Ray Bradbury

American author and screenwriter

Ray Douglas Bradbury (August 22, 1920 – June 5, 2012) was an American writer and screenwriter. He was famous for writing in different styles, including fantasy, science fiction, horror, mystery, and realistic fiction.

Ray Bradbury

Bradbury's most well-known works include the novel Fahrenheit 451 (1953) and his collections of short stories: The Martian Chronicles (1950), The Illustrated Man (1951), and The October Country (1955). Other important works are the novel Dandelion Wine (1957), the dark fantasy Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962), and the fictionalized memoir Green Shadows, White Whale (1992). He also wrote and advised on screenplays and television scripts, such as Moby Dick and It Came from Outer Space. Many of his stories were made into TV shows, movies, and comic books. Bradbury also wrote poetry, which was published in collections like They Have Not Seen the Stars (2001).

The New York Times described Bradbury as "An author with a creative imagination, beautiful writing, and a deep understanding of human character, which made him famous internationally" and "the writer who played the biggest role in making modern science fiction popular in literature".

Early Life

He was born in Waukegan, Illinois to a Swedish mother. He graduated from a high school in Los Angeles, California. Many of his works are based on real life, such as "Dandelion Wine," a book about growing up in small-town Illinois. His other work includes movies, and screenplays. He won many awards. He died in his Los Angeles home.[1] He also wrote the short stories "Dark They Were and Golden Eyed" and "A Sound of Thunder."

During his early years in Waukegan, Bradbury was surrounded by his extended family. His aunt read him stories, which played a significant role in shaping both Bradbury himself and his future stories. In Bradbury's writings, Waukegan became Green Town, Illinois, reflecting the influence of his childhood experiences.

The Bradbury family moved to Tucson, Arizona, for brief periods before finally settling in Los Angeles in 1934. Despite their financial challenges, Bradbury attended Los Angeles High School and was actively involved in the drama club. At the age of 14, he earned his first payment as a writer by selling a joke to the radio star George Burns. Bradbury's fascination with carnivals from a young age inspired his later works, such as The Illustrated Man and Something Wicked This Way Comes.

A significant event in Bradbury's youth was his encounter with Mr. Electrico at a carnival in 1932. The experience deeply impacted him, leading to a profound realization and a newfound passion for writing. This encounter marked the beginning of Bradbury's lifelong dedication to writing.

Literary Influence and Early Connections

During his youth, Ray Bradbury developed a strong passion for reading and writing, recognizing at a young age that he wanted to pursue a career in the arts. At 12 years old, he began writing his own stories, often on butcher paper.

Spending much of his time at the Carnegie Library in Waukegan, Bradbury delved into the works of authors like H. G. Wells, Jules Verne, and Edgar Allan Poe. He admired writers such as Katherine Anne Porter, Edith Wharton, and Jessamyn West, while also being captivated by the writings of Edgar Rice Burroughs, particularly the John Carter of Mars series. His passion for literature extended to his love for illustration and cartooning, often drawing his own Sunday panels and writing out radio show scripts from memory.

In his teenage years in Beverly Hills, Bradbury found a mentor in science-fiction writer Bob Olsen and joined the Los Angeles Science Fiction Society at the age of 16, connecting with others who shared his interests.

Bradbury's literary influences expanded to include a wide range of literature, from poets like Alexander Pope and John Donne to humanistic science fiction writers like Robert A. Heinlein. He avidly read stories published in Astounding Science Fiction and admired the works of Arthur C. Clarke, Theodore Sturgeon, and A. E. van Vogt.

Living near the Fox Uptown Theatre in Los Angeles, Bradbury immersed himself in the world of Hollywood, often seeking out autographs from glamorous stars and encountering celebrities like Norma Shearer, Laurel and Hardy, and Ronald Colman. His experiences in Hollywood and encounters with famous personalities greatly influenced his later writings.

Career of Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury's career as a writer took off after being deemed ineligible for military service due to his poor eyesight during World War II. Inspired by science-fiction heroes like Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, he began publishing science-fiction stories in fanzines in 1938 and became part of the Los Angeles Science Fiction Society. His first published story, "Hollerbochen's Dilemma," appeared in the January 1938 issue of the fanzine Imagination!.

In 1939, Bradbury was supported by Forrest J. Ackerman and Morojo to attend the First World Science Fiction Convention in New York City and publish his own fanzine, Futuria Fantasia. Throughout the 1940s, he contributed to Rob Wagner's film magazine, Script, and joined the Wilshire Players Guild, where he wrote and acted in several plays.

By the age of 24, Bradbury had become a full-time writer, with his first collection of short stories, Dark Carnival, being published in 1947. This publication received positive reviews, leading to further success. His short story "Homecoming" won a place in the O. Henry Award Stories of 1947 after being discovered by a young editorial assistant named Truman Capote.

In 1951, Bradbury wrote The Fireman, which ultimately evolved into his renowned novel Fahrenheit 451. The title of the book was inspired by a conversation with the Los Angeles fire chief, who informed Bradbury that book paper burns at 451 °F. The completion of this iconic work took place in a study room at UCLA's Powell Library, where Bradbury wrote the 50,000-word story while renting a typewriter.

A chance encounter with British writer Christopher Isherwood in a Los Angeles bookstore led to the influential critic's review of The Martian Chronicles, further solidifying Bradbury's growing reputation in the literary world.

Influences and Writing Habits of Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury attributed his lifelong dedication to writing to two significant incidents in his early life. The first was witnessing Lon Chaney in the 1923 film "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" at the age of three, and the second was an encounter with a carnival performer, Mr. Electrico, who imparted the words "Live forever!" to Bradbury. These events ignited his passion for writing, leading him to write every day without fail.

Bradbury drew inspiration from a diverse range of writers, including Robert Frost, William Shakespeare, John Steinbeck, Aldous Huxley, and Thomas Wolfe. He learned different aspects of writing from these authors, such as writing objectively from Steinbeck and creating atmosphere and character from Eudora Welty.

While often labeled as a science-fiction writer, Bradbury resisted this categorization, emphasizing that his works were based on reality and fantasy rather than science fiction. He distinguished between science fiction, which depicts the real, and fantasy, which illustrates the unreal.

Despite his initial interest in becoming an actor, Bradbury became increasingly serious about writing during his high school years, with his teachers recognizing and nurturing his talent. He did not attend college due to financial constraints but spent a significant amount of time in libraries, where he believed aspiring writers could gain valuable knowledge and inspiration.

Bradbury emphasized the importance of poetry in his writing, attributing the lyrical power of his prose to his daily immersion in poetry. He believed that the ability to express emotions through writing was essential for living a fulfilling life.

Although he considered science to be incidental to his writing, Bradbury aimed to use it as a tool for social commentary and as an allegorical technique. His approach to writing transcended traditional genre boundaries, allowing him to create timeless works with enduring appeal.

Ray Bradbury described his inspiration as a spontaneous event where his stories "run up and bite" him, compelling him to capture everything that unfolds during this creative burst. He likened the process to being bitten by an idea, which he then translates into written form before it dissipates.

Cultural Contributions of Ray Bradbury

Bradbury made many contributions to culture. He wrote short essays on culture and the arts, catching the attention of critics. In his fiction, he explored and criticized his society. For example, in Fahrenheit 451, he talked about how media alienates people.

He believed his novel worked as a critique of political correctness. In 1994, he mentioned that political correctness was the real enemy, limiting freedom of speech. He expressed his desire to prevent the future rather than predict it.

Bradbury appeared on the quiz show You Bet Your Life in 1956, discussing his books and works. He was also a consultant for the 1964 New York World's Fair and worked on projects at Walt Disney World. In the 1980s, he focused on detective fiction and hosted The Ray Bradbury Theater in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

He strongly supported public libraries, raising money to prevent their closure. Bradbury had mixed opinions on technology, seeing good in computers but resisting the conversion of his work into e-books. However, he allowed Fahrenheit 451 to be published in electronic form under certain conditions.

Comic-book writers adapted Bradbury's stories, initially plagiarizing them until Bradbury intervened. He was also a passionate playwright, heading the Pandemonium Theatre Company and having a lasting relationship with the Fremont Centre Theatre.

Bradbury is featured in documentaries related to his era and celebrated by Fahrenheit 451 Books in Laguna Beach, California. In the 1980s and 1990s, he served on the advisory board of the Los Angeles Student Film Institute.

Bradbury's Personal Life

Ray Bradbury lived with his parents until he got married at the age of 27. He married Marguerite McClure in 1947, and they remained together until her death in 2003. Marguerite, affectionately called Maggie, was the only woman he ever dated. The couple had four daughters: Susan, Ramona, Bettina, and Alexandra. Interestingly, Bradbury never got a driver's license; instead, he used public transportation or his bicycle.

Raised in a Baptist family, Bradbury considered himself a "delicatessen religionist" as an adult, drawing inspiration from both Eastern and Western faiths. He saw his career as a writer as a gift from God.

Bradbury had close friendships with notable individuals. Charles Addams, known for the Addams Family, illustrated one of Bradbury's stories. They planned a larger collaborative work that never materialized. Another close friend was special effects expert Ray Harryhausen, who was the best man at Bradbury's wedding. Their shared love for science fiction and mutual influences led to a lifelong friendship.

Bradbury had an interesting encounter with Sergei Bondarchuk, the director of the Soviet film War and Peace, at a Hollywood award ceremony. Despite his late-life health challenges, including a stroke in 1999, Bradbury remained dedicated and passionate. He continued to make appearances at science-fiction conventions until his retirement in 2009. Despite these challenges, he continued writing, contributing an essay to The New Yorker about his inspiration for writing just a week before his death.

Ray Bradbury chose to be buried at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles. His headstone simply reads "Author of Fahrenheit 451." In 2015, it was reported that the house where Bradbury lived and wrote for 50 years had been demolished by the buyer, architect Thom Mayne.

Politics of Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury identified as a political independent. Initially raised as a Democrat, he voted for the Democratic Party until 1968. In 1952, he took a stand against attempts to label the Democratic Party as communist or subversive. However, Lyndon B. Johnson's handling of the Vietnam War left Bradbury disenchanted, leading him to vote for the Republican Party in every presidential election from 1968 onwards, except for 1976 when he voted for Jimmy Carter. Bradbury's biographer, Sam Weller, noted that Carter's economic management pushed Bradbury permanently away from the Democrats.

Bradbury had varying opinions on different presidents. He praised Ronald Reagan as "the greatest president" but criticized Bill Clinton, referring to him as a "shithead." Before the September 11 attacks, he expressed admiration for George W. Bush, calling him "wonderful" and criticizing the American education system.

In 2010, Bradbury criticized big government, expressing a dislike for politics and a hope for reducing government size. He was against affirmative action, condemned political correctness on campuses, and advocated for a ban on quotas in higher education. Bradbury believed that education should focus solely on learning without being influenced by politics.

Death and Legacy

Ray Bradbury passed away on June 5, 2012, in Los Angeles, California, at the age of 91, following an extended illness. His personal library was bequeathed to the Waukegan Public Library, where he had formative reading experiences.

The Los Angeles Times praised Bradbury for his ability to write lyrically and vividly about distant lands and worlds while grounding them in the familiar. His grandson, Danny Karapetian, acknowledged the profound influence Bradbury had on various artists, writers, teachers, and scientists.

The Washington Post highlighted Bradbury's foresight in envisioning technologies such as banking ATMs, earbuds, Bluetooth headsets in Fahrenheit 451, and the concept of artificial intelligence in I Sing the Body Electric.

On June 6, 2012, President Barack Obama expressed condolences and acknowledged Bradbury's impact on American culture, noting his ability to reshape culture through storytelling. Many authors and filmmakers paid tribute to Bradbury, with Steven Spielberg considering him his muse in the sci-fi genre. Neil Gaiman emphasized the significant impact Bradbury had on shaping the world's imaginative landscape, while Stephen King praised his extensive body of work.

Margaret Atwood, in her tribute, revealed that Bradbury played a crucial role in her early reading experiences, describing how his stories were not just read but inhaled, leaving a lasting impression. Atwood highlighted Bradbury's self-taught approach and authentic voice in an age of writing classes and groomed images. Bradbury's legacy endures through the continued inspiration he provides to generations of readers, writers, and artists.

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