My first exposure to Richard Matheson was probably back in the early 60s, and that marvelous anthology series, Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone. Matheson told amazing stories … of a man recovering from a nervous breakdown and what he thought he saw on the wing of the aircraft he was flying home in, of of two parents frantically searching for their young daughter, who is lost and calls out to them to find her, the search made more difficult by an intervening dimension or three, and two families who seek to escape their embattled home-world for some place new and unknown in a neighboring solar system, and a new planet, the third one of that system.
Some years after that there came Playboy magazine and the terrific fiction frequently published within its pages. In particular, there was a short story called Duel, where an ordinary man driving from Point A to Point B finds himself pitted against a maniacal yet unseen truck driver. Not long after, that same story would find its way to a TV Movie of the Week, with Dennis Weaver cast brilliantly as the everyman struggling to evade and escape and finally confront that homicidal driver and his threatening vehicle. Both the story and the movie were saturated with the tension and frustration felt by the man who simply thought this was another business trip, only to be thrust into a life-and-death struggle which would test him past any limit the thought he had. Again, the by-line read: Richard Matheson.
Then in 1980, we see a story told of a young, promising playwright, accepting the praises of his friends and colleagues for a work of his just performed. Someone watches from the shadows as this scene unfolds before walking up to the young man, taking his hand to gain his attention. He turns in response to discover that this is an old yet strikingly beautiful woman, who presses something into his palm and says to him, intensely, “Come back to me!” We will later learn that the woman is one Elise McKenna, that she and the playwright have indeed met before, even though they haven’t yet, and that the answer to the mystery posed by these events may be found Somewhere In Time, yet another opus of Messr. Matheson. And should I mention that if you’ve seen The Last Man on Earth starring Vincent Price or The Omega Man with Charlton Heston or I Am Legend, featuring Will Smith, those movies are all based on the same story, penned by Richard Matheson
I can truly say that I grew up with the work of Richard Matheson. Even as an unsophisticated kid, I could appreciate the stories he told, the characters he created, and at least some of the subtleties and deft twists he would weave into his plots. Matheson’s handiwork was a large portion of what sunk the hook of The Twilight Zone into me and helped to foster my love of science-fiction and fantasy. His writing worked for me not because it was wrought of whiz-bang spaceships and laser-guns but because of believable characters, placed in extraordinary circumstances. His approach to the supernatural was to seek credible explanations for such occurrences, yet maintain within them a sense of unknown and with it a sense of tension if not danger to drive the action. From where I sit, he succeeded at this and wonderfully so.
And this morning, I opened my daily copy of the Cleveland Plain Dealer to learn that Richard Matheson had died at the age of 87. I can say without hesitation that Matheson’s work enriched my life … and that my life is diminished with his passing.
I remember his story (title forgotten) about the religious nut who used a time machine to find out about jesus. Was crucified in the end, and so gave a start to the jesus myth. Very funny.
I seem to recall something like that as well: something like a historian who was looking for evidence of Jesus and ended up becoming the man himself, albeit inadvertently! May have to nose around for that.
thank you for posting this Loren