Saturday, September 12, 2020

Richard Matheson versus Oscar Hammerstein!

by John Scoleri

Only the most devout followers of Richard Matheson are aware of his desire to be a songwriter. A collection of his lyrics was published in 2011 (solely as a Kindle e-book) with the following description:

Few of Richard Matheson's readers know that he had hopes for writing popular music. At a very early age, Matheson taught himself how to write sheet music, but his family could not afford art supplies and so he had to give up composition. But music never left his mind and when Matheson found a creative new outlet through his writing (cheaper than music, requiring only a pencil and paper), he quickly began composing both prose stories as well as poetry. He picked up music composition again at the age of seventeen, adding music to his poems.

At the end of 1949, Matheson had yet to see his first short story published (it would be another six months before "Born of Man and Woman" would blow the minds of readers of the Summer 1950 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fictionthe first of his 20 appearances in the magazine!).

In the December 3rd issue of the Saturday Review of Literature, Matheson came across an article titled "Where the Song Begins" by Oscar Hammerstein (who along with composer Richard Rodgers was riding high on the Broadway successes of Oklahoma!, Carousel, and South Pacific [The King and I and The Sound of Music still to come!]). The article had enough of an impact on Matheson that he was moved to write the following letter to the editor, which was published in the January 7, 1950 issue:


The editors reached out to Hammerstein for a response, whose letter followed Matheson's in the magazine:


It's probably safe to assume that Matheson wasn't expecting to read a response from Hammerstein himself, but it makes for an interesting historical anecdote so early in the up and coming writer's career!

Personally, I'm thankful that Richard Matheson didn't have a hugely successful songwriting career. I can't imagine trading any one of the following in exchange for a few great songs: I Am Legend, The Shrinking Man, Hell House, Bid Time Return ... let alone the countless short stories, teleplays and screenplays we might have otherwise been deprived of!

Matheson wasn't the only one driven to write in response to Hammerstein's article — Tess Huff (also of New York) suggested a clever way to test the lyricist's theory...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Fascinating! Readers may be interested to know that Matheson finally had the last laugh when he wrote the lyrics for two songs recorded by Perry Como and composed by his music director, Matheson’s friend and neighbor Nick Perito: the title track to Como’s 1982 album I Wish It Could Be Christmas Forever and “Do You Remember Me.”