Sunday, September 26, 2010

Richard Matheson - The Original Stories: The Playboy Years

As you might have guessed (or will guess soon enough), the topics Peter and I tend to write about the most are those near and dear to our hearts. So while Peter will sing sweet music to those of you who love digests of years gone by, I'll jump in for the occasional piece on a passion of my own. In this case, Richard Matheson. 

Having been a devoted fan since that summer Saturday years ago when I sat down and read Richard Matheson's I Am Legend in a single sitting, I've gone on to amass a near complete collection of his body of work. This includes a library of his first edition hardcovers (save the Chamberlain Press Born of Man and Woman... oh yes, one day you will be mine), all of his US paperbacks, what I claim to be the largest collection of editions (100+) of I Am Legend from around the world (at least until someone steps forward and proves me wrong), and a near complete collection of the first appearances of his original short fiction. That is what I plan to focus on in this series of articles.

My goal is to include basic bibliographic information, cover shots and interior illustrations where possible, and a listing of the subsequent Matheson collections in which the stories appeared. I plan to interject other bits of trivia along the way, and if there's anything in particular you'd like to see, please let me know by posting a comment. -John Scoleri

The Original Stories - Part One: The Playboy Years

While Matheson's first published short story ("Born of Man and Woman") appeared in the Summer, 1950 issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction, I have decided to kick things off with Matheson's nine contributions to Playboy.

Matheson was a regular contributor to Playboy during two separate eras.  Five stories were published between 1956-1960, when author Ray Russell was executive editor. Matheson returned with four more more stories between 1969-1971, when Robie Macauley was the fiction editor.

"The Splendid Source"
May 1956, Vol. 3 No. 5

Subsequent appearances: Collected Stories HC, Shock!, Collected Stories TP v2

Playboy Editorial Comment:
Ever wonder where dirty jokes come from? The rich humor that is too blue for any printed page? A fellow tells you a joke some other fellow told him. But who told that other fellow? And if you could trace the joke all the way back to its source — what would you find? That's the fascinating puzzle Richard Matheson sets himself to solving in his highly amusing story, "The Splendid Source." And having traced the bawdy jest back to its beginnings (surely a noble endeavor), Dick is now busying himself counting the cabbage he recently made by converting his forthcoming novel, The Incredible Shrinking Man, into a motion picture script.

Illustratror unknown
Notes: Matheson's first appearance in the magazine was alongside his longtime friend and collaborator, Charles Beaumont, whose story "The Monster Show" also graces this issue.

"A Flourish of Strumpets"
November 1956, Vol. 3 No.11

Subsequent appearances: Collected Stories HC, Shock II, Button, Button, Collected Stories TP v2 

Playboy Editorial Comment:
Richard Matheson — the guy who traced dirty jokes to their origin in "The Splendid Source" (Playboy, May, 1956) — leads off this issues with "A Flourish of Strumpets," a story of the day after tomorrow, when the oldest profession adopts the newest of sales techniques. 

Illustrator unknown
Notes: Matheson's author photo appears for the first time this issue.

"The Distributor"
March 1958, Vol. 5 No. 3

Subsequent appearances: Collected Stories HC, Shock!, The Shrinking Man & Others, Darker Places, Duel & The Distributor, Collected Stories TP v2

Playboy Editorial Comment:
Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? Not only The Shadow: Richard Matheson knows, too, and has set it all down in this month's disturbing lead-off story, "The Distributor," illustrated by Robert Christiansen. Matheson (who authored "The Splendid Source" and "A Flourish of Strumpets" in previous Playboys) has just returned from England where he wrote a film script based on his own haunting novel, I Am Legend.

Illustration by Robert Christiansen
Notes: F. Paul Wilson wrote an interesting sequel ("Recalled") to this story for the recently released Matheson tribute anthology, He Is Legend. Matheson once again had his photo included amongst the contributors.

"No Such Thing As A Vampire"
October 1959, Vol. 6 No. 10

Subsequent appearances: Collected Stories HC, Shock II, Bloodlines, Button, Button, Collected Stories TP v3

Playboy Editorial Comment:
Fiction, this month, is in the hands of Playboy favorites. Richard Matheson, author of "The Distributor" (it copped the annual $1000 Best Fiction Bonus and appears in the forthcoming The Permanent Playboy), offers the grim and Gothic "No Such Thing As a Vampire." Matheson may well be considered an authority on vampires, having written a modern classic in the genre, the novel I Am Legend

Illustration by Jurgens
Notes: The story was adapted in 1968 for the first episode of the BBC show Late Night Horror. Dan Curtis also included Matheson's own adaptation in his pilot for  a proposed anthology TV series, Dead of Night. The version on DVD includes footage deleted from the broadcast version. It's interesting to note that The Permanent Playboy is favorably reviewed in this very issue.

"First Anniversary"
July 1960, Vol. 7 No. 7

Subsequent appearances: Collected Stories HC, Shock III, Collected Stories TP v3

Playboy Editorial Comment:
No newcomers are Playboy-favorites William Iverson, T.K. Brown III, Richard Matheson and John Wallace, all represented this month by top-drawer writing.

Illustration by Rothkin
Notes: This story was adapted by Matheson's daughter Ali for the 90s incarnation of The Outer Limits.

April 1969, Vol. 16 No. 4

Subsequent appearances: Collected Stories HC, Shock Waves, I Am Legend & Others, Collected Stories TP v3

Playboy Editorial Comment:
A regular contributor to filmdom is Richard Matheson—represented herein by "Prey," a macabre fable about a fetish doll that refuses to play dead. Matheson wrote the screenplay for DeSade (you'll have an advance look at it in the June Playboy), which was recently filmed in Berlin.

Illustration by Martin Hoffman
Notes: One of Matheson's greatest short stories, and certainly one of the most memorable thanks to the effective adaptation by the author for Dan Curtis' Trilogy of Terror (with Karen Black facing off against the terrorizing Zuni fetish doll). Infamous in that it was the only segment Matheson adapted  for the show (the other two were written by William F. Nolan, who had his chance—and blew it—when he wrote the (un)original He Who Kills segment for Trilogy of Terror II). Joe R. Lansdale contributed a sequel of his own ("Quarry") to He Is Legend. What sounded like a perfect pairing—Lansdale's unique style and everyone's favorite Zuni—unfortunately didn't have much to add to the mythos.

After a 9 year absence, Matheson also got a new author photo.

"By Appointment Only"
April 1970, Vol. 17 No. 4

Subsequent appearances: Collected Stories HC, The Shrinking Man & Others, Collected Stories TP v3

Playboy Editorial Comment:
Master of the macabre Richard Matheson wrote his voodooistic yarn "By Appointment Only" in one sitting, after a visit to his local babershop. Matheson's last spellbinder for Playboy, "Prey," (April 1969), is included in his forthcoming collection of stories, Shock IV.

Illustration by John Craig
Notes: Shock IV was ultimately released as Shock Waves. Matheson also got another new photo.

"Button, Button"
June 1970, Vol. 17 No. 6

Subsequent appearances: Collected Stories HC, The Shrinking Man & Others, Button, Button, Collected Stories TP v3

Playboy Editorial Comment:
Two rather far-out tales round out June's fiction offerings—Richard Matheson's "Button, Button" and Patrick McGivern's "Number Eight." The former concerns a couple tempted by the moral-philosophy paradox of getting rich by willing the death of an unknown person.

Illustration by Gene Szafran
Notes: "Button, Button" was adapted for the 1980s incarnation of The Twilight Zone, where the bounty was raised from $50,000 in 1970 dollars to $200,000. The stakes were raised to $1,000,000 for the 2009 Richard Kelly film The Box, however no sum warrants sitting through that particular adaptation of Matheson's story. Gary Braunbeck wrote an interesting follow up to the story ("Everything of Beauty Taken from You in This Life Remains Forever") for He Is Legend.

The author photo this time out appears to be another shot from the prior photo session.

April 1971, Vol. 18 No. 4

Subsequent appearances: Collected Stories HC, The Shrinking Man & Others, Duel & The Distributor, Duel: Terror Stories, Button, Button, Collected Stories TP v3

Playboy Editorial Comment:
Even eerier than telepathy is the perception that dawns gradually—and terrifyingly—on the hero of Richard Matheson's "Duel," who is pursued by a mysterious adversary seemingly bent on highway homicide.

Illustration by Bill Arsenault

Notes: Brilliantly adapted by Matheson for Steven Spielberg's excellent TV movie starring Dennis Weaver. Stephen King and his son, the incredibly talented Joe Hill, contributed their own riff on Matheson's classic tale ("Throttle") to He Is Legend. Not surprisingly, it's one of the standout stories in the book.

Matheson's latest author photo, again from the same shoot as the prior two.

This is only the beginning... stay tuned for future installments of Richard Matheson - The Original Stories!


Walker Martin said...

I remember reading Matheson in Playboy. I didn't mind looking at the girls but the real reason I read Playboy was for the outstanding fiction and art. Of course no one believes me when I say I read Playboy for the stories...

Todd Mason said...

Pity how few stories they had by a certain point in the '70s...and even fewer now (and how little reason there is to read the magazine now, with Alice Turner long gone as their last fiction editor. I have a copy of the "By Appointment Only" issue.

Matthew Bradley said...

A fine start to what promises to be an excellent series...although I'm understandably unnerved to be learning of this just as I'm about to launch a series of Matheson posts on! Hope we don't tread on each other's toes too often. Two additional trivia bits of possible interest: "The Splendid Source" was "adapted" (in the same sense that THE BOX was an "adaptation" of "Button, Button") into an eponymous episode of FAMILY GUY, which originally aired on May 16, 2010. "The Distributor" has been adapted into not one but two unproduced feature-length speculative screenplays. The first was written by Matheson himself c. 1965 and appears (along with the story and afterwords by Matheson and myself) in DUEL & THE DISTRIBUTOR, which I edited for Gauntlet in 2004; the second was by Paul Schrader. For further information, see my book RICHARD MATHESON ON SCREEN (, tentatively due out in early October.

Matthew Bradley said...

Addendum: Matheson's DISTRIBUTOR script is also available in the more economical collection VISIONS DEFERRED. And, for the record, Ali adapted "First Anniversary" along with her husband, Jon Cooksey.

John Scoleri said...

Anyone who actively studies Matheson will already be very familiar with Matthew Bradley's work, from his introductions to Gauntlet's limited editions of Hell House, I Am Legend and the aforementioned Duel & The Distributor; his introduction to the G&G Books Matheson omnibus Noir: Three Novels of Suspense; and the indispensable Richard Matheson Companion aka The Twilight and Other Zones: The Dark Worlds of Richard Matheson, which he co-edited with Stanley Wiater and Paul Stuve.

I have been eagerly awaiting Matthew's book Richard Matheson on Screen for some time now, and you can bet you'll be hearing more about that here once it's out.

Fans of bare•bones will definitely want to check out Matthew's blog: BRADLEY ON FILM.

Peter Farris said...

That was a most excellent and informative read, John, especially as I'm about to revisit Hell House for the first time since I was a youngin'.

One of my favorite memories is of Dad and Mr. Matheson chatting at an HWA event in Burbank back in '08. It was a brief, friendly conversation, but they both had this twinkle in their eyes I can't quite explain.

I imagine the feeling I had was similar to a baseball fan at the ballpark, watching Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio bullshit before batting practice.

Unknown said...

Does anybody know if some of these stories were also translated for a German Playboy-issue?

John Scoleri said...

I don,t know, Björn, but hopefully one of our readers might.