Richard Burton Matheson (born February 20, 1926) is an American author and screenwriter who typically penned stories of fantasy, horror or science fiction.
Born in Allendale, New Jersey, to Norwegian immigrant parents, Matheson was raised in Brooklyn and graduated from Brooklyn Technical School in 1943. He then entered the military and spent World War II as an infantry soldier. In 1949 he earned his bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia and moved to California in 1951. He married in 1952 and has four children, three of whom (Chris, Richard Christian, and Ali Matheson) are writers of fiction and screenplays.
His first short story, "Born of Man and Woman," appeared in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1950. The tale of a monstrous child chained in its parents' cellar, it was told in the first person as the creature's diary (in poignantly non-idiomatic English) and immediately made Matheson famous. Between 1950 and 1971, Matheson produced dozens of stories, frequently blending elements of the science fiction, horror and fantasy genres.
Several of his stories, like "Third from the Sun" (1950), "Deadline" (1959) and "Button, Button" (1970) are simple sketches with twist endings; others, like "Trespass" (1953), "Being" (1954) and "Mute" (1962) explore their characters' dilemmas over twenty or thirty pages. Some tales, such as "The Funeral" (1955) and "The Doll that Does Everything" (1954) incorporate zany satirical humor at the expense of genre clichés, and are written in an hysterically overblown prose very different from Matheson's usual pared-down style. Others, like "The Test" (1954) and "Steel" (1956; later adapted as a Twilight Zone episode), portray the moral and physical struggles of ordinary people, rather than the then nearly ubiquitous scientists and super heroes, in situations which are at once futuristic and everyday. Still others, such as "Mad House" (1953), "The Curious Child" (1954) and perhaps most famously, "Duel" (1971) are tales of paranoia, in which the everyday environment of the present day becomes inexplicably alien or threatening.
He wrote a number of episodes for the American TV series 'The Twilight Zone,' including the famous "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet;" adapted the works of Edgar Allan Poe for Roger Corman and Dennis Wheatley's "The Devil Rides Out" for Hammer Films; and scripted Steven Spielberg's first feature, the TV movie "Duel," from his own short story. He also contributed a number of scripts to the Warner Brothers western series "The Lawman" between 1958 and 1962. In 1973, Matheson earned an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for his teleplay for "The Night Stalker," one of two TV movies written by Matheson that preceded the series "Kolchak: The Night Stalker." Matheson also wrote the screenplay for "Fanatic" (US title: Die! Die! My Darling!) starring Talullah Bankhead and Stefanie Powers.
Novels include 'The Shrinking Man' (filmed as "The Incredible Shrinking Man," again from Matheson's own screenplay), and a science fiction vampire novel, 'I Am Legend,' which has been filmed twice, under the titles "The Omega Man" and "The Last Man on Earth." (A proposed third film version, under the novel's original title and involving star Will Smith and director Francis Lawrence, is set for release in summer 2007.) Other Matheson novels turned into notable films include 'What Dreams May Come,' 'Stir of Echoes,' 'Bid Time Return' (as "Somewhere in Time"), and 'Hell House' (as "The Legend of Hell House") and the aforementioned "Duel," the last three adapted and scripted by Matheson himself.
In 1960, Matheson published 'The Beardless Warriors,' a non-fantastic, autobiographical novel about teenage American soldiers in World War II. During the 1950s he published a handful of Western stories (later collected in 'By the Gun'); and during the 1990s he has published Western novels such as 'Journal of the Gun Years,' 'The Gunfight,' 'The Memoirs of Wild Bill Hickock' and 'Shadow on the Sun.' He has also written a blackly comic locked-room mystery novel, 'Now You See It'..., aptly dedicated to Robert Bloch, and the suspense novels, '7 Steps to Midnight' and 'Hunted Past Reason.'
Matheson cites specific inspirations for many of his works. 'Duel' derived from an incident in which he and a friend, Jerry Sohl, were dangerously tailgated by a large truck on the same day as the Kennedy assassination. A scene from the 1953 movie, "Let's Do It Again," in which Aldo Ray and Ray Milland put on each other's hats, one of which is far too big for the other, sparked the thought "what if someone put on his own hat and that happened," which became 'The Shrinking Man.' 'Somewhere in Time' began when Matheson saw a movie poster featuring a beautiful picture of Maude Adams and wondered what would happen if someone fell in love with such an old picture. In the introduction to 'Noir: 3 Novels of Suspense' (1997), which collects three of his early books, Matheson has said that the first chapter of his suspense novel 'Someone is Bleeding' (1953) describes exactly his meeting with his wife Ruth, and that in the case of 'What Dreams May Come,' "the whole novel is filled with scenes from our past."