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