Life with Ray Bradbury

Biographer and journalist Sam Weller spent 10 years shadowing Fahrenheit 451 author Ray Bradbury, now 89

Ray Bradbury
Ray Bradbury
The Knowledge
The Knowledge
The Knowledge
Frank Darabont
Frank Darabont

‘I have rifled the poor man’s underwear drawer. Such is the invasive snooping endemic to the role of the biographer. Along with the boxer shorts, I’ve combed his tax records, gone through his lineage with the precision of an OCD-addled genealogist, and I’ve clocked, oh, about 500 hours of audio recordings of our intimate, far-ranging and often wildly tangential conversations. For the past decade I have worked to document Ray Bradbury’s life story. Most people know Bradbury by his 1953 chef d’oeuvre, Fahrenheit 451, a dystopic staple of middle-school reading lists. But his résumé also includes no less notable literary feats as The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man and Dandelion Wine.

‘Bradbury – a native of Waukegan, Illinois, who moved to Los Angeles in April 1934 – has also worked in TV, film and theatre, even architecture. The list of luminaries who have bowed at the Bradburian altar include Disney, Hitchcock, Spielberg and King. There’s a crater on the moon named for the man, a lunar accolade, it is worth noting, that has thus far eluded even the most accomplished of New York’s literary elite. Boo-yah!

‘It is this life that I charted in my 2005 book, The Bradbury Chronicles: The Life of Ray Bradbury and now, in the companion work, Listen to the Echoes: The Ray Bradbury Interviews.

‘A decade is a long haul. The term that comes to mind is immersion journalism. For more than 10 years now, I have spent an unprecedented amount of time with a man recently hailed by Slate magazine as “The Mythologist of Our Age”. So what was it like to work with Bradbury for 10 years? The descriptors are many, but let me try a few:

‘Magical. Halloween, 2003. We carved pumpkins. Handed out candy to kids, and then went out for a late dinner. On our way home, Los Angeles was hit by rain of biblical proportions. As we navigated down the darkened side streets of west LA, through the downpour, we came upon a tree in a front yard with illumined jack-o’-lanterns resting in its thick limbs. “My gosh,” he said. “That’s my book, The Halloween Tree.”

‘Weird. On November 17, 2004, we went to the White House. Bradbury was given the Medal of Arts by President George W Bush. Afterwards, drinking copious taxpayer-funded white grape in the East Room, VP Dick Cheney’s wife, Lynne, told me that she dreamed the night before that she visited Mars. You don’t say…

‘Mentoring. His life credo: “Do what you love and love what you do.” It’s that simple. If you follow it, he says, success will follow you.

‘Stressful. A life that intense, that complex and that accomplished in a biography of 130,000 words or less?

‘Crazy. Frank Sinatra Jr bought me a drink. Hefner wore his silk pyjamas for an interview. Spielberg sat next to me at dinner. I got a call at home and the caller ID read: Buzz Aldrin.

‘And now, this new book, 13 chapters organised by theme. Hollywood. Faith. Politics. Writing, and more. This book was a joy to write. Along the way, Bradbury answered nearly every question. Except boxers or briefs. But you already know that answer.’
Listen to the Echoes: The Ray Bradbury Interviews is published by Harper Perennial

Fast facts

• Before becoming a fully-fledged writer, Bradbury sold newspapers on street corners in Los Angeles.

• His most famous work is 1953’s Fahrenheit 451, set in a future where the written word is banned. It was adapted for a 1966 film starring Julie Christie.

• Documentary film Fahrenheit 9/11, by Michael Moore, is a play on the title of Bradbury’s book. Bradbury was displeased with Moore and asked that he change the title, but Moore refused as pre-release marketing was already in motion.

• Rumour has it that director Frank Darabont (The Green Mile; The Shawshank Redemption) is planning a remake of Fahrenheit 451.

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