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R.I.P. Ray Bradbury - The man who dreamed the future

Ray Bradbury set the tone for more of the 20th century than most realize. Jay Garmon reflects on a personal encounter that highlighted the influence of this legendary creative mind.

Ray Bradbury passed away today at the age of 91. More or less the entire world is weighing in on his death, and for good reason. Bradbury was a pillar of the science fiction literary community, with honors to stagger the imagination. He worked with both Disney and Hitchcock, which should give you an idea of the breadth of his interests and abilities. The Internet is filled to bursting with Bradbury anecdotes and interviews, and they're all wondrous, but if you would indulge me, I'd like to share my one and only personal Bradbury story.

It's a bit of a doozy.

Like most adults my age (35), Bradbury wasn't originally much of an icon to me beyond his role as an author of Fahrenheit 451, his seminal novel most of us were assigned at some point in school. (If not, now is the time to beat your school board about the head with a titanium cluestick.) To pardon the pun, the book didn't precisely set me afire. I was more a Vonnegut man, as far as school-mandated sci-fi classics were concerned, particularly "Harrison Bergeron".

In 2002, that all changed thanks to Comic-Con International.

A friend and I ventured to Comic-Con for the first (and only) time that year, thanks in no small part to depressed travel prices after 9/11. We were there for the comics and any other media figures we met were strictly good fortune. On the Saturday of the convention, in the infamous Hall H, we made plans to see Ray Bradbury speak, mostly as a warm up for the next two headliners in the same venue: J. Michael Straczynski and Joss Whedon, respectively. Taking in Bradbury was just a way of snagging a good seat.

Ray was about to preemptively punk Joe and Joss by virtue of unmitigated awesome.

Bradbury strode in to the stage with a bit of frailty, being a mere 81 at the time, to a thunderous ovation. He took his seat, and was greeted by a nondescript moderator who asked him a series of utterly forgettable questions, most of them about Bradbury's "ironic" fear of flying. Fortunately, said moderator quickly had to bow out to run another panel, and in his place perhaps unknowingly organized one of the great happenstance reunions in the history of science fiction.

Ray Bradbury spent the next 50 minutes being "interviewed" by Julius Schwartz, the Editor Emeritus of DC Comics who practically invented the Silver Age and, prior to his work on funnybooks, just happened to be the literary agent for one Ray Bradbury. What began as a tepid Q&A panel quickly became one boisterous old friend goading another into recounting his greatest and most amusing accomplishments.

Bradbury, you see, had accidentally invented big chunks of the 20th century, and Schwartz was going to make him take credit. I'll convey what best I can remember of this legendary exchange.

Where to begin...

Bradbury began his career at 13, sending off handwritten sample scripts to the Burns & Allen radio show. One was good enough that George Burns actually wrote back with show notes. That's like Tina Fey having a professional exchange with a middle schooler who sent in a fan script for 30 Rock. Ray had pre-pubescent writing chops.

Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 mostly as an excuse to get out of the house. His daughter was very young and he couldn't stand being cooped up in his LA home with a wife and baby, so he'd take a bag of dimes to the UCLA library and rent a typewriter for 10 cents per half hour. He could only write as long as he had dimes. The book was actually a rewrite of some short stories and a novella, but he knew there was a novel there somewhere and he wrote it in fits and starts with no initial editing. Fahrenheit 451 is considered one of the greatest novels of the 20th century, which outlines the threat of censorship and information warfare, and it was written on a rented typewriter simply to get Ray out of the house.

Fahrenheit 451 wasn't all that successful at first, but in 1953 Bradbury was approached by a young man looking to launch a magazine, and he was looking for a bit of a name to put on his first issue to help sell it. Unfortunately, the publisher didn't have much money. Bradbury agreed to let the guy serialize Fahrenheit 451 across three issues, paying him only for the first installment and, if the magazine took off, finishing out his rate for the next two bits. The publisher? Hugh Hefner. The magazine? Playboy. Without Ray Bradbury, there might never have been a Playboy magazine. Without Playboy, Fahrenheit 451 doesn't get famous. Let that sink in.

Ray did as much screenwriting work as he did prose, and he became friends with both Walt Disney and Ray Harryhausen. Bradbury would actually play with clay models in Harryhausen's garage. That's like George Lucas letting you build game avatars with ILM equipment.

Disney had Bradbury (and Werner von Braun) write some films in the 1950s about the hypothetical future of manned spaceflight. As such, Bradbury became sort of a media go-to guy for interviews about the space race. Unfortunately, considering that Soviets were clobbering the U.S. early on, most of these became ambush interviews where Bradbury was mocked as the starry-eyed writer who was professing technically impossible space nonsense just to sell books. Not to worry, Bradbury kept a list of all the anchors and journalists that treated him as such and, on the day Armstrong and Aldrin walked on the moon, Bradbury called each of them up. Of course they answered, hoping for a reaction quote from the great Ray Bradbury. Once the host was on the line, Bradbury simply snarked "stupid son of a @!*%#" and hung up. Ray Bradbury pranked major media figures on behalf of the space program.

Bradbury and Disney were personal friends, and as such one summer they took both their families to a carnival near Santa Monica pier -- a particularly dingy and disappointing carnival. Disney told Bradbury he should write a story about the dark side of circuses and traveling amusements. Bradbury agreed, and wrote Something Wicked This Way Comes. Bradbury told Disney he should use all his Mickey Mouse money to build a decent carnival for their kids. Disney agreed, and built Disneyland. Seriously. Ray Bradbury told Walt Disney to build the most successful amusement park in history -- and he did it.

I'm leaving out two-thirds of what I heard and saw in Hall H ten years ago, but these slivers convey exactly who and what Bradbury was, and his effect on our modern world. To sum up:

  • Wrote the seminal sci-fi novel arguing against censorship
  • Made Playboy magazine possible
  • Talked Walt into building Disneyland
  • Made the media treat NASA with respect

Not bad for a guy who started with a free afternoon and a bag full of dimes. Let us all be grateful for the life and works, known and unknown, of Ray Bradbury. We may not see his like again.

About

Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger -- amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...

29 comments
crcgraphix
crcgraphix

This man was not only whimsical, but he was one of the greatest literary geniuses of our time. His words on the unknown and the final frontier, and also what-if inspired fiction novels were what brought him from his story-room to his success. All in all, he was more than just a great author, but a man with a heart for imagination, and that is more than the heart can elate.

Seotop
Seotop

How sad... Ray was my favorite writter. Just a legendary person who changed the history!

dcolbert
dcolbert

Just thought I would share that with you, Jay. In his own words, "Very well written."

Jay Garmon
Jay Garmon

...in a three-hour span, I saw Ray Bradbury do a "greatest hits" schtick with Julius Schwartz, J. Michael Straczynski riff on how and why "Crusade" got cancelled, and saw Joss Whedon unveil the first preview reel of "Firefly" before explaining his plans for the fourth season of "Angel" and the final season of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer". It was the greatest three hours of my geek life -- and Ray was the *highlight*. He and Julie simply blew everyone away, and not even Whedon's first full-on sci-fi TV work could overshadow it. He was *that* compelling. So, yeah, go to sci-fi conventions. Good things happen there. I promise.

Mary1010
Mary1010

One of the greatest! The spirit of romantic poetry infused into scifi/fantasy/horror. He had a powerful thing going, and left some great work.

mbrown
mbrown

When I was in grade school in the midsixties I discovered imaginative fiction: science fiction, fantasy and whatever RB wrote. I loved it all and it helped me temporarily escape my humdrum life in small town Oregon. I was very fortunate to have a father who appreciated imaginative fiction, so I could get parental permission for the "adult" books at the library. To this day I can't help but smile if I just hear the name Dandelion Wine, The Illustrated Man, The Martian Chronicles or Something Wicked This Way Comes. I could get lost for hours at the old library in Oregon City, which had a great picnic area grounds around it, you could spend entire days during summer in and out of the library with your nose in books. Sad to think the old Grand Masters are nearly all gone. I think only Asimov inspired me more than Bradbury, but that was also because of his non-fiction, which I absolutely loved. That's it, to the Amazon cloud to see what I can download to my Kindle by RB!

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

It didn't take me long after that to discover the rest of Ray Bradbury's work, then Asimov, then Clarke, then Heinlein. Now, when my wife complains about me spending money on SF books, I tell her to blame Ray Bradbury. From what I've heard about him, he would willingly take that blame. RIP, Ray. You will be greatly missed.

dvanduse
dvanduse

It was not about Censorship, But about TV, which to me is even more profound. From a 2007 Interview "Bradbury, a man living in the creative and industrial center of reality TV and one-hour dramas, says it is, in fact, a story about how television destroys interest in reading literature." "Television gives you the dates of Napoleon, but not who he was," Bradbury says, summarizing TV's content with a single word that he spits out as an epithet: "factoids." Have you noticed how many Bookstores have closed. Used to, every Mall had 1 or 2. Now my mall has none.

Brian.Buydens
Brian.Buydens

He also inspired one of Elton John's hit songs.

xangpow
xangpow

If thats what you remember I would have LOVED to hear the rest of the Q&A. Now I feel sad that I will never hear the "other" stories that he never wrote. How he met Disney. How they became friends. How he and Heffner got along afterwards. The stories he could have told at a dinner table must have been great. :)

Chuck L
Chuck L

Our High School reading lists included not just [i]Fahrenheit 451[/i] but also [i]The Illustrated Man[/i] and [i]The Martian Chronicles[/i]. In-class reading throughout the years included a slew of his other short stories. Those stories fired up my imagination when I was younger, and I still remember them. (I have also been fortunate to have been able to get younger readers interested in his works.) Whenever I glimpse a meteor at night my mind wanders to [i]Kaleidoscope[/i]. And many days, when my cell phone is annoying me with endless calls and texts and emails, I feel like [i]The Murderer[/i] ... RIP

w7hd
w7hd

As a long-time science fiction fan (about 60 years now), he was one of my favorite authors. After reading your tribute, I really, really think you should start working on that novel! Very nice job.

Robiisan
Robiisan

And always will - in the hearts and minds of anyone who has read one of his stories, whether they liked it or not. It is very difficult to have read one and not had it impact one's life. I cherish the twenty or so I have on my shelves, some dating from my teen years (and I now draw Social Security!).

jasondlnd
jasondlnd

I had the pleasure of seeing Ray Bradbury live in an open forum discussion in the early 1990s. In that discussion, he said that when he didn't like the ending of a movie or a story growing up, he would essentially, write his own version of the story or write his own ending. He always had a way of shaping the world around him and when the world would not conform to his liking, he would go in a different direction. Very brilliant man; I'm saddened to hear of his passing.

Regulus
Regulus

Thank you for your comments on Ray and his passing. - Deeply appreciated by this fan.

AMS-Ray
AMS-Ray

This information adds so much to the Ray Bradbury legend. Bradbury was my entry into Science Fiction when I was in the 3rd grade (1965). From Bradbury I discovered the "Golden Age" , Lovecraft, Heinlein, Asimov, Bester, Clarke, Leiber and the other greats too numerous to mention. I would deliberately do things to be sent to the principal's office because they would let me sit in the library while I was in detension and I could read more Sci fi. I loved how human his books are. Your post adds a new dimension to the respect we hold for the man.

Edward D
Edward D

Thanks, Jay, for an extremely interesting account of Ray Bradbury on planet Earth. I read my first sci fi book (IF monthly magazine) in 1957 and was hooked. Bradbury's works are terrific. And now you have enlightened me with amazing accounts of his many influences. Thanks again, Ed

pgit
pgit

Jay, your writing is top shelf. I read a lot on line every day and you are by far the best writer I follow on a regular basis. As such you do Ray Bradbury a service with this excellent tribute. You should consider writing some fiction yourself. You'd bring a complex humor to any subject you'd care to write about, so pick what interests you the most and build a story around it.

Marty-7
Marty-7

Ray Bradbury was one of my favorite authors. I read a story back in 5th grade on a mimeographed sheet handed out by one of the forward-thinking nuns at my grammer school and forgot the author's name, but I never forgot the story. Later, in High School, "The Illustrated Man" was required reading and I had the 'aha' moment and knew who that author was of that haunting story that I read many years ago. I went on to read quite a bit of Sci-Fi and literary classics, but Bradbury was always a fave. I was reading the AP obit yesterday and thinking how lacking it seemed...your tribute was a much nicer celebration of his life. Thanx, Jay!

Will Lewis
Will Lewis

To have such a profound impact on my imagination and that of millions around the world is one thing. To share mutual influence of such great proportions with other world figures is something completely different. I had no idea. This wonderful account of your own personal peek into the mind of Bradbury made the impact of his death on me much softer today. I can directly link my fascination with the Martian Chronicles and the images sent back from Mars probes when I was a kid to my lifetime love of reading, writing and quality science fiction. Will miss you, Ray. May the cosmos be gentle to your soul. And bravo to you, Jay.

hippiekarl
hippiekarl

and posted it in 'Community'. When I got back here to-nite, I found this Geekend article and its comments. Since I assume that more people click on and read a Jay Garmon by-line than a 'hippiekarl', I'll post my eulogy here as well (where it will have a chance of being read): "My boyhood heroes are dropping like flies lately, and now the creepy little carnival outside of town has pulled up its tents and disappeared. To me, RB had a range and a sense of sentimentality far beyond the other 'genre fiction' authors of my misspent youth. "Sci Fi" was the natural pigeon-hole for imaginative writing, but just like Stephen King, most of his tales leaked beyond the conventions and imprimateurs of his 'assigned genre' (what was 'The Illustrated Man' doing in 'SF' at the bookstores?---the same thing that, say, 'Rita Hayward and Shawshank Redemption' or 'The Tommyknockers' were doing in 'Horror': superseding (thus transcending) their respective genres....my *mom* got 'Farenheit 451' (as well as 'Stand by Me'), and was amazed that she'd been entertained---and made to think---by purveyors of the pulp genres. Of course she'd 'waited for the movie', and probably would've watched something else had she known who the authors were, and exercised her prejudices accordingly. In Bradbury, I read about outer space....and about magic, and growing old, and exercising one's humanity. Peace out, Ray; I wish you'd been my dad....."

Michael Jay
Michael Jay

So glad you were here to share your stories, thanks Ray.

mjd420nova
mjd420nova

One of the first books I read was by Bradbury. I soon enrolled in the Sci-Fi book club and reveled in one of the masters.

wilback
wilback

I first saw Ray Bradbury at the 1972 Worldcon in LA that a friend and I went to. We were teenagers, and it was our first con. We were in a big meeting room, and an impeccably dressed man in a white suit came striding by who was obviously somebody important. My friend said "Is that Isaac Asimov???" and I, with the wisdom of a know-it-all teenager, said "No, he lives in New York and he doesn't fly." The next morning my friend and I were scheduled at a "Meet the Author" breakfast with Ray Bradbury, and who should it be but the man we saw the night before. He told many of the same stories you talk about here. I have to say I was a bit disappointed because he swore up a blue streak in his normal conversation (your account of what he said to those interviewers was actually mild for him). Over the years I would see him speak again and again. He was big supporter of preserving old theaters, for instance, and we had one in our town that he came out and spoke at. He was always entertaining. His story about writing the script for John Huston's 1956 version of "Moby Dick" got me interested in the novel again. When I was a young kid back in the '60s first reading SF, there were four "greats" (I know, I was naive back then). They were Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke, and Bradbury. Now the last of them is gone and I feel old. RIP, Ray.

Ndiaz.fuentes
Ndiaz.fuentes

It's hard to explain the huge impact Bradbury had on our world, but your tribute sums it up quite nicely. Granted, there's much more that could be said about the man, but I enjoyed your anecdote. I never really had the chance to meet Bradbury, though I always hoped I could. His death is a true loss to the whole world, and makes today (well, technically yesterday) a sad day for lit geeks everywhere. Now I better go find Gabriel Garcia Marquez before time snatches him away as well.

Selena Frye
Selena Frye

Being a literary nerd I was also intrigued by this bit from his LA Times obituary: "A young assistant [at Mademoiselle] found one of my stories in the 'slush pile.' It was about a family of vampires [and] called 'The Homecoming.' " Bradbury told the Christian Science Monitor in 1991. "He gave it to the story editor and said, 'You must publish this!' " That young assistant was Truman Capote, whose own"Homecoming" brought him renown.

Jay Garmon
Jay Garmon

I dabble in fiction in the rare event I have free time. You can snag a sample in the April 2011 edition of Redstone Science Fiction. I wrote the short story "perfection" about courtship in an Augmented Reality world. http://redstonesciencefiction.com/2011/03/perfection/ It's a far cry from Bradbury, but I was fairly happy with where I abandoned it.

pgit
pgit

Your character building is a bit reminiscent of the subject of this thread, Mr. Bradbury. The way you work the technology into the effect on the characters is in the vein of P.K. Dick, though you seem to be a bit more optimistic than the latter, perhaps more sympathetic to the former? Good characters, dialog and flow. Also excellent insight into the effects of the technology you've invented. Keep hammering 'em out.

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