The Bradbury Chronicles: Something Fascinating This Way Comes

The Bradbury Chronicles: Something Fascinating This Way Comes

something-rayphotoIt is 1969 and I am standing on Wilshire Boulevard in downtown Beverly Hills, feeling a bit breathless about whom I am about to meet for the first time. His name is Ray Bradbury and he is one of America’s leading science-fiction/fantasy authors. I have been reading his short stories since the late 1940s, when I discovered pulp magazines the likes of Planet Stories and Fantastic Adventures. While they have died away, the fame and important of Bradbury has only grown, and now he is waiting for me, in what is his 48th year on Planet Earth,  in what turns out to be a cramped sixth floor office overlooking Wilshire Boulevard.

Bradbury, seated behind his manual typewriter, is wearing dark-rimmed glasses and has touches of shock white near his sideburns that give accent to his wavy blonde hair. The walls around him reflect the ebullience of his success as an author. There are sketches, photographs, plaques and other awards. He is even wearing a token of his good fortune. He is clad in a summer suit of pure white which, in the universe of Ray Bradbury, would be described as the Wonderful Ice Cream Suit, the very title of a play he had presented three years earlier in a local theater and which had promoted him into prominence as a playwright. Always he is the gracious host, always he is fascinating as he discusses subjects related to his genres.

Stanley: Mr. Bradbury–

Bradbury: Please, call me Ray.

Stanley: Ray . . . this is an exciting time for science-fiction films. There’s been a noticeable upsurge due to such releases as Fantastic Voyage, Planet of the Apes, and, most recently, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. However, many fans were surprised when you panned the latter film in a magazine review.

Bradbury: I panned part of it. Only part of it. I think overall it’s a gorgeous film. One of the most beautifully photographed pictures in the history of motion pictures. Unfortunately, there’s no well directed scenes and dialogue is banal to the point of extinction.

Stanley: I read somewhere that was part of Kubrick’s intention.

Bradbury (sighing): I hope not. I’d like to believe Kubrick is more intelligent than that. I just think he’s a bad writer who got in the way of Arthur C. Clarke, who is a wonderful writer. There’s the irony. I know Arthur and I sent him a copy of my review and I said, “Look, we’ve had a long friendship, we’ve known each other 17 years or so, and I’ve written this review. But, I’m sending it to you myself so it won’t come through someone else. And I hope you won’t be hurt.”

Stanley: I don’t think he was because Clarke recently told a San Francisco newsman, and I quote: “I don’t worry about Ray. He’ll come around. They all do.” . . . Were you thrown any by the wildly abstract ending of Space Odyssey?

Bradbury: I wasn’t thrown off. I just didn’t understand it. I described it as that wonderful moment on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel where God reaches out to touch the finger of Adam and doesn’t quite make it. Doesn’t touch. The spark doesn’t leap the gap. You see, if it were just me coming out the theater a dumbkoff, that would be one thing. But when dozens and hundreds of viewers come out and I find they can’t explain it to me either, then Kubrick has failed. You know what I wanted? I wanted to come out of that theater and jump up and down and yell and say this was the best goddamn film ever made – period. That’s the way I felt when I saw Fantasia when I was 21. I felt that way about Citizen Kane. I beat up my friends and drove them to the theater. I even paid their way if I had to. And I wanted so badly to come out of Space Odyssey crying with joy. When the film started and there was all that beautiful material with the apes, I said to myself “Boy oh boy, if he continues like this . . . ”

And then they bring on the banal scenes. With a false intellectual concept which I’m surprised Kubrick allowed himself to repeat. Intellectuals have been saying to themselves that the future will dehumanize . . . crap. Not necessarily. Not proven. In fact, the astronauts whom I’ve met and who are around machines all the time are more human than people who’re not around machines. So where’s the argument? Come on now, cut it out. These easy clichés about machines. Not true. The most humanizing thing that’s happened to the world is the invention of the motion picture machine. A robot that instructs us about ourselves, that’s what it is. It has done more good in the world than any other machine I can name.

planetstories-coverStanley: And other new science-fiction films . . . how do you feel about them?

Bradbury: I can’t really say. I’ve only seen half of Planet of the Apes and what I saw was so primitive . . . sort of like the old Tarzan movies. Nelson Bond was doing this sort of thing long before Gerald Kersh. Stephen Vincent Benet exploited this same theme in By the Waters of Babylon. So where’s there anything new?

Stanley: Aren’t some of your own stories being produced by Hollywood?

Bradbury: I just got a call from a producer over at MGM this afternoon, inviting me to see a rough cut of The Illustrated Man.

Stanley: What were your feelings about the script?

Bradbury: I’ve never read the script. Nobody asked me to read it. (Laughing) I’ll certainly tell them what I think of it.

Stanley: What stories from The Illustrated Man have been adapted?

Bradbury: “The Long Rain,” “The Veldt,” and “The Last Night of the World.”

Stanley: About the screenplay for The Martian Chronicles. I know it’s been a long, involved history. I know that Edward Dymtryk was once involved with its development. What’s the latest?

Bradbury: Well, I wrote it for Richard Mulligan about two years ago. I was on it for almost two years, off and on. But none of the studios are interested and I now own the screen rights. It’s a perfect time to make the film because here we’ll be taking off for the moon next year and Space Odyssey is going to be the most profitable film in the history of MGM.

Stanley: I see you have a copy of Nostalgia Press’ Flash Gordon on your desk.

Bradbury: A beautiful book. I have many of the actual Sunday newspaper pages at home. I have a complete collection of Prince Valiant Sunday panels. I have Buck Rogers daily strips from 1929 up through 1935. I have the Sunday “Rogers” panels from roughly 1930 on, until Calkins’ drawings got so bad in 1936 I couldn’t stand them anymore and quit collecting. I became very picky then.

Stanley: One of the things you’ve said in the past, and you’ve reiterated this in Ballantine’s recent reissue of your E. C. Comic book stories, is that you’ll never turn your back on those things you loved so much as a child.

raymestrip3Bradbury: That’s right. And just to prove how much I love comic strips, I’ve written my own for The Martian Chronicles. Joe Mugnaina, who’s illustrated many of my short story collections, and another artist did the drawings and I did the writing.

Stanley: Where will this be appearing?

Bradbury: It won’t. We’ve been trying to sell it for two years now.

Stanley: And nobody will buy it?

Bradbury: Nobody will buy it. And it’s been to every major syndicate in the United States. You see, this is the problem: If they buy our panel that means they have to eliminate another. And you must sell to a syndicate because you’ve got to get 30 or 40 papers at least to start with. If it does sell, I estimate it would run approximately two years. It’s slightly rewritten because I wanted to start off on Mars. It’s closer to what I do in my screenplay.

Stanley: While on the subject of comics, how about discussing the history of how your short stories came to be illustrated in the E. C. Comics in the early 1950s. I was once told it started over a case of plagiarism. Is that right?

Bradbury: Yes, true. E. C. Did “Kaleidoscope” under the title “Home to Stay” in Weird Fantasy #12. Someone sent me a copy – I didn’t catch it myself – and so I wrote a letter to the E. C. Editors and congratulated them on the brilliance of the adaptation. I didn’t mention any plagiarism, or that my name wasn’t on it. I thought, every once in a while one who pretends to be a Christian should adapt to Christian principles.  Turn the other cheek and see how people respond. At the end of the letter I added, “Gee, you forgot to send me the adaptation check. I know how busy you people are but as soon as you could get around to it, I would appreciate a check.” The next week a check came through. So you see, there are happy endings to unpleasant occurrences. I wrote back and thanked them for the check. Now, I said, I have an idea. Why don’t you adapt more of my stories, giving me credit and thereby protecting my copyright? Thus, we formed a partnership and E. C. adapted about 30 of my stories and put my name on the covers. It was a helluva lot of fun. Much of it was fine work. Al Williamson, an E.C. artist, did some wonderful things. So did Wally Wood. I’ll always admire his “There Will Come Soft Rains.”

Stanley: Do you still live by the axiom of doing one story per week?

Bradbury: Yes. This last week I’ve done the equivalent of a short story. I’ve been working on a screenplay, “And the Rock Cried Out.” I first did it 17 years ago for Sir Carol Reed but it was too far ahead of its time. Civil rights were nowhere in those days. People didn’t want to look into a future where possibly the white man’s supremacy might be challenged; a future where we might be waiting on tables or shining shoes; a future wherein the shoe would be on the other foot. But then, that’s why you write science fiction. To insure that the future you write about will not come to pass. You don’t write it because it’s going to happen. A lot of people misinterpret that. I’ve also been working on a new play, Leviathan 90, based on the legend and mythology of Moby Dick, but laid in the future. And a thing called “Any Friend of Nicholas Nickleby Is a Friend of Mine.”

Stanley: What do you say in plays that you feel you can’t express in the short story form?

Bradbury: There’s nothing you can say on the stage that can’t be said in stories. It just depends on where your love lies at a certain moment. And for the past few years I’ve focused on the theater with my Pandemonium Playhouse. You see, I’m a child of many forms. I’m a child of motion pictures. I grew up in a time when movies were really coming to birth. (They’re still pretty primitive today.) The first film that I remember is The Hunchback of Notre Dame of 1923. I fell in love with all the Lon Chaney films and all the Douglas Fairbanks films. So I grew up wanting to have something to do with movies one day, as well.

Stanley: Didn’t you write the original version of It Came From Outer Space for Universal-International in 1953?

it-came-from-outer-space-movie-poster-1953-1020197221Bradbury: Yes, and I did a very foolish thing. I was supposed to write an idea for them and then do a treatment. But the treatment got away with me. This always happens. You see, I can’t do anything half way. First of all, a treatment is a lie. Anyone who writes a treatment for a studio is lying to himself and to the studio. You don’t have to prove anything in a treatment. You just write: “And then the monster is there and everyone is frightened.” That’s a lie. In order to prove a thing you have to get in there and write it. So, I wrote a 110-page treatment in the form of a screenplay. I turned it in and they paid me $3,000 for it. Then they brought in a screenwriter who worked over my treatment. I was too dumb at the time to see what I had done.

Stanley: How did you feel about the finished product?

Bradbury: It was fair. They don’t know how to build atmosphere. They don’t know how to work with a scene. That’s one of the great things wrong with film-making in this country. So often they won’t take time to establish the surroundings so you, the audience, can feel surrounded by the feeling of the scene. Someone like Robert Wise knows how to do this. His The Haunting is a beautiful picture.

Stanley: And then, of course, you wrote Moby Dick for director John Huston.

Bradbury: It was a case of the blind leading the blind. John didn’t  know any more about Moby Dick then I did. So we learned together. I’d write ten pages a day and we’d go over it together, then discuss Melville’s novel some more. I read the novel at least ten times. Finally, after I’d been in Ireland on the project for four months, I wrote up one morning in Dublin and said: “I’m Herman Melville.” That same morning I wrote the last 40 pages and it came terrifically. This is the secret of all good writing. It has to come fast. If you go slow on anything it’s automatically bad. In an art form, if you slow down you begin to intellectualize and destroy and pontificate and become self conscious and make up reasons for what you’re doing. You must never make up any reasons for anything. It’s there coming out of your fingers because it must come out. That’s one of the dangers in the country today – we’re getting so intellectual and superintellectual and quasi intellectual and fake intellectual that we’re in great danger of destroying all our creative talent. All the intuitive process, which is the great truth. That’s what you must work with. That’s what you must let happen.

Stanley: Do you have any criticism of the final cut of Moby Dick?

moby_dick_belgian_movie_poster_2aBradbury: Only on the casting. I think John Huston didn’t work with Gregory Peck correctly as a director. On the first day of shooting, Huston walked up to Peck and said, “Great, Greg. Now give me just a little more.” And I think it was that “little more” that killed it. See, Ahab is a paranoic, a driven man, a very wild kind of insane person. It had to be played, on one level, with great dedication and fierceness. You could get a great performance out of Sir Ralph Richardson or Sir Laurence Olivier. Whom I wanted. Walter Huston when he was alive [Huston, John’s father, had died in 1950.] Even Burt Lancaster could do Ahab. But with a man like Peck, he’s basically a quiet individual. Therefore you must think in terms of catatonia. In terms of the kind of madness that turns away and in. Therefore you must allow Peck to be a colder, quieter kind of madman, and work on that level. Huston never exploited Ahab quite in that way. Well, I’ve seen the film ten times now. It’s moving and it’s haunting and it’s got it, boy, it’s got it. I’m very proud of it. Very proud.

Stanley: In your short story “Almost the End of the World,” you make a personal, abstract statement about the quality of television. That it’s turning us into zombies. Come on now. Don’t you really enjoy many of the things TV has to offer?

Bradbury: Oh, of course. The thing I enjoy most of all is Bugs Bunny. In fact, that’s my favorite show, watching old Warner Bros. Cartoons. People think I’m pulling their legs when I say that, but I’m serious. Of course, that’s shortened versions of motion pictures. TV is turning out to be the best purveyor of old films that I have wanted to see over and over. For example, the other night I saw The Lady Vanishes [1938, with Michael Redgrave and Margaret Lockwood], and it holds up extremely well. I’m a big [Alfred] Hitchcock fan. I would say, in fact, that 95 per cent of the time the reason I like TV is simply for old films. Every Sunday morning you can be sure I’ll be up at 10:30 watching Bugs Bunny.

Stanley: Do you read a lot of science-fiction nowadays?

strip-1Bradbury: Not as much as I used to, because I feel it’s dangerous to read in your own field. I think it’s better to read in poetry, psychology, philosophy, etc., and bring back into your own field things from other fields. First of all, if you read something  that’s already been done you don’t  want to do it. Right? Reading what others have written can often discourage you. So it’s not wise to read in your own field. That way you stay fresh and original. Of course, there are times I will read certain favorites. Leigh Brackett is an old, old friend. Ed Hamilton I like. Catherine Moore. Henry Kuttner, when he was alive.

Stanley: I recently heard Burgess Meredith on record, reading your short story, “There Will Come Soft Rains.” I never realized before how close your story is to sheer poetry. What’s been your reaction over the years to others comparing you to a poet?

Bradbury: The great thing over the years was discovering suddenly that I was a poet. At least that’s what a lot of people said I was. I guess that’s the best way to become a poet. To do it without knowing it. Because if you get self-conscious it doesn’t work. Nothing works. The best way to be any kind of writer is to live and to write and to get the work done every day and have a wonderful time with it. And don’t look back and don’t look too far ahead. Just get the work done every day . . .

Stanley: You always seem to have an incredible number of projects in the works. How do you do it?

Bradbury: I don’t, really. If there were three of me, there still wouldn’t be enough to do all the things there are to do.

Stanley: Didn’t you once have ambitions to be an actor?

Bradbury: In high school I was very active in the drama society and after I left high school I worked with Laraine Day’s little theater group here in Los Angels until I was 21. But all through the latter part of my teens I knew I could have only one career – and that was writing.

Stanley: And don’t you do quite a bit of lecturing?

Bradbury: It’s one of my biggest kicks. It gives me a chance to act, you see. To sense an audience, to know how it’s thinking and how it’s reacting.

Stanley: What criteria do you follow in selecting a subject?

Bradbury: I never prepare a topic in advance. No matter where I speak. I just go in and, if I’m on a campus say, I get a sense of what the campus is like or how the tastes run. I find generally if I speak on the things we’re discussing now, everything goes well. What is creativity? How do you work with it? How do you stay enthused with life in the face of so much that is brutal and dehumanizing and unhappy? How do you not growl in a world of sorrow and destruction? How do you control your own violence and hostility? . . . All these things are of vast interest. These are the subjects common to us all.

Stanley: Even though you’ve sold hundreds of short stories, sold to the movies and produced plays, do you still occasionally face rejection?

Bradbury. Ohhhhh. Constantly. There isn’t a week that passes that I don’t get rejection slips. I had five stories out last week and I received, this week, five rejection slips. So I haven’t got it made. You see, I continue to shift gears. Every story I write is some new thing that has hit me. It’s not a conscious effort to be different, it’s just that any wild thing that comes into my head, I write it. . . . No, it writes me. It has its own life and it must be born. So you write a story and there it is. You never know what’s going to happen next. You sit at the typewriter and it rushes out on paper and suddenly it’s finished. Writing must be based on love. It’s such a tired word but we don’t have any other to describe it. You have things around you because you like them. You do things because they’re worth doing. And if you do them in the instant then they can’t help but be good. If you stop and think about a lot of things, you’ll put it off and give yourself reasons for not doing them.

Stanley: You’ve said in the past you’ve drawn on your childhood love for magic and fantasy to write many of your earlier stories. What have you found in later life that you’ve drawn upon for your newer stories?

Bradbury: Pretty much the same thing. I think my sense of the miraculous remains pretty constant. I’m still pretty bewildered at the universe we live in. I’m awfully grateful for being alive. So many people are so mistaken in their attitudes toward life. They allow their critical faculties to so overwhelm them, they can’t even enjoy the fact of living.

Stanley: Regarding your many short stories. Do you have a favorite?

51rejavmnrl-_sx300_bo1204203200_Bradbury: Something Wicked This Way Comes [published in 1962]  is my favorite book.  I think it says more about my own life, about my father. “Dandelion Wine” is based on my experiences with my brother and much of it is so basic to me. [“Dandelion Wine” began as a 1953 short story set in 1928 in the fictional town of Green Town, Illinois, patterned after Waukegan, where Bradbury grew up. Something Wicked This Way Comes expanded on that beginning.]

Stanley: In his Seekers of Tomorrow, Sam Moskowitz accused you of writing less and less science-fiction in more recent times.

Bradbury: It’s not really true. Remember, it’s only been a year since I had a long short story in Playboy called “The Lost City of Mars.” Playboy wants another story but recently rejected two. And there are other fantasies in the marketplace . . .

Stanley: What do you feel is your main weakness as a writer, given the rejections?

Bradbury: If I knew I would correct it. I don’t think I really know. I don’t think you can analyze and correct weaknesses. All you can do is have hindsight and keep writing and reading and hope to learn more about people, atmosphere, things. The greatest thing, thought, is to develop a style that is totally suitable. That is totally yourself. In other words, style is not worthwhile unless it’s absolute truth. And truth, after all, develops its own style. They’re one and the same, actually. When I read something I ask myself, “What kind of truth does this man tell me of himself? Is he lying to me?” If he is lying, then he has a false style. If he’s telling the truth, then he has his own style automatically. What you’re trying to do is bring out all the truths at various levels. Your fear of the dark, your fear of violence, your hostility toward this, your love of that.

Stanley: You’ve written many stories about machines. How do you feel toward today’s gadgetry and inventions?

Bradbury: I think machines can be fabulous teachers. We’re so primitive, still, in our ability to teach one another. I write about machines to show how we can use them to humanize ourselves. Jesus, a hundred years from this very day we’ll have robots the likes of which you can’t even begin to imagine. Think what lies ahead. You’ll be able to program a robot to carry on a dialogue. I see the proliferation of millions of robots who’ll be teaching us history, philosophy and sociology in colleges all over the world. It sounds impossible right now. It sounds silly. It sounds stupid. But it will happen.

Stanley: You have a file bulging with stories that have never been submitted to publications. Is there any one characteristic about them that makes them unsalable?

Bradbury: No, no, I’m not keeping them there because they won’t sell. I’m keeping them there because I can only work on them one at a time. There are just so many hours in the day and so many stories you can finish in a year. These are all fragments I’ve put away. There’s a beginning, middle or end. In the last month I’ve taken two stories out of that file that I began 16 years ago. One story just went off and the other I finished two weeks ago. I go through my file and if a fragment cries out to me in any way . . . if the idea speaks and says, “Father, it’s time, clap me on the back and bring me to life,” then I take it out.

Stanley: Do you find you have to be in a certain mood for a certain story?

ray-closeup-page145Bradbury: Yes, I use my file as a Rorschach Test for myself. I just keep going through it, and as these stories flash past I remember a title and I say, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, this is good but I never did like that ending.” And if the ending comes to me in that instant, success. A lot of times I go with instinct, with intuition. I believe all great creative things have happened on a subliminal level. I do not believe in the intellectual writer. I do, however, believe in the ideas he writes about. A lot of my ideas, I find when I’m finished, are intellectually accepted. They are of my time. “There Will Come Soft Rains” is a poetic exposition on an idea that has to do with hydrogen bombs, people and machinery. But I didn’t set out to write that kind of story. It wrote itself. My subconscious thought it up on its own terms. But this is where there’ll always be continuing conflict. The fight will be between creative persons and intellectuals. And the intellectual, per se, is not a creative person. Can’t be. I do not know of any solutions to problems that have ever been thought out. I think these things happen intuitively. That part of the process I’m afraid of is the one setting on top of the mind, guiding and steering. This is the destroyer of the creative process.

Stanley: Do you do much rewriting?

Bradbury: Very rarely. I retype a story three or four times. And as I retype I might throw in a word or take one out. These are just the minor truths. You see, you nail down the big truth first. But if you start fussing with those little truths while you’re still writing the story, you’ll never finish it. You’ll be messing with grammar and single words and adjectives. Who cares? Not important. The whole story finished, that’s what is important. Get it down, get a skin around it, then make your changes. The art of cutting, of course, is the Great Art. The second Great Art is Knowing. Knowing when to stop cutting before you deball it. You have to write every day to learn both arts. And the more you write the more enthusiasm and fun you have and the better your work gets. There’s a direct relationship between quantity and quality. It’s a flat rule: There’s just no way to contradict it.

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