I first discovered Richard Matheson as a college boy in Seattle browsing a metal paperback rack at my favorite neighborhood drugstore. A new series of original novels carrying the imprint GOLD MEDAL had just arrived. And one of the covers definitely caught my eye. It depicted a solitary figure of a man standing above a steaming crater on a devastated landscape. The paperback was entitled: I Am Legend. After I read that book I was hooked and became a lifelong Richard Matheson fan.
Over the ensuing years I would be constantly captivated by Matheson’s diverse works in a wide variety of media. There would be a second GOLD MEDAL original, The Incredible Shrinking Man. A gripping yarn of a man isolated and abandoned by society after a fluke radiation cloud causes him to slowly shrink to Lilliputian size. That tale became a black and white feature film (adapted from his novel by Matheson) with special effects ahead of its time.
I Am Legend has so far been made into three thrilling feature films. One starring Vincent Price, another with Charlton Heston in the lead, and a third version with Will Smith as the last man on Earth man besieged by an army of hungry vampires. And there were many others. A novella, Duel, in PLAYBOY magazine about an innocent driver being menaced by a satanic tanker truck. That story was made into a TV movie by a young first time director named Spielberg.
Another short story, Prey, became a memorable TV production with actress Karen Black being hunted down by murderous little Zuni warrior dolls. (If you’re curious, check it out in Trilogy of Terror where Miss Black starred in all three tales).
Rod Serling’s popular Twilight Zone TV series gave audiences several of Matheson’s unique stories, including the classic Incident At 20,000 Feet with a young William Shatner as the only passenger on a plane who can see a furry monster damaging the engine on the wing. Mute, about a German girl raised by people who communicated only by telepathy. And Little Girl Lost, about a young girl who disappears into another dimension behind her bedroom wall.
Probably one of the most famous of Matheson’s stories was his novel Bid Time Return. It was made into a memorable film, Somewhere In Time, starring Christopher Reeves as a smitten young man who chases through time after an actress, Jane Seymour, who lived at the turn of the century.
During his 82 years Richard Matheson gave us all a fantastic collection of science fiction, fantasy, western, and mainstream fiction. Many of his stories were tales of paranoia, in which the every day environment of the present became strangely alien or frightening.
He really was a legend. And his imaginative stories have set a high bar for any author who follows him in the future.
Richard. We will miss you.