Ray is gone. Even though the news was hardly unexpected (after all, he was 91, and hadn’t been in the best of health for some time, and lost his beloved wife, Marguerite, several years ago, which has put many a man over the edge, as it certainly would me), and I had long been bracing myself for it, it’s hit me harder than I expected. Maybe because I’m a little gloomy anyway these days, and definitely because I not only admired but also knew him, not in a drinking-buddy kind of way, yet in the way of one who has interviewed a person at great length–more on that later–and corresponded sporadically with him after that.
The one time I met Ray face to face was quite by chance and makes for a rather nice anecdote. It had to be 1990, because I was publicizing Behind the Mask, the memoir by gay former MLB umpire Dave Pallone, and for once I was actually in the big time, sitting in the Green Room at CNN while waiting for Dave to be interviewed by Larry King, when lo and behold, there he was, The GREAT Ray Bradbury, over whom I’m sure I shamelessly fawned the entire time. Normally, of course, when an author is interviewed, the publicist sits in rapt attention, drinking in every word, but when Dave returned to the Green Room after his segment, asked me how it went, and heard my lame reply, he looked at me accusingly–but, it must be said, affectionately–and intoned, “You were talking to Ray Bradbury!,” which I could not in good conscience deny.
I had much more contact with Ray by long distance when I conducted a telephone interview for Filmfax‘s late, lamented sister magazine, Outre, that covered pretty much the entirety of the film and television oeuvre written by Ray and/or based on his work. The logistics surrounding that interview, eventually published in 1995, summon up Ray as a man better than anything else I could come up with, because after it turned out that a technical glitch had rendered my entire audiotape blank, he agreed to reschedule and then did the entire goddamn interview all over again. Yes, you read that right. And believe you me, it was not a brief one.
As is widely known, Ray was not only an inspiration but also a kind of mentor/role model/elder statesman for many of the younger writers among what became known as the California Sorcerers, or simply The Group, such as George Clayton Johnson, Richard Matheson, William F. Nolan (all of whom I interviewed for Filmfax and proudly consider friends as well), and Charles Beaumont. It was typical of The Group that they not only were friends, contemporaries, and colleagues, but also wrote for many of the same TV shows, movie studios, and magazines, collaborated on various projects and/or adapted one another’s work for the screen. Ray’s efforts in that last capacity accounted for a goodly hunk of our interview, because by then I was already in the grip of my Matheson obsession, although not yet planning to write Richard Matheson on Screen, and Richard had written the teleplay for the ill-fated 1980 NBC miniseries based on one of Ray’s most famous books, The Martian Chronicles.
Despite his justifiable and quite public disappointment with the miniseries, Ray had the good grace to acknowledge that on paper, Richard’s script did an excellent job of turning a largely unconnected series of stories into a single narrative; like me, he fingered the soporific work of director Michael Anderson as the primary culprit. When it came time for me to write my magnum opus, I drew heavily on our interview for quotes concerning both The Martian Chronicles and their shared experiences writing for The Twilight Zone, which were considerably less happy for Ray than for Richard. And although they weren’t applicable to the book, he had also regaled me with stories of his boyhood pal Ray Harryhausen (another Filmfax interviewee), It Came from Outer Space, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (both 1953), Moby Dick (1956), King of Kings (1961), Fahrenheit 451 (1966), The Picasso Summer, The Illustrated Man (both 1969), the 35-year saga of getting Something Wicked This Way Comes onto the screen in 1983, The Ray Bradbury Theater, The Halloween Tree (1993), his wonderful book Green Shadows, White Whale, and others too numerous to recall.
If all had gone according to the original plan, I would have met Ray face to face one more time in 2005, when he was one of several genre legends who attended a party in L.A. to celebrate the publication of Matheson’s novel Woman, as I was also scheduled to do. But Richard, realizing that I would get completely lost in the shuffle, wisely suggested that I defer my visit for a few weeks until the HWA’s Stoker Awards weekend, when he would be doing a Twilight Zone panel with George (whom I finally got to meet years after our phoner). I’d exchanged Christmas cards with Ray for several years after our own interview, and kept him abreast of my progress on the Matheson book, but was less willing to bother him after Marguerite died in 2003, and it’s been years now since we’d had any contact.
A giant talent, a great soul, a 12-year-old Midwestern boy-poet trapped in an infirm 91-year-old body, but now liberated–and reunited with Maggie–forever, hoisting a few with a delighted God. What more can I say?
I’ll let the author of Fahrenheit 451 have the last word, in a quote that my mother-in-law shared with me when she called a few minutes ago to offer her condolences: “I don’t try to describe the future. I try to prevent it.”
Ray Bradbury, 1920-2012
Read Full Post »