Robert Matzen broke into print just out of college with the mass-market Bantam paperback, Research Made Easy: a Guide for Students and Writers. His mentor at Bantam Books was New York editorial legend Toni Burbank, who, says Matzen, “provided lessons for a lifetime.” He is the author of seven books and also a filmmaker whose 2001 feature When the Forest Ran Red aired on PBS, earned six national awards including a Muse Award from the American Association of Museums, and became the most respected documentary on young George Washington and his role in the Seven Years War in America. It was the experience of recreating colonial-era battles and shooting on location at Washington’s home, Mount Vernon, that inspired Matzen to take a more intimate approach to retelling history. “I want you to feel the heartbeat of these people who once lived,” he says.
For 10 years Robert worked as a communications specialist for NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC. There he provided writing support and also used his experience as a filmmaker to write and direct a dozen films for NASA at facilities including Dryden Flight Research Center, Kennedy Space Center, Johnson Space Center, and other NASA facilities around the nation. He calls working with and directing astronauts his “dream job.”
Matzen’s interest in aeronautics and in Hollywood history led to his two most recent books. Fireball: Carole Lombard and the Mystery of Flight 3 took an unconventional look at the life of Carole Lombard, and at the plane crash that killed her in January 1942. For this book he obtained TWA’s confidential files on the crash, examined the two federal investigations into the loss of Flight 3 along with testimony from the coroner’s inquests of the 22 crash victims, and undertook a dangerous climb of Nevada’s Potosi Mountain to the crash site, which he documented in the introduction of Fireball.
His 2016 release, Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe, tells the story of Stewart’s career as a combat pilot in World War II as seen through his own eyes and those of the men who fought with and against him. This time the author interviewed veterans of the 445th Bomb Group who flew with Stewart, combed through thousands of pages of U.S. Army Air Forces records, visited key sites in England, France, Holland, and Germany, and flew in B-17 and B-24 four-engine bombers like those Jimmy Stewart piloted in the war.
Robert lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with his wife Mary and their three cats, Simone, Francois, and Angelique.