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.
Matzen’s latest three works encompass his “Hollywood in World War II trilogy” for GoodKnight Books. The trilogy includes Fireball: Carole Lombard and the Mystery of Flight 3 (2014), Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe (2016), and the forthcoming Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn and World War II (April 2019). Fireball looks at the approach of the war as seen through the eyes of Carole Lombard in Hollywood, and examines the wartime elements that contributed to her death; Mission chronicles the air war over France and Germany as Jimmy Stewart lived it; Dutch Girl provides the perspective of teenaged Audrey Hepburn as one of millions of civilians in the Netherlands who endured life under Nazi rule. Matzen was described recently by Foreword Reviews magazine in its review of Dutch Girl as “a master storyteller.”
Matzen is known for his deep research into every subject. For Fireball 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 to the book. For Mission, 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. Dutch Girl took Matzen to the Netherlands for research at the Nationaal Archief in The Hague and the Gelders Archief in Arnhem. He met many Dutch men and women who lived through the war with Hepburn and visited all the sites important to her youth.
For 10 years he 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 is a sought-after speaker who has appeared before audiences as large as 1,200. He is a veteran of regional and international television appearances talking about his books, and he has been requested for local, regional, national, and international radio outlets including the BBC, Talk Radio Europe, and Radio Russia. He lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with his wife Mary and their cats Francois and Angelique.