You Know Him As: An American novelist who wrote such books as “Fahrenheit 451” and “The Martian Chronicles”
Did you know?: Ray Bradbury has never driven a car before. He told Playboy in an interview, “When I was 16, I saw six people die horribly in an accident. I walked home holding on to walls and trees. It took me months to begin to function again. So I don’t drive.” Bradbury also distrusts airplanes, the internet, computers and ATM machines.
On Aug. 22, 1920, Ray Douglas Bradbury was the third son born to Leonard Spaulding Bradbury (a power/telephone lineman) and Esther Marie Moberg Bradbury (a Swedish immigrant) in Waukegan, Ill. From the time he was six until he was 12, Ray Bradbury and his family moved back and forth between Waukegan and Tucson, Ariz. because it was hard for his father to find work during the Depression. They finally settled down in 1934 when his father was hired on to a steady job in Los Angeles.
Throughout his youth, Bradbury spent much of his time at the Carnegie Library in Waukegan, and later, used this atmosphere as a setting for his novel, “Something Wicked this Way Comes.” Furthermore, Bradbury’s vision of Waukegan in the 1920s would later become “Greentown, Illinois” in some of his fiction works.
During this yearly shuffling of homes, little Bradbury began to write stories of his own on pieces of butcher paper.
“I just wanted to be a good writer, that’s all. I was 12 years old,” Bradbury told SciFi.com.
He finished his schooling in his new LA home and graduated from a local high school in 1938. Instead of pursuing high education (he didn’t have enough money), Bradbury instead educated himself at the library. For work, he sold newspapers on Los Angeles street corners from the time he was 18 until he was 22.
Bradbury’s first story, “Hollerbochen’s Dilemma,” was published in 1938 in Imagination!, an amateur fan magazine. The following year, Bradbury decided to create his own fan magazine, Futuria Fantasia, and published four issues (with mainly his own material). His first paid publication, “Pendulum” in Super Science Stories, came shortly after in 1941, followed shortly by “The Lake” in 1942.
At this time Bradbury was still learning how to write and learning his identity as an author. Fellow writer Leigh Brackett was a tremendous help to him.
“I met her at the beach every Sunday afternoon from the time I was 21 to the time I was 25, and we’d sit on the beach and I’d read her wonderful short stories and she’d read my terrible ones….By the time I was 25 I was beginning to write some good stuff; but it was meeting with her every Sunday…reading her short stories that helped me,” Bradbury confided to www.SciFi.com.
By 1943 he had given up his day job selling newspapers and instead began writing full-time, having his stories published in several periodicals. Bradbury’s writing became so successful, that his story “The Big Black and White Game” was selected for “Best American Short Stories” in 1945 (and again in 1946, ‘48 and ‘52).
In 1946, Bradbury met Marguerite McClure at Fowler Brothers Bookstore in downtown Los Angeles, where she worked. Just one year later, in the Church of the Good Shepherd, Episcopal in Los Angeles on Sep. 27, Bradbury married Maggie- the only woman he ever dated.
Early in their marriage, though unusual for the time, Maggie was the main breadwinner by working every day so that Ray could stay home and write. However, this all changed in 1949 when she became pregnant and Bradbury had to work extra-hard to finish projects to make money- even selling two outlines at one dinner. Susan was the first born in 1949, then came Ramona (1951), Bettina (1955) and Alexandra (1958); and from them came eight grandchildren.
His first short story collection, “Dark Carnival,” was published in 1947. For this he was paid a $750 advance, which amazingly covered his rent for the following two years. His reputation as a science-fiction writer began to spread when “The Martian Chronicles” was published in 1950. This book follows a man’s attempt to colonize Mars, the effects of colonization on the Martians, and the Colonists’ reaction to a massive nuclear war on Earth.
“It [fame] didn’t happen just then—I didn’t arrive anywhere. The book didn’t sell worth a damn,” said Bradbury to SciFi.com.
However one glowing review by Christopher Isherwood was to propel him to fame.
His inspiration for writing the novel came in LA in 1949, during the widespread McCarthyism fever. While he was walking with a friend in LA, a police officer pulled them aside and asked what they were doing. Since there was no reason for him to do so, Bradbury grew very angry.
“Today, we don’t have to burn books anymore, because we don’t even teach reading in second, third and fourth grades,” Bradbury told interviewer Dom Swaim on the subject of such censorship and the paranoia of “Fahrenheit 451.” “We have graduating high schoolers that don’t even know how to read – that’s criminal.”
Perhaps his most well-known work, the novel “Fahrenheit 451,” was published in 1953. It outlines a time in the future when all written word is forbidden. At that time, Bradbury was too poor to be able to afford his own typewriter. So he worked at UCLA and paid 10 cents per half hour to type, accumulating to $9.80 over eight or nine days.
To date, Bradbury has published more than 30 books, close to 600 short stories and numerous poems, essays and plays. His works have been translated in more than 40 languages and sold tens of millions of copies around the world.
In an interview to Scifi.com in 2004, Bradbury said, “I’ve written several musicals, I’ve written a dramatic semi-opera for ‘Fahrenheit 451,’ which was performed in Chicago and in New York and…all around the world…I’m working on a grand opera called ‘Leviathan 99,’ which is based on a play of mine about ‘Moby Dick’ in outer space—the Great White Comet.”
He even has dabbled in film, writing for such TV shows as “The Twilight Zone,” “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” and his very own “The Ray Bradbury Theater.” His animated film about the history of flight, “Icarus Montgolfier Wright,” was nominated for an Academy Award, and his teleplay of “The Halloween Tree” won an Emmy Award. Films have also been made of his work.
“I love ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes.’ It’s not perfect, but it’s damn good. ‘Fahrenheit 451’ is quite good, except they left out a lot of things,” Bradbury told SciFi.com.
In 2002, Bradbury received a great honor: the 2,193rd star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6644 Hollywood Blvd. to recognize his literary and science-fiction works. He has been honored in more unusual ways too, such as an Apollo astronaut naming the Dandelion Crater on the moon after Bradbury’s novel, “Dandelion Wine,” and having an asteroid named in his honor, “9766 Bradbury.” For his outstanding writing skills, he received such awards as the World Fantasy Award for Lifetime Achievement and the Grand Master Award from the Science-Fiction Writers of America.
Outside of writing, Bradbury has been the idea consultant for the United States Pavilion at the 1964 New York World’s Fair; contributed to the conception of the Orbitron space ride at Euro-Disney, France; and was a creative consultant for the Jon Jerde Partnership, the architectural firm in charge of the Glendale Galleria, The Westside Pavilion in LA and Horton Plaza in San Diego.
Bradbury still lives in L.A., and is still writing and giving lectures. He and his wife lived in the same house in L.A. for 56 years. (Until her death in 2003). On the occasion of his 80th birthday in 2000, he said to his interviewer, “The great fun in my life has been getting up every morning and rushing to the typewriter because some new idea has hit me. The feeling I have every day is very much the same as it was when I was 12. In any event, here I am, 80 years old, feeling no different, full of a great sense of joy, and glad for the long life that has been allowed me. I have good plans for the next 10 or 20 years, and I hope you’ll come along.”
Biography by Stacy Raduechel