Sunday, June 30, 2013

Obituaries / Bert Stern

Bert Stern and Marilyn Monroe

Bert Stern

Bert Stern, the celebrity photographer, who has died aged 83, became one of the highest-paid talents in the American advertising industry, and famously took more than 2,000 pictures of Marilyn Monroe in an intimate three-day shoot — the so-called “Last Sitting” — shortly before her death in 1962.

Marilyn Monroe
Photos by Bert Stern

Many showed the actress naked, or posing through diaphanous scarves. “She was so beautiful at that time,” Stern recalled. “I didn’t say: 'Pose nude.’ It was more one thing leading to another: You take clothes off and off and off and off and off. She thought for a while. I’d say something and the pose just led to itself.”
Although self-taught, Stern helped to revolutionise Madison Avenue and the world of 1960s advertising, recently depicted on television in Mad Men, by transforming simple commercial photography into a branch of conceptual art. With contemporaries like Irving Penn and Richard Avedon, he reinvented the vocabulary of glossy magazines (which had hitherto regarded pictures mainly as a means of illustrating advertising copy) by the use of clear, uncluttered and arresting images.
His first assignment, for Smirnoff vodka in 1955, for example, featured a simple close-up of a martini glass in the heat of the Egyptian desert with the Great Pyramid at Giza shimmering in the background. One American critic called Stern’s photograph “the most influential break with traditional advertising photography” of its era.
As a portraitist he photographed some of the world’s most beautiful women, among them Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn, Sophia Loren and Brigitte Bardot. Stern also shot pictures of the then 13-year-old actress Sue Lyon in heart-shaped red sunglasses — one became the poster image for Stanley Kubrick’s controversial film Lolita (1962).
An obsessive womaniser, Stern admitted that he “fell in love with everything I photographed”. But it was the so-called “Last Sitting” of Marilyn Monroe for Vogue magazine that was to furnish his most enduring portfolio. He confessed to trying to get the actress into bed as she peeled off layers of clothing during the shoot at a Hollywood hotel. Whether or not he succeeded was never clear, though he later suggested: “I could have hung up the camera, run off with her, and lived happily ever after.”
The son of Jewish immigrants, Bertram Stern was born on October 3 1929 in Brooklyn, where his father worked as a children’s portrait photographer. After dropping out of high school at the age of 16, he landed a job in the post room at Look magazine, where he met Stanley Kubrick, the magazine’s youngest staff photographer, with whom he shared “a mutual interest in beautiful women”; the pair formed a close and lasting friendship.

Bern Stern and Marilyn Monroe
Photo by Neilson Barnard

Despite his lack of training, Stern became assistant to Look’s art director Hershal Bramson. This led to a position as art director at Mayfair magazine, where Stern bought a camera, learned how to develop film and make contact sheets, and started taking his own pictures.
In 1951 Stern’s career was interrupted by the Korean War, and he was drafted into the US Army. But instead of being posted to Korea, he was diverted to Japan and assigned to the photographic department, where he learned to use a film camera, shooting news footage for the Army while taking stills for himself.
After his discharge his old boss Bramson, then working for a small advertising agency, offered Stern a photographer’s job on a new campaign for Smirnoff. Walking down Fifth Avenue with a martini glass filled with water for inspiration, Stern noticed the Plaza Hotel was inverted in the glass that acted like a lens and turned the image upside down. This gave him the idea to photograph the Pyramid of Giza upside down in the glass, and in 1955 he flew to Egypt to capture the image.
After a brief detour into documentary film making — he directed Jazz on a Summer’s Day (1959), a much-admired record of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival — Stern returned to stills photography. By 1962 he had begun photographing personalities as well as advertisements and, having joined Vogue magazine, was invited to Rome by Twentieth Century Fox to photograph Elizabeth Taylor on the set of Cleopatra.
Richard Burton, whom Stern had already photographed at his studio in New York, was playing Mark Antony and began an affair with Elizabeth Taylor. Stern became friends with both and was able to shoot “more candid, fun pictures” of the couple when they were together off set.
Stern’s contract at Vogue gave him a free hand to photograph what he liked, and in June 1962, when he realised that Marilyn Monroe had never been photographed for the magazine, he arranged a shoot at the Bel-Air Hotel, where he adapted one of the spacious suites as a studio. “You’re beautiful,” he exclaimed as he greeted her in the corridor, and she replied: “What a nice thing to say”.
At Monroe’s suggestion, she posed naked, draped in scarves, pearls, paper flowers and bedsheets during the 12-hour session, which ended at dawn. The editors at Vogue were ecstatic , and sent Stern back to photograph Monroe for a further two days, during which he shot the black-and-white images that became some of the most intimate celebrity portraits ever taken.
When Stern submitted his pictures — he had shot 2,571 over three days — Vogue decided to use the mono pictures rather than the colour nudes. “They called me up to see the layouts,” Stern recalled. “There was something haunting about them. That Monday, she died.”
But as his career flourished through the 1960s, Stern’s personal life fell apart, particularly as he underpinned his exhausting work schedule — he booked as many as seven shoots a day — with heavy use of amphetamines. Eventually his marriage to the beautiful New York City Ballet prima ballerina Allegra Kent collapsed, along with his health and his finances.
Recovering in Spain, he had the idea for The Pill Book, a photographic compilation of different pills which he shot as simple still lifes. The book sold more than 18 million copies, and by the late 1970s Stern had returned to America to photograph portraits and fashion.
In 1983, through a friend, he met Shannah Laumeister, then 13, whom he photographed. After a second sitting four years later, she became his girlfriend and muse, and the couple secretly married in 2009. In 2012 Shannah Laumeister directed a candid film documentary, Bert Stern: Original Madman, which was released earlier this year.
In 2000 Stern’s photographs of Monroe were published in a mammoth book, Marilyn Monroe: The Complete Last Sitting. He latterly sought to duplicate his Monroe success with Lindsay Lohan, and while the pictures proved a tabloid sensation, they were widely criticised as tawdry and exploitative.
Stern and Allegra Kent, with whom he had a son and two daughters, divorced in 1975. Shannah Laumeister survives him.
Bert Stern, born October 3 1929, died June 26 2013

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Richard Matheson / Button, Button

by Richard Matheson

The package was lying by the front door--a cube-shaped carton sealed with tape, the name and address printed by hand: MR. AND MRS. ARTHUR LEWIS, 217 E. 37TH STREET, NEW YORK, NEW YORK 10016. Norma picked it up, unlocked the door, and went into the apartment. It was just getting dark.
After she put the lamb chops in the broiler, she made herself a drink and sat down to open the package.
Inside the carton was a push-button unit fastened to a small wooden box. A glass dome covered the button. Norma tried to lift it off, but it was locked in place. She turned the unit over and saw a folded piece of paper Scotch-taped to the bottom of the box. She pulled it off: "Mr. Steward will call on you at eight p.m."
Norma put the button unit beside her on the couch. She sipped the drink and reread the typed note, smiling.
A few moments later, she went back into the kitchen to make the salad.
The doorbell rang at eight o'clock. "I'll get it," Norma called from the kitchen. Arthur was in the living room, reading.
There was a small man in the hallway. He removed his hat as Norma opened the door. "Mrs. Lewis?" he inquired politely.
"I'm Mr. Steward."
"Oh, yes." Norma repressed a smile. She was sure now it was a sales pitch.
"May I come in?" asked Mr. Steward.
"I'm rather busy," Norma said. "I'll get you your watchamacallit, though." She started to turn.
"Don't you want to know what it is?"
Norma turned back. Mr. Steward's tone had been offensive. "No, I don't think so," she said.
"It could prove very valuable," he told her.
"Monetarily?" she challenged.
Mr. Steward nodded. "Monetarily," he said.
Norma frowned. She didn't like his attitude. "What are you trying to sell?" she asked.
"I'm not selling anything," he answered.
Arthur came out of the living room. "Something wrong?"
Mr. Steward introduced himself.
"Oh, the ..." Arthur pointed toward the living room and smiled. "What is that gadget, anyway?"
"It won't take long to explain," replied Mr. Steward. "May I come in?"
"If you're selling something ..." Arthur said.
Mr. Steward shook his head. "I'm not."
Arthur looked at Norma. "Up to you," she said.
He hesitated. "Well, why not?" he said.
They went into the living room and Mr. Steward sat in Norma's chair. He reached into an inside coat pocket and withdrew a small sealed envelope. "Inside here is a key to the bell-unit dome," he said. He set the envelope on the chairside table. "The bell is connected to our office."
"What's it for?" asked Arthur.
"If you push the button," Mr. Steward told him, "somewhere in the world, someone you don't know will die. In return for which you will receive a payment of fifty thousand dollars."
Norma stared at the small man. He was smiling.
"What are you talking about?" Arthur asked him.
Mr. Steward looked surprised. "But I've just explained," he said.
"Is this a practical joke?" asked Arthur.
"Not at all. The offer is completely genuine."
"You aren't making sense," Arthur said. "You expect us to believe ..."
"Whom do you represent?" demanded Norma.
Mr. Steward looked embarrassed. "I'm afraid I'm not at liberty to tell you that," he said. "However, I assure you the organization is of international scope."
"I think you'd better leave," Arthur said, standing.
Mr. Steward rose. "Of course."
"And take your button unit with you."
"Are you sure you wouldn't care to think about it for a day or so?"
Arthur picked up the button unit and the envelope and thrust them into Mr. Steward's hands. He walked into the hall and pulled open the door.
"I'll leave my card," said Mr. Steward. He placed it on the table by the door.
When he was gone, Arthur tore it in half and tossed the pieces onto the table. "God!" he said.
Norma was still sitting on the sofa. "What do you think it was?" she asked.
"I don't care to know," he answered.
She tried to smile but couldn't. "Aren't you curious at all?"
"No." He shook his head.
After Arthur returned to his book, Norma went back to the kitchen and finished washing the dishes.
"Why won't you talk about it?" Norma asked later.
Arthur's eyes shifted as he brushed his teeth. He looked at her reflection in the bathroom mirror.
"Doesn't it intrigue you?"
"It offends me," Arthur said.
"I know, but--" Norma rolled another curler in her hair "--doesn't it intrigue you, too?"
"You think it's a practical joke?" she asked as they went into the bedroom.
"If it is, it's a sick one."
Norma sat on the bed and took off her slippers.
"Maybe it's some kind of psychological research."
Arthur shrugged. "Could be."
"Maybe some eccentric millionaire is doing it."
"Wouldn't you like to know?"
Arthur shook his head.
"Because it's immoral," he told her.
Norma slid beneath the covers. "Well, I think it's intriguing," she said.
Arthur turned off the lamp and leaned over to kiss her. "Good night," he said.
"Good night." She patted his back.
Norma closed her eyes. Fifty thousand dollars, she thought.
In the morning, as she left the apartment, Norma saw the card halves on the table. Impulsively, she dropped them into her purse. She locked the front door and joined Arthur in the elevator.
While she was on her coffee break, she took the card halves from her purse and held the torn edges together. Only Mr. Steward's name and telephone number were printed on the card.
After lunch, she took the card halves from her purse again and Scotch-taped the edges together. Why am I doing this? she thought.
Just before five, she dialed the number.
"Good afternoon," said Mr. Steward's voice.
Norma almost hung up but restrained herself. She cleared her throat. "This is Mrs. Lewis," she said.
"Yes, Mrs. Lewis." Mr. Steward sounded pleased.
"I'm curious."
"That's natural," Mr. Steward said.
"Not that I believe a word of what you told us."
"Oh, it's quite authentic," Mr. Steward answered.
"Well, whatever ..." Norma swallowed. "When you said someone in the world would die, what did you mean?"
"Exactly that," he answered. "It could be anyone. All we guarantee is that you don't know them. And, of course, that you wouldn't have to watch them die."
"For fifty thousand dollars," Norma said.
"That is correct."
She made a scoffing sound. "That's crazy."
"Nonetheless, that is the proposition," Mr. Steward said. "Would you like me to return the button unit?"
Norma stiffened. "Certainly not." She hung up angrily.
The package was lying by the front door; Norma saw it as she left the elevator. Well, of all the nerve, she thought. She glared at the carton as she unlocked the door. I just won't take it in, she thought. She went inside and started dinner.
Later, she carried her drink to the front hall. Opening the door, she picked up the package and carried it into the kitchen, leaving it on the table.
She sat in the living room, sipping her drink and looking out the window. After awhile, she went back into the kitchen to turn the cutlets in the broiler. She put the package in a bottom cabinet. She'd throw it out in the morning.
"Maybe some eccentric millionaire is playing games with people," she said.
Arthur looked up from his dinner. "I don't understand you."
"What does that mean?"
"Let it go," he told her.
Norma ate in silence. Suddenly, she put her fork down. "Suppose it's a genuine offer," she said.
Arthur stared at her.
"Suppose it's a genuine offer."
"All right, suppose it is!" He looked incredulous. "What would you like to do? Get the button back and push it? Murder someone?"
Norma looked disgusted. "Murder."
"How would you define it?"
"If you don't even know the person?" Norma asked.
Arthur looked astounded. "Are you saying what I think you are?"
"If it's some old Chinese peasant ten thousand miles away? Some diseased native in the Congo?"
"How about some baby boy in Pennsylvania?" Arthur countered. "Some beautiful little girl on the next block?"
"Now you're loading things."
"The point is, Norma," he continued, "that who you kill makes no difference. It's still murder."
"The point is," Norma broke in, "if it's someone you've never seen in your life and never will see, someone whose death you don't even have to know about, you still wouldn't push the button?"
Arthur stared at her, appalled. "You mean you would?"
"Fifty thousand dollars, Arthur."
"What has the amount--"
"Fifty thousand dollars, Arthur," Norma interrupted. "A chance to take that trip to Europe we've always talked about."
"Norma, no."
"A chance to buy that cottage on the Island."
"Norma, no." His face was white. "For God's sake, no!"
She shuddered. "All right, take it easy," she said. "Why are you getting so upset? It's only talk."
After dinner, Arthur went into the living room. Before he left the table, he said, "I'd rather not discuss it anymore, if you don't mind."
Norma shrugged. "Fine with me."
She got up earlier than usual to make pancakes, eggs, and bacon for Arthur's breakfast.
"What's the occasion?" he asked with a smile.
"No occasion." Norma looked offended. "I wanted to do it, that's all."
"Good," he said. "I'm glad you did."
She refilled his cup. "Wanted to show you I'm not ..." She shrugged.
"Not what?"
"Did I say you were?"
"Well--" She gestured vaguely "--last night ..."
Arthur didn't speak.
"All that talk about the button," Norma said. "I think you--well, misunderstood me."
"In what way?" His voice was guarded.
"I think you felt--" She gestured again. "--that I was only thinking of myself."
"I wasn't."
"Well, I wasn't. When I talked about Europe, a cottage on the Island ..."
"Norma, why are we getting so involved in this?"
"I'm not involved at all." She drew in a shaking breath. "I'm simply trying to indicate that ..."
"That I'd like for us to go to Europe. Like for us to have a nicer apartment, nicer furniture, nicer clothes. Like for us to finally have a baby, for that matter."
"Norma, we will," he said.
He stared at her in dismay. "Norma ..."
"Are you--" He seemed to draw back slightly. "Are you really saying ...?"
"I'm saying that they're probably doing it for some research project!" she cut him off. "That they want to know what average people would do under such a circumstance! That they're just saying someone would die, in order to study reactions, see if there'd be guilt, anxiety, whatever! You don't really think they'd kill somebody, do you?"
Arthur didn't answer. She saw his hands trembling. After awhile, he got up and left.
When he'd gone to work, Norma remained at the table, staring into her coffee. I'm going to be late, she thought. She shrugged. What difference did it make? She should be home anyway, not working in an office.
While she was stacking the dishes, she turned abruptly, dried her hands, and took the package from the bottom cabinet. Opening it, she set the button unit on the table. Shestared at it for a long time before taking the key from its envelope and removing the glass dome. She stared at the button. How ridiculous, she thought. All this over a meaningless button.
Reaching out, she pressed it down. For us, she thought angrily.
She shuddered. Was it happening? A chill of horror swept across her.
In a moment, it had passed. She made a contemptuous noise. Ridiculous, she thought. To get so worked up over nothing.
She had just turned the supper steaks and was making herself another drink when the telephone rang. She picked it up. "Hello?"
"Mrs. Lewis?"
"This is the Lenox Hill Hospital."
She felt unreal as the voice informed her of the subway accident, the shoving crowd. Arthur pushed from the platform in front of the train. She was conscious of shaking her head but couldn't stop.
As she hung up, she remembered Arthur's life insurance policy for $25,000, with double indemnity for--
"No." She couldn't seem to breathe. She struggled to her feet and walked into the kitchen numbly. Something cold pressed at her skull as she removed the button unit from the wastebasket. There were no nails or screws visible. She couldn't see how it was put together.
Abruptly, she began to smash it on the sink edge, poundingit harder and harder, until the wood split. She pulled the sides apart, cutting her fingers without noticing. There were no transistors in the box, no wires or tubes. The box was empty.
She whirled with a gasp as the telephone rang. Stumbling into the living room, she picked up the receiver.
"Mrs. Lewis?" Mr. Steward asked.
It wasn't her voice shrieking so; it couldn't be. "You said I wouldn't know the one that died!"
"My dear lady," Mr. Steward said, "do you really think you knew your husband?"

Friday, June 28, 2013

Richard Matheson / Born of Man and Woman

by Richard Matheson

X — This day when it had light mother called me retch. You retch she said. I saw in her eyes the anger. I wonder what it is a retch.
This day it had water falling from upstairs. It fell all around. I saw that. The ground of the back I watched from the little window. The ground it sucked up the water like thirsty lips. It drank too much and it got sick and runny brown. I didnt like it.
Mother is a pretty I know. In my bed place with cold walls around I have a paper things that was behind the furnace. It says on it 5CREENSTARS. I see in the pictures faces like of mother and father. Father says they are pretty. Once he said it.
And also mother he said. Mother so pretty and me decent enough. Look at you he said and didnt have the nice face. I touched his arm and said it is alright father. He shook and pulled away where I couldnt reach.
Today mother let me off the chain a little so I could look out the little window. Thats how l saw the water falling from upstairs.

XX — This day it had goldness in the upstairs. As I know when I looked at it my eyes hurt. After I look at it the cellar is red.
I think this was church. They leave the upstairs. The big machine swallows them and rolls out past and is gone. In the back part is the little mother. She is much small than me. lam I can see out the little window all I like.
In this day when it got dark I had eat my food and some bugs. I hear laughs upstairs. I like to know why there are laughs for. I took the chain from the wall and wrapped it around me. I walked squish to the stairs. They creak when I walk on them. My legs slip on them because I dont walk on stairs. My feet stick to the wood.
I went up and opened a door. It was a white place. White as white jewels that come from upstairs sometime. I went in and stood quiet. I hear the laughing some more. I walk to the sound and look through to the people. More people than I thought was. I thought I should laugh with them.
Mother came out and pushed the door in. It hit me and hurt. I fell back on the smooth floor and the chain made noise. I cried. She made a hissing noise into her and put her hand on her mouth. Her eyes got big.
She looked at me. I heard father call. What fell he called. She said a iron board. Come help pick it up she said. He came and said now is that so heavy you need. He saw me and grew big. The anger came in his eyes. He hit me. I spilled some of the drip on the floor from one arm. It was not nice. It made ugly green on the floor.
Father told me to go to the cellar. I had to go. The light it hurt some now in my eyes. It is not so like that in the cellar.
Father tied my legs and arms up. He put me on my bed. Upstairs I heard laughing while I was quiet there looking on a black spider that was swinging down to me. I thought what father said. Ohgod he said. And only eight.

XXX — This day father hit in the chain again before it had light. I have to try pull it out again. He said I was bad to come upstairs. He said never do that again or he would beat me hard. That hurts.
I hurt. I slept the day and rested my head against the cold wall. I thought of the white place upstairs.

XXXX — I got the chain from the wall out. Mother was upstairs. I heard little laughs very high. I looked out the window. I saw all little people like the little mother and little fathers too. They are pretty.
They were making nice noise and jumping around the ground. Their legs was moving hard. They are like mother and father. Mother says all right people look like they do.
One of the little fathers saw me. He pointed at the window. I let go and slid down the wall in the dark. I curled up as they would not see. I heard their talks by the window and foots running. Upstairs there was a door hitting. I heard the little mother call upstairs. I heard heavy steps and I rushed in my bed place. I hit the chain in the wall and lay down on my front.
I heard my mother come down. Have you been at the window she said. I heard the anger. Stay away from the window. You have pulled the chain out again.
She took the stick and hit me with it. I didnt cry. I cant do that. But the drip ran all over the bed. She saw it and twisted away and made a noise. Oh mygodmygod she said why have you done this to me? I beard the stick go bounce on the stone floor. She ran upstairs. I slept the day.

XXXXX — This day it had water again. When mother was upstairs I heard the little one come slow down the steps. I hidded myself in the coal bin for mother would have anger if the little mother saw me.
She had a little live thing with her. It walked on the arms and had pointy ears. She said things to it.
It was all right except the live thing smelled me. It ran up the coal and looked down at me. The hairs stood up. In the throat it made an angry noise. I hissed but it jumped on me.
I didnt want to hurt it. I got fear because it bit me harder than the rat does. I hurt and the little mother screamed. I grabbed the live thing tight. It made sounds I never heard. I pushed it all together. It was all lumpy and red on the black coal.
I hid there when mother called. I was afraid of the stick. She left. I crept over the coal with the thing. I hid it under my pillow and rested on it. I put the chain in the wall again.

X — This is another times. Father chained me tight. I hurt because he beat me. This time I hit the stick out of his hands and made noise. He went away and his lace was white. He ran out of my bed place and locked the door.
I am not so glad. All day it is cold in here. The chain comes slow out of the wall. And I have a bad anger with mother and father. I will show them. I will do what I did that once.
I will screech and laugh loud. I will run on the walls. Last I will hang head down by all my legs and laugh and drip green all over until they are sorry they didn't be nice to me.
If they try to beat me again Ill hurt them. I will.

X —

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Ray Bradbury / Richard Matheson

Richard Matheson

by Ray Bradbury

He is one of the most important writers of the 20th Century.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Richard Matheson was himself a real legend

I Am Legend author Richard Matheson was himself a real legend


The man behind the best ever vampire novel was a major inspiration to innumerable stars of SF and horror
Posted by Alison FloodThe Guardian, Tuesday 25 June 2013 11.23 BST
Richard Matheson
Richard Matheson ... post-apocalyptic prince. Photograph: Raphael Gaillarde/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
I am meant to be writing a blog about how I Am Legend, by the late, immensely great, Richard Matheson, is the king of vampire novels. But after finding my old copy on the shelf downstairs, I've become somewhat distracted, and would really rather just get on with reading it.
The image Matheson provides, at the start of the novel, of Robert Neville alone in Los Angeles, is one of the most chilling, the most believable, in post-apocalyptic fiction. Shifting from practical and unemotional, to lonely and furious, Neville sits in his barricaded living room, trying to ignore the cries of the vampires, "their snarling and fighting among themselves", coming from the other side of the walls. Later, "he went from house to house and used up all his stakes. He had forty-seven stakes". So deadpan. So unnerving.
Then there are Matheson's vampires – written in 1954, and so much scarier, so much more interesting and memorable and believable, than the hordes of pallid high–school students who keep springing up today (and than the mobs in the Will Smith film version). Ben Cortman, howling outside his house every night. The corpses who walk the streets. And that ending! I won't give it away, for those who haven't read it, because it is just so disturbingly brilliant – but I'll remind those of you who already love the novel of the spine-chilling last line: "I am legend."
And so was Matheson, to so many readers and writers. In my edition of I Am Legend, Brian Lumley is quoted saying "a long time ago I read [the book], and I started writing horror at about the same time. Been at it ever since. Matheson inspires, it's as simple as that." Ray Bradbury, no less, calls him "one of the most important writers of the 20th century", Stephen King has said Matheson is "the author who influenced me the most as a writer", and that I Am Legend was "an inspiration to me", while the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction calls the novel "perhaps the very peak of all paranoid SF".
Last year, the Horror Writers Association named it vampire novel of the century, ahead of the likes of Salem's Lot and Interview with a Vampire; Anne Rice took her loss in good spirits, saying it wasn't hard to be beaten by "a man whose stories were inspiring me when I was still a kid writing everything with a ballpoint pen in a school notebook".
(I love, by the way, Matheson's acceptance speech for this award: he calls it "a rather dubious but interesting distinction", and speaks of how he first read Bram Stoker's novel during basic army training, on the toilet at night. "Why, I don't know. I was pretty tired, I should have gone to sleep," he said. "I enjoyed it at the time, never knowing I was going to write a book about vampires and certainly not that it would be derived from the idea I had when I first saw Bela Lugosi.")
Tributes have, of course, been pouring in for Matheson since news of his death was announced, with a particularly moving one from Harlan Ellison. "If there is anyone out there who didn't know I worshipped him, from his first story, Born of Man and Woman (which I read the day it was published back in 1950), to his second story, Witch War, on through every book – western, mystery, fantasy – for a supernova lifetime of writing mentioned in the same breath with Poe and Borges, then they haven't read my many encomia to Richard's singular top-of-the-mountain talent … Frankly, I am downsmashed," he wrote.
Steven Spielberg said that "Richard Matheson's ironic and iconic imagination created seminal science-fiction stories and gave me my first break when he wrote the short story and screenplay for Duel. His Twilight Zones were among my favourites, and he recently worked with us on Real Steel. For me, he is in the same category as Bradbury and Asimov."
"He was a giant, and YOU KNOW HIS STORIES, even if you think you don't," tweeted Neil Gaiman. The horror author Joe Hill wrote: "Never met Richard Matheson, but his stories have been life companions. Books are human souls, in analog form. Go read his."
What a sad year it has been so far for the passing of science fiction legends: Jack Vance, Iain (M) Banks, and now Richard Matheson. I'm going to take Hill's advice and carry on reading I Am Legend, with The Shrinking Man lined up next. RIP Richard Matheson.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Obituaries / Richard Matheson

Richard Matheson obituary


Science fiction author and inspiration to Stephen King whose novels, such as I Am Legend, were adapted for film and TV
Richard Matheson
Richard Matheson's I Am Legend was filmed three times, most recently in 2007 starring Will Smith. Photograph: Ron Galella Ltd/WireImage
Richard Matheson, the prolific American writer of fantasy, horror and science fiction, much of whose work has been adapted for TV and cinema, has died aged 87. Cited by Stephen King as the biggest influence on his own work, Matheson sent shivers down the spines of readers and viewers for decades, with such unusual novels and stories as The Incredible Shrinking Man and the much-filmed I Am Legend.
He turned his hand to pacy adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe stories for the film director Roger Corman, to the story and screenplay for one ofSteven Spielberg's most effective films, Duel (1971), and 16 instalments of the popular and ingenious television series The Twilight Zone. For Matheson, horror was potentially everywhere: battlefields, suburban streets, a cellar, an aircraft cabin – even a library.
Matheson was born in Allendale, New Jersey, to Norwegian parents, and brought up in Brooklyn, New York. As a youngster he first set his heart on a musical career, but an avid appetite for fantasy sparked his imagination and fired his creativity: he was only eight when his stories appeared in a local newspaper, the Brooklyn Eagle. He was transfixed by seeing Dracula at a local cinema and by his teens had the idea for the vampire story I Am Legend. After he graduated from Brooklyn technical high school in 1943, second world war service intervened.
He later described his experiences through the eyes of a common soldier in his acclaimed novel The Beardless Warriors (1960). A key scene catches the surprise and ambiguity that had become his trademark: "A little while ago, each side had done its lethal best to decimate the other. Now, the guns and cannons temporarily stilled, each carried off the victims of their contest. To Hackermeyer it was brutal ambiguity; the condition of war at its most unfathomable. He looked at the Germans with hostile eyes. Why were they doing this? Why had they come with a white flag and, in a polite conference, arranged to forestall the war until the battlefield was tidied?"
Solitary, bewildered men recur in Matheson's work, and he developed such trademark characters while working nights as a linotype operator in California. He had moved to the west coast after graduating in journalism from the University of Missouri in 1949. He met his future wife, Ruth Ann Woodson, on a beach in Santa Monica; they married in 1952.
A first novel, Hunger and Thirst, went unpublished for several decades. A short story, Born of Man and Woman (1950), attracted notice and became part of his first story collection, published in 1954, the same year that I Am Legend appeared. In this tale, the last man on Earth is beset by vampires. Partially soothed by whisky, music and the companionship of a dog, he reflects in a library on all the books on its well-stocked shelves, "the residue of a planet's intellect, the scrapings of futile minds, the leftovers, the potpourri of artifacts that had no power to save men from perishing". It was filmed three times, as The Last Man on Earth (1964), as The Omega Man (1971) and, most recently, with Will Smith, as I Am Legend (2007).

In an even more intense book, The Shrinking Man (1956), Scott Carey is exposed to radiation and chemicals that cause him to grow smaller. He is pursued by a spider that appears bigger and bigger as he dwindles in size. Carey's terrifying situation was a variation on that era's preoccupation with man's identity amid the lonely crowd and threat of the bomb. Carey keeps faith – "a man's self-estimation was, in the end, a matter of relativity … he still had his mind, he was still unique" – despite his fear of a spider whose "pulsing egg of a body perched on running legs – an egg whose yolk swam with killing poisons". To Matheson's dismay, Hollywood added the adjective "incredible" for the title of the1957 film adaptation, The Incredible Shrinking Man, but the expanded phrase has entered the language and later editions of the novel were released under the new title.
In his account of horror writing, Danse Macabre (1981), King gives many pages to this short novel, which he thought redolent of its A-bomb era. He quotes Matheson as telling him the novel was partly inspired by watching a comedy film in which Ray Milland, leaving a flat in huff, accidentally puts on Aldo Ray's hat, which comes down past his ears: this set Matheson wondering what would happen if Milland's own hat had done so. Matheson said: "The entire novel was written in the cellar of the rented house on Long Island. I did a shrewd thing in that. I didn't alter the cellar at all. There was a rocking chair down there and, every morning, I would go down into the cellar with my pad and pencil and I would imagine what my hero was up to that day. I didn't have to keep the environment in my mind or keep notes. I had it all there, frozen."
Matheson also wrote thrillers in the 1950s, of which the best was Ride the Nightmare (1959). A Stir of Echoes (1958), again depicting suburban America, was his last fantasy novel for 12 years. Screen work regularly came his way from this period onwards. He contributed to Rod Serling's early 1960s television series The Twilight Zone, whose episodes twist towards ingenious endings. In the famous, much-parodied Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, a salesman, played by William Shatner, recovering from a nervous breakdown, sees in flight a creature "of a wide-pored coarseness" on the wing of the plane, which moves out of sight whenever other passengers glance its way. Matheson also provided five screenplays from Poe for Corman. Perhaps the best of these engaging low-budget works was a satirical take on The Raven (1963), with Boris KarloffPeter Lorre, Vincent Price and newcomer Jack Nicholson.
When he heard news of the assassination of President John F Kennedyin Dallas on 22 November 1963, Matheson abandoned a game of golf and was returning home when he was continually tailgated by a truck. This inspired a long story, Duel, which he adapted for Spielberg's terrifying made-for-television movie. Spielberg added scenes for a cinema release, but Matheson preferred the TV version.
Other television films included The Night Stalker (1972) and a notable movie in which Dick Van Dyke drew on his own alcoholic struggle, The Morning After (1974). A Hammer work, The Devil Rides Out (1968), from the novel by Dennis Wheatley, gave much scope to a sinister Charles Gray as the leader of a satanic cult.
Matheson continued to write short stories, and also returned to novels with the gothic Hell House (1971), which became the lacklustre film The Legend of Hell House (1973). Bid Time Return (1975), in which a man travels through time to pursue the subject of a 19th-century portrait, was filmed as Somewhere in Time in 1980 with Christopher Reeve. What Dreams May Come (1978, adapted in 1998 into an Oscar-winning film with Robin Williams) revealed Matheson's growing preoccupation with psychic matters, and these were the subject of his non-fiction work The Path (1993). His work for children included the charming tale Abu and the Seven Marvels (2002).
Matheson is survived by his wife and their four children, three of whom became writers.
• Richard Burton Matheson, author and screenwriter, born 20 February 1926; died 23 June 2013