Richard Matheson

Writer


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

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About
About this interview

In his three-hour Archive interview, Richard Matheson (1926-2013) recalls the inspiration behind his classic Twilight Zone episode "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," which starred William Shatner: "I was on an airplane and I looked out and there was all these fluffy clouds and I thought, 'gee what if I saw a guy skiing across that like it was snow,' because it looked like snow. But when I thought it over, that's not very scary, so I turned it into a gremlin out on the wing of the airplane." Richard Matheson is considered one of the preeminent science fiction/fantasy/horror writers of the 20th Century. Matheson reminisces about the first stories he wrote and getting published at the age of nine. He recalls his early success as a professional writer with the sale of his now-classic short story, "Born of Man and Woman." He relates his eking out a living working at the Douglas Aircraft Company while pursuing a writing career. He describes the big screen adaptation of his novel "The Incredible Shrinking Man," which he adapted himself. Regarding his break into television, he discusses his writing partnership with Charles Beaumont and touches on their work together, which was frequently in the then-popular western genre. He comments on why he and Beaumont split their partnership when they wrote for the classic sci-fi/fantasy anthology The Twilight Zone as they had already individually made a name for themselves in that genre. He also speaks of his sole writing work in this period on the series The Lawman, outlining his real-time episode "Thirty Minutes." Regarding The Twilight Zone, Matheson gives his impressions of series creator Rod Serling and discusses each of the sixteen teleplays he contributed to, including: "The Invaders," "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," and "Little Girl Lost." He then fondly recalls his days interacting with such stars as Vincent Price and Basil Rathbone when he was a writer for director Roger Corman at American International Pictures. Among the 1960s television series he contributed to and looks back on are Star Trek and Combat. He recounts how, on the day of JFK's assassination, the idea was born for his short story and celebrated television movie Duel (and also gives his opinion of the finished product and relates his observations of director Steven Spielberg during shooting). He discusses the feature film adaptations of his novel "I Am Legend," the movies, "The Last Man On Earth" and "The Omega Man." He discusses the TV movies he wrote that led to the television series Kolchak: The Night Stalker. He describes several of a string of television movies he wrote in the 1970s and 80s including Dying Room Only, Dracula, Trilogy of Terror and—in a change of pace genre-wise— The Morning After, for which he says: "That's one of the proudest moments I have in television. I was told that they actually use it at medical schools as an authentic presentation of alcoholism." He then speaks on his writing style and writing process. He elaborates on the production and cult following of "Somewhere in Time," a feature film he adapted from his own novel "Bid Time Return." Among the later television shows he comments on are The Martian Chronicles and Amazing Stories. He also gives his opinion of the film adaptations, by others, of his novels "What Dreams May Come" and "A Stir of Echoes." Lastly, he expresses his views on larger topics such as reincarnation. Karen Herman conducted the interview on April 16, 2002 in Hidden Hills, CA.

"When I write anything—a short story, a novel—I see it in my mind like a movie."

Highlights
Richard Matheson on The Twilight Zone episodes "Nick of Time" and "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," both of which starred William Shatner
02:02
On seeing the television exhibit at the New York's World's Fair and recalling his first television set
01:11
Richard Matheson The Twilight Zone episodes he wrote, "Death Ship," "Night Call" (and his impressions of Jacques Tourneur), "Spur of the Moment," "Third From the Sun"
03:45
Richard Matheson on the seed idea for Duel
00:57
Richard Matheson on how he came to write The Morning After
00:27
Full Interview

Chapter 1

On his parents; on seeing the television exhibit at the World's Fair; on being an avid reader as a child; on getting stories published at the age of nine
On the movies influencing and inspiring his writing; on writing to film producer Val Lewton, praising his work; on listening to the radio; on his first sale as a professional writer, the now-classic short story "Born of Man and Woman"
On serving in the infantry during World War II; on his move to California in 1951, where he worked at the Douglas Aircraft Company while pursuing a writing career
On moving back east; on his novel and the film version of The Incredible Shrinking Man; on breaking into television writing; on his writing partner Charles Beaumont; on writing for the western series The Lawman

Chapter 2

On the Hollywood Blacklist; on starting to write for The Twilight Zone; on Rod Serling; on pitching ideas and on the fidelity to the scripts
On The Twilight Zone episode "A World of His Own," based on a previously rejected pitch; on the censorship of the word "God"; on the structure of a Twilight Zone episode
On The Twilight Zone episode "Steel": watching Lee Marvin in rehearsal and a rundown of the plotline; on considering directing/producing
On The Twilight Zone episodes "Nick of Time" and "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," both starring William Shatner; on the real life basis of "Little Girl Lost"; on the seed idea for the short story and later telefilm Duel; on other Twilight Zone's he wrote including "A World of Difference," "Once Upon A Time," "Young Man's Fancy," and "Mute"

Chapter 3

On Rod Serling's complete involvement in The Twilight Zone and Serling's use of the sci-fi/fantasy genre to create "statement" stories; on The Twilight Zone episodes he wrote, "Death Ship," "Night Call" (and his impressions of Jacques Tourneur), "Spur of the Moment," and "Third From the Sun"
On his surprise that The Twilight Zone episode "The Invaders" has become a classic; on the producers of The Twilight Zone; on the legacy of The Twilight Zone
On his work with American International Pictures; on Vincent Price and Basil Rathbone
On episodes he wrote for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Star Trek, Thriller, Combat, and The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.; on the writing partnership "The Green Hand"

Chapter 4

On the feature film adaptations of his novel I Am LegendThe Last Man on Earth and The Omega Man; on the TV movie adaptation of his short story Duel; on the TV movie The Night Stalker
On the TV movie The Night Strangler and the series The Night Stalker; on his impressions of the TV movie Dying Room Only, and how he came upon the idea for the story; on the TV movie Scream of the Wolf
On adapting Dracula faithfully for the 1974 TV movie; on producer/writer Dan Curtis; on The Morning After and Dick Van Dyke's performance; on the TV movies: The Stranger Within, Trilogy of Terror, and The Strange Possession of Mrs. Oliver

Chapter 5

On appearing in the miniseries Captains and the Kings as President Garfield; on his writing style; on his writing schedule, on outling, on rewriting, and on reading aloud his scripts
On creating suspense; on his belief in the "supernormal" versus the supernatural
On his labeling as "the Hemingway of Horror"; on his association with and opinion of science fiction; on the collaborative nature of films/TV; on his disappointment (and favorite moment) from the miniseries The Martian Chronicles

Chapter 6

On the premise of The Martian Chronicles; on the difficulty in adapting Ray Bradbury's work; on the production and cult following of Somewhere in Time, a film he adapted from his own novel Bid Time Return
On the revivals of The Twilight Zone (feature film and later series); on serving as an adviser to Amazing Stories and on the two episodes he wrote
On his work in the 1990s; on his opinion of the film adaptations by others of his novels What Dreams May Come and A Stir of Echoes; on plays he's written

Chapter 7

On reincarnation and human existence
On his advice to aspiring writers; on how he'd like to be remembered
Shows

Alfred Hitchcock Presents aka The Alfred Hitchcock Hour

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Richard Matheson on adapting his own novel for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, "Ride the Nightmare"
01:01

Amazing Stories

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Richard Matheson on producer William Froug rejecting a Twilight Zone script (that later was an episode of Amazing Stories)
01:22
Richard Matheson on serving as an adviser to Amazing Stories and on the two episodes he wrote
01:53

Bram Stoker's Dracula

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Richard Matheson on his 1974 TV movie adaptation of Dracula postponed due to President Nixon's resignation speech
00:32
Richard Matheson on his adaptation of Dracula for a 1974 TV movie
01:07
Richard Matheson on producer/writer Dan Curtis, and working with him on TV movie Dracula
01:31

Captains and the Kings

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Richard Matheson on appearing in the miniseries Captains and the Kings as President Garfield
02:41

Combat!

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Richard Matheson on the wholesale changes made to the Combat script he wrote "Forgotten Front"
01:01

Duel

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Richard Matheson on the seed idea for Duel
00:57
Richard Matheson on the television movie adaptation of his short story Duel
02:39
Richard Matheson on being on set and observing Steven Spielberg during Duel
00:53
Richard Matheson on the reception of Duel
00:27
Richard Matheson on the casting of Dennis Weaver in Duel
01:11
Richard Matheson on composer Billy Goldenberg's lack of traditional music and its effectiveness in Duel
00:34

Dying Room Only

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Richard Matheson on his impressions of the TV movie Dying Room Only, for which he wrote the script based on his own story
00:44
Richard Matheson on coming up with the idea for the story of Dying Room Only
00:47

Girl From U.N.C.L.E., The

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Richard Matheson on his The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. script "The Atlantis Affair"
00:24

Kolchak: The Night Stalker

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Richard Matheson on the Kolchak character as he adapted him for the TV movies
00:40
Richard Matheson on not writing for the series The Night Stalker although he had done the initial TV movies
00:26

Lawman

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Richard Matheson on writing for Lawman, including the suspenseful "Thirty Minutes"
02:52

Martian Chronicles, The

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Richard Matheson on his general disappointment with the miniseries The Martian Chronicles and on his favorite moment from it
02:16
Richard Matheson on the premise of The Martian Chronicles
01:26
Richard Matheson on the challenge to adapt Ray Bradbury's work for The Martian Chronicles
00:44

McCloud

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Richard Matheson on the production of McCloud being shut down so Dennis Weaver could do Duel
01:11

Morning After, The

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Richard Matheson on how he came to write The Morning After
00:27
Richard Matheson on The Morning After and Dick Van Dyke's performance
02:05
Richard Matheson on the producers' opinion of his The Morning After script and how the TV movie turned out
00:55

Night Stalker, The

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Richard Matheson on the TV movie The Night Stalker and his initial fear that his writing had been significantly changed
01:37

Night Strangler, The

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Richard Matheson on sequel telefilm The Night Strangler and his initial thought to have it be about Jack the Ripper
01:36

Scream of the Wolf

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Richard Matheson on the TV movie Scream of the Wolf and his script's suggestion of homoeroticism that didn't translate to screen
00:42

Star Trek

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Richard Matheson on writing the Star Trek episode "The Enemy Within"
01:55

Strange Possession of Mrs. Oliver, The

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Richard Matheson on the TV movie The Strange Possession Of Mrs. Oliver
01:02

Stranger Within, The (1974)

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Richard Matheson on his dislike of the television movie The Stranger Within, which he adapted from his own story
00:36

Thriller

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Richard Matheson on Thriller
00:30

Trilogy Of Terror

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Richard Matheson on the TV movie Trilogy of Terror
01:27

Twilight Zone, The

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Richard Matheson on colleague and fellow The Twilight Zone writer Charles Beaumont
01:23
Richard Matheson on why he and writing partner Charles Beaumont wrote separately for The Twilight Zone
00:37
Richard Matheson on starting to write for The Twilight Zone
00:59
Richard Matheson on Rod Serling
00:12
Richard Matheson on Phyllis Kirk as the only actor who ever changed the lines he wrote for The Twilight Zone
00:39
Richard Matheson on writing Rod Serling's introductions for The Twilight Zone
00:15
Richard Matheson on The Twilight Zone episode "A World of His Own," based on a previously rejected pitch
01:11
Richard Matheson on The Twilight Zone 's continual struggle for renewal and his opinion that the switch to hour-long episodes was a mistake
00:48
On being censored from using the word "God" in his scripts on The Twilight Zone, despite the fact that Rod Serling did in his scripts
00:42
Richard Matheson on the structure of a Twilight Zone episode
00:44
Richard Matheson on The Twilight Zone episode "Steel": watching Lee Marvin in rehearsal and a rundown of the plotline
02:29
Richard Matheson on The Twilight Zone episodes "Nick of Time" and "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," both of which starred William Shatner
02:02
Richard Matheson on the Twilight Zone episode "Little Girl Lost" and how real life inspired the story
01:06
Richard Matheson on The Twilight Zone episodes "A World of Difference," "Once Upon A Time," "Young Man's Fancy," and "Mute"
05:32
Richard Matheson on Rod Serling's complete involvement in The Twilight Zone and Serling's use of the sci-fi/fantasy genre to create "statement" stories
01:19
Richard Matheson The Twilight Zone episodes he wrote, "Death Ship," "Night Call" (and his impressions of Jacques Tourneur), "Spur of the Moment," "Third From the Sun"
03:45
Richard Matheson on his surprise that The Twilight Zone episode "The Invaders" has become a classic
00:56
Richard Matheson on producer William Froug rejecting a Twilight Zone script (that later was an episode of Amazing Stories)
01:22
Richard Matheson on the legacy of The Twilight Zone
00:45
Richard Matheson on the shock moment in the classic Twilight Zone episode "Nightmare on 20,000 Feet"
01:47
Richard Matheson on the Joe Dante-directed segment of the feature Twilight Zone:The Movie based on the original series episode "It's a Good Life"
00:16

Twilight Zone, The: "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet"

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Richard Matheson on his inspiration for writing "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet"
00:30
Richard Matheson on actor Nick Cravat as the Gremlin in "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet"
00:25
Richard Matheson on his opinion of the classic episode versus the feature film segment
00:25
Richard Matheson on the structure of a Twilight Zone episode
00:44
Richard Matheson on the legacy of The Twilight Zone
00:44

Twilight Zone, The: "The Invaders"

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Writer Richard Matheson on the structure of a Twilight Zone episode
00:44
Writer Richard Matheson on his assessment of The Twilight Zone epsiode "The Invaders"
00:56
Writer Richard Matheson on the legacy of The Twilight Zone
00:45
Topics

Bloopers

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Richard Matheson on appearing in the miniseries Captains and the Kings as President Garfield
02:41

Censorship / Standards & Practices

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On being censored from using the word "God" in his scripts on The Twilight Zone, despite the fact that Rod Serling did in his scripts
00:42

Creative Influences and Inspiration

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Richard Matheson on the movies influencing and inspiring his writing, and the letter he wrote to producer Val Lewton praising his work
02:01
Richard Matheson on the Twilight Zone episode "Little Girl Lost" and how real life inspired the story
01:06
Richard Matheson on the seed idea for Duel
00:57
Richard Matheson on coming up with the idea for the story of Dying Room Only
00:47

Drama

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Richard Matheson on writing for The Lawman, including the suspenseful "Thirty Minutes"
02:52
Richard Matheson on The Twilight Zone episodes "Nick of Time" and "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," both of which starred William Shatner
02:02
Richard Matheson on the Twilight Zone episode "Little Girl Lost" and how real life inspired the story
01:06
Richard Matheson on his surprise that The Twilight Zone episode "The Invaders" has become a classic
00:56

JFK Assassination and Funeral

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Richard Matheson on the seed idea for Duel on the day of JFK's assassination
00:57

LGBTQ

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Richard Matheson on the TV movie Scream of the Wolf and his script's suggestion of homoeroticism that didn't translate to screen
00:42
Professions

Writers

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Richard Matheson on his writing schedule, on outling, on rewriting, and on reading aloud his scripts
04:02
Writer Richard Matheson on creating suspense and fear in his work
01:47
Richard Matheson on his advice to aspiring writers
01:59
Genres

Classic Anthology Series

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Richard Matheson on the structure of a Twilight Zone episode
00:45

Sci-Fi/Supernatural Series

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Richard Matheson on Rod Serling's complete involvement in The Twilight Zone and Serling's use of the sci-fi/fantasy genre to create "statement" stories
01:19
Richard Matheson on his association with and opinion of science fiction
02:48
People

Charles Beaumont

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Richard Matheson on breaking into writing for television with writing partner Charles Beaumont
00:47
Richard Matheson on colleague and fellow The Twilight Zone writer Charles Beaumont
01:23
Richard Matheson on why he and writing partner Charles Beaumont wrote separately for The Twilight Zone
00:37

Joe E. Brown

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Writer Richard Matheson on Joe E. Brown flubbing lines during filming of The Comedy of Terrors
00:26

Dan Curtis

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Richard Matheson on producer/writer Dan Curtis, and working with him on TV movie Dracula
01:31

Dick Van Dyke

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Richard Matheson on The Morning After and Dick Van Dyke's performance
02:05

William Froug

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Richard Matheson on producer William Froug, rejecting a Twilight Zone script (that later was an episode of Amazing Stories)
01:22

Boris Karloff

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Richard Matheson on Basil Rathbone and Boris Karloff in The Comedy of Terrors
01:38

Buster Keaton

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Richard Matheson on Buster Keaton, who starred in the Twilight Zone episode he wrote, "Once Upon A Time"
02:19

Phyllis Kirk

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Richard Matheson on Phyllis Kirk as the only actor who ever changed the lines he wrote for The Twilight Zone
00:39

Val Lewton

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Richard Matheson on the movies influencing and inspiring his writing, and the letter he wrote to producer Val Lewton praising his work
02:01

Lee Marvin

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Richard Matheson on The Twilight Zone episode "Steel": watching Lee Marvin in rehearsal and a rundown of the plotline
02:29

Agnes Moorehead

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Richard Matheson on Agnes Moorehead's reaction to no dialogue in The Twilight Zone episode "The Invaders"
00:56

Vincent Price

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Richard Matheson on Vincent Price, star of House of Usher
00:52

Basil Rathbone

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Richard Matheson on Basil Rathbone and Boris Karloff in The Comedy of Terrors
01:38

Rod Serling

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Twilight Zone writer Richard Matheson on Rod Serling
00:12
Richard Matheson on Rod Serling's complete involvement in The Twilight Zone and Serling's use of the sci-fi/fantasy genre to create "statement" stories
01:19

William Shatner

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Richard Matheson on The Twilight Zone episodes "Nick of Time" and "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," both of which starred William Shatner
02:02
Richard Matheson on William Shatner lifting a phrase from him
00:36

Steven Spielberg

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Richard Matheson on being on set and observing Steven Spielberg during Duel
00:53

Jacques Tourneur

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Richard Matheson on Twilight Zone director Jacques Tourneur and the episode "Night Call"
00:48

Dennis Weaver

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Richard Matheson on the casting of Dennis Weaver in Duel
01:11

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