To the people who read this… and to the one or two who actually care what I have to say here… I apologize now. Been kinda busy with work. Also, been cogitating a story idea for the past few weeks. Just can’t quite get it to hang together. Really irritating. Plus, there’s been some small new developments in the scriptwriting vein. But that’s all I’m saying for now. I’ve learned that much at least. Anyway…
One of the pages I follow on Facebook– Bang2Write, run by Lucy V Hay and an excellent writer’s page– just a couple days ago ran a question: Who is your favorite DEAD screenwriter and why? I facetiously answered George Romero, because his Dead films are fantastic and he is one of my favorite writer/directors. But he’s not dead, just my favorite DEAD screenwriter. Oh, well, either no one got the joke, or they just thought I didn’t get the post and were too polite to tell me I’m a dufus. Either way, a couple people just liked my post and got on with their lives. But there were only two other answers given. One was Billy Wilder, and saying he was a great screenwriter is akin to reminding people that water is wet, the other, Rod Serling. Now, Serling was certainly one of the great screenwriters. Most people only know him from the Twilight Zone and maybe Night Gallery, but he had a prolific career outside of those two pillars of anthology sf, winning his first two Emmies for Patterns and Requiem for a Heavyweight in the mid to late 50s. Serling mainly turned to sf because he could see that network censors would never let him get his anti-war messages through in a realistic setting. But this isn’t going to be about Serling. It’s going to be about a friend of his. Serling’s mention got me to thinking about who my favorite dead screenwriter is. So I thought I’d tell you about him.
Trouble is, I’ve already done that once. In a way. I used to write reviews for a website called Axiom’s Edge. I reviewed books, comics, movies, tv… old radio shows, here and there. You name it, I talked about it. Even got a blurb on the back cover of Leah Moore’s and John Reppion’s comics adaptation of Dracula. They misspelled Axiom’s Edge (Axion’s), but they got my name right. Jonathan Maberry told me once that I was one of his favorite reviewers (really glad I liked his book LOL). All of this leads to a man named Matthew R Bradley sending me his book for review. And that review is what you’re about to read. I apologize for sending you a reprint, but I figure very few, if any, of you read it before. Also, considering its content, it fits the column here very well. Hope you enjoy the review. It’s not long. I wrote a LOT of reviews back then and didn’t have much time. And, if your interest is piqued, don’t forget to buy Mr. Bradley’s book, which is still on Amazon, and is a fitting tribute to Richard Matheson, my favorite screenwriter, living or dead.
Richard Matheson on Screen: A History of the Filmed Works
By Matthew R. Bradley
A Book Review
Rating: 5 Stars (out of Five)
Where to begin? If I had only one word to describe this book it would be… exhaustive. “Informative” just wouldn’t begin to cover it. It has everything, and a lot of it. This is a book that catalogues and anecdotes every single thing from television and film that has ever been attributed to one of the great writers of the 20th Century, Richard Matheson. Don’t know who Matheson is (and I ran into someone just the other day who didn’t)? Go find a copy of I Am Legend and read it; go find a copy of a tv movie named Duel and watch it; watch the single best horror segment in American television history, the story “Amelia” from Trilogy of Terror; watch my favorite ep of the original Twilight Zone “Invaders”, or my favorite hour-long TZ from that series, “Death Ship”. House of Usher, The Raven, Pit and the Pendulum among others from AIP’s Poe cycle, The Night Stalker, The Night Strangler, Somewhere in Time, The Incredible Shrinking Man—all these and more bear his name and imprint (although none of them were done exactly the way he wanted them done). Frankly, for a fan of sf not to know the Matheson name is like not knowing Harlan Ellison, or… actually, I’m not sure anyone else has been as successful writing for as many different mediums as these two men. Prose, film, television—and Ellison has done some comics work, although Matheson is easily the more accomplished novelist of the two.
But this isn’t a review of Matheson’s work, it’s a review of a review of his work. And what a review! Did I mention that it’s exhaustive? It begins at the beginning, with the first thing a fledgling screenwriter got made, a little thing called The Incredible Shrinking Man. (For those who haven’t seen it, TISM is only one of the two or three best sf films of the ‘50s.) Then we go through each and every piece, the things Matheson himself wrote and the things officially credited to his ideas. This, of course, yields three different versions of I Am Legend to grace the screen. Matheson, understandably, isn’t really thrilled with any of them, as none of them match his original story. I personally loved The Last Man on Earth and The Omega Man, but I recognize that the latter is wa-a-a-a-a-y off from the source material and the former was kind of dry in places. Both, however, are better for me than the Will Smith vehicle I Am Legend, which portrays the loneliness of the main character very well but nothing else. But I’m doing it again, aren’t I?
Things I found interesting from the book that I didn’t know include: Matheson wrote more screenplays for the Western series Lawman than any other tv show outside of The Twilight Zone, and that he, along with at least Gene Roddenberry among genre folk, also wrote for Have Gun—Will Travel (I somehow already knew he wrote something for Philip Marlowe and Richard Diamond, Private Detective). I had no idea that Matheson wrote the original script for Jaws 3-D (yes, you read that right), and that it was his idea to make it 3-D in the first place. Matheson wrote the script for Dan Curtis’ Dracula (which is ridiculous; I should have known). Matheson and Charles Bronson didn’t get along… and then they did… and then they didn’t again. And I could go on and on and on. There is just so much here that is fascinating. So much about Richard Matheson’s 50-plus year career that is fascinating. And Matthew R. Bradley compiles a ton of it in a comprehensible and fun-to-read way. This book is just an amazing resource for anyone interested in Matheson, the history of sf cinema and television, and/or the inner workings of Hollywood from the writer’s perspective.