Thursday, December 24, 2015

George Clayton Johnson (1929-2015)

George Clayton Johnson passed away on December 25, 2015. He was 86 years old. If you are a fan of The Twilight Zone or a reader of this blog then you know his importance both to the show and to us personally. He was a highly gifted writer and delivered some of the most enduring episodes of The Twilight Zone. Johnson had 8 total credits on the show, four for story and four more for story and teleplay. Despite his relatively low volume of output, however, his contributions to the show are of such high quality that his presence looms equally large as those of his personal friends and professional colleagues Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont, writers who amassed 16 and 22 credits on the series, respectively. Below are George Clayton Johnson's credits for The Twilight Zone: 

"The Four of Us Are Dying" (adapted by Rod Serling)
"Execution" (adapted by Rod Serling)
"The Prime Mover" (adapted by Johnson and Charles Beaumont, credited solely to Beaumont)
"Ninety Years Without Slumbering" (as "Johnson Smith," adapted by Richard de Roy)

"A Penny For Your Thoughts"
"A Game of Pool"
"Nothing in the Dark"
"Kick the Can"

"A Game of Pool," "Nothing in the Dark," and "Kick the Can" are among the most artistic, well-written, and memorable episodes of the series. Johnson broke into writing for television through The Twilight Zone. After selling three of his stories to the series, Johnson's friend, The Twilight Zone writer Charles Beaumont, challenged Johnson to not only sell a story to the series but to also write the teleplay. Johnson used the leverage gained when a fourth story sold to the series, "Sea Change," was subsequently rejected by the series sponsor General Foods, who found the story's subject matter too grisly. Series producer Buck Houghton requested that Johnson buy the story back, so that Johnson could sell the story elsewhere and the series could recoup the expenditure. Johnson agreed to do so if he were also allowed the opportunity to write a script for the series. The resulting episode, the delightful "A Penny for Your Thoughts," was a success and Johnson launched his career as a freelance television writer. The Twilight Zone was his steadiest outlet and he contributed exceptional episodes over the following two seasons. Rod Serling acknowledged Johnson's contributions to the series by name when delivering his acceptance speech for The Twilight Zone's second Emmy Award for writing. Rod Serling accepts Emmy Awards for Twilight Zone.

George Clayton Johnson co-wrote (with William F. Nolan) the 1967 novel Logan's Run, adapted for film in 1976, a television show (1977-1978), and two comic book series. He wrote the story that became the 1960 film Ocean's 11, starring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis, Jr., which was remade in 2001 starring George Clooney and Brad Pitt. He also wrote the first broadcast episode of Star Trek, "The Man Trap." Johnson wrote memorable episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Route 66, Honey West, and Kung Fu. He assisted Ray Bradbury in scripting Bradbury's 1956 short story "Icarus Montgolfier Wright" for the Academy Award nominated animated short film. View the short film.

Johnson credited Ray Bradbury and Theodore Sturgeon as two of his mentors as a developing writer. His short stories can be found in the books Twilight Zone Scripts and Stories (Streamline, 1996) and All of Us are Dying and Other Stories (Subterranean Press, 1999). A book length profile, George Clayton Johnson: Fictioneer, by Vivien Cooper, was released by Bear Manor in 2013.

Below are photos from Johnson's set visit for the filming of arguably his best episode, "Nothing in the Dark," filmed during the second season but not broadcast until the third season. Below that, follow the links to Johnson's episodes we've covered here in the Vortex. 

We already miss you, George. Thanks for the stories.

Robert Redford and George Clayton Johnson on the set of "Nothing in the Dark"

George Clayton Johnson and Gladys Cooper on the set of "Nothing in the Dark"

"The Four of Us Are Dying"
"The Prime Mover"
"A Penny For Your Thoughts"
"A Game of Pool"
"Nothing in the Dark"
"Kick the Can"

-Jordan Prejean and Brian Durant

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Playboy Fiction Anthologies of the 1960s and 1970s

Cover by Jack Gregory
Beginning in 1966 with The Playboy Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Playboy Press, the book publishing arm of the popular men's magazine, began publishing a series of book anthologies which mined the magazine's accumulated collection of short-form horror, crime, and science fiction. The magazine's fiction editor at the time was Ray Russell (1924-1999), a noted writer of novels and stories (Sardonicus and Other Stories, The Case Against Satan, Unholy Trinity) and films (The Premature Burial; X: The Man With the X-Ray Eyes), whose tastes shaped the fiction featured in the magazine and who had, since the magazine's beginnings, bought fiction from the finest genre writers of the time.
Cover by Richard Tyler
Playboy was a high paying market which allowed its writers to produce works free of the restraining components of genre magazines and of a more violent and sexually exploratory nature than was acceptable to the mainstream "slick" magazines. The result was the accumulation in a single market of some of the most outstanding horror, crime, and science fiction of the time. In a relatively short number of years the magazine had assembled a wealth of high quality genre material with first book publication rights held on nearly all of it. Once Playboy Press was created to compete in the book publishing industry, it became obvious how to use that store of quality genre fiction. 

Cover by Gilbert Stone
The Playboy Press anthologies arrived slowly. 1966 saw the release of The Playboy Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy and The Playboy Book of Crime and Suspense in hardcover. It was followed the next year with the hardcover release of The Playboy Book of Horror and the Supernatural. 1968 saw all three books reprinted in paperback editions. Playboy's Stories of the Sinister & Strange, a paperback, followed in 1969. These titles are still highly sought after items, notable for the quality of the fiction. 

After a quiet 1970 in which Playboy Press published no genre anthologies, nine paperbacks appeared in 1971, most of them under the banner title Playboy Science Fiction, under which additional science fiction novels and single author collections appeared. Many of the stories contained within the anthologies combined elements of science fiction and horror, a type of genre mash-up that was particularly popular at the time. Stories of psychological alienation and of man's diminishing importance in the face of an infinite universe proliferated. A self-consciously modernized form of the horror story matured in the pages of the magazine, as well. These stories were set in a recognizable urban or suburban middle-class milieu, where monstrosity, murder, and mutation were as likely as after-dinner cocktails. 

The anthologies were occasionally themed ("10 Stories of Space Flight," etc.) and usually took the book title from that of the lead story within. A partial list of notable authors represented in the anthologies includes J.G. Ballard, Arthur C. Clarke, Charles Beaumont, Frederik Pohl, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Robert Sheckley, Robert Bloch, Algis Budrys, Gerald Kersh, Ray Bradbury, William F. Nolan, Dennis Etchison, Anthony Boucher, Theodore Sturgeon, Norman Spinrad, Henry Slesar, Richard Matheson, Fredric Brown, Avram Davidson, William Tenn, Damon Knight, Italo Calvino, and Arthur Porges. 

After the fruitful year of 1971, the production of this type of book from Playboy Press abruptly slowed down. 1974 saw an anthology of crime stories, Murder, My Love, but Playboy Press began to concentrate efforts on works of original fiction and on non-fiction books consisting of reprint material, such as Beyond Reason: Playboy's Book of Psychic Phenomena (1973).  

There was a brief resurgence of the horror anthology from Playboy Press beginning in 1979 with Nightmares, compiled by noted horror writer and editor Charles L. Grant. This anthology, and those which followed, were unlike the preceding anthologies in that the stories were not first published in the magazine. Grant's work with Playboy Press continued with the paperback edition of the initial volume of his celebrated Shadows series in 1980, followed by Horrors in 1981, and Terrors in 1982. Stuart David Schiff, creator of Whispers magazine (1973-1983), delivered the horror anthology Death in 1982. The contents of these anthologies were a combination of established masters (Fritz Leiber, Robert Bloch, William F. Nolan, Joseph Payne Brennan) and younger writers, many of whom were on the verge of fueling the emerging horror publishing "boom" of the 1980's. These horror anthologies from Playboy Press, along with excellent horror anthologies compiled by literary agent Kirby McCauley between 1975-1980 (Night Chills, Beyond Midnight, Frights, Dark Forces), were a significant part of the foundation upon which the horror publishing boom was built, pushing horror into the mainstream of the publishing industry.  

In 1980, Playboy Press published the retrospective volume Galaxy: Thirty Years of Innovative Science Fiction in hardcover. It is a celebration of the best from Galaxy Science Fiction Magazine with stories from the magazine's archives and memoirs from the writers that contributed to the magazine. It was also a selection of the Science Fiction Book Club.

Ray Russell was succeeded by Alice K. Turner as Playboy fiction editor in 1976. Fortunately, Turner also had a taste for science fiction, fantasy, and horror. She compiled a hardcover volume in 1999 titled The Playboy Book of Science Fiction, about half of which is from her tenure as fiction editor of the magazine.


-Most of the anthologies were compiled by Playboy fiction editor Ray Russell and credited only as by "The Editors of Playboy." It is noted below where Russell was not the editor. Paperback publication for books which originally appeared in hardcover are noted. Cover art credits are given for covers featured in this post. 

-The Playboy Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy (cover by Jack Gregory; paperback - 1968)
-The Playboy Book of Crime and Suspense (paperback - 1968)


-The Playboy Book of Horror and the Supernatural (paperback - 1968; paperback cover by Richard Tyler)

-Playboy's Stories of the Sinister & Strange (cover by Gilbert Stone)


-Transit of Earth (cover by Shelly Canton)
-Last Train to Limbo (cover by Shelly Canton)
-From the "S" File
-The Dead Astronaut (cover by Pompeo Posar) 
-The Fiend
-Masks (cover by George Suyeoka)
-The Fully Automated Love Life of Henry Keanridge (cover by Don Punchatz)
-Weird Show (cover by Skip Williamson) 
-The Future is Now (cover by Bill Arsenault; edited by William F. Nolan; originally appeared in hardcover in 1970 from Sherbourne Press)


-Murder, My Love (edited by Eric Corder)


-Nightmares (edited by Charles L. Grant)


-Galaxy: Thirty Years of Innovative Science Fiction (edited by Frederik Pohl, Martin H. Greenberg, and Joseph D. Olander; paperback, 2 vols, 1981)
-Shadows (edited by Charles L. Grant)


-Horrors (edited by Charles L. Grant)

-Death (edited by Stuart David Schiff)
-Terrors (edited by Charles L. Grant)


-The Playboy Book of Science Fiction (edited by Alice K. Turner; paperback - 1999)