George Clayton Johnson, Writer of “Wisdom Fiction”

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.

GCJ2

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.

KickTheCan2

“Kick the Can”

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.”

pennyforyourthoughts4

“A Penny For Your Thoughts”

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”

"Nothing in the Dark"

“Nothing in the Dark”

***

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Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!

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About Paul

Hard-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 , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. Thanks for focusing my attention on George today, Paul. One of the things I learned from The Twilight Zone is that you can tell a story and entertain and send a message at the same time. I knew that that was the kind of writing I wanted to (try to) do. I’m still trying and these guys are still setting the bar very very high. Kick the Can is one of my favorites, to be sure.

    Merry Christmas Paul. I hope to see you on Twitter during the Marathon.

    • My pleasure, Dan, as always! And yes, that’s the essence of the Zone right there. Sure, not EVERY story has to have a message, but when you put the story first, and remember that your top priority is to entertain, then you can also include a message (provided, for my money, that it’s organic and not tacked on). I love Kick the Can for that reason. I love the story, which is so human and interesting, and the message brings tears to my eyes.

      And Merry Christmas to you too, Dan! And to Mrs. A, and Faith, and Maddie, and the kitties, and all of your loved ones. See you during the marathon for sure!

  2. A great post about a great writer, Paul! But as to that linked interview…I just can’t get behind what he’s chosen to talk about at least in the first 6 minutes of his interview…I’ll have to get back to it later…

    And Dan—keep writing! If you’re writing…you’re not “trying”…you’re DOING. Wish you the best in your efforts!

    • Hey, Frank! I appreciate the kind words. As for the interview, yeah, GCJ was always a bit out there (and I say that in an affectionate way; I really like him and view him like I would a nice, somewhat eccentric uncle). I’m not sure if you were referring to something in particular in those first six minutes — since he hit on how he goes about writing and viewing his time, and how he feels about on marijuana — or maybe that (like me) you want to hear him talk about TZ, and here he is flitting all over the place, but either way, I understand how you feel.

      • It was his monologue on pot, for crying out loud. Turned me off to the interview—and him. I GET his POINT…but he droned on and on about it…didn’t leave it alone. Like you said, I wanted to hear him talk about WRITING and THE TWILIGHT ZONE.

      • Yeah, he apparently considered himself quite an evangelist for pot. It’s a shame he had to carry on about it. I imagine quite a few people bailed early on the interview for that reason.

      • Well, we all have our quirks, don’t we? But I won’t throw out the baby with the bath water … ;-]

  3. Not a TZ episode, but if you can find the short story: “The Freeway” by George Clayton Johnson it is well worth reading.

    • Thanks, Craig! Fortunately, I have read that one — it’s in “All Of Us Are Dying and Other Stories” (which may be how you read it as well). Well worth reading indeed.

  4. The last time I got a chance to talk at length with George was in his home last year. And, at one point in the conversation, he pointed to this short list of stories that summed it up for him: The Four of Us are Dying (or George’s original title, All of Us Are Dying), A Game of Pool, Nothing in the Dark, and Kick the Can. Those are all powerful works among other great work. It would be interesting to study those four in particular as they meant so much to him.

    • Very powerful indeed, Henry. And you got to meet and talk to him yourself — what a treasured memory that must be. As you may have seen above, I have written about “A Game of Pool,” and I fully intend to explore the other three, which are all such fan favorites — and deservedly so.

  1. Pingback: Matheson: In the Zone | Shadow & Substance

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