Tag Archives: Richard Matheson

Interview: Jason V Brock on The Twilight Zone and The Group

George Clayton Johnson and Charles Beaumont, circa 1960. Illustration by Henry Chamberlain

George Clayton Johnson and Charles Beaumont, circa 1960. Illustration by Henry Chamberlain

Editor’s Note: If you are heading out to Comic-Con, and you wish to learn more about what we covered in this interview, go to a special panel, “Star Trek 50th Anniversary and George Clayton Johnson Tribute,” on Thursday, July 21st, 9:00 – 10:30 PM. Room: 9 upstairs inside San Diego Convention Center. Having written the first aired Star Trek episode, “The Man Trap,” George has secured his place within Star Trek as much as Twilight Zone.

Jason V Brock is a filmmaker, writer, editor, and artist. For this interview, I draw from Jason’s extensive knowledge of golden age television and pop culture. Among his work in film, he is known for his documentary on the writer Charles Beaumont (1929-1967), which is a rich source for our talk. At the same time, Brock’s academic work is just as compelling. I consider Jason a friend in the entertainment industry: we both share a certain sensibility. I hope you enjoy this concise version our geeking out on George Clayton Johnson and related things. We were both en route to a special tribute for screenwriter George Clayton Johnson that took place this February. So, it all makes sense.

In this interview, we’re chatting about that golden time in television that was “The Twilight Zone.” This is digging deeper into the background of the show and its key talent. For this talk, we’re focusing on George Clayton Johnson along with other members of what became known as “The Group,” which met from the early 1950s to the mid-1960s. Within that gathering of writers, the leader was Charles Beaumont. Some writers from The Group went on to write for The Twilight Zone.

HENRY CHAMBERLAIN: Jason, talk about Charles Beaumont, who remains something of a mystery: a great writer on the rise, dead at age 38. And then let’s shift to George, who also remains a mystery.

JASON V BROCK: There’s an interview with Charles Beaumont that was conducted by George Clayton Johnson. It was for a show called, “The Author and the Story.” And Beaumont recites from “My Fair Lady.” We include some of that in the documentary. If you can find that interview, it is well worth seeking out. Beaumont’s illness is a mystery. It does seem to come down to two possibilities: Alzheimer’s disease or Pick’s disease. I tend to think it was Pick’s disease as it fits in with what we know about Beaumont’s activity as he declined: slow and halting speech; a greater amount of impulsivity. What Beaumont’s friends believed was the main cause of Beaumont’s premature death was his routine use of Bromo-Seltzer, which had aluminum, a cause of dementia.

During this time that Beaumont was declining in health, he and George had a falling out. George was trying to figure out a new project. And they had a sort of disagreement. But, after a while, they mended fences. It was during that time that George discovered what was happening to Beaumont. Keep in mind that these were still young guys. The dementia started for Beaumont at around age 33.

Now, George will always remain a mystery. He was an enigmatic individual to be sure. A lot of people don’t know this but he was an underwear model for a time. He did whatever to make ends meet. He was, as he liked to say, “a dog without a collar.” He wanted to do things his way and succeed on his own terms. He was punk rock before that became a thing, and I admire that about him. He was a very intelligent person. He only had an eighth grade education. He was born in a barn in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He went through many phases. He was a beatnik and then became enthralled with hippiedom, and that aspect never left. He was a vegetarian. And he was involved with supporting the legalization of marijuana. Politically, he had more of a Libertarian ideal. He was also mercurial, open to new ideas, never crystallized in his mindset.

Ray Bradbury asked, “Who can explain the mystery of personality?” And I think George fits that perfectly. You could ask him one thing and he would answer back with the most unexpected things.

There was that aspect of overcoming the odds for George and his feeling a need to prove himself.

I look at The Group and think of it as the atom with Charles Beaumont as the nucleus. They’re all in different shells around Beaumont. The atom blew apart once the nucleus was gone. Everyone went in different directions. In the hierarchy, Beaumont was at the top. But, beyond that, in relation to success, was Richard Matheson in a role as mentor. Then there was Ackerman and Bradbury who were relatively older. What’s interesting is that Nolan and Johnson told me that they felt they were lowest on the totem pole in relation to the group. However, Nolan and Tomerlin were, in fact, closest to Beaumont. And then George was next to them.

George was more responsible. The three others did as they pleased. They would go to Monaco and crash a dinner for Princess Grace. They loved Grand Prix racing. They would run off and do all these things at the drop of a hat. Go hang out with Ian Fleming. George stayed home with his family. Richard Matheson stayed home with his family. George was one of the few who bought his house. He bought it early on and lived the rest of his life there. He hungered for that stability and security.

Considering those four core members, tell us more about John Tomerlin.

What’s interesting about him is that he was a catalyst for a number of things. He started in radio and that was his big love. He wasn’t really interested in television or film. The rest of the group dragged him into that. He was interested in competing and conquering. He was feisty. He became a bridge champion, and pilot. He was mostly in love with the Norman Corwin school of writing for radio. That’s like saying today that you’d like to write like the original Twilight Zone when we’re in the midst of Kardashian cult TV. It ain’t gonna happen!

Share with us more about other members of The Group. They seem to fade into the background and yet they’re all interesting in their own ways. There’s Chad Oliver, for instance, he seems pretty obscure but I come to find that he had his cult following.

Well, Chad Oliver really did enjoy science fiction. I don’t think that was where Beaumont’s heart was. It’s weird that Johnson and Nolan would think they were lowest on the totem pole since that was not true. After you move past the core, there are the top ten. Altogether, you could say there were thirty writers associated with The Group. If you’re thinking conceptually, outside of Bradbury, Beaumont was most influential closely followed by Richard Matheson. And then, after that, Nolan.

After that, it depends, as you give merit on a story by story basis. Stylistically, Beaumont was at the top. Followed by Nolan, and then Johnson. I would place Matheson at the bottom, as a stylist. His writing was very direct; he was not an atmospheric writer. His ideas and his characterizations are his strengths, and his novel way of looking at the universe. While Beaumont’s writing was more rich, a lot more substance to his delivery. Bill Nolan was a lot like that too, especially early in his career. Later in his career, his writing is more like Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler or Hemingway. He started in the style of Bradbury, as did Beaumont. George also emulated Bradbury. And then they moved on. Bill did a lot of television with Dan Curtis. Mathewson wrote a tremendous amount for television and film, beginning with Roger Corman. His writing lent himself to screenplays. He wrote about a hundred short stories and then switched to novels.

Talk more about the dynamics of what was going on behind the scenes of The Twilight Zone: Rod Serling and Ray Bradbury.

The Group would not have happened if not for Rod Serling. It was Serling who was the big shot in television. Ray Bradbury wanted to do that too. Serling came from the East Coast and steeped in great television, like Paddy Chayefsky. Bradbury has his side of the story of what caused the great rift between them–and we cover that in our documentary. I can see that it was jealously at play: Bradbury wanted what Serling had. But, The Twilight Zone, in fact, was always on precarious ground. Then there’s Night Gallery which left Serling without creative control which he regretted very much. Writers from The Twilight Zone went on to write for Star Trek and for Night Gallery. Nolan and Johnson both wrote a number of scripts for consideration on Star Trek. And, it was Johnson who wrote the first Star Trek episode aired, “The Man Trap.”

I can understand how Ray Bradbury would have felt that he could have done a better job than Rod Serling, even if that was not the case.

Bradbury would have directly said that. Serling got to the point too describing Bradbury’s style as best for the page and not the screen. Bradbury is more in line with Edgar Alan Poe. And that is more of an internal mode of writing. It is very difficult to transfer that onto a script. On the other hand, you can say Serling’s writing can be very talky. The modern equivalent to Serling would be Aaron Sorkin. Your mind is just snapping and crackling to that kind of writing. Serling was very much like that on his work for Playhouse 90.

Clusters of writers do crop up. You think of The Lost Generation Expats in Paris, The Lovecraft Circle, The Beats, The Group. It’s very hard, if not impossible, to form this bond online. You need that human connection.

Rod Serling is quite fascinating. And he did know what he was doing even if he had not been known for science fiction and fantasy prior to The Twilight Zone.

Yes, he had always been reading in the field. He had always been interested in science fiction and fantasy, reading it since he was a boy. He just didn’t have an outlet for it yet. He wasn’t a prose writer, that wasn’t his form of writing. He started in radio, just like John Tomerlin. Serling started writing from his direct experience in the war. He was in the Pacific during World War II. I recommend a memoir by Anne Serling, “As I Knew Him,” about her father. It is very well written. She describes how her dad wrote initially in a diary form to help him overcome PTSD. This would lead him to radio and, with his clipped style of talking, he was a natural for it. Later, he wins a writing contest for television. The writer who came in second was Earl Hamner Jr., who would go on to write a number of Twilight Zone episodes.

Indulge me and go even further into the background of the writing for The Twilight Zone. For one thing, everyone involved was hip to Weird Fiction.

If you break it down, story by story, what these writers were most interested in was Magical Realism. They didn’t really call it that back then in the United States. Bradbury had that aspect. Serling definitely had it. When you start looking at other writers from The Group, John Tomerlin and Jerry Sohl were much more interested in serious and realistic stories. So, it comes down to Nolan, Matheson, Beaumont, and Johnson.

They all loved F. Scott Fitzgerald. They all loved Hemingway. They could not help but admire Hemingway as he was the big force in writing at the time. Hemingway had that succinct style that fit right in with their interest in noir. They tapped into the Magical Realism in Faulkner. They all loved Poe. And they all loved Bradbury and wanted to follow in his footsteps and write for the pulps. Beaumont loved Lovecraft. He loved Dalton Trumbo’s “Johnny Got His Gun.” Had Beaumont lived, he would have pursued more work with social commentary similar to Rod Serling. It’s very interesting as to how it all came together as it did. It is something I’d like to write about in the future.

Thank you, Jason. As always, a pleasure. I look forward to our next conversation.

Same here, Henry.

Keep up with Jason V Brock by visiting his website for his work and that of his wife, Sunni K Brock, right here.

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Filed under Charles Beaumont, Comic-Con, George Clayton Johnson, Hollywood, Interviews, Jason V. Brock, movies, Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Rod Serling, Star Trek, The Twilight Zone, William F. Nolan, writers, writing

DVD Review: HOURS

Paul Walker Hours

“Hours” is a film that has an offbeat dynamic and unusual level of suspense that brings to mind something like Steven Spielberg’s “Duel.” There are elements of horror to this and, much like “Duel,” this is a story about a man, out of his element, forced to keep his wits and survive. One added wrinkle: our hero, Nolan (played by Paul Walker), has just lost his wife, Abigail (played by Genesis Rodriguez) while she was giving birth during Hurricane Katrina. More to the wrinkle: Nolan ends up being left behind while everyone at the hospital evacuates. He must remain with his premature baby who will need a ventilator for the next 48 hours, thus the title, “Hours.” And we’re just getting started.

It was Richard Matheson who perfected a thinking man’s horror with such work as “I Am Legend” and “The Shrinking Man.” These stories pivot upon a lone man in a life or death situation, at war with his environment–whether it’s vampires or giant spiders. The situation begins dire and gets more and more complicated. Does the character even have a decent chance of survival? No, so his life keeps flashing before him, and his senses sharpen, as he contends with one gut-wrenching challenge after another. That’s exactly what is happening in “Hours.” This 2013 film is the directorial debut for Eric Heisserer who is a writer on the rise in Hollywood. This film is his first opportunity to direct one of his scripts and you sense that attention to detail, to composition, and consistency. Nolan is totally trapped in the fight of his life–and his newborn daughter.

There is an undeniable added layer of significance with the acting talents of Paul Walker who sadly passed away in 2013. At the heart of this film is a story about how to respond to a disaster. Paul Walker was part of a relief team responding to the earthquakes in Haiti in 2010. That led him to found Reach Out WorldWide (ROWW), an organization of skilled volunteers responding to post-disaster situations. That energy and commitment is indelibly marked on every frame of this engaging film.

You’ll be seeing a lot more of Eric Heisserer’s work in the coming months. One fine example is “Lights Out,” screenplay by Heisserer, out in theaters 22 July 2016 (USA). And, you better believe it, this looks like a really scary horror movie. Currently, Denis Villeneuve is directing Heisserer’s Black List script “Story of Your Life” for Paramount Pictures, starring Jeremy Renner and Amy Adams. “Story of Your Life,” is a sci-fi thriller based on the short story by acclaimed author Ted Chiang.

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Filed under Disaster, Disaster Movies, Eric Heisserer, Horror, Horror Movies, Movie Reviews, movies, New Orleans, Paul Walker, Richard Matheson, Steven Spielberg

Interview: William F. Nolan and the True Meaning of Fiction

William F. Nolan and Ray Bradbury

William F. Nolan and Ray Bradbury

Great fiction comes from all over: horror, dark fantasy, mystery, and so on. William F. Nolan writes in various genres. You may know him from his work with Dan Curtis, such as the classic horror film, “Burnt Offerings.” Or perhaps you know him from co-writing, with George Clayton Johnson, the classic dystopian novel, “Logan’s Run.” Mr. Nolan has gained great recognition and won numerous awards and honors. Just last year he was named the Grand Master at the World Horror Convention in Atlanta. In this interview, we spend a good time chatting about horror as well as fiction in general. And we definitely visit the subject of the Southern California Sorcerers, otherwise known simply as The Group.

"Burnt Offerings" from 1976

“Burnt Offerings” from 1976

During our conversation, Bill shared a very special moment regarding his friend and fellow writer, George Clayton Johnson, who passed away this last Christmas. He offers up for us a picture of a fresh-faced, and beaming, young George bursting upon the scene, circa 1957. He has shown up at a meeting of The Group and asks if he may join in with the illustrious and ambitious writers. Someone asks George what he has to show for himself. And, George, just having received his box of author copies, proudly shows the men what he’s been up to. “Hey guys,” George says, “I co-wrote this really cool thing called, ‘Ocean’s Eleven!'” And the rest is history!

This interview was conducted Monday, February 22nd. William F. Nolan is going strong, just shy of his 88th birthday on March 6th. If you love a good story, or if you are an aspiring writer yourself, or if you’d like to know something about the Sixties zeitgeist, then this interview is for you. In the span of about twenty minutes we cover a lifetime of observations and insight.

Henry Chamberlain: Thank you for getting together with me, Bill. I wanted to cover the writer’s life with you in this interview. First off, a good horror story has been compared to placing a frog in gradually boiling water. What can you tell us about the boiled frog method of storytelling?

William F. Nolan: Allow me to veer off a bit from the boiled frog to tell you how I approach telling a story. Really, how I tell a story is like the other night when I was in bed, half asleep and half awake, a state where I get all of my ideas. I was thinking of these deadly flowers. They had the power to stop the human heart. They were alive and, if you didn’t treat them right, they could turn against and stop your heart. There’s this couple who decide to rent this place on the beach. It looks like a great place. The owner lets them know that they have to take care of these special flowers but the couple ignore him, they don’t do it. And they end up being killed by the flowers. Their dead bodies are found on the beach. That’s how I form an idea for a story. I get an opening in my head for the concept and then I get the ending. Finally, I fill in the middle. That’s how I write a horror story, or any other kind of story.

Discoveries Best of Horror and Dark Fantasy edited by James R. Beach and Jason V Brock

Discoveries Best of Horror and Dark Fantasy edited by James R. Beach and Jason V Brock

HC: There’s a story of yours, “Stabbed by Rob,” in the recently published collection of dark fantasy from Dark Discoveries, edited by James R Beach and Jason V Brock. That story is a perfect example of that boiled frog method. There are a number of touches of humor, including your mentioning a glow-in-the-dark statue of Jesus. And the story keeps turning up the heat to the very last sentence.

WFN: Well, I believe you really can’t get away without some humor in a horror story. Horror is too stark, raw, and unflinching. You need to be able to live in it. You’ve got to lighten it with some humor. All my horror stories have elements of humor. You need to let the reader breathe. You can’t go from the first page to the last and do straight horror. That’s the problem with H. P. Lovecraft for me. Lovecraft has no sense of humor. He was a brilliant writer. He was a brilliant innovator. But no sense of humor. By the time you finish “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” you’re exhausted. I want my readers to relax a little, to breathe, and have a good chuckle while they’re being frightened. That’s my method of writing horror.

HC: I’m glad that you mention Lovecraft because I’ve had difficulty with him too. Your adaptation with Dan Curtis of Robert Marasco’s 1973 novel, “Burnt Offerings,” has just the right touches of humor at the start, and they give way to a more sinister mood. There’s a balance.

WFN: Yes, that was adapted from the Marasco novel which had no humor whatsoever. I told Dan Curtis, who directed, and produced the film with me, that we were going to need to lighten up the material because it was too stark. I’m glad that you appreciate the humorous elements in the film. As I say, I just don’t think you can do horror without lightening it up a little bit.

HC: Then there’s Ray Russell’s work. Perhaps more of a touch of elegance than humor. I love the way Ray Russell masterfully brings up a lot of pretty grim stuff in his work. He knows what to leave in and what to mostly imply. I’m thinking of “Sardonicus,” “Sagittarius,” and “Sanguinarius.”

WFN: Ray Russell was one of my closest friends for years. We would talk about how to write in terms of horror. And we both agreed on the same thing that you’ve got to put some humor into it in order to lighten the whole thing. I love Ray’s work. He passed on some years back. He would be happy to hear that you enjoy his work.

Just Part of The Group: Charles Fritch, Chad Oliver, Charles Beaumont, Richard Matheson, and William F. Nolan, circa 1954.

Just Part of The Group: Charles Fritch, Chad Oliver, Charles Beaumont, Richard Matheson, and William F. Nolan, circa 1954.

HC: There were all of these amazing writers that you got to be close with in social settings and in work sessions. All of you together were the Southern California Writer’s Group.

WFN: There were eleven of us. We didn’t think of ourselves as anything special. We were all trying to make a living, pay the rent, pay the mortgage, stay afloat. We wrote science fiction and fantasy in a modern vein. We took it away from the Lovecraftian type of fiction and wrote a modern type. It was sort of pioneered by Richard Matheson and Ray Bradbury who were part of our group. We all worked from the same principle: you can do modern horror but it has got to be something that people can believe in. It has to be realistic. It should happen today, in somebody’s kitchen. It could happen in a kitchen. You don’t have to go to a haunted castle, back in Transylvania, to have horror. Horror can happen on your doorstep. Horror can be a terrorist with a submachine gun that sprays lead over you while you’re eating in a restaurant. That’s horror. Horror takes many forms. We all tried to work within that scope.

Yeah, eleven of us. Matheson, Bradbury, myself…Charles Beaumont was sort of the hub of the thing. We had Jerry Sohl. We had Robert Bloch, known for “Psycho.” We’d all gather together at each other’s houses, at all-night coffeeshops and talk shop, editors, and markets. We were quite a group. All these years later, people look back on us as pioneers in the field. And that’s nice but, at the time, we were just trying to make a buck, just trying to make a living.

HC: Well, sure, you guys were so close to it all. You would need to stand back to see it clearly. What you guys did was take gothic literature and give it a modern cool. That’s essentially it.

I AM LEGEND by Richard Matheson

I AM LEGEND by Richard Matheson

WFN: Yeah. I still think that you can credit Richard Matheson for a lot of that. Stephen King said that he was influenced more by Richard Matheson, than any other author, because he took horror out of the castle and brought it into the kitchen. And I agree with him. We all tried to do that. We all felt that was the way to go. We weren’t interested in something ancient. We wanted something real, something of today.

HC: You list eleven members of The Group. Was there any time that all eleven of you met under one roof?

WFN: Three or four of us were into auto racing. Richard Matheson, Jerry Sohl, and Robert Bloch didn’t care at all about that. But Charles Beaumont, John Tomerlin, and myself were heavily into Grand Prix sports car racing both here and in Europe. We actually flew to Monte Carlo one year for the Grand Prix. And we went to Sebring Raceway in Florida for the races there. The Beaumont kitchen in North Hollywood, his upstairs kitchen, is where most of us would meet. George Clayton Johnson was part of that group too. We would meet there. But there was never a meeting of all eleven of us at one time. It was three or four of us at at time at different places. We’d go to movies together. We’d meet in coffeeshops.

Musso and Frank Grill

Musso and Frank Grill

HC: I imagine that you guys enjoyed Musso and Frank Grill.

WFN: We loved Musso and Frank Grill. It has all that history: Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and William Faulkner. The murals never changed. The seats are the same. When you’re sitting there, it’s like you’ve gone back in a time machine. We loved it. I still love it. I love to go whenever I’m in L.A.

HC: You touched upon George. I have to say that I can imagine that he loved the fact that he got to pass away on Christmas Day. Such a magical thing. Such an act of will.

WFN: That was no accident. He was ill. He was in hospice care for about a week before that happened.

HC: Oh, yeah.

WFN: The doctors were saying that he could go at any minute but George, subconsciously, since he couldn’t verbalize it at that stage, was saying that the doctors couldn’t tell him when he was going to die. He was always an independent guy. He was saying: “I want to die on Christmas Day since that was the birthday of Rod Serling, who made me famous for my writing for The Twilight Zone.” He was able to die three days past when he was expected to die. He was able to fool all the doctors. That was no accident.

George Clayton Johnson and William F. Nolan, circa 1957

George Clayton Johnson and William F. Nolan, circa 1957, illustration by Henry Chamberlain

HC: Yes, that’s what I meant. I was honored to interview George a number of times and got to meet him in person. Would you share with us a little more of the flavor of the era and a picture of George at one of these bull sessions at The Group that may come to mind?

WFN: Four or five of us were sitting in the living room of the upstairs apartment of Charles Beaumont one night. There was a knock at the door. This is around 1957. The Group was around from the ’50s to ’60s. So, there’s a knock at the door. We open the door and there’s George Clayton Johnson with a package under his arm. He said, “I’m George Clayton Johnson. I want to join you guys. I want to be with you. I’ve heard about you and I want to join you.” Someone asked, “Are you a writer?” He said, “Yes, I am,” and he held up the package, “It’s called, ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ and I just sold it to Frank Sinatra!” That’s what got him started with The Group.

HC: That’s beautiful. I wanted to ask you about the literary tradition that The Group worked from. I’m sure that Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mary Shelly, all the gothic writers, were subjects of conversations for all of you.

WFN: You can’t write out of a vacuum. We’re all influenced by other people. Ray Bradbury was influenced by Herman Melville, William Shakespeare, and George Bernard Shaw. We were influenced more by such horror writers as Arthur Machen and Algernon Blackwood. I started out reading H.G. Wells’s “The Time Machine” and “War of the Worlds” when I was a boy growing up in Kansas City, Missouri. And then I discovered Bradbury and Weird Tales. Ray Bradbury and I became close friends and that lasted 50 years. We’re all standing on the shoulders of other people. We all read Hawthorne and Robert Louis Stevenson. We were influenced by them but we wanted to take our fiction into a modern setting and move it forward and I believe we succeeded.

Photo by Ralph Morris, Hollywood Blvd. 1960

Photo by Ralph Morris, Hollywood Blvd. 1960

HC: I wanted to close out by asking if you could give us a little more of a flavor of Los Angeles in the ’50s and ’60s. I can just imagine: you had the ghost of Raymond Chandler; old Hollywood giving way to new Hollywood; Forey Ackerman and the rise of geek culture. L.A. in the Sixties, it doesn’t get much better than that.

WFN: I read Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, the hard-boiled school, James M. Cain. I’ve read books on Chandler and Hammett. I’m a big hard-boiled fan. Los Angeles was a hard-boiled city in those days. Dashiell Hammett glorified San Francisco. But Los Angeles was also part of that era where corruption ruled in high places. It was a violent and colorful era captured beautifully by Raymond Chandler. If you read the work of Raymond Chandler, you’re learning a lot about Los Angeles as he experienced it.

I can tell you that there was a lot of smog. I used to live in Burbank, right against the mountains. The smog was terrible. I did move around different parts of Los Angeles. It changed quite a lot during the many years I was there. It’s not the same city that it used to be.

HC: I love Los Angeles and love looking for signs of yesteryear. They’re around if you know where to look for them.

WFN: If you go to Pasadena, there’s the old bridge that Raymond Chandler wrote about in one of his novels. The bridge that Philip Marlowe drove over at night. It’s still standing there. I wrote a piece entitled, “Marlowe in Los Angeles.” I toured all the places he used to go to, including Musso and Frank Grill. Chandler was an insatiable researcher, always moving around, and usually within the greater Los Angeles area. He grew to know it beautifully. Hammett made San Francisco famous with “The Maltese Falcon.” Chandler did the same for Los Angeles with “The Big Sleep.”

HC: I wish you a great year ahead, Bill. Any projects we can look forward to soon?

WFN: I had a collection of my poetry come out last year. This year we’ll have a new collection of my essays. I’m working on a new collection of short stories. I just wrote three new stories this month. So, even though I’ll be turning 88, I feel like I’m still 28.

HC: I can feel the energy. Thanks again, Bill.

WFN: I really enjoyed this. Thank you.

You can listen to the podcast interview by just clicking the link below:

Keep up with William F. Nolan at his website right here.

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Filed under Charles Beaumont, George Clayton Johnson, Interviews, Jason V. Brock, Richard Matheson, Rod Serling, Sci-Fi, science fiction, The Twilight Zone, William F. Nolan, writers, writing

Review: IDW’s THE SHRINKING MAN

Matheson Shrinking Man IDW

IDW’s graphic novel adaption of Richard Matheson’s classic 1956 novel, “The Shrinking Man,” holds up very well. Ted Adams, IDW’s CEO and Publisher, has written a script that is faithful to the novel and to the unique pace of comics. Mark Torres (Judge Dredd) provides artwork that zones right into the stifled suburban living of 1950s America. Our main character, Scott Carey, cannot cope with his environment in an extraordinary way: Scott is regressing, reverting, literally shrinking away! No more life as husband, father, breadwinner, and symbol of masculinity. He is going, going, gone. Adams says it was a thrill to bring the novel to the comics page and it shows.

Ted Adams IDW Richard Matheson

Richard Matheson is an exceptionally vivid writer. He has you experiencing every detail, whether it is a man attempting to survive a vampire apocalyse as in “I Am Legned” or a man confronting a demented truck driver as in “Duel.” Whatever it is, you will believe and be on the edge of your seat as you read it. In this case, the Matheson meticulous attention to detail is focused upon Scott Carey, reducing in size by 1/7” per day. The story alternates between the early stages of Carey’s condition and once he’s near the end, stuck in a cellar, and easily food for a spider.

Matheson Shrinking Man IDW

This book includes an introduction by Peter Straub and an afterword by David Morrell. I read the singles which included Morrell’s afterword which explores the novel’s existential underpinnings. Morrell discusses the 1942 philosophical essay, “The Myth of Sisyphus,” where Camus compares daily life to eternally pushing a boulder around a dial. The essay was translated into English in 1955 and Morrell considers if Matheson may have read it. If not, then perhaps it was one of those concepts in the air. And, most certainly, existential ideas were not foreign to Matheson.

Ted Adams Richard Matheson

I believe that Matheson did not care for being labeled a genre writer at all because of how the term is lobbed at writers in a pejorative sense. What the Morrell afterward makes clear is that Matheson was working at a sophisticated level no matter what you call his writing. According to Morrell, Matheson was breaking new ground by including existential themes in a mainstream novel. On top of that, Matheson’s narrative structure, with its flashbacks within flashbacks, predates widespread use of metafiction techniques by some thirty years.

Richard Matheson Shrinking Man

I believe that to label Matheson as a genre writer is very problematic. The actual writing in the 1956 novel, “The Shrinking Man,” is not particularly elegant, per se, but that can be said of any number of so-called “serious” writers. That said, even at this early stage of his career, Matheson does reach lyrical heights. In fact, Matheson reaches a perfect hard-boiled, yet metaphysical, pitch with this novel. Ultimately, as IDW’s Ted Adams states, reading Richard Matheson is time well spent.

THE SHRINKING MAN has recently been collected into a 104-page trade paperback, priced at $17.99. For more details, visit our friends at IDW right here.

You can also get the complete 4-part series through Amazon right here.

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Filed under Comics, Comics Reviews, IDW Publishing, Richard Matheson, writers, writing

Review: ‘Reading Richard Matheson: A Critical Survey’

"I Am Legend" by Richard Matheson

“I Am Legend” by Richard Matheson. Illustration by Henry Chamberlain.

The work of Richard Matheson (1926-2013) is certainly suitable for in-depth analysis. It is through an academic lens that you can plumb such insights as the one about the recurring nemesis in Matheson’s groundbreaking novel, “I Am Legend.” As Charles Hoge describes, in this first survey of its kind, the neighbor-turned-vampire who repeatedly taunts the protagonist is part of a literary tradition dating back hundreds of years. Instead of being hidden away in Bavarian castles, vampires were known to call out their victims from their own village. It is a simple distinction like that which Matheson runs with to create one of the most influential books in pop culture.

It was this seismic shift from monsters in castles to monsters in the suburbs that would change everything and influence everyone from George Romero to Stephen King. Yes, you can thank Richard Matheson for the zombie apocalypse. He essentially invented it with his 1954 horror novel, “I Am Legend.” Well, there’s more to it. And you can dig deeper in this first ever substantial study, “Reading Richard Matheson: A Critical Survey,” edited by Cheyenne Mathews and Janet V. Haedicke, published by Rowman & Littlefield.

The original “I Am Legend” novel is an elegant and tightly written work. Our protagonist, Robert Neville, must figure out, with Sherlockian exactitude, what has brought about a world-wide pandemic of vampires. It is a prime example of work from the first phase of Matheson’s career. The theme here is man as victim of his own environment. By the time of Matheson’s work on the landmark television series, The Twilight Zone, his theme has broadened to man as victim of his own making. Within these two themes, a multitude of work can be examined. It is with this survey that we receive an essential collection of serious thought on a writer who Stephen King has ranked with Poe and Lovecraft.

In a piece that focuses on the noir character of The Twilight Zone, Cheyenne Mathews demonstrates both Matheson’s artistry and how well The Twilight Zone holds up to critical scrutiny. Cheyenne writes: “Through science fiction tropes of time travel, alternate realities, and new technologies, Matheson emphasizes the physical and social displacement that afflicted both men and women during the attempted postwar return to normality.” And, in describing what is considered the most noir Twilight Zone episode, “Night Call,” Mathews writes: “The second act of the episode conflates Elva’s personal anxieties with her social alienation, as she becomes increasingly disconnected from the other characters, who attempt to downplay her distress.” Of course, there is Matheson’s most celebrated TZ episode, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” but, as Mathews makes clear, it is part of a bigger picture. Outside of Rod Serling, who wrote the majority of scripts, Matheson wrote the most episodes and they were all gems.

A man of his time, and ahead of his time, Richard Matheson has secured a place for himself within not only great science fiction, horror, and fantasy, but great fiction in general. Ultimately, Matheson’s work strikes a universal chord. We can explore the specific era he worked in and how he spoke to concerns of postwar paranoia and shifting gender roles; and, like Kafka, we can place him within some of the most eloquent writers on the human condition. Matheson was weary of being labeled a genre writer. Perhaps one of his fellow writers and friends, George Clayton Johnson, summed it up best when he said of Matheson that he was one of the “serious storytellers whose works were artful gems of wisdom fiction.”

“Reading Richard Matheson: A Critical Survey” is essential reading for anyone interested in understanding the origins of today’s pop culture at a deeper level and gaining a greater appreciation of the work of Richard Matheson.

Richard-Matheson-Twilight-Zone

“Reading Richard Matheson: A Critical Survey” is a 262-page hardcover published by Rowman & Littlefield.

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Filed under fantasy, George Clayton Johnson, Horror, Richard Matheson, Rowman & Littlefield, Sci-Fi, science fiction, The Twilight Zone

Kickstarter: VOYAGER – A Sci-Fi Series Based On Events From A Near Future

Voyager-sci-fi-tv-show

The most innovative and realistic TV series about space exploration and extra-terrestrial life – because we want to believe.

Check out a most deserving Kickstarter campaign. VOYAGER is a new breed of sci-fi television set in the present day and using real science.

VOYAGER is also new in that it welcomes your input. It has launched as of today, August 8th. Visit the campaign right here.

So real, it will inspire your belief in sci-fi. It is also the first network-bound narrative TV series to welcome crowdsourcing and fan endorsement at the most strategic and determining stage of its development.

Among many compelling elements to this show, the connection to science fiction and real science is very appealing. Have you read about the possibility of finding life on Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons? That is one of the missions that VOYAGER will take on.

Similar to how adventurers of yesteryear once sailed the seas or took to the skies in search of the unknown, the show follows a group of unique and conflicted characters, including beings of artificial intelligence, all led by an eccentric and daring Russian billionairess, as they explore new worlds and weird, terrifying reality.

VOYAGER is co-created and written by Richard Christian Matheson, son of legendary writer Richard Matheson, and a master of horror and science fiction in his own right. If you are looking for the next exciting sci-fi tv show, consider VOYAGER and visit their Kickstarter campaign going on thru September 12th, right here.

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Filed under Kickstarter, Richard Matheson, Sci-Fi, science fiction, Television

DVD Blu-ray Review: DAN CURTIS’ DRACULA (1974)

Dan-Curtis-Jack-Palance-Dracula

The early 1970s made possible a very cool television movie starring legendary tough guy actor Jack Palance as Dracula. Imagine Clint Eastwood as Dracula. Close, but no cigar. Today, Liam Neeson could do it, but he probably won’t. The ’70s were a good time for vampires, along with zombies. It was a more innocent time. They had not even begun to claw the surface of today’s oversaturation. Dracula, as both a literary and horror figure, played well with audiences. And certain older actors were welcome too. There was something about Palance, his affinity for the dark side, that made him a natural for the role.

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Filed under Dark Shadows, Dracula, movies, MPI Home Video, Richard Matheson, Television, Vampires

Review: FAMOUS MONSTERS #272

FAMOUS MONSTERS #272 HISTORY OF SCI-FI (NEWSSTAND)

FAMOUS MONSTERS #272 HISTORY OF SCI-FI (NEWSSTAND)

Consider this scenario: A man finds himself apparently the sole survivor of a world-wide pandemic. He searches for more survivors and a cure. Sound familiar? Well, welcome to the source: Richard Matheson’s groundbreaking 1954 Sci-Fi classic, I AM LEGEND. Or about this scenario: A world-wide plague has wiped out most of the population. Survivors fight for what little resources remain. Again, sound familiar? Well, go back even further to another source: Mary Shelley’s groundbreaking 1826 Sci-Fi classic, THE LAST MAN. Starting to see a pattern? You get a look at a wide variety of Sci-Fi interconnections in the latest issue of FAMOUS MONSTERS, #272. Half the issue is a tribute to writer Richard Matheson, who passed away in 2013, and the other half is a brief history of Sci-Fi literature.

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Filed under Famous Monsters, movies, Sci-Fi, science fiction, Television, The Twilight Zone, The Walking Dead

FAMOUS MONSTERS #272: RICHARD MATHESON & THE HISTORY OF SCIENCE FICTION

FAMOUS MONSTERS #272 RICHARD MATHESON (DIAMOND/SUBSCRIBER)

FAMOUS MONSTERS #272 RICHARD MATHESON (DIAMOND/SUBSCRIBER)

The upcoming issue of Famous Monsters will be a tribute to a giant in science
fiction, Richard Matheson. Yes, he’s the guy who wrote that famous episode of The Twilight Zone with William Shatner freaking out at seeing a gremlin on the wing of the plane he’s on, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.” He was a prolific writer and wrote one of my favorites, BID TIME RETURN, which became the movie, SOMEWHERE IN TIME, starring Christopher Reeve.

Visit our friends at Famous Monsters here.

FAMOUS MONSTERS #272 HISTORY OF SCI-FI (NEWSSTAND)

FAMOUS MONSTERS #272 HISTORY OF SCI-FI (NEWSSTAND)

More details from FAMOUS MONSTERS follow:

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Filed under Famous Monsters, Fandom, Magazines, Richard Matheson, Sci-Fi, science fiction

JFK Assassination 50 years later and Richard Matheson’s ‘Duel’

Dennis Weaver in Steven Spielberg's "Duel," written by Richard Matheson

Dennis Weaver in Steven Spielberg’s “Duel,” written by Richard Matheson

One of the great writers for “The Twilight Zone,” Richard Matheson, passed away this year. As we observe that fateful date in Dallas, November 22, 1963, I think of how one man created art out of the processing of his emotions from that event. You might find this to be a surprise but “Duel,” the short story about a man fighting for his life against a demonic semi-trailer truck, that went on to become Steven Spielberg’s first major movie, has its origins in the Kennedy assassination. It’s not a direct link. It’s more based on a significantly deep dark feeling of despair and dread.

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Filed under JFK, Kennedy Assassination, Richard Matheson, The Twilight Zone