Today, February 20th, This Day in Twilight Zone History and The Twilight Zone Encyclopedia remember author, screenwriter and genre giant Richard Matheson, who was born on this day in 1926. Matheson wrote or originated the story for 16 classic TZ episodes, including "And When the Sky Was Opened," "Third from the Sun," "The Last Flight," "Nick of Time," "The Invaders," and "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet."
Matheson once told an interviewer that the idea for "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" came appropriately when he was looking out an airplane window at cloud formations and started to picture a skier flying down one of those big clouds. Well, a skier isn't very dramatic, so he became a gremlin attempting to damage an airplane engine.
Author Stephen King paid Matheson a huge compliment when he spoke of how the latter inspired him to tell modern horror stories that didn't take place in clichéd old dark houses or castles. Matheson was a master at taking ordinary settings and turning them into playgrounds for fantasy and horror. In his novel The Incredible Shrinking Man, he turned an ordinary cellar into a frightening battleground for embattled Scott Carey.
He was also good at scaring the bejesus out of people. While reading his novel Hell House, I remember jumping three feet when the telephone rang.
So here’s to one of the literary titans who contributed immeasurably to the fear factor that became one of the main stops on the subway system of fantasy and terror we call The Twilight Zone.