Sunday, November 28, 2010

Richard Matheson - The Original Stories: The Twilight Zone and other Contemporary Magazines

by John Scoleri

In the first nine parts of this ongoing series, I looked at Richard Matheson's short fiction appearances in Playboy, the Sci-Fi Pulps, the Mystery Digests, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Gauntlet Chapbooks and the first, second, third and fourth groups of Science Fiction Digests. With today's installment, we look at the original magazine publications that came in the last 30 years, a relatively dry spell for his short fiction output (in fact, the majority of the stories published in this period had been written much earlier in his career).
The Original Stories - Part 10: The Twilight Zone and other Contemporary Magazines

"And Now I'm Waiting"
Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone Magazine
April 1983

Subsequent appearances: Off Beat: Uncollected Stories

Editorial Comment: Novelist-screenwriter-Twilight Zone veteran Richard Matheson has been the subject of our only two-part TZ interview; he was also one of the judges of last year's short story contest, and appeared here in June with a hitherto-unseen Twilight Zone TV script, "The Doll." In this issue you'll find a more familiar Matheson script—"A World of His Own"—as well as the never-before-published short story on which it's based. His most recent assignment: screenplay work on Steven Spielberg's forthcoming Twilight Zone film.

Story Comment: The chilling study of a writer's satanic imagination—a tale later transformed into the Twilight Zone comedy "A World of His Own." 

Editor's Note: Many Twilight Zone episodes were adapted from short stories, some published, some still in manuscript. What's unique about Richard Matheson's "And Now I'm Waiting" is that it started out as a horror tale, but was turned into a comedy when Matheson adapted it for the TV series. We asked the author about the circumstances of its creation. He writes:
It is not clear in my memory whether I submitted the actual short story manuscript to Rod and Buck (series producer Buck Houghton) or whether I submitted an outline based on the story—which, incidentally, has never been published before. I do recall that they liked the premise but not the approach, feeling that the story was too melodramatic for them. It was decided—again, memory fails and I do not recall whose suggestion it was originally—to elect for a comedic approach. I'm glad we did. It was one of my favorites of The Twilight Zone segments I wrote; the cast was perfect and Ralp Nelson's directorial touch just right. Also, I believe that it was the only TZ episode in which one of the characters broke in on Rod's final narration and altered it.
Illustration by David Klein
Matheson's author photo for all of these Twilight Zone appearances

"Blunder Buss"
Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone Magazine
April 1984

Subsequent appearances: Off Beat: Uncollected Stories

Editorial Comment:"Blunder Buss" presents this master of terror in a distinctly lighter mood.

Story Comment: It was easy to reach paradise. All you had to do was close your eyes and pucker up.

Illustration by Randy Jones

"Getting Together"
Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone Magazine
June 1986

Subsequent appearances: Matheson Uncollected Volume 2

Editorial Comment: One of the laughs that launched an issue was evoked by Richard Matheson's "Getting Together," one of the wildest renditions of true devotion I know. Here are lovers truly willing to do anything for each other. Matheson, the creator of the classics I Am Legend and The Shrinking Man, as well as many original TZ teleplays such as "Nightmare at 20,0000 Feet," has proven himself a man for all media over the years.

His impressive film credentials include the tv movies Duel (directed by Steven Spielberg in a stunning debut), The Night Stalker, and Trilogy of Terror, as well as scripts for The Incredible Shrinking Man (based on his own novel) and Somewhere in Time (based on his novel Bid Time Return).

Matheson speaks of his current work—typically a variety of projects in a variety of fields—in "A Richard Matheson Update." And he speaks with a sense of quiet wonder about his son, the writer and producer, as well as his other decidedly creative children.

Story Comment: It was just a silly mistake—nothing to worry about. But why were so many people getting killed?
Illustration by Semyon Bilmes
 Notes: This 'Matheson special' issue of The Twilight Zone contains interviews and fiction by both Matheson and his son R.C. ("Cancelled"), aong a great cover photo of the pair by J. Stephen Hicks.

"Person to Person"
Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone Magazine
April 1989

Subsequent appearances: I Am Legend & Others, Matheson Uncollected Volume 2

Editorial Comment: "The means by which the human mind attempts to deal with its problems can be infinite." So says a character in this issue's keynote story "Person to Person," a rare treat from Richard Matheson, author of more than twenty of the original Twilight Zone's most popular episodes. As it turns out, most of the stories in this, our Eighth Anniversary issue, turn on the power of the human mind to alter reality—not always in pleasant ways. "Person to Person" is only Matheson's second work of short fiction in more than seventeen years. Recently, he's devoted himself almost entirely to the movies. In fact, he and his author son Richard Christian Matheson, are currently working together on a new adventure film.

Story Comment: Someone is trying to reach out and touch Mister David Millman. What's in question is not so much what the caller wants, but where he's calling from, and—perhaps more important—who the caller is.
Illustration by Peter Scanlon

"Shoo Fly"
November 1988

Subsequent appearances: The Shrinking Man & Others

Editorial Comment: If you're looking for a diversion that will curl your hair, try reading Richard Matheson's "Shoo Fly" (page 50). When a harried businessman and not-so-innocent fly do battle, who wins?

Story Comment: People under pressure let themselves get bent out of shape over the oddest, not to mention smallest, things.

Painting by Bernard Durin

Notes: Oddly enough, despite appearing alongside The Shrinking Man in the TOR edition of that book, this tale remains uncollected in the Gauntlet volumes of collected and uncollected stories.

Cemetery Dance
Issue #31, 1999

Subsequent appearances: Off Beat: Uncollected Stories

Editorial Comment: Richard Matheson is the author of the classic I Am Legend, Hell House, The Shrinking Man, and countless others. One of The Twilight Zone's most prolific contributors, his most recent book is a collection of those scripts just published by CD.

Illustration by Gleen Chadbourne

Vice Magazine
December 2009

Subsequent appearances: Steel & Other Stories

Editorial Comment: The term “living legend” gets tossed around without qualification all the time, but we think that the 83-year-old genius who literally wrote the horror classic titled I Am Legend has more than earned it. That book, such a good, taut, scary story in its original form, has been made into three movies. The first one came out in 1964, but we’ve never seen it. The second, The Omega Man, came out in 1971 and is entertaining because Charlton Heston chews his way through it like a rabid dog. The most recent adaptation, I Am Legend starring Will Smith, was pretty much an abortion. Here’s an illustrative example of what’s wrong with it: The vampires in the original novel, though vampires, communicate like humans. In fact, they line up outside our hero’s house every night and call to him. In the 2007 film, the vampires are basically fifth-rate Chris Cunningham monsters that run around shrieking and spitting, and they look more like aliens than ex-humans. Basically, the filmmakers traded eerie for FX. Bad idea. And so the novel remains a classic that has yet to really get its due in the fine, noncorrupt land of cinema.

Just about every horror, fantasy, and science-fiction writer since the 1950s bears Matheson’s legacy in some way. His ideas are pervasive in the genres. He is also the author of
What Dreams May Come, Duel (the basis for Steven Spielberg’s first feature film), A Stir of Echoes, The Shrinking Man, the scripts for some of the best Twilight Zone episodes to ever scare the crap out of you when you were little, the great short story that that dumb new movie The Box is based on, and more, more, more. If our praise isn’t enough, Stephen King and Anne Rice claim Richard as a primary influence. So there, it’s a wrap.

Now, to come to the point, the esteemed Richard Matheson has graced us with an original short story—his first for a magazine in about ten years. Richard is a man of few words, and he was afraid that talking too much about the story would give away its ending. “What you could say,” he told us, “is that Dr. Morton, working late, receives a very strange visitor at his office—and let it go at that.”

Notes: You are invited to read the entire story at Vice Magazine: “DR. MORTON’S FOLLY” - By Richard Matheson - Vice Magazine.

There's more to come! Stay tuned for future installments of Richard Matheson - The Original Stories.

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