Ray Bradbury

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Just read “Far-Distant Days,” Ben Thomas’ very good Aeon essay about the often-vertiginous reality of the deep past, which may be discomfiting to face but must be confronted should we hope to manage today and tomorrow’s challenges. In the opening, Thomas draws on Ray Bradbury’s 1965 essay “The Machine-Tooled Happyland,” which was inspired by his long-simmering anger over Julian Halevy’s decidedly negative 1955 Nation review of Disneyland’s opening.

Halevy identified Walt’s new theme park and its far more raffish cousin Las Vegas as twin examples of vulgar American escapism that was being driven by mounting conformity. This road to nowhere–or at least to un-realism–became eminently more crowded in the decades that followed with the emergence of Graceland, Comic-Con, Dungeons & Dragons, the Internet, Netflix, Facebook, Reality TV, cosplay, Virtual Reality, Pokémon Go and, finally, a garbage-mouthed game show host for a President. Halevy’s concluding sentences:

I’m writing about Disneyland and Las Vegas to make another point: that both these institutions exist for the relief of tension and boredom, as tranquilizers for social anxiety, and that they both provide fantasy experiences in which not-so-secret longings are pseudo-satisfied. Their huge profits and mushrooming growth suggest that as conformity and adjustment become more rigidly imposed on the American scene, the drift to fantasy relief will become a flight. So make your reservations early.•

“The drift to fantasy relief will become a flight,” may be the most ominous and truest prediction made in mid-century America.

One decade later, Bradbury, whose devotion to Disney was rivaled only by Charles Laughton, struck back at Halevy in his response in Holiday. More puzzling than the writer’s unbridled appreciation for Disney’s still-crude animatronics in a time when real rockets were traveling through space, were his views on the future of history. Bradbury believed machines in “audio-animatronic museums” could make the inscrutable past uniform, could bring it to life. He wrote: “One problem of man is believing in his past.”

When he asserts that in 2065 “Caesar, computerized, [will] speak in the Forum,” he was unwittingly describing Virtual Reality far more than robotics. He believed new tools would finally get humanity on the same page, that history would be taught by robotics that were controlled by a seer like Disney, not fully comprehending a decentralized age would allow for the remixing and distorting of history on an epic scale, and that all of it, even slavery and the Holocaust, could be reduced to entertainment or worse. 

Bradbury did, however, have some inkling of the potential pitfalls, writing: “Am I frightened by any of this? Yes, certainly. For these audio-animatronic museums must be placed in hands that will build the truths as well as possible, and lie only through occasional error.”

The full essay:

“THE MACHINE-TOOLED HAPPYLAND”

The wondrous devices of Disneyland take on startling importance in the mind of a science fiction seer

Two thousand years back, people entering Grecian temples dropped coins into machinery that then clanked forth holy water.

It is a long way from that first slot machine to the “miracles of rare device” created by Walt Disney for his kingdom, Disneyland. When Walt Whitman wrote, “I sing the Body Electric,” he little knew he was guessing the motto of our robot-dominated society. I believe Disney’s influence will be felt centuries from today. I say that Disney and Disneyland can be prime movers of our age.

But before I offer proof, let me sketch my background. At twelve, I owned one of the first Mickey Mouse buttons in Tucson, Arizona. At nineteen, sell­ing newspapers on a street corner, I lived in terror I might be struck by a car and killed before the premiere of Disney’s film extravaganza, Fantasia. In the last thirty years I have seen Fantasia fifteen times, Snow White twelve times, Pinocchio eight times. In sum, I was, and still am, a Disney nut.

You can imagine, then, how I regarded an article in the Nation some years ago that equated Disneyland with Las Vegas. Both communities, claimed the article, were vulgar, both represented American culture at its most corrupt, vile and terrible.

I rumbled for half an hour, then exploded. I sent a letter winging to the prim Nationeditors.

“Sirs,” it said, “like many intellectuals before me I delayed going to Disneyland, having heard it was just too dreadfully middle-class. One wouldn’t dream of being caught dead there.

“But finally a good friend jollied me into my first grand tour of the Magic Kingdom. I went…with one of the great children of our time: Charles Laughton.”

It is a good memory, the memory of the day Captain Bligh dragged me writhing through the gates of Disney­land. He plowed a furrow in the mobs; he surged ahead, one great all-envelop­ing presence from whom all fell aside. I followed in the wake of Moses as he bade the waters part, and part they did. The crowds dropped their jaws and, buffeted by the passage of his immense body through the shocked air, spun about and stared after us.

We made straight for the nearest boat—wouldn’t Captain Bligh?—the Jungle Ride.

Charlie sat near the prow, pointing here to crocodiles, there to bull elephants, farther on to feasting lions. He laughed at the wild palaver of our river­boat steersman’s jokes, ducked when pistols were fired dead-on at charging hippopotamuses, and basked face up in the rain, eyes shut, as we sailed under the Schweitzer Falls.

We blasted off in another boat, this one of the future, the Rocket to the Moon. Lord, how Bligh loved that.

And at dusk we circuited the Missis­sippi in the Mark Twain, with the jazz band thumping like a great dark heart, and the steamboat blowing its forlorn dragon-voice whistle, and the slow banks passing, and all of us topside, hands sticky with spun candy, coats snowed with popcorn salt, smiles hammer-tacked to our faces by one explosionof delight and surprise after another.

Then, weary children, Charlie the greatest child and most weary of all, we drove home on the freeway.

That night I could not help but remember a trip East when I got of a Greyhound in Las Vegas at three in the morning. I wandered through the mechanical din, through clusters of feverish women clenching robot devices, Indian-wrestling them two falls out of three. I heard the dry chuckle of coins falling out of chutes, only to be reinserted, redigested and lost forever in the machinery guts.

And under the shaded lights, the green-visored men and women dealing cards, dealing cards, noiselessly, ex­pressionlessly, numbly, with viper motions, flicking chips, rolling dice, taking money, stacking chips—showing no joy, no fun, no love, no care, unhearing, silent and blind. Yet on and on their hands moved. The hands belonged only to themselves. While across from these ice-cold Erector-set people, I saw the angered lust of the grapplers, the snatchers, the forever losing and the always lost.

I stayed in Dante’s Las Vegas Inferno for one hour, then climbed back on my bus, taking my soul locked between my ribs, careful not to breathe it out where someone might snatch it, press it, fold it and sell it for a two-buck chip.

In sum, if you lifted the tops of the Las Vegas gamblers’ craniums you would find  watch cogs, black hair­springs, levers, wheels in wheels all apurr and agrind. Tap them, they’d leak lubricant. Bang them, they’d bell like aluminum tambourines. Slap their cheeks and a procession of dizzy lemons and cherries would fly by under their cocked eyelids. Shoot them and they’d spurt nuts and bolts.

Vegas’s real people are brute robots, machine-tooled bums.

Disneyland’s robots are, on the other hand, people, loving, caring and eter­nally good.

Essence is everything.

What final point do I choose to make in the comparison? It is this: we live in an age of one billion robot devices that surround, bully, change and sometimes destroy us. The metal-and-plastic machines are all amoral. But by their design and function they lure us to be better or worse than we might otherwise be.

In such an age it would be foolhardy to ignore the one man who is building human qualities into robots—robots whose influence will be ricocheting off social and political institutions ten thousand afternoons from today.

Snobbery now could cripple our intellectual development. After I had heard too many people sneer at Disney and his audio-animatronic Abraham Lincoln in the Illinois exhibit at the New York World’s Fair, I went to the Disney robot factory in Glendale. I watched the finishing touches being put on a second computerized, electric- and air-pressure-driven humanoid that will “live” at Disneyland from this summer on. I saw this new effigy of Mr. Lincoln sit, stand, shift his arms, turn his wrists, twitch his fingers, put his hands behind his back, turn his head, look at me, blink and prepare to speak. In those few moments I was filled with an awe I have rarely felt in my life.

Only a few hundred years ago all this would have been considered blasphemous, I thought. To create man is not man’s business, but God’s, it would have been said. Disney and every technician with him would have been bundled and burned at the stake in 1600.

And again, I thought, all of this was dreamed before. From the fantastic geometric robot drawings of Bracelli in 1624 to the mechanical people in Capek’s R.U.R. in 1925, others have conceived and drawn metallic extensions of man and his senses, or played at it in theater.

But the fact remains that Disney is the first to make a robot that is convincingly real, that looks, speaks and acts like a man. Disney has set the history of humanized robots on its way toward wider, more fantastic excur­sions into the needs of civilization.

Send your mind on to the year 2065. A mere century from now set yourself down with a group of children enter­ing an audio-animatronic museum. In­side, you find the primal sea from which we swam and crawled up on the land. In that sea, the lizard beasts that tore the air with strange cries for a million on a million years. Robot animals feasting and being feasted upon as robot apeman waits in the wings for the nightmare blood to cease flowing.

Farther on you see robot cavemen frictioning fire into existence, bringing a mammoth down in a hairy avalanche, curing pelts, drawing quicksilver horse flights like flashes of motion pictures on cavern walls.

Robot Vikings treading the Vinland coastal sands.

Caesar, computerized, speaks in the Forum. falls in the Senate, lies dead and perfect as Antony declaims over his body for the ten-thousandth time.

Napoleon, ticking as quietly as a clockshop, at Waterloo.

Generals Grant and Lee alive again at Appomattox.

King John, all hums and oiled whirs at Runnymede, signing Magna Charta.

Fantastic? Perhaps. Ridiculous? Somewhat. Nonsensical? Vulgar? A touch. Not worth the doing? Worth doing a thousand times over.

For one problem of man is believing in his past.

We have had to take on faith the unproven events of unproven years. For all the reality of ruins and scrolls and tablets, we fear that much of what we read has been made up. Artifacts may be no more than created symbols, artificial skeletons thrown together to fit imaginary closets. The reality, even of the immediate past, is irretrievable.

Thus, through half belief, we are often doomed to repeat that very past we should have learned from.

But now through audio-animatronics, robot mechanics, or if you prefer, the science of machines leaning their warm shadows toward humanity, we can grasp and fuse the best of two art forms.

Motion pictures suffer from not be­ing “real” or three-dimensionally pres­ent. Their great asset is that they can be perfect. That is, a director of genius can shoot, cut, reshoot, edit and re-edit his dream until it is just the way he wants it. His film, locked in a time cap­sule and opened five centuries later, would still contain his ideal in exactly the form he set for it.

The theater suffers from a reverse problem. Live drama is indeed more real, it is “there” before you in the flesh. But it is not perfect. Out of thirty-odd performances a month, only once, perhaps, will all the actors to­gether hit the emotional peak they are searching for.

Audio-animatronics borrows the per­fection of the cinema and marries it to the “presence” of stage drama.

To what purpose?

So that at long last we may begin to believe in every one of man’s many million days upon this Earth.

Emerging from the robot museums of tomorrow, your future student will say: I know, I believe in the history of the Egyptians, for this day I helped lay the cornerstone of the Great Pyramid.

Or, I believe Plato actually existed, for this afternoon under a laurel tree in a lovely country place I heard him discourse with friends, argue by the quiet hour; the building stones of a great Republic fell from his mouth.

Now at last see how Hitler derived his power. I stood in the stadium at Nuremberg, I saw his fists beat on the air, I heard his shout and the echoing shout of the mob and the ranked armies. For some while I touched the living fabric of evil. I knew the terrible and tempting beauty of such stuffs. I smelled the torches that burned the books. I turned away and came out for air…. Beyond, in that museum, lies Belsen, and beyond that, Hiroshima…. Tomorrow I will go there.

For these students it will not be his­tory was but history is.

Not Aristotle lived and died, but Aristotle is in residence this very hour, just down the way.

Not Lincoln’s funeral train forever lost in the crepe of time, but Lincoln eternally journeying from Springfield to Washington to save a nation.

Not Columbus sailed but Columbus sails tomorrow morning; sign up, take ship, go along.

Not Cortez sighted Mexico, but Cortez makes landfall at 3 P.M. by the robot museum clock. This instant, Montezuma waits to be wound-up and sent on his way.

Perhaps out of all this fresh seeing and knowing will come such under­standing as will stop our cycling round to repeat our past.

Do I make too much of this? Perhaps. Nothing is guaranteed. We are wandering in the childhood of machines. When we and the machines ma­ture, who can say what we might ac­complish together?

Am I frightened by any of this? Yes, certainly. For these audio-animatronic museums must be placed in hands that will build the truths as well as possible, and lie only through occasional error. Otherwise we shall end in the company of Baron Frankenstein and some AC-DC Genghis Khan.

The new appreciation of history begins with the responsibility in the hands of a man I trust, Walt Disney. In Disneyland he has proven again that the first function of architecture is to make men over make them wish to go on living, feed them fresh oxygen, grow them tall, delight their eyes, make them kind.

Disneyland liberates men to their better selves. Here the wild brute is gently corralled, not wised and squashed, not put upon and harassed, not tromped on by real-estate operators, nor exhausted by smog and traffic.

What works at Disneyland should work in the robots that Disney, and others long after him, invent and send forth upon the land.

I rest my case by sending you at your next free hour to Disneyland itself. There you will collect your own evidence. There you will see the happy faces of people.

I don’t mean dumb-cluck happy, I don’t mean men’s-club happy or sewing-circle happy. I mean truly happy.

No beatniks here. No Cool people with Cool faces pretending not to care, thus swindling themselves out of life or any chance for life.

Disneyland causes you to care all over again. You feel it is that first day in the spring of that special year when you discovered you were really alive. You return to those morns in childhood when you woke and lay in bed and thought, eyes shut, “Yes, sir, the guys will be here any sec. A pebble will tap the window, a dirt clod will horse-thump the roof, a yell will shake the treehouse slats.”

And then you woke fully and the rock did bang the roof and the yell shook the sky and your tennis shoes picked you up and ran you out of the house into living.

Disneyland is all that. I’m heading there now. Race you?•

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From the December 30, 1953 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

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By 1996, Ray Bradbury was so terrified of crime in the U.S. (which had actually begun a steep decline), he wanted to hand over the rule of our cities to “enlightened corporations” and let them mall-ify America. Not a great idea. 

He also wished every city to have a quaint small-town plaza imposed upon it. In a 1970 essay “The Girls Walk This Way; The Boys Walk That Way,” he first proposed the plan which he never let go of. It was really more about his own sense of nostalgia than any rational improvement to modern living. Via Open Culture, here’s the heart of it:

Here is my remedy. A vast, dramatically planned city block. One to start with. Later on, one or more for each of the 80 towns in L.A.

My block would be a gathering place for each population nucleus. A place where, by the irresistible design and purpose of such a block, people would be tempted to linger, loiter, stay, rather than fly off in their chairs to already overcrowded places.

Let me peel my ideal shopping center like an onion:

At the exact center: a round bandstand or stage.

Surrounding this, a huge conversation pit. Enough tables and chairs so that four hundred people can sit out under the stars drinking coffee or Cokes.

Around this, in turn, would be laid the mosaics of a huge plaza walk where more hundreds might stroll at their leisure to see and be seen.

Surrounding the entirety, an immense quadrangle of three dozen shops and stores, all facing the central plaza, the conversation pit, the bandstand.

At the four corners of the block, four theaters. One for new films. A second for classic old pictures. A third to house live drama, one-act plays, or, on occasion, lectures. The fourth theater would be a coffee house for rock-folk groups. Each theater would hold between three hundred and five hundred people.


With the theaters as dramatic environment, let’s nail down the other shops facing the plaza:

Pizza parlor. Malt shop. Delicatessen. Hamburger joint. Candy shop. Spaghetti cafe….

But, more important, what other kinds of shops are most delicious in our lives? When browsing and brooding, what’s the most fun?

Stationery shops? Good. Most of us love rambling among the bright papers in such stores.

Hardware shops? Absolutely. That’s where men rummage happily, prowling through the million bright objects to be hauled home for use some other year.

Two bookstores, now. Why not three?

One for hardcovers, one for paperbacks and the third to be an old and rare bookseller’s crypt, properly floundered in dust and half-light. This last should have a real fire-hearth at its center where, on cool nights, six easy chairs could be drawn about for idling bookmen/students in s‚ance with Byron’s ghost, bricked in by thousands of ancient and honorable tomes. Such a shop must not only spell age but sound of its conversation.

How about an art supply shop? Fine! Paints, turpentines, brushes, the whole lovely smelling works. Next door? An art gallery, of course, with low- and high-price ranges for every purse!

A record shop, yes? Yes. They’ve proven themselves all over our city, staying open nights.

What about a leather shop, and a tobacconist’s … but make your own list from here on! The other dozen or two dozen shops should be all shapes, sizes and concepts. A toy shop. A magic shop, perhaps, with a resident magician.

And, down a small dark cob-webbed alley, maybe a ramshackle spook theater with only 90 seats where every day and every night a different old horror film would scuttle itself spider-wise across a faintly yellow parchment-screen….


There you have my remedy. There’s my plan to cure all your urban ills.

Good grief! you cry, what’s so new about that!?

Nothing, I reply, sadly. It’s so old it now must become new again. Once it was everywhere in some form. Now it must be thought of and born all over again.

It has existed in the arcades surrounding St. Mark’s Square in Venice, Italy, for more than five hundred years. It exists in the Galleria in Milan where, one hundred years ago Mark Twain fell in love with it and wanted to stay on forever at its “tables all over these marble streets, people sitting at them, eating, drinking, smoking — crowds of other people strolling by — such is the Arcade. I should like to live in it all my life. The windows of the sumptuous restaurants stand open, and one dines and enjoys the passing show.”

If we could summon Mark Twain back from the dead he might well point out, ironically, that we already have many such plazas in Los Angeles, which have languished and fallen into disuse. We have forgotten why Pershing Square and the Olvera Street Plaza were built: as centers about which to perambulate souls and refresh existences.


Life really begins at dusk in Rome. In the blue hour, and late on through the idle evening, shopping continues, mixed with time to wander, linger, sit, and stare.

The Plaza I have constructed here should never be built unless it opens for business at three each afternoon. Week nights it should stay open until at least 11:00. Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights the closing hour should be 1 or 2 a.m.

Will this take some real doing? Yes. Because your average small American businessman is locked into a nine to five schedule. No new hours are worth considering. So, thousands of new customers are ignored and your small business flounders for seemingly inexplicable reasons.

Your small businessman has many reasons to affiliate himself in such an amiable environmental plaza as the one I propose, where he will be guaranteed a fresh river of pedestrians every hour. And being situated on the north, south, east or west side of the plaza will not affect his business by so much as a cent.

Bring that small businessman in, then, into this effort to recenter our lives. Give the community back to the community, to build a base for young and old, and discourage the endless miles of mindless driving as millions of people pass other millions looking for Somewhere To Go.

But, the Somewhere To Go will only work, I repeat, if it opens late and closes late.


Which brings us round to a final description of my Plaza:

  • Bandstand at the center on which local talent can sing and play.
  • Four hundred or five hundred chairs surrounding the bandstand, where people can sit all night, every night, under the heavens. In winter, such as it is in California, outdoor heating can be installed.
  • Around this, the great pedestrian treadway. On this, real people actually walking!
  • And around them, in turn, the shops, the theaters.
  • Underneath: parking. Or the next block over, hidden, for God’s sake, behind bushes and trees!

Final points:

  • In all eating places, plenty of booths facing each other, for conviviality. Too many places, like Baskin-Robbins, have seats lined up against the walls. The message implied is: So Long. Get Away. Goodbye.
  • Again: late hours. Better a small businessman working ’til midnight than a small businessman bankrupt and on relief.•

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The Los Angeles family home of Ray Bradbury, who thought it imperative that humans leave Earth, has just been put on the market at a cool $1.495 million. From Carolyn Kellogg at the Los Angeles Times:

“His three-bedroom, 2500-square-foot house, built in 1937, is painted a cheery yellow. It has three bathrooms, hardwood floors, and sits on a generously sized 9,500-square-foot lot. It is loaded with original details, the sort that were part of the texture of the author’s daily life.

‘I’m surrounded by my metaphors,’ he explained in a 2001 video shot in the house’s converted basement, which was crammed with books and ephemera. ‘I realized, all this ‘junk’ here, I couldn’t live without.’

Around 1960, Bradbury and his wife, Maggie, bought the house in Cheviot Hills for a few reasons: Their family was growing, Bradbury was making more money writing, and it had the kind of space writers crave.

‘Ray has saved everything since his first birthday,’ Maggie told The Times in 1985. ‘I try to throw out newspapers and magazines and whatever can be thrown out. Ray is a pack rat. He refuses to let anything go. When we bought our house 25 years ago, it had a large basement, and that was the irresistible ingredient, because we needed a place where Ray could store everything he refuses to throw away.’

For many years, Bradbury kept an office in Beverly Hills where he wrote (and sometimes napped). When he got older, he used the basement space in Cheviot Hills to write. ‘I feel very comfortable here,’ he said in another 2001 video clip.”

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A peek inside Bradbury’s office, 1968:

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Sad to hear of the passing of special-effects legend Ray Harryhausen. I lost interest in animation and action-adventure fare when I was a small kid, but I can still recall his skeleton-fight sequence from Jason and the Argonauts and the monsters from The 7th Voyage of Sinbad.

From Harryhausen’s New York Times obituary:

“With help from his parents — especially his father, a machinist and inventor — Mr. Harryhausen was soon teaching himself the basics of stop-motion animation and producing short films of dinosaurs and apes in the family garage. While still in high school, he got an appointment to meet Mr. O’Brien and showed him some early work; on Mr. O’Brien’s advice, he studied anatomy and sculpture and took night classes in film production.

The two men stayed in touch through Mr. Harryhausen’s early working years as a technician making stop-motion ‘Puppetoon’ shorts for Paramount, humorous animated training films for the Army during World War II and, after the war, his own animated short films of Mother Goose stories and some advertising work.

Then, when Merian C. Cooper, the director and producer of King Kong, set out to make another feature with Mr. O’Brien about a giant ape, Mr. O’Brien remembered Mr. Harryhausen and hired him to animate most of the film, Mighty Joe Young, released in 1949. It won an Academy Award for special effects.

Its success spurred Mr. Harryhausen to try developing feature projects of his own. After several false starts came The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, partly based on a short story, “The Fog Horn,” by Ray Bradbury, whom Mr. Harryhausen had gotten to know as a teenager through a local science fiction club. The film was a sleeper hit in 1952, establishing Mr. Harryhausen as someone who could deliver astonishing footage on a tight budget and draw big audiences.”

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An example of  Harryhausen’s teenage work from the garage in the late ’30s, a stop-motion telling of evolution:

 

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Ray Bradbury, sage of the Space Age, sharing his feelings through poem about exploration of the stratosphere on November 12, 1971, the eve of Mariner 9 going into orbit at Mars. He was part of a symposium at Cal Tech, which also included Arthur C. Clarke and Carl Sagan.

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In Lauren Weiner’s New Atlantis article about Ray Bradbury, she provides a tidy description of the Space Age sage’s youthful education:

“Bradbury spent his childhood goosing his imagination with the outlandish. Whenever mundane Waukegan was visited by the strange or the offbeat, young Ray was on hand. The vaudevillian magician Harry Blackstone came through the industrial port on Lake Michigan’s shore in the late 1920s. Seeing Blackstone’s show over and over again marked Bradbury deeply, as did going to carnivals and circuses, and watching Hollywood’s earliest horror offerings like Dracula and The Phantom of the Opera. He read heavily in Charles Dickens, George Bernard Shaw, Edgar Allan Poe, H. G. Wells, Arthur Conan Doyle, L. Frank Baum, and Edgar Rice Burroughs; the latter’s inspirational and romantic children’s adventure tales earned him Bradbury’s hyperbolic designation as ‘probably the most influential writer in the entire history of the world.’

Then there was the contagious enthusiasm of Bradbury’s bohemian, artistic aunt and his grandfather, Samuel, who ran a boardinghouse in Waukegan and instilled in Bradbury a kind of wonder at modern life. He recounted: ‘When I was two years old I sat on his knee and he had me tickle a crystal with a feathery needle and I heard music from thousands of miles away. I was right then and there introduced to the birth of radio.’

His family’s temporary stay in Arizona in the mid-1920s and permanent relocation to Los Angeles in the 1930s brought Bradbury to the desert places that he would later reimagine as Mars. As a high-schooler he buzzed around movie and radio stars asking for autographs, briefly considered becoming an actor, and wrote and edited science fiction ‘fanzines’ just as tales of robots and rocket ships were gaining in popularity in wartime America. He befriended the staffs of bicoastal pulp magazines like Weird Tales,Thrilling Wonder StoriesDime Mystery, and Captain Future by bombarding them with submissions, and, when those were rejected, with letters to the editor. This precocity was typical. Science fiction and ‘fantasy’ — a catchall term for tales of the supernatural that have few or no fancy machines in them — drew adolescent talent like no other sector of American publishing. Isaac Asimov was in his late teens when he began writing for genre publications; Ursula K. Le Guin claimed to have sent in stories from the age of eleven.”

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Harry Blackstone, Sr. with his classic bit, “The Bunny Trick”:

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How cool: Ray Bradbury visits Merv Griffin in 1978 to discuss Close Encounters of the Third Kind and the future of humankind. He also reads one of his poems.

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Groucho, seemingly oblivious, sasses Ray Bradbury on You Bet Your Life, 1955.

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Sad to hear today of Ray Bradbury’s passing. His work belonged to the whole world–and worlds beyond–but he had a distinctly American voice. Here are all the posts about the writer on this blog.

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Mike Wallace was as good a TV interviewer as there ever was, though some of his work was done for shock value. His passive-aggressive 1979 takedown of Ayatollah Khomeini was one for the ages, but the To Catch a Predator-level of network trash that sprang from his ambush journalism is also part of his legacy. To his credit, Wallace knew he had crossed a line with the candid camera tricks and retreated into what he did best, which was looking into the eyes of other human beings, some of whom had titanic egos, and asking that question.

A legendary non-60 Minutes interview was his exchange with Ray Bradbury the night men landed on the moon:

One of Wallace’s failures was his sanctimonius dismissal of David Frost in 1977, just before the broadcast of the latter’s damning Nixon interviews, an example of checkbook journalism that paid off handsomely:

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James Day talking to sci-fi legend Ray Bradbury in Los Angeles, 1974.

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From “The Machine-Tooled Happyland,” Ray Bradbury’s 1965 Holiday analysis of the robot-centric Disneyland:

“We live in an age of one billion robot devices that surround, bully, change and sometimes destroy us. The metal-and-plastic machines are all amoral. But by their design and function they lure us to be better or worse than we might otherwise be.

In such an age it would be foolhardy to ignore the one man who is building human qualities into robots—robots whose influence will be ricocheting off social and political institutions ten thousand afternoons from today.

Snobbery now could cripple our intellectual development. After I had heard too many people sneer at Disney and his audio-animatronic Abraham Lincoln in the Illinois exhibit at the New York World’s Fair, I went to the Disney robot factory in Glendale. I watched the finishing touches being put on a second computerized, electric- and air-pressure-driven humanoid that will “live” at Disneyland from this summer on. I saw this new effigy of Mr. Lincoln sit, stand, shift his arms, turn his wrists, twitch his fingers, put his hands behind his back, turn his head, look at me, blink and prepare to speak. In those few moments I was filled with an awe I have rarely felt in my life.

Giovanni Battista Bracelli's robot drawings, 1624.

Only a few hundred years ago all this would have been considered blasphemous, I thought. To create man is not man’s business, but God’s, it would have been said. Disney and every technician with him would have been bundled and burned at the stake in 1600.

And again, I thought, all of this was dreamed before. From the fantastic geometric robot drawings of Bracelli in 1624 to the mechanical people in Capek’s R.U.R. in 1925, others have conceived and drawn metallic extensions of man and his senses, or played at it in theater.

But the fact remains that Disney is the first to make a robot that is convincingly real, that looks, speaks and acts like a man. Disney has set the history of humanized robots on its way toward wider, more fantastic excur­sions into the needs of civilization.” (Thanks Longform.)

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“We also accompanied him on a trip to Disneyland,” 1968:

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Ray Bradbury voices his frustrations about space travel and politics  in his 1996 Playboy interview:

Playboy: When you talk about the future, you tend to talk about space travel. Do you really think it’s in our future?

Ray Bradbury: It must be. First of all, it’s a religious endeavor to be immortal. If the earth dies, we must be able to continue. Space travel will give us other planets to live on so we can continue to have children. It’s that simple, that great and that exciting.

Playboy: Will we really be forced to escape earth? Will we be able to in time?

Ray Bradbury: We are already on our way. We should back on the moon right now. And we should be going off to Mars immediately.

Playboy: Yet there doesn’t seem to be a rush into space anymore. NASA’s budget is being whittled away as we speak.

Ray Bradbury: How come we’re looking at our shoes instead of at the great nebula in Orion? Where did we mislay the moon and back off from Mars? The problem is, of course, our politicians, men who have no romance in their hearts or dreams in their heads. JFK, for a brief moment in his last year, challenged us to go to the moon. But even he wasn’t motivated by astronomical love. He cried, “Watch my dust!” to the Russians, and we were off. But once we reached the moon, the romance started to fade. Without that, dreams don’t last. That’s no surprise – material rewards do last, so the history of exploration on earth is about harvesting rich lodes. If NASA’s budgeters could be convinced that there are riches on Mars, we would explode overnight to stand on the rim of the Martian abyss. We need space for reasons we have not as yet discovered, and I don’t mean Tupperware.

Playboy: Tupperware?

Ray Bradbury: NASA feels it has to justify everything it does in practical terms.
And Tupperware was one of the many practical products that came out of space travel. NASA feels it has got to flimflam you to get you to spend money on space. That’s b.s. We don’t need that. Space travel is life-enhancing, and anything that’s life-enhancing is worth doing. It makes you want to live forever.”

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Ray Bradbury explains to Oriana Fallaci why we should travel into space, in the 1966 book, If The Sun Dies:

For the same reason that makes us bring children into the world. Because we’re afraid of death and darkness, and because we want to see our image reflected and perpetuated to immortality. We don’t want to die, but death is there, and because it’s there we give birth to children who’ll give birth to other children and so on to infinity. And this way we are handed down to eternity. Don’t let us forget this: that the Earth can die, explode, the Sun can go out, will go out. And if the Sun dies, if the Earth dies, if our race dies, then so will everything die that we have done up to that moment. Homer will die, Michelangelo will die, Galileo, Leonardo, Shakespeare, Einstein will die, all those will die who now are not dead because we are alive, we are thinking of them, we are carrying them within us. And then every single thing, every memory, will hurtle down into the void with us. So let us save them, let us save ourselves. Let us prepare ourselves to escape, to continue life and rebuild our cities on other planets: we shall not long be of this Earth! And if we really fear the darkness, if we really fight against it, then, for the good of all, let us take our rockets, let us get well used to the great cold and heat, the no water, the no oxygen, let us become Martians on Mars, Venusians on Venus, and when Mars and Venus die, let us go to the other solar systems, to Alpha Centauri, to wherever we manage to go, and let us forget the Earth. Let us forget our solar system and our body, the form it used to have, let us become no matter what, lichens, insects, balls of fire, no matter what, all that matters is that somehow life should continue, and the knowledge of what we were and what we did and learned: the knowledge of Homer and Michelangelo, of Galileo, Leonardo, Shakespeare, of Einstein! And the gift of life will continue.•

More from If The Sun Dies:

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Ray Bradbury in the late ’60s discussing his cultural role during the adaptation of his short-story collection, The Illustrated Man, which rested (uneasily) at the nexus of technology and psychology.

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Ray Bradbury interviewed by Mike Wallace on the night of the first moon landing. He was ebullient, of course, but probably somewhat more restrained than Arthur C. Clarke and Robert A. Heinlein.

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A fun 1963 profile of writer Ray Bradbury, then 43, which was made during the early days of the Space Race. Things on display that are going or gone: crowded bookstores, typewriters, filing cabinets.

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Science fiction foretells the future with surprising frequency even if it doesn’t always hit the target it was actually aiming for. As predicted in Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury’s dystopian 1950s story that François Truffaut adapted, books, with their printed pages of words and colorful covers, are indeed under siege. Their enemies aren’t the flames of totalitarianism, however, but technology, which is disappearing them into a succession of 0s and 1s. The paradox is, of course, that even as what we’ve long considered a book becomes more scarce, their essence is more available to more people on Earth than ever before.

Guy Montag (Oskar Werner) is a fireman, but he doesn’t extinguish blazes. In a future full of fireproof structures, his job is to locate and burn books, which have been deemed illegal, a bane of humanity, with their conflicting, critical and complicated ideas. Those who secretly possess them have their homes raided, their volumes burned to ash and they themselves are arrested. Montag isn’t doctrinaire about his work—it’s just a job and one that he tries to do well so that he can get promoted. But he’s forced to consider what he’s doing after a seemingly chance encounter with a stranger on a train (Julie Christie), who wonders if he ever gets curious about the ABC’s of his job: Austen, Beckett, Cervantes. Montag initially scoffs at the notion, but soon he’s peeking between covers and stashing books beneath furniture. He just can’t leave well enough alone like his wide-eyed wife (also Christie), who merrily doses herself with happy pills and stares placidly at insipid interactive television shows on the wall-screen.

Bradbury wrote the first version of the story in 1951, during the height of HUAC, and he was certainly critiquing the censorship of the day which tacitly attended that witch hunt. But his plot lines about the instant haze of pharmacological products and empowering, moronic amusements are right on target in our time. The idiotic entertainment flash on tiny screens in our pockets now, but so too do the books. How we balance those options will not be a tyrant’s choice but our own.•


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In this excerpt from a Paris Review interview, Ray Bradbury discusses being an autodidact and disses John Irving. An excerpt:

Paris Review: You’re self-educated, aren’t you?

Ray Bradbury: Yes, I am. I’m completely library educated. I’ve never been to college. I went down to the library when I was in grade school in Waukegan, and in high school in Los Angeles, and spent long days every summer in the library. I used to steal magazines from a store on Genesee Street, in Waukegan, and read them and then steal them back on the racks again. That way I took the print off with my eyeballs and stayed honest. I didn’t want to be a permanent thief, and I was very careful to wash my hands before I read them. But with the library, it’s like catnip, I suppose: you begin to run in circles because there’s so much to look at and read. And it’s far more fun than going to school, simply because you make up your own list and you don’t have to listen to anyone. When I would see some of the books my kids were forced to bring home and read by some of their teachers, and were graded on—well, what if you don’t like those books?

I am a librarian. I discovered me in the library. I went to find me in the library. Before I fell in love with libraries, I was just a six-year-old boy. The library fueled all of my curiosities, from dinosaurs to ancient Egypt. When I graduated from high school in 1938, I began going to the library three nights a week. I did this every week for almost ten years and finally, in 1947, around the time I got married, I figured I was done. So I graduated from the library when I was twenty-seven. I discovered that the library is the real school.

Paris Review: You have said that you don’t believe in going to college to learn to write. Why is that?

Ray Bradbury: You can’t learn to write in college. It’s a very bad place for writers because the teachers always think they know more than you do—and they don’t. They have prejudices. They may like Henry James, but what if you don’t want to write like Henry James? They may like John Irving, for instance, who’s the bore of all time. A lot of the people whose work they’ve taught in the schools for the last thirty years, I can’t understand why people read them and why they are taught. The library, on the other hand, has no biases. The information is all there for you to interpret. You don’t have someone telling you what to think. You discover it for yourself.”

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