Richard Matheson Biography

Author, Screenwriter(1926–2013)
Writer Richard Matheson wrote several popular and influential science fiction novels, including I am Legend (1954) and The Shrinking Man (1956).

Synopsis

Author Richard Matheson was born in 1926 in New Jersey. Known for his many works in science fiction, Matheson's first short story was Born of Man and Woman (1950). He is arguably best remembered for his novel I Am Legend (1954), which was adapted into film on three separate occasions: The Last Man on Earth (1964), The Omega Man (1971) and I Am Legend (2007). In addition to writing novels, Matheson worked as a screenwriter, authoring several episodes of The Twilight Zone (1959). He died in Calabasas, California, on June 23, 2013.

Early Life

Science fiction author and screenwriter Richard Burton Matheson was born on February 20, 1926, in Allendale, New Jersey, to Bertolf and Fanny Matheson, Norwegian immigrants. Matheson's parents divorced when he was 8 years old, and he was raised by his mother in Brooklyn, New York. Around the same time, he saw his first piece of work—a poem—published in the Brooklyn Eagle. It was also during his childhood that Matheson saw the film Dracula, which made the boy think, "If one vampire is scary, what if the whole world is full of vampires?" according to the Archive of American Television.

Richard Matheson's interest in writing and reading continued to grow as he got older. As a teenager, he read a large selection of novels from author Kenneth Roberts, one of his earliest influences. After graduating from Brooklyn Technical High School, he joined the U.S. Army and served in Europe during World War II (this experience would later provide the inspiration for his novel The Beardless Warrior). After serving in the military, in 1949, he earned his B.A. in journalism from the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Not long after, he relocated to California.

Early Sci-Fi Work

While in California, Matheson began trying to establish himself as an author. His first novel, Hunger and Thirst, remained unpublished for years. It wasn't until he wrote the short story Born of Man and Woman (1950) that he was able to expose audiences to his unique form of storytelling in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, which detailed the story of a husband and wife who gave birth to a monster, only to keep him hidden from the world in a cellar. This work marked the first of many published narratives focusing on the darker, twisted and abnormal side of reality.

Readers appreciated Matheson's knack for creating unexplainable scenarios in conventional environments. He continued to write several other published stories, including Third from the Sun (1950), Trespass (1953) and The Test (1954), but it wasn't enough to support the writer financially. Even after publishing I Am Legend—a fantasy world he created which was filled with vampires, the same concept he envisioned as a child—in 1954, Matheson had to work at the Douglas Aircraft plant in Santa Monica.

Screenwriting and Film Adaptations

Though I Am Legend went on to become one of Matheson's most popular works, spawning three film adaptations—The Last Man on Earth (1964), The Omega Man (1971) and I Am Legend (2007)—his 1956 novel The Shrinking Man made it possible for him to create a career out of his passion. The novel was so popular that it was made into a film the following year, entitled The Incredible Shrinking Man. A number of film adaptations stemming from Matheson's stories followed, including Duel (1971), film icon Steven Spielberg's first feature-length film; Stir of Echoes (1999); Somewhere in Time (1980); and What Dreams May Come (1998).

Matheson also wrote several memorable pieces for television during his heyday, specifically for the sci-fi series The Twilight Zone (1959). He worked with Rod Serling to write more than a dozen episodes for the series from 1959 to '64, with his "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" starring William Shatner noted as one of the series' most popular episodes. Matheson also wrote the episodes "Steel" and "Button, Button," which were adapted into the films Real Steel (2011) and The Box (2009), respectively.

Death and Legacy

Matheson continued to write successful novels thereafter, branching out into genres outside of science fiction. In 1993, his best-selling nonfiction novel The Path, an extension of his interest in paranormal matters in What Dreams May Come, was published. Nearly a decade later, he published the children's book Abu and the Seven Marvels (2002).

Matheson died on June 23, 2013, in Calabasas, California, of natural causes. Though he may not have been as well known as other sci-fi writers of his time, several prominent authors have praised Matheson for his innovative and unique form of storytelling. Well-known horror and fantasy storyteller Stephen King has credited Matheson as the author who influenced him the most as a writer.

Matheson has also been recognized by several respected organizations. He was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2010, and he died just days before he was scheduled to receive the Visionary Award from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films at the Saturn Awards.

Personal Life

In 1952, Matheson married Ruth Ann Woodson, whom he met shortly after moving to California. The couple has four children together. Three of Matheson's children have followed in their father's footsteps, becoming writers.

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