Richard Matheson

Robert Neville

Richard Burton Matheson was an author and screenwriter who was mainly in the horror, fantasy, and science fiction genres. Born on February 20, 1926, in Allendale, New Jersey, to Norwegian immigrants Bertolf and Fanny Matheson, Richard’s works in literature and film production have been a massive influence on modern movies, television, and literature. Some of his best works like ‘I Am Legend,’ ‘What Dreams May Come’, ‘Bid Time Return,’ and ‘Ride the Nightmare’ have been adapted into several critically acclaimed movies.

Life Facts

  • Richard Matheson was born on February 20, 1926.
  • In 1952, he married Ruth Ann Woodson, with whom he had four children.
  • Richard studied at the Missouri School of Journalism at the University of Missouri, obtaining a B.A. in 1949.
  • He served with the Army in Europe during World War II.
  • Richard received several awards for his contributions to literature.
  • His books, especially ‘I Am Legend,’ influenced several sci-fi and horror writers, including Stephen King and Anne Rice.

Interesting Facts

  • Richard published his first short story at eight years old.
  • Stephen King’s book ‘Cell’ is dedicated to Richard. He was listed as a creative influence.
  • He was inspired by Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ which he would read in the toilet during his army training.
  • Richard was disappointed with the adaptations of ‘I Am Legend,’ stating that they all failed to capture the novel.

Famous Books by Richard Matheson

  • ‘Hell House‘ is a novel that was published in 1971 and influenced the 1973 film titled ‘The Legend of Hell House.’ It is regarded as one of Richard Matheson’s scary books. After its abandonment for thirty years, professionals from diverse fields of study are selected to occupy a certain unearthly house for a week. Quite close to death, Rolf Rudolph Deutsch chooses these experts to help answer his questions on whether there is life after death. These professionals are to investigate the Belasco House and understand perfectly why it is called ‘The Hell House’ by the townsfolk. Their stay proves to be full of horrible surprises as they encounter the spirit haunting the house, and their weaknesses are preyed upon to destroy them mentally and physically. Eventually, the spirit haunting the house named Emeric Belasco is exposed and crushed by two previous guests named Benjamin Fischer and Edith Barett. Emeric’s pathetic feeling of inadequacy is confronted, and he is eternally silenced. Rolf Deutsch dies before these conclusions are reached, however.
  • ‘Shadow On The Sun’ is a tale of supernatural terror, originally published in 1994. It has its setting in mid-west America during the latter part of the nineteenth century. A local agent for the Bureau of Indian Affairs named Finley Billjohn assists in negotiating a peace treaty between the U.S. government and a band of Apache Indians. A little while after the treaty is signed, some townspeople are brutally killed. David Boutelle, who is a young southern Politician working for the U.S. government, suspects the Apaches have broken the treaty. Finley, on the other hand, suspects something darker and stranger is happening. His suspicions are confirmed when a strange man comes to town. An unknown man who is not exactly human and rides in wearing the dead men’s clothes.
  • ‘The Shrinking Man’ is a story about a man who unknowingly consumes insecticide and is further exposed to a cloud of radioactive spray. This causes his body to shrink daily. After a few days of shrinking, Scott Carey is forced to accept that he is not just losing weight; he is also getting shorter. Soon, he faces disrespect from his family because of his reduced stature. His life is also threatened as he becomes easy prey for animals to pick on. However, he is comforted by the fact that, contrary to his thoughts, he would not sink into nothingness. ‘The Shrinking Man’ is a book that has been adapted into the Hugo Award-winning film ‘The Incredible Shrinking Man‘. It was also adapted into another motion picture, ‘The Incredible Shrinking Woman,’ in 1981 by Universal Pictures. This classic was published in 1956.

Early Life

Matheson was born on February 20, 1926, in Allendale, New Jersey. He was born to Norwegian immigrants Bertolf and Fanny Matheson. When his parents got divorced, his mother took him to Brooklyn, New York, where he started schooling. In 1929, he attended Brooklyn Technical High School. After his service in the army during World War II, Matheson joined the Missouri School of Journalism, where he bagged a degree in Arts before moving to California. Initially, he was interested in pursuing a musical career, but his love for fantasy sparked his imagination and creativity.

Literary Career

Matheson’s writing was influenced by the film and book titled ‘Dracula.’ Kenneth Roberts also played a part in his literary career. His first short story was published in a newspaper when he was eight. His first novel, ‘Hunger and Thirst’ was written in California. However, it was disregarded by publishers for many years before finally getting published in 2010. His writing career was officially launched with the publication of the short story ‘Born of Man and Woman’ that was published in ‘The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction’ in 1950, a year after he graduated from the University of Missouri. This story brought widespread attention and exposure to Matheson’s works. It also became the title of his first short story collection which appeared in 1954. His first published novel ‘Someone is Bleeding’ appeared in Lion Books in 1953. He also produced ‘Fury on Sunday’ that year.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Matheson was part of a society of writers called ‘The Southern California Sorcerers.’  ‘I Am Legend’ was his third and best novel, published in 1954 while he worked at the Douglas Aircraft Plant in Santa Monica, California. Before his death, Matheson published over twenty-five novels and various short stories of different genres.

Television Career

Matheson was also a creative screenwriter for film and television. He wrote several episodes of The Twilight Zone,’ and even famous series like ‘The Alfred Hitchcock Hour’ and ‘The Night Stalker.’ Richard Matheson’s extensive television and movie accomplishments include his screenplays for Roger Corman’s Edgar Allen Poe films. One of these was ‘Duel,’ directed for TV by Steven Spielberg in 1971. Matheson’s teleplay for ‘The Night Stalker’ led to a TV show, Kolchak: The Night Stalker. Richard Matheson’s works of literature have provided the basis for numerous films, including ‘What Dreams May Come’ (1998), ‘Stir of Echoes’ (1999), and ‘I Am Legend’ (2007).


Once, Stephen Spielberg said Richard Matheson was in the same category as Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov. The expert author and scriptwriter received a lot of praise and awards for his contributions to literature. Some of these awards include:

  • ‘Born of Man and Woman’ won the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Awards in 1970.
  • Richard Matheson got the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement in 1984.
  • ‘What Dreams May Come’ was an Academy Award-winning film in 1998.
  • Matheson collected the Bram Stoker Award for Life Achievement in 1991.

Personal Life and Death

Richard Matheson met Ruth Ann Woodson in California and married her in 1952. They had four children named: Bettina Mayberry, Richard Christian, Christian Matheson, and Ali Marie Matheson. Three of these children followed Matheson’s passion and became writers of fiction and screenplays.

Matheson died on June 23, 2013, at his home in Los Angeles, California. His death was confirmed by his son Richard Christian.

Literature by Richard Matheson

Explore literature by Richard Matheson below, created by the team at Book Analysis.