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Posts Tagged ‘Richard Matheson’

Ray is gone. Even though the news was hardly unexpected (after all, he was 91, and hadn’t been in the best of health for some time, and lost his beloved wife, Marguerite, several years ago, which has put many a man over the edge, as it certainly would me), and I had long been bracing myself for it, it’s hit me harder than I expected. Maybe because I’m a little gloomy anyway these days, and definitely because I not only admired but also knew him, not in a drinking-buddy kind of way, yet in the way of one who has interviewed a person at great length–more on that later–and corresponded sporadically with him after that.

The one time I met Ray face to face was quite by chance and makes for a rather nice anecdote. It had to be 1990, because I was publicizing Behind the Mask, the memoir by gay former MLB umpire Dave Pallone, and for once I was actually in the big time, sitting in the Green Room at CNN while waiting for Dave to be interviewed by Larry King, when lo and behold, there he was, The GREAT Ray Bradbury, over whom I’m sure I shamelessly fawned the entire time. Normally, of course, when an author is interviewed, the publicist sits in rapt attention, drinking in every word, but when Dave returned to the Green Room after his segment, asked me how it went, and heard my lame reply, he looked at me accusingly–but, it must be said, affectionately–and intoned, “You were talking to Ray Bradbury!,” which I could not in good conscience deny.

I had much more contact with Ray by long distance when I conducted a telephone interview for Filmfax‘s late, lamented sister magazine, Outre, that covered pretty much the entirety of the film and television oeuvre written by Ray and/or based on his work. The logistics surrounding that interview, eventually published in 1995, summon up Ray as a man better than anything else I could come up with, because after it turned out that a technical glitch had rendered my entire audiotape blank, he agreed to reschedule and then did the entire goddamn interview all over again. Yes, you read that right. And believe you me, it was not a brief one.

As is widely known, Ray was not only an inspiration but also a kind of mentor/role model/elder statesman for many of the younger writers among what became known as the California Sorcerers, or simply The Group, such as George Clayton Johnson, Richard Matheson, William F. Nolan (all of whom I interviewed for Filmfax and proudly consider friends as well), and Charles Beaumont. It was typical of The Group that they not only were friends, contemporaries, and colleagues, but also wrote for many of the same TV shows, movie studios, and magazines, collaborated on various projects and/or adapted one another’s work for the screen. Ray’s efforts in that last capacity accounted for a goodly hunk of our interview, because by then I was already in the grip of my Matheson obsession, although not yet planning to write Richard Matheson on Screen, and Richard had written the teleplay for the ill-fated 1980 NBC miniseries based on one of Ray’s most famous books, The Martian Chronicles.

Despite his justifiable and quite public disappointment with the miniseries, Ray had the good grace to acknowledge that on paper, Richard’s script did an excellent job of turning a largely unconnected series of stories into a single narrative; like me, he fingered the soporific work of director Michael Anderson as the primary culprit. When it came time for me to write my magnum opus, I drew heavily on our interview for quotes concerning both The Martian Chronicles and their shared experiences writing for The Twilight Zone, which were considerably less happy for Ray than for Richard. And although they weren’t applicable to the book, he had also regaled me with stories of his boyhood pal Ray Harryhausen (another Filmfax interviewee), It Came from Outer Space, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (both 1953), Moby Dick (1956), King of Kings (1961), Fahrenheit 451 (1966), The Picasso Summer, The Illustrated Man (both 1969), the 35-year saga of getting Something Wicked This Way Comes onto the screen in 1983, The Ray Bradbury Theater, The Halloween Tree (1993), his wonderful book Green Shadows, White Whale, and others too numerous to recall.

If all had gone according to the original plan, I would have met Ray face to face one more time in 2005, when he was one of several genre legends who attended a party in L.A. to celebrate the publication of Matheson’s novel Woman, as I was also scheduled to do. But Richard, realizing that I would get completely lost in the shuffle, wisely suggested that I defer my visit for a few weeks until the HWA’s Stoker Awards weekend, when he would be doing a Twilight Zone panel with George (whom I finally got to meet years after our phoner). I’d exchanged Christmas cards with Ray for several years after our own interview, and kept him abreast of my progress on the Matheson book, but was less willing to bother him after Marguerite died in 2003, and it’s been years now since we’d had any contact.

A giant talent, a great soul, a 12-year-old Midwestern boy-poet trapped in an infirm 91-year-old body, but now liberated–and reunited with Maggie–forever, hoisting a few with a delighted God. What more can I say?

I’ll let the author of Fahrenheit 451 have the last word, in a quote that my mother-in-law shared with me when she called a few minutes ago to offer her condolences:  “I don’t try to describe the future.  I try to prevent it.”

Ray Bradbury, 1920-2012

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Although I am neither an expert on nor a particular fan of Dark Shadows, I would be beyond remiss if I did not note the passing at 87 of its star, Jonathan Frid; after all, creator Dan Curtis soon afterward became Richard Matheson’s most frequent collaborator.  I was going to say that I was unfamiliar with Frid’s oeuvre outside the genre when I discovered that, aside from his prestigious stage career, he didn’t have one:  of his five IMDb entries, three are manifestations of Dark Shadows (the original 1967-71 ABC serial; the slam-bang 1970 theatrical compression, House of Dark Shadows, which I heartily enjoyed; and a cameo in Tim Burton‘s imminent travesty).  The others are The Devil’s Daughter, a 1973 TV-movie from Somewhere in Time director Jeannot Szwarc that I have yet to see, and Seizure, Oliver Stone’s indescribably bizarre 1974 feature-film directorial debut, in which Frid co-starred with Martine Beswick and Hervé Villechaize (’nuff said).

Be that as it may, my experience with Dark Shadows was restricted mainly to catching occasional episodes when what was then the Sci-Fi Channel showed two every weekday morning in the early ’90s, at which time–to be blunt–I finally gave up because, no matter how many monsters it featured, it was still a soap opera, with all of the glacial pacing that entailed.  But I saw enough to know that no matter how shaky the sets, silly the scripts or amateurish some of the acting may have been, Frid was always a class act, investing his character of Barnabas Collins with a complexity rare in screen vampires.  As Curtis himself once said, “In most of my horror [stories], I try to find an additional dimension to the monster.  Sometimes you actually end up feeling sorry for him.  We certainly did that with Barnabas,” and that he was able to so successfully is, in many ways, a tribute to Jonathan Frid.

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In the Vortex

Anyone with the slightest interest in the original Twilight Zone should check out the blog The Twilight Zone Vortex, which offers an in-depth episode guide as well as articles on related subjects such as Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine. Working their way chronologically through the series, bloggers Jordan Prejean and Brian Durant are still in the first season, and to date have covered the two episodes Serling adapted from Matheson’s stories, “And When the Sky Was Opened” and “Third from the Sun,” as well as Matheson’s maiden effort, “The Last Flight.” I have found Durant’s analyses to be consistently thorough, accurate, informative, and insightful; “Third from the Sun” also provides a wealth of background material about Matheson.

Full Disclosure Dept.: Am I biased by the fact that Durant endorses The Richard Matheson Companion and my introduction to Noir? Or writes that “I would absolutely recommend Richard Matheson on Screen as the definitive reference guide for anyone wanting to know anything about his work in film and television. It’s a fantastic book”? Or that Prejean calls Filmfax #75-76, the 40th-anniversary tribute spearheaded by Yours Truly and containing my interviews with Matheson, George Clayton Johnson, and Jerry Sohl “probably the single best issue of a genre periodical ever devoted to [the series]…highly recommended”? In the words of Cecil Turtle & Co., Bugs Bunny’s nemeses in Tortoise Beats Hare, “Eh, it’s a possibility!”

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Allow me to offer a mix of holiday greetings and sincerest apologies for the extended silences around here, but since the other blogs that are kind enough to post my musings have far greater readerships than this one, it seems logical to reach as many readers as possible, and then direct you there; more on that in a moment. We have been de-emphasizing gifts lately in the extended BOF clan, so I don’t have a big haul to report, but my darling daughter and her boyfriend did get me two singularly suitable DVDs: an Eddie Izzard documentary and the Criterion edition of one of the great films, Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear. We had a crowd of 15 chez nous on Christmas, and between that and socializing with visiting family members since then, it’s been pretty hectic.

Madame BOF and I are not sorry to see the back end of 2011, with all of its natural disasters, but the changing calendar also highlights the transitions in our lives. Among the most conspicuous, in my case, is the shift in my area of current concentration from the James Bond books and films (themselves a welcome change of pace after 13 years devoted to Richard Matheson on Screen) to Silver and Bronze Age Marvel Comics, actually the resurgence of a lifelong love affair. Yes, my obsessions with Matheson, 007, and the nexus of film and literature continue dominating my life, yet maintaining a day job to support us in the humble style to which we are accustomed severely limits my writing time, so for now, you will likely find me more often over at Marvel University.

As mentioned, because I will be contributing to their regular Wednesday posts on a weekly basis, I won’t bother alerting you to those, but today they are featuring a solo piece (the first written for M.U. specifically), the latest in my series of Snapshots. I fear even these may be an endangered species, not only because of the considerable time involved, but also because as I look over what Marvel published while the ’70s drew to a close, I see less and less that excites me, so if I’m not feelin’ it, there’s no point in forcing it, especially for free. Luckily, I actually took the time over the past couple of weeks to excavate my comic-book collection, which I conservatively estimate at around 3,000 issues, thus giving me plenty on which to weigh in with those Wednesday posts.

Today also marks the long-awaited debut of It Couldn’t Happen Here…, the blog in which M.U.-meisters Peter Enfantino and John Scoleri will analyze an episode of Kolchak: The Night Stalker a day, just as they have previously done with Thriller, Outer Limits, and Batman. As if their own erudition and witticisms weren’t enough, they have solicited the daily contributions of Kolchak’s greatest chronicler, Mark Dawidizak, who is also a hell of a guy and was extremely helpful to me in the research and writing of RMOS. And, since I am not entirely unacquainted with the pair of Matheson TV-movies that spawned the series, they have kindly invited me to provide a spotlight article on each of those, which you’ll be able to read starting Tuesday…and yes, I’ll remind you.

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It may seem odd for me to write an obituary–however brief–for an actress on the basis of a single role, but I feel compelled to do so in the case of Patricia Breslin, who left us October 12 at the age of 80 and, in my book (literally), is known for playing William Shatner’s wife in Richard Matheson’s classic Twilight Zone episode “Nick of Time.”  So pleased with her performance was Richard that he not only wished she could have done so in the other Shatner/Matheson TZ episode, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” but also strove to recapture their dynamic with the couple in his Thriller script (revised by director/star John Newland), “The Return of Andew Bentley.”  Almost all of Breslin’s other credits were also in episodic television, ironically including an episode of Thriller, as well as a non-Matheson TZ and several episodes of the Hitchcock series, but she did do two features with William Castle, Homicidal (1961) and I Saw What You Did (1965).

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In February, IDW Publishing will unleash the four-part monthly comic book Road Rage, with Chief Creative Officer and all-around swell guy Chris Ryall adapting Richard Matheson’s original 1971 Playboy story “Duel” and another notable work it inspired, “Full Throttle.”  Marking the first collaboration between my former colleague Stephen King and his son Joe Hill, the latter was written for Chris Conlon‘s award-winning tribute anthology He Is Legend; the stories, first paired in the audiobook Road Rage, will be illustrated by, respectively, Nelson Daniel and Rafa Garres.  For those of you late to class, IDW’s distinguished Matheson history includes not only the graphic novels of I Am Legend and Hell House but also the magazine Doomed, which has featured adaptations of “Blood Son,” “Crickets,” “The Children of Noah” and “Legion of Plotters” (not to mention an excerpt from our very own Richard Matheson Companion).

As touched on in my most recent interview with Richard, he and his son and namesake, Richard Christian Matheson, have teamed with ex-William Morris agent Alan Gasmer to form Matheson Entertainment for the purpose of shopping the screen rights to 150 of his multi-media works.  The catch, if you will, is that they are insisting on a greater degree of creative control than Richard has hitherto had over adaptations of his work, presumably to avoid a repeat of The Box (which, now that I think about it, I still need to assess here…someday).  It’s a little unclear to me whether they’re willing to sell some of the rights piecemeal or will only partner with a specific corporate entity; I think it’s the latter, but will of course keep you posted on that and adaptations of Earthbound and “Deus ex Machina” allegedly in the pipeline.

Here’s a nice piece from Variety with further details.

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Had occasion today to plug my name into Google Books, where in addition to the usual Matheson fare and The Nativity–one of several picture books I’d forgotten adapting from animated versions by my erstwhile employers–I discovered Anne Francis: The Life and Career. Laura Wagner, the author of this just-published McFarland title, thanks me in her acknowledgments…which was civil of her, especially considering I had no idea she’d quoted from my Filmfax interview with the late Ms. Francis no fewer than six times. Not that I mind per se, since she cites them all quite properly, but it does seem strange that I was unaware of this, after the hoops McFarland made me jump through getting permission to use previously published material in Richard Matheson on Screen.

Additional random updates/observations:

  • I see NBC has already cancelled Free Agents. Glad I didn’t invest myself in that one–although, considering my track record, can the shows I liked enough to stick with be far behind?
  • Not sure how soon I’ll get to it myself, given how packed my next two weekends will be, but I urge everyone within the sound of my voice to go see Real Steel. It opens tonight and is based on Richard Matheson’s story “Steel,” which he also adapted into an excellent Twilight Zone episode with Lee Marvin, plus it stars Hugh Jackman, so what’s not to like? More on that after I’m able to see it personally, but here’s a nice Matheson-centric piece in the meantime, for which I thank the mighty Turafish.
  • Recognizing boundless enthusiasm and free material when they see it, the good folks at Marvel University have decided to make me a “substitute teacher,” first by re-presenting some vintage Marvel-related BOF posts (if anything from a blog that launched in January 2010 can truly be called “vintage”). They’re supposed to be running my stuff on Sundays starting 10/9, of which I will of course keep you apprised, and then, God willing, once the dust has settled on my epic Bond project, I’ll start churning out new material for them. As I recently told President and Dean of Students Peter Enfantino, he and his partner in crime, Professor John Scoleri, make me remember why I started writing for little or no money in the first place!

Bradley out–and about.

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