George Clayton Johnson, Writer of “Wisdom Fiction”
Posted by Paul
I’ve written a blog post about Richard Matheson and his Twilight Zone episodes. I’ve written one about Charles Beaumont. I’ve even written one about Earl Hamner. And Heaven knows I’ve written plenty about Rod Serling.
But I’ve never written one about George Clayton Johnson. And now the news of his death at 86 is making me wish I had done so much sooner.
True, I did spotlight one of his wonderful TZ episodes before now, “A Game of Pool” (twice, in fact – here and here). But no post yet about “Nothing in the Dark”? “Kick the Can”? “A Penny For Your Thoughts”? There’s hardly a Twilight Zone fan out there who doesn’t list at least one of those classics among his favorite episodes.
Johnson made his mark on the Zone even beyond those four episodes. Serling based his scripts for “Execution” and “The Four of Us Are Dying” on short stories written by George. Small wonder that Rod mentioned his name (with Beaumont’s and Matheson’s) from the podium as he accepted his second Emmy for writing The Twilight Zone.
Johnson went on, of course, to write many other memorable stories for Star Trek and other series, and he co-authored the landmark sci-fi novel “Logan’s Run”. But TZ was his launching pad.
Reading a lot about TZ has given me a greater appreciation for Johnson’s talent. He always came across as a gregarious and generous man whose recollections never failed to entertain. (Check out his story in this post, or what he had to say about Charles Beaumont.) I’ve written several posts about why TZ “works,” and Johnson often was there to supply the perfect quote.
Here’s one of my favorites: “For me, fantasy must be about something, otherwise it’s foolishness … ultimately, it must be about human beings, it must be about the human condition, it must be another look at infinity, it must be another way of seeing the paradox of existence.”
See, Johnson, who called TZ “wisdom fiction,” got it. Like Serling, he knew a weird story wasn’t enough. Without the qualities he describes in that quote, why should we care about the story on the page or on the screen? And those qualities shine through in those marvelous scripts he did for TZ (and others).
So here’s a toast to George Clayton Johnson. Thank you for sharing your talent with us and for leaving your mark on the most imaginative series of all time.
And George? I’ll write about those other three episodes in 2016. Promise. :)
As long as people talk about you, you’re not really dead. As long as they speak your name, you continue. A legend doesn’t die just because the man does.
— “A Game of Pool”
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Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!
About PaulHard-working, hard-playing fan of all pop culture, especially the Twilight Zone. Which led to a Twitter page. And then to a blog. And then to ... stay tuned. Yes, that's a picture of Rod Serling, not me. You can find the real me under the "Your Host" tab on my blog, along with biographical details that, while 100 percent accurate, sound kind of boastful and braggy. Sorry.
Posted on 12/25/2015, in Twilight Zone and tagged A Game of Pool, A Penny For Your Thoughts, Execution, George Clayton Johnson, Kick the Can, Nothing in the Dark, The Four of Us Are Dying. Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.