Sunday, January 24, 2021

Ray Bradbury


Ray Douglas Bradbury was born in Waukegan, Illinois on August 22, 1920.  As a child, his family often moved around the country, his father always looking for blue-collar employment.  They eventually settled in Los Angeles when Ray was just 14 years old.

Like this blogger, Bradbury loved meeting celebrities, and he came up with a unique way to do it.  He donned a pair of roller skates and made his way through the streets of Hollywood looking for stars.  As unconventional as it was, it proved effective, providing an introduction to comedian George Burns, who gave the young writer his first paycheck for a joke Bradbury sold him. 

Bradbury's love of stories came from his aunt, who often read to him during the Great Depression.  He'd move on to new stories at the public library, and was heavily influenced by Jules Verne, H.G. Wells and Edgar Rice Burroughs, the latter of which for his Tarzan of the Apes series.  Bradbury also fancied himself a cartoonist, and would often create his own illustrations for the Tarzan adventures.

Bradbury's first published story was in a fanzine called Imagination, published in 1939.  It's publisher, Forrest J. Ackerman, was so impressed by Bradbury that he flew him to New York City that summer for the First World Science Fiction Convention.  He also funded Bradbury's own fanzine, Futuria Fantasia. Only four issues were produced, each under 100 copies.  Today they are prized collector's items.

In 1942, Bradbury sold his first story, titled "The Lake."  He received a whopping $13.75 for the story,  but it was enough to turn him into a professional, full-time writer.  Three years later, he published his first collection of short stories, "Dark Carnival."  That same year, his manuscript for the story "Homecoming" was retrieved from a slush pile at Mademoiselle by a then-unknown editorial assistant named Truman Capote.  Ironically, the two are now buried within walking distance of each other.

In 1950, Bradbury wrote the literary classic The Martian Chronicles, depicting man's settlement of the red planet.  Themes such as nuclear war, post-apocalyptic horror and the rise of technology were heavily used and would influence science-fiction writers for decades to come.

In 1953, Bradbury wrote a short story called The Fireman, a dystopian novel of a future society where books have been outlawed and are incinerated by firemen.  He took this nugget of an idea and expanded it into a full-length novel, rechristening it Fahrenheit 451.  Today, it is regarded as one of his best works and is often called prophetic.  The title, in case you were curious, is the degree at which paper burns.

Bradbury's contributions to literature and science fiction in particular cannot be overstated.  The New York Times declared him "the writer most responsible for bringing modern science fiction into literary mainstream."  The Los Angeles Times said that he wrote "lyrically and evocatively of lands an imagination away, worlds he anchored in the here and now with a sense of visual clarity and small-town familiarity."  His story "I Sing the Body Electric," later adapted to serve as an episode of The Twilight Zone, is credited as one of the first works regarding artificial intelligence.

By 2012, Bradbury's health had started to decline.  After a lengthy illness, he passed away on June 5th at the age of 91.  Science fiction fans the world over mourned his loss and many tributes and memorial services were held.

Ray Bradbury was buried at Pierce Brothers Westwood Village in its famed Celebrity Row.

Inscription: Author of Fahrenheit 451

Rest in peace.

  • Bradbury's middle name of Douglas was a nod to actor Douglas Fairbanks.

  • Bradbury was a descendent of Mary Bradbury, a woman tried during the Salem witch trials of 1692.

  • Bradbury never held a driver's license, instead relying on public transportation and his bicycle.

  • In 1956, Bradbury appeared as a guest on the Groucho Marx series You Bet Your Life.  You can watch the episode in its entirety on YouTube.

  • In 1994, Bradbury critiqued the dawn of political correctness, using Fahrenheit 451 to make his point. "It (F451) works even better because we have political correctness now.  Political correctness is the real enemy these's thought control and freedom of speech control."

  • At least two different bookstores have opened in Southern California under the name Fahrenheit 451 Books.  Bradbury attended the grand opening of the first one in Laguna Beach, which has since closed its doors.

  • Although he was close friends with Gene Roddenberry for several decades, Bradbury never wrote any stories for Star Trek or its subsequent spin-offs, saying he "never had the ability to adapt other people's ideas into any sensible form."

  • Although he never published a personal account of his life, several biographers have.  
      The Bradbury Chronicles by Sam Weller (2006)
      Ray Bradbury: The Life of Fiction by Jonathan R. Eller (2004)
      Searching for Ray Bradbury: Writings About the Writer and the Man by Steven Leiva (2013) 

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