.
  20. ^ Wilson, Bo (June 25, 2013). "I am Legend writer Richard Matheson dies aged 87". Evening Standard. Retrieved June 26, 2013.
  21. ^ Olsen, Mark (June 24, 2013). "'I Am Legend' writer Richard Matheson's legacy of smart sci-fi". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 26, 2013.
  22. ^ Tobin, Christian (June 24, 2013). "Richard Matheson dies:Tributes paid to I am Legend, Twilight Zone Icon". Digital Spy. Retrieved June 26, 2013.
  23. ^ Price, Alfred (June 29, 2013). "10 Best Richard Matheson Film & TV Adaptations". WhatCulture. Retrieved February 20, 2023.