Ray Bradbury was born on this day in 1920.
I first became aware of Ray Bradbury after reading Fahrenheit 451 in my youth. It was a story that changed my perspectives providing me with the joys, imagination and knowledge of the ages, all delivered through books. This one work instilled an appreciation of books that would never allow me to take them for granted… ever.
Born Ray Douglas Bradbury, his middle name was taken from the famous actor of the era, Douglas Fairbanks. He was related to the American Shakespeareian actor Douglas Spalding and oddly enough descended from Mary Bradbury, who was tried at one of the Salem witch trials in 1692.
[More than 100 of her friends, neighbors and townspeople testified on her behalf but to no avail. Mary was found guilty and sentenced to be hanged. Her friends continued to support her, creating delays of her execution, enough so that when the hysteria passed she was released]
Bradbury was a prolific writer, scribing daily from 12 years of age. He tells the story of when it began for him. In 1932, a carnival entertainer, Mr. Electro, touched him on the nose with an electrified sword. The sword made his hair stand on end as Mr. Electro shouted, “Live forever!”
Bradbury says, “I felt something strange and wonderful had happened to me because of my encounter with Mr. Electro… [he] gave me a future… I began to write, fulltime. I have written every single day of my life since that day 69 years ago.”
Bradbury recounts his first published novel, The Martian Cornicles. It was 1949. He took a Greyhound bus to New York and checked into a YMCA for fifty cents a night. He shopped his short stories to a dozen publishers but had no takers. They wanted novels. He landed a dinner with publisher, Walter Bradbury (no relation), and told him of his striking out. Walter B asked if he could tie the stories together. The title was the publisher’s idea, “You could call it The Martian Chronicles.”
Ray liked the idea and stayed up all night at the Y typing out an outline. He took it to the Doubleday editor the next day and landed a check for seven hundred and fifty dollars. Back in Los Angeles, he connected the stories and The Martian Chronicles was created.
Bradbury dated only one woman his entire life, Ray’s dear wife Maggie of fifty-six years. Living in Los Angeles he never got a driver’s license relying on public transportation or his bicycle.
Ray Bradbury is credited with writing 27 novels and over 600 short stories. There are more than eight million copies of his stories published in over 36 languages. This is not to mention all his work in film and TV.
The New York Times obituary stated that Bradbury was, “the writer most responsible for bringing modern science fiction into the literary mainstream.”
Steven Spielberg said that Bradbury was “[his] muse for the better part of [his] sci-fi career…. In the world of science fiction and fantasy and imagination he is immortal”.
Stephen King released a statement after Bradbury’s death saying, “Ray Bradbury wrote three great novels and three hundred great stories. One of the latter was called ‘A Sound of Thunder.’ The sound I hear today is the thunder of a giant’s footsteps fading away. But the novels and stories remain, in all their resonance and strange beauty.”
Books by Ray Bradbury
Bradbury on film and TV
If you want to read it, here is the complete text of Fahrenheit 451: