Saturday, January 27, 2007

Heres To Richard Matheson


The other day one of my kids was listening to an older song, "Killing Me Softly" by the Fugees. I asked if he had ever heard the original. He replied, "What original?"

"The one by performed by Roberta Flack," I said. He shook his head and said: "The Fugees wrote that, man." Another kid disagreed, "No, it was Lauryn Hill."

Kids do that, they take and adopt that which is part of their culture, tagging it as something new and original, regardless of its source. However, in the process, it is easy to lose sight of the giants who truly influenced the movements of the present.

Some names need to be recited over and over again, otherwise there is a danger that they will be overlooked in a culture driven by derivative entertainments based strictly on market share and demographics. Bradbury, Asimov, Bloch, Heinlein... keep saying them, don't let their accomplishments be obscured by their literary descendants.

Consider Richard Matheson. Mention some of the books and films with which he has been involved as a writer and people will instantly nod recognition. Yet, the name is hardly pounded out there to remain in our short memoried culture.

I've mentioned his works to people, and they nod, but the man? It seems only a true fan of the genre knows his name. Consider these titles: "The Incredible Shrinking Man" (made into a film of the same name), "I Am Legend" (one of the novels that paved the way for a new take on the vampire myth; also made into two films, with a third remake planned, the first two being "Last Man On Earth" and "Omega Man"), "What Dreams May Come" (made into a film of the same name starring Robin Williams),"Hell House" (made into the film "The Legend of Hell House"), and "Bid Time Return" (made into "Somewhere In Time" with Christopher Reeves and Jane Seymore). Not that Matheson has stopped writing. This last year he just published a new novel: "Woman", a story about a literal battle between the sexes.


And his work in film and television? Matheson helped launch the career of Steven Spielberg. "Duel", which first appeared as a made for TV movie starring Dennis Weaver, was based on his teleplay and his short story. Other television credits? One of the ultimate episodes of Rod Serling's "Twilight Zone", "The Beast At 30,000", a classic starring a young William Shatner. He also worked with Roger Cormon, helping to craft that director's best features with Vincent Price, based on the work of Poe. "House of Usher", "Pit and the Pendulum","The Raven", and "Tales of Terror" were all Matheson, drawing from Poe for inspiration.

One last tip of the hat. Matheson wrote the teleplay for one of my favorites: The Night Stalker.

So while we may laud the work of George R.R. Martin, give saluatory nods to the likes of the undeserving Jim Butcher, and crown the wunderkind of the fifteen year old author of "Eregon", let's not forget those who should continue to be nudged into our consciousness. Let's read their work if we haven't read them, let's and let's speak their names, a litany of giants who have helped create the texture of our genre. Bradbury, Heinlein, Herbert, Matheson, Bloch, Asimov, Tenn, Simak, etc...

12 comments:

SQT said...

I tried to watch the new "Night Stalker" not knowing that an original existed. Then I saw an episode or two pop up on regular TV. I think it's another thing to add to the netflix queue.

I grew up with the Robert Flack "Killing me Softly" so it's kind of funny to see kids who think it's brand new. But I can remember when songs like "Mony Mony" were redone when I was a teenager and I had no idea it was a remake.

I guess it just goes to show that we're always regurgitating ideas, whether in music or TV. There aren't a lot of original ideas anymore I guess.

jedimerc said...

As in science, sci fi and fantasy authors try to stand on the shoulders of giants... I do my best to remember those names, and for the most part, I have a fondness for their work which was borne in a time of pure imagination. Unlike now, when many, many authors seemed to be more concerened with the science (and I love a good hard sci fi read as well) over the story. Plausibility can't win over story.

DesLily said...

I really loved What Dreams May Come! ..and Somwhere in Time.. both movies were sooooo well made! Thank you Mr Matheson!

Kate S said...

I had to laugh about the bit with the kids, Stewart. My daughter has done that before. Just last year on American Idol (hate it, but was watching it) everyone went ga-ga over this one girl's performance of "Over the Rainbow" - they all went on and on about such an original interpretation--even the judges, who should have known better! Ahem, excuse me, but that was Eva Cassidy's interpretation of Judy Garland's classic version.

Anyway, you're right. People forget those who came before. I read "What Dreams May Come" before it was made into a movie, and know that the ending of a WIP I have owes part of its existence to that book. "Somewhere in Time" is one of my old favorite movies... turned me on to Rachmoninoff too.

crunchy carpets said...

He is one of my dh's top fave's...
He has a first printing copy of I am Legend...he LOVES it.

Alex said...

Let's cut to the important bits: did Jane Seymour get naked in that movie?

Don't know why, but I've been in love with her since the real Battlestar Galactica was around.

Charles Gramlich said...

I agree absolutely. Great post. It's like "Fahrenheit 451," only with the names of authors in the past. Remember. We have to remember.

Stewart Sternberg said...

Alex, Jane Seymore lost all sex appeal when she starred in the Medicine Woman series. I even went back to "Live and Let Die" to watch her play the role of the virgin psychic and horribly, it was true....retroactively all her sex appeal had been siphoned out.

Funny how that happens to certain stars.

Crunchy Carpets said...

Aaaah Jane Seymour......

what about Jenny Agater (spell?)
I think we need to do a retrospective on her!

My dh was deeply affected by her em appearance in Logan's Run.

Asara said...

Oooh, that stuff with songs makes me crazy. I grew up on oldies, and then classic rock.. and when new artists take old bits of songs and write raps around them or what have you, it just.. ooh. Then I catch the hubby singing to one, and I say to him what you said to your kids, with the same response. What? It's gotten to the point that I won't listen to the songs that incorporate the "samples" of old ones. I guess I'm a bit of a purist. A remake now, that's another story. If it's the old song, with a new beat, then I'm ok with that. i.e. Orgy's version of Blue Monday. :)

Michael Leonard Fisher said...

Thanks for the well written post. I now have a kink in the back of my neck from nodding in agreement. What a great writer - Matheson.

Anonymous said...

Stewart - excellent post!! Because I am a Twilight Zone devotee, I need to ask for 1 correction: The Shatner episode is "Nightmare At 20,000 Feet"...
Thank You!!