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 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, his contributions to the show were of such high quality that his presence looms equally large as those of his personal friends and professional colleagues Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont, both of whom were principle show writers. Below are 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" must be rated as among the most successful and memorable episodes of the show. Johnson broke into writing for television through Rod Serling and the Zone. After selling some of his stories to Rod Serling's Cayuga Productions, Johnson's friend and Zone writer Charles Beaumont challenged Johnson to not only sell the story that became "A Penny for Your Thoughts" but to also write the teleplay. It took some negotiation with show producer Buck Houghton but Johnson was eventually allowed to write the script himself. The episode was a success and Johnson launched his career as a freelance television writer. Twilight Zone was his most steady outlet and he would contribute exceptional episodes over the following two seasons. Serling acknowledged Johnson's contributions to the show 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 famous 1967 dystopian novel Logan's Run, later turned into a cult movie, television show, and two comic book series. He wrote the story treatment 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 episode of Star Trek, "The Man Trap." Johnson also has writing credits on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Route 66, Honey West, and Kung Fu. He assisted Ray Bradbury in turning that writer's short story "Icarus Montgolfier Wright" into an 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 some photos from when George visited the set for the filming of his masterpiece, "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