Sunday, October 7, 2012

Ray Bradbury, March 18, 1988

Perhaps the greatest single day of fun in my entire journalism career was spending time with Ray Bradbury in Ogden in March 1988. My friend Mike Vause, a Weber State English professor, had invited the great author to speak to the National Undergraduate Literature Conference, and had, in turn, allowed me to interview Bradbury after his convocations lecture, ride along to have his photo taken at the Ott Planetarium, attend his lecture at a conference supper one evening and a reception for Bradbury.

Interviewing and chatting with him was a special thrill for me -- I was still in my twenties -- because reading Bradbury's novels and short stories and plays gave me my love of reading more than any other author. I just loved his work, and still do.

The night of the reception upstairs at WSU's student union building followed the day I had spent time with Bradbury. When I walked into the large room, he was surrounded by several members of the faculty, a local eye surgeon and a few others I didn't recognize. I walked by, about 15 feet away, and the author saw me, smiled, waved and said a loud "Hello!" For a geeked-out fan, it was magical and I'll never forget it. I spoke to him a little later on, too. What a great guy.

I met him again several years later -- I don't remember the year -- when Mike and Janis Vause brought Bradbury back to Ogden, if memory serves, for an Ogden School Foundation fundraiser. The Vauses were kind enough to invite me to a luncheon in Bradbury's honor.

Anyway, here's the result -- a feature story and an "Outtakes" movie column -- about Bradbury's first visit to Ogden in 1988.

Standard-Examiner staff

OGDEN -- Ray Bradbury is always in a hurry. No time to waste. When he walks, he walks fast -- his feet and legs slightly ahead of his shoulders and head.

Since he began writing at the age of 12 -- 55 years ago -- he has never slowed down. Or as he puts it: "I've lived at the top of my lungs since I was very young."

The author of "Fahrenheit 451," "The Martian Chronicles," "The Illustrated Man" and "Something Wicked This Way Comes" was in Ogden last week to attend the National

Undergraduate Literature Conference at Weber State College. And true to form, he hopscotched all over the campus, offering tales from his vast experience and advice born of his considerable wisdom.

Ray Bradbury's accomplishments are remarkable: In addition to 17 novels and more than 400 short stories, the 67-year-old author has published several collections of poetry and essays, written more than 25 plays, several musicals, screenplays and is now producing his first opera. (He has written others; this is the first to be staged.) Additionally, he helped design the United States Pavilion at the 1964 World's Fair and the Spaceship Earth building at Disney's EP­COT Center.

His works have been required reading in high schools across the nation for decades. As such, he has influenced three generations of science fiction and fantasy writers.

This lofty status is a far cry from his roots in Waukegan, Ill., where he was born in 1920 ­- and where, as a teenager, his family lived on welfare for a time during the Depression.

Bradbury said he was a curious child, always investigating those things that interested him -- motion pictures, dinosaurs, comic strips and space travel -- and jotting down the stories that leaped from his fantastic and fertile imagination.

It began, he said, in 1929, when he "fell madly in love" with the "Buck Rogers" comic strip.

"I was 9 years old and I began to collect those daily strips because I believed so much in the future," Bradbury told a convocations audience at WSC last week. But friends teased him about his collection, and he soon tore the comic strips to shreds.

"I'd torn up the future -- I'd allowed my friends to make fun of me and the thing that I'd wanted with all my heart."

The Buck Rogers incident marked a turning point in the young man's life, and he "never listened to one damn idiot after that." A lover of good stories and literature -- George

Bernard Shaw, Edgar Rice Burroughs and William Shakespeare headed the young Bradbury's reading list ­- his writing career didn't start until after he went to a carnival on the

Lake Michigan shoreline in the autumn of 1932.

"When I was 12, a man named Mr. Electrico came to Waukegan with this carnival and settled down by the lake shore," Bradbury reminisced. "And every night he would sit in his

electric chair and allow himself to be electrocuted. My god, what a wonderful man. ... And he had a sword that he carried with him and when the switch was pulled and the electricity surged through his body, he'd reach over and grab his sword and tap the noses and shoulders of the crowd and the various children in the front row.

"And he came to me and tapped me right on the nose and the electricity surged into my body, made my hair stand up, sparks shot out my ears and he pointed at me and said,

'Live forever!' I said, 'Yes, sir!' "

The next night, Bradbury recalled returning to the carnival and Mr. Electrico took him on a tour of all the tents, where he met the illustrated man and the dwarfs and the skinny lady and the trapeze artists. In years to come, these people would fill some of Bradbury's most popular fiction.

"I began to write within eight weeks after that and I've never stopped in the last 56 years ­- every single day," Bradbury said. "So if Mr. Electrico was somewhere in this world, I would go and embrace him and thank him for being the catalyst that set me on the road."

Bradbury's family moved to the Los Angeles area the next year, and he made new friends, including Ray Harryhausen -- who did the special effects on films like "Jason and the Argonauts" ­- and actress Laraine Day ("Foreign Correspondent"). Bradbury acted with Day, a Mormon, in her ward when he was 20, he said in a news conference after the lecture.

"I graduated (high school) in a suit with a bullet hole through the front and out the back. My uncle was killed in the suit, and we borrowed it back from him," Bradbury told a banquet audience later that evening. The uncle was killed during a robbery several years earlier.

Bradbury lived at home with his parents until he -- was 27, when he married Marguerite McClure. They've been together ever since, and have four daughters. The author, who looks quite bookish with his thick-lensed glasses and longish bright white hair, sold stories to pulp magazines like Weird Tales for $10 to $30 each for 10 years.

"My wife worked for three years to support me -- she made $40 a week when I wrote 'The Martian Chronicles.' And then all of a sudden she was pregnant, and that scared the heck out of us because there went the income," Bradbury said backstage after his convocations lecture. "But God was watching and said, 'Ray, you're a good kid, we're gonna give you a raise.' And my income went up to $80 a week writing short stories."

Once he began selling stories to major American magazines, Bradbury began to get other offers. A sale of the short story "The Beast From 20,-000 Fathoms" to the Saturday Evening Post brought a call from movie director John Huston.

"John Huston read that short story, and called me on the phone in August of 1953," Bradbury recalled. "I went to his hotel room, he sat me down, put a drink in my hand, looked me in the face and said" -- at this point, Bradbury affects a very good imitation of the famed director's voice ­- "'Well, uh, Ray, what are you doing during the next year?' I said,

'Not much, Mr. Huston.'

"'Well, I'll tell ya what, kid. How would you like to come live in Ireland and write the screenplay for "Moby Dick"?' I said, 'Gee, Mr. Huston, I've never been able to read the damn thing.'

"There was a long pause, then he said, 'I'll tell you what, kid, I want you to go home tonight, read as much as you can, and come back at lunch tomorrow and tell me if you'll help me kill the white whale.' Well, I went home that night and I said to my wife, 'Pray for me.' And she asked why. And I said, 'Well, I've got to read a book tonight and do a book report tomorrow.'"

Bradbury took the job, and moved to Huston's adopted Ireland for six months to write the screenplay. The film got made, and was a huge success.

For Bradbury, the actual work of writing is usually accomplished in the morning. "You wake up hearing voices and you go put the voices down before they disappear." But the jolly author bristles at the word "work" to describe his writing; "fun" is more to his liking.

A lover of metaphor, Bradbury describes his own writing process this way: "You learn to lift the lid on top of your head and one by one you pull the lizards out, and then you close the trap door and you hammer that lizard against the wall and skin it, and that's a short story. Then you open the lid again and take another lizard out."

Perhaps the most interesting story Bradbury told during his busy day at WSC had to do with the writing of his classic "Fahrenheit 451." The book deals with a future society in which firemen are employed to burn banned books.

About 37 years ago, he said, he didn't have an office in which to write, so he was always searching for a new place to put his thoughts down on paper. One day while he was poking around the UCLA library, he came across a typing room.

"For 10 cents a half hour, you'd put a dime in a typewriter, it'd hum and you'd type like hell for half an hour. And then you ran upstairs and got another dime," he said. "So what a perfect place to write. … And I got me some dimes and I sat in the typing room in the library and I wrote 'Fahrenheit 451' in nine days. It cost me $9.80."

Although his style broadened the parameters of science fiction and fantasy --human emotion and interpersonal conflict dominate technology in Bradbury stories -- he has no love for contemporary fiction about people and their day-to-day crises. "The average American novel today is a bore," he says, shaking his head. "Do you really want to read one more book about a woman in menopause or a man in menopause who is wondering what to do in their life? Whether to go back to the husband, whether to settle down with a homosexual friend or lesbian, or, you know, whether to take up pottery? C'mon, there are important things going on -- the technologies of our time.

"That's been in the New Yorker for years and it's all boring. Jesus-God, you know, when someone goes to the kitchen and turns on the faucet and water comes out, I leave. Wine has got to come out, for God's sake. We (already) know these things; we were raised with them."

Usually labeled a science-fiction writer, Bradbury has often displayed a basic mistrust of technology in his work. It's a topic the author knows well -- he doesn't drive and took his first flight on an airplane four years ago. The fear of driving came, he said, from seeing five people killed and their heads torn off when he was a youngster. So he takes cabs, trains and limousines almost everywhere he goes.

But he laughs about his first flight. "They put three double­ martinis in me, strapped me in the seat, kissed me on both cheeks and I took off ahead of the jet," he said with a laugh.

"That was my first flight four years ago. I've flown about once a year since, and I flew up here. I don't enjoy it, but I drink less now."

“Outtakes” movie column

I've heard a lot all my life about how movies and television dull the senses, how children who are into the escapist entertainment provided on the big (and small) screen don't appreciate the finer things in life.

I might agree with that hypothesis in particular instances, and generally insofar as it can be a waste of time, but certainly not as a whole concept. And to back up my feeling that movies can be a great help to a child's creativity, I present to you Ray Bradbury.

While the author was in Ogden last week -- the English department at Weber State College booked him a year and a half ago -- he spoke at length about the effect movies had on his life and continue to have.

The 67-year-old Bradbury, the author of numerous novels, plays, short stories, essays and poems (see the cover story in this section), was attending 14 or 15 movies a week during the 1920s and '30s, he said, as well as devouring the classics by his favorite authors, including Shakespeare.

"The first film I saw was 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame,' and I walked strangely for days thereafter," Bradbury said. "Then came 'The Phantom of the Opera' and all the Lon Chaney films -- all the horror films. It was really terrific, I fell in love with Lon Chaney. I wanted to grow up and become the phantom."

Bradbury began writing at the age of 12, and he said he's seen almost "every movie ever made." For most, that would be an expensive hobby, but Bradbury had that angle figured out, too.

"Yeah, when I was in high school I mostly snuck into movies because I didn't have any money," he chuckled. "And I got to know the managers of various theaters and they let me in free."

While he was still in high school in Southern California, he made friends with a young man named Ray Harryhausen, who later became one of the most respected special effects men in the motion picture business.

"When I was 17, I met a fabulous young man who built dinosaurs in his garage," Bradbury said. "My god, what a friend to have, huh? He not only built them but they moved. He put them on 8mm film, he animated them and they ran around the yard and ate up his father. Great dinosaurs, huh? I tried to get them to come home so the dinosaurs would eat up my dad, but it didn't work out.

"So I fell in love with this young man and his dinosaurs and we pledged our faith to ourselves and our dinosaurs, and we promised I would grow up and grow old with him and I would write screenplays for the dinosaurs and he would animate them. Well, that's the way it turned out -- his name was Ray Harryhausen. ... Harryhausen did 'Mighty Joe Young,' 'The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms,' 'Clash of the Titans,' 'Jason and the Argonauts,' 'Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger.' You've seen them all a dozen times, huh? So that was all Harryhausen's work, my dear friend who was best man at my wedding 40 years ago. It all started in a garage 50 years ago, in a garage with two kids."

Another of Bradbury's loves from the age of seven or eight on, he said, were the films of Walt Disney.

"I saw every single one of his cartoons. When 'Snow White' came out I saw it 10 times in the first two weeks. When 'Fantasia' came out I ran amok and took all my friends -- I couldn't afford to take them -- but every cent I had went into taking them to see this fabulous film."

Years later, in 1946, when Bradbury was still selling his stories to pulp magazines, a friend of his named Leigh Brackett -- who had been selling stories to detective magazines ­- got a job from director Howard Hawks to write the screenplay for "The Big Sleep."

"I went out to visit the set and I met Bogart and William Faulkner and Howard Hawks and Lauren Bacall -- all in one day. I tell you, I went out of my mind. I didn't know who to hug first."

Ten years later, John Huston read a short story of the author's about a dinosaur that comes from deep in the ocean because he thinks a fog horn is a mating call. Huston liked the story so well, he asked Bradbury to write the screenplay for "Moby Dick."

"Along the way I said to Mr. Huston, 'How come I got the job? Why did I get the job, out of the hundreds of writers, the dozens of famous writers in the. country ­- I of all people? How come?'” the author recalled. "He said, 'Well, it was that short story of yours.' ... I said, 'I'd told you I'd never read Melville, and what you smelled in that story was the ghost of the Bible and the ghost of Shakespeare that I'd been raised on.' And thank goodness I had fallen in love with many parts of the Bible and many parts of Shakespeare, and that had gone into the writing of the story. Plus, my love of dinosaurs."

Bradbury said he also views screenwriting as an interesting way to develop his talent. In addition to "Moby Dick," he also adapted his own novel "Something Wicked This Way Comes" to the screen in 1983.

"It's very important to know every kind of writing there is, because it gives you shorthand way of seeing things," he explained. "Movies and poetry are very close, much closer than novels are to film writing. If you know haiku, if you know the great poets who write in metaphors, you know screenwriting, because you can compact things into an image and you put it on the screen and it saves you the dialogue.

"David Lean's films are full of scenes that go on for five or six minutes without one line of dialogue and you never forget them. 'Lawrence of Arabia' is full of stuff like that. And so I've often said if I ran a film class I would teach all the kids along with film history the history of poetry and make them write haiku every week and make them shoot the haiku. Because every haiku is a little image all to itself, it tells a little story."

So, parents, next time your children want to go to the movies, let them.

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