The Ray Bradbury Centennial

The Illustrated Man Looks Over His Shoulder As He Writes

Born this day 100 years ago, the great writer of imaginative works Ray Bradbury (1920-2012).

One exercise I love is taking stock of popular figures whom I have erroneously believed I had little to do with…and finding all the places of intersection as well as the ways their lives have impacted mine. Bradbury’s life and career turned up a trove on both scores. His work proves to have a surprising amount of overlap with the usual themes of this blog. In no particular order, here’s what I’ve learned, realized, remembered, and/or will try to be more mindful of when I think of the author going forward:

When he was 12 Bradbury attended a carnival where he had a memorable encounter with a performer named “Mr. Electrico” (clearly an act in the Walford Bodie tradition). He later recounted the incident as one of the most formative of his life. There are echoes of the experience in such writings as his first book Dark Carnival (1947), The Illustrated Man (1951, with its tattooed tale teller), and Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962, set at a sinister carnival). The Illustrated Man became a 1969 film with Rod Steiger; Something Wicked, a 1983 movie with the terrific cast of Jason Robards, Jonathan Pryce, Diane Ladd, Arthur Hill, Pam Grier, Jack Dodson (Howard from The Andy Griffith Show), the great Royal Dano, Ellen Geer, and little person Angelo Rossitto from Freaks.

…Before he decided to become a writer, Bradbury thought he might be a magician. In the 1990s, David Copperfield included stories by Bradbury in an anthology he edited.

…As a very young man (1939-41), Bradbury worked as a playwright and actor with a Los Angeles area theatre run by actress Laraine Day. Obsessed with stars, he hung out around movie studios and nightclubs like the Brown Derby, where he thrilled at spot people like Norma Shearer, Ronald Colman, Cary GrantMarlene DietrichMae West, and Laurel and Hardy.

…Bradbury’s first paid writing was a joke he sold to the Burns and Allen radio show. He once appeared on You Bet Your Life with Groucho Marx. His birthplace of Waukeegan, Illinois (which he usually fictionalized as “Green Town”) was famously also that of Jack Benny.

…Bradbury’s middle name of “Douglas” was after Douglas Fairbanks. At the age of three he saw the Lon Chaney version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923), which he counted as one of the formative experiences of his life.

…Another of Bradbury’s favorite movies as a kid was naturally the original King Kong (1933). 20 years later his writings would make their way to the screen in the films It Came from Outer Space and The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, both 1953. He was a lifelong friend of Ray Harryhausen and George Pal.

…Bradbury’s favorite authors as a young person included H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, Edgar Allan Poe, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Shakespeare, and more surprising ones like John Steinbeck and Thomas Wolfe. In this connection it is well to remember his terrific screenplay for John Huston’s 1956 screen adaptation of Moby Dick.

Old Time radio and comics were also influences. Bradbury was a particular fan of Chandu the Magician, Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers.

…His stories were adapted into E.C. Comics, as well as scripts for TV shows like Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Twilight Zone, and his own show The Ray Bradbury Theatre, which ran from 1985 to 1992. Though he never wrote for Star Trek, he was good friends with Gene Roddenberry.

…The 1980 mini-series of The Martian Chronicles was probably the most notable television version of Bradbury’s work. Adapted by Richard Matheson and directed by Michael Anderson, it naturally left the author dissatisfied (authors are always unhappy with adaptations). Having read the book, I of course tuned in to the original telecast, which was indeed quite different from the original. The all-star cast included Rock Hudson, Darren McGavin (of Matheson’s The Night Stalker), Bernie Casey, Roddy McDowell (sci fi royalty at the time due to Planet of the Apes), Fritz Weaver (then fresh off another major mini-series, Holocaust), Joyce Van Patten, Bernadette Peters, and Barry Morse (from Space: 1999).

…The most notable movie made of a Bradbury novel is surely Francois Truffaut’s 1966 adaptation of Fahrenheit 451. The horrifying image of government book burning made the phrase idiomatic in the English language, and it has been repurposed many a time, perhaps most daringly by Michael Moore for his 2004 documentary Farhenheit 9/11. Bradbury, an independent with conservative leanings, objected to this use of the title. This seems the best place to mention that Bradbury was also a fan of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead.

…In addition to above mentioned works I read Bradbury’s Americana-drenched novel Dandelion Wine (1957) in Junior High School, and liked it so much I later wrote a song inspired by it. Bradbury’s tying together of Americana and fantasy, it strikes me, was extremely influential on the likes of Steven Spielberg, Stephen King, and others of their generation.

Charles Addams illustrated some of Bradbury’s works and was one of his good friends.

…Bradbury consulted on the 1964 World’s Fair in Flushing, as well as the original exhibit at Disney’s Epcot Center.

…Bradbury’s The Screaming Woman became a 1972 ABC Movie of the Week starring Olivia de Havilland, Joseph Cotten, et al. A definite example of the psycho-biddy genre we wrote about here.

…Bradbury worked on a 1992 TV adaptation of Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland.

This is far from all there is to tell: hundreds of books, stories, and scripts have his name attached to them, but like I say I mention here only the ones with which I have perceived connections to our own obsessions.