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The Legacy of Ray Bradbury

Editor’s note: Today, Ray Bradbury, sci-fi author of classics like The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451, passed away at the age of 91. Bradbury is remembered for his contributions to American culture, along with a keen eye to see where that culture had gotten off track. Back in late 2009, we talked to Bradbury about a current play he was working on, how he honed his craft and the relationships he’d built over his years working in film, theater and publishing. Here’s a look back at that piece.

Pretty much everyone would say Ray Bradbury had a gift for writing.After all, he’s a man who had published more than 50 novels, includingthat evergreen high-school requirement Fahrenheit 451, and written hundreds of short stories and a host of screenplays, including the adaptation of Moby Dick for legendary director John Huston. Fahrenheit 451 remains in the public consciousness for its searing critique ofcensorship (451 degrees Fahrenheit is the temperature at which paperburns—in Bradbury’s dystopian view of the future, that temperature isused to burn books) and control over learning and intellectual pursuit. 451 remains a classic and lends Bradbury a perspective valuable for all eras.

“I love movies, books, theater, writing short stories and writingnovels and combine them all in one person,” Bradbury explains. “Lifeinspires me. I make up things first thing in the morning. God givesthem to me. I wake up and say, ‘OK, I’m going to write these right now.’Everything happens in the morning as I wake up. His voice speaks to me—in one ear, out the other and onto the page.”

With such inspiration, Bradbury says he has written every day for thepast 80 years, including one night in Paris when he wrote three playsin a single night, noting wryly, “Paris does that to me.” The Frenchhave returned the love by giving him the coveted French Commandeur,Ordre des Arts et des Lettres medal in 2007.

These days, the Waukegan, Ill., native is even busier than he hasbeen for a long time—as one of the editors overseeing the recentrebirth of one of America’s great magazines, The Saturday Evening Post, writing regular short stories for them, and for another revivedliterary mag, The Strand.  Additionally, at age 89, Bradbury is presenting his long-lost, never-produced play Ray Bradbury’s Merry Christmas 2116  at the Fremont Theatre in Los Angeles.

“You experiment with which place works out the best for you, and I’ve beenthrough eight theaters for my plays,” Bradbury says during a recentinterview at his home in West Los Angeles. “I like the size of theFremont. It’s 90 seats. I have everything to do with the play, not them. I cast them, I pick my director and we [Bradbury’s Pandemonium TheatreCo.] all come from somewhere else and just bring the show to theFremont.”In 2116, Bradbury’s 10th production at the Fremont (which included The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit and, of course, smash runs of Fahrenheit 451), an elderly couple approaching their 40th wedding anniversary eachdecide to give the other a present. The gifts in question are robotversions of themselves that are younger and hotter, setting off a series of screwball situations that should provide plenty of laughs to go with the tunes.
 
The truly amazing part of the play’s history is that it was originallyconceived for the husband-wife film-star team of Charles Laughton andElsa Lanchester 50 years ago, with the great director James Whale (theoriginal Frankenstein) attached to helm the production. But whenWhale died suddenly, the play was set aside until now. The newproduction has a brand-new musical score by John Hoke to go withBradbury’s book and lyrics.

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Bradbury looks back with pleasure on his history with colleagues likescience-fiction great Robert Heinlein, who mentored him and helped himsell his first story. He is also proud of his legacy as the creator ofthe film societies of the Writers Guild of America, Screen Actors Guildand Directors Guild of America.

“There are thousands of people seeing movies today because of me. Iformed the film societies to teach people about the films I loved,”Bradbury says. “I met Samuel Goldwyn, one of the greatest producers ofall time, for lunch after showing Dodsworth. It just goes to show—do what you love, and it will influence people you never expected.”

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