It is with the heaviest of hearts and the greatest of sorrows that we at SCIFI.radio report on the passing of legendary science fiction novelist and screenplay writer, Mr. George Clayton Johnson, who this evening has lost his battle with cancer at the age of 86. Though not extensively published, Johnson has left an indelible mark on the science fiction community with his stories, such as his co-authoring of Logan’s Run. Many of his other works were adapted into screenplays, as with the original version of Ocean’s 11, and episodes of television shows like The Twilight Zone and, most notably, the first episode of Star Trek to ever be broadcast.
Born on July 10, 1929, Johnson grew up during the Great Depression in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Born in a barn, the prolific writer would have to repeat the sixth grade, then drop out of school entirely by the eighth grade. In adulthood, he worked for a short time as a telegraph operator, then a draftsman in the U.S. Army. He later enrolled at Auburn University, then known as the Alabama Polytechnic Institute, under the G.I. Bill, but soon quit to travel around the country, working once again as a draftsman.
He soon, however, decided to become a writer, and in 1960 penned his first short story: the concept that would serve as the basis for the film classic Ocean’s 11, starring legendary members of the Rat Pack: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis, Jr.. Johnson would later join a group comprised of Southern California science fiction writers such as Theodore Sturgeon, Charles Beaumont, Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury, and William F. Nolan, with whom he would go on to co-write Logan’s Run in 1967. Through this group, he met legendary Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling. Johnson went on to sell his first story to Serling, titled All Of Us Are Dying. This would later be produced as the Twilight Zone episode The Four Of Us Are Dying, and later his first teleplay, A Penny For Your Thoughts. Johnson was responsible for several classic episodes of the seminal sci-fi anthology series, such as Kick The Can, A Game Of Pool, Nothing In The Dark, Execution, The Prime Mover, and Ninety Years Without Slumbering.
In 1962, Johnson realized a very special dream by being allowed to co-author the screenplay for Icarus Montgolfier Wright with the original writer of the short story, Ray Bradbury. The film would be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Short Animated Film. His success in television continued in 1966, when he wrote the screenplay for The Man Trap, which became the first episode of the classic Star Trek to ever air on television. Logan’s Run would go on to receive a film adaptation in 1976, becoming a mainstay of science fiction media fandom. All the while, Johnson continued to write, publishing various stories, essays, and other pieces as late as 2009. These works included his only published collection of short stories, titled All Of Us Are Dying, in 1998.
The collection begins with a story titled Your Three Minutes Are Up, in which the author himself receives a call from beyond the grave from Charles Beaumont, urging him to get their group of friends back together in his absence. The story is a brief, but hard hitting reminder of the poignancy of life and death, and does far more than remind the reader to “seize the day.” Instead, the story is a reminder that Death itself is a regret if one does not cherish those they have in the here and now.
Johnson is survived by his wife, Lola, his son Paul, and innumerable fans who will keep him alive in their love of his work. Whether he appears to a frustrated writer like Fats Brown appeared to an erstwhile pool player, or perhaps uses his one phone call in Heaven to urge a loved one not to lose touch with the enigmatic group of people that surrounded them, he will forever have his place in sci-fi history, and a special place in all our hearts for generations to come.
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