Wednesday, December 23, 2015

George Clayton Johnson, RIP

You don’t know this guy. But you saw what he did.

UPDATE, 26 DEC 2015: I learned yesterday evening that I was proceeding from one of several erroneous reports of George Clayton Johnson’s death. Johnson’s son announced his father’s passing on Christmas Day. Lesson learned: check the sources. If the death notice isn’t from the family, it’s likely a hoax, or, as I suppose in this case, a matter of writing the obituary and carelessly printing it before the subject in question has passed away. 

Remember that episode of The Twilight Zone in which Jack Klugman played a game of pool with a deadly serious Jonathan Winters? George Clayton Johnson wrote that, and seven other episodes, including that one in which a very young Robert Redford played Death masquerading as a wounded police officer. Johnson is primarily remembered for his Twilight Zone work, but his story about a shape-shifting, last-of-its-kind salt vampire, “The Man Trap,” was the first episode of Star Trek ever televised, which I expect we’ll hear more about as that air date nears its 50th anniversary on 8 September 2016.

As Monsters of the Week go, the Salt Vampire
was pretty goddamned terrifying. Especially if
you’re nine years old and seeing it for the first time.
With respect to Johnson, most of Star Trek’s production people, including actor Leonard Nimoy, were against airing “The Man Trap” first, because they considered it a standard-issue Monster of the Week story. NBC, however, wanted something just like that to draw in viewers. I get the impression Johnson himself wasn’t terribly proud of the script himself, as he never talked about it much. I believe, as Nimoy did (it was in an interview with him in which I learned this story), that Star Trek’s success as a series would have been far more immediate if they had aired the shows by their shooting schedule and presented “The Corbomite Maneuver” first. It would have made for a much more spectacular series premiere.

Trust me, I’ve not quite scratched the surface
of GCJ’s career. Check out the somewhat
breathless, albeit more comprehensive obituary
where this photo comes from
All that said, any writer worth his salt, myself included, wishes he had one-tenth of one percent of George Clayton Johnson’s résumé, which included far more than Star Trek and The Twilight Zone. (The original story—his first sale—that became the basis for the original Rat Pack Ocean’s 11 film, for one. Co-writing the novel that became the movie Logan’s Run, for two. There’s more.) George Clayton Johnson was one of those unsung heroes of TV and film who wrote a bunch of stories you remember seeing, but unless you’re a writer, or into classic 1960s TV fandom, you never caught his name. He lived a full, long life, did lots of neat stuff, and, as of 25 December 2015, he’s gone. As the Great Bukowski asked, not so rhetorically, “Where are the replacements?” I don’t know about you, but this current crop of narrow-minded, “politically correct” pamphleteers posing as writers ain’t doing shit for me.