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Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury

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Also Known As: Died: June 5, 2012
Born: August 22, 1920 Cause of Death: Undetermined
Birth Place: Waukegan, Illinois, USA Profession: Writer ... screenwriter novelist
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BIOGRAPHY

As one of the most influential science fiction/fantasy novelists of all time, Ray Bradbury had the distinction for also being one of the most prolific. Not only did he write novels and short stories, Bradbury had his hand in film, television, poetry, stage plays and even opera. After spending the better part of a decade publishing short stories in various science fiction anthologies, the author broke through with his groundbreaking collection of stories, The Martian Chronicles, thanks to his vibrant literary approach to a genre that was often mired in techno-jargon. But it was his dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451 that raised Bradbury from the world of science fiction and placed him among the century's great literary novelists. Meanwhile, he began writing for the screen, most notably an adaptation of Herman Melville's "Moby Dick" (1956) for the hard-driving and often cruel director, John Huston. His fertile period continued with Dandelion Wine (1957) and Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962), both of which were adapted into various incarnations. He even became the star of his own show, "The Ray Bradbury Theater" (HBO/USA, 1987-1992), which each week featured an episode based on one of his works. Whether he was consulting NASA astronauts, helping to design Disney's Epcot Center or serving as the unwitting inspiration for Michael Moore's hard-hitting documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11" (2004), Bradbury's immense presence and influence was felt far and wide throughout the generations.

Born on Aug. 22, 1920 in Waukegan, IL, Bradbury was raised by his father, who installed and maintained transmission lines for the power and telephone companies, and his mother, who was an immigrant from Sweden. Brimming with energy and enthusiasm, the young Bradbury was set on becoming a magician long before wanting to be a writer. He would do tricks on stage for anyone willing to watch, complete with a fake mustache that would fall off during performances. Not athletic thanks to poor eyesight that required him to wear thick glasses, Bradbury instead took refuge in libraries, which he later attributed to being responsible for his true education versus schools or universities. Early on, Bradbury displayed a vivid imagination that overflowed with stories about spaceships, Buck Rogers, and traveling through outer space at a time when such thoughts were so far-off as to be considered downright strange. Meanwhile, in 1934, when he had just turned 14 years old, his father - who had been unemployed for two years as a result of the Great Depression - decided to pack up the family and leave Waukegan behind for Los Angeles, CA, where Bradbury would wind up residing for the remainder of his life.

When he first arrived with his family, Bradbury soaked up the Hollywood life, taking in as many movies as possible - many by sneaking into the Uptown Theater - while roller-skating all over town in search of autographs from movie stars. He even pestered famed comedian George Burns to read his screenplays. His persistence paid off when a good-natured Burns used some of Bradbury's writing in the vignettes that closed the "The Burns and Allen Show" (CBS, 1950-58). Meanwhile, he began to write and started the habit of rising every morning and heading straight to the typewriter when he was a teenager. After graduating from Los Angeles High School in 1938, Bradbury passed on attending college because he was unable to afford it. Instead, he sold newspapers on the street corner while continuing to spend his free time devouring books at the library. Also in 1938, he published his first story, "Hollerbochen's Dilemma," in the fan magazine, Imagination!, and followed by publishing four issues of his own fan magazine, Futuria Fantasia (1939). He next had his first paid piece published, "Pendulum" (1941), written with Henry Hasse and published in Super Science Stories. But it was "The Lake" (1942), in which he discovered his distinctive style that would provide the 22-year-old enough confidence to quit selling newspapers and to become a fulltime writer.

For the next several years, Bradbury focused on churning out short stories; most notably "The Watchers" (1945), "Invisible Boy" (1945) and "The Small Assassin" (1947). In 1946, Bradbury met the love of his life, Maggie McClure, while scouring the shelves of the bookstore where she worked, and married her a year later. Also that year, he published his collection of short stories, Dark Carnival (1947), which for many ensuing years Bradbury refused to have reprinted. But it was The Martian Chronicles (1950) that proved to be his breakthrough. The collection of short stories about the colonization of Mars by humans fleeing a self-destructing Earth was a breath of fresh air for science fiction, which till then had been plagued by overly-technical stories high on jargon and gadgets, but lacking in literary merit. Bradbury's collection bucked sci-fi tradition and dared to employ metaphor, rich characters and an unbridled enthusiasm for storytelling. Bradbury owed the book's success to acclaimed novelist, Christopher Isherwood, whom he met in a Santa Monica bookstore and unabashedly approached to give the author a signed copy of his novel. Isherwood soon published a glowing review of The Martian Chronicles, turning it into a bestseller and changing the course of Bradbury's life.

With The Martian Chronicles, Bradbury single-handedly change sci-fi novels forever and elevated himself into the same league as Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov, all of whom were trying to bring literary respectability to a genre considered to be a refuge for hacks. A mere three years later, he published what proved to be his seminal novel, Fahrenheit 451 (1953), a dystopian satire about a hedonistic, anti-intellectual American society set in the future where books have been outlawed and subject to burning by so-called firemen, who are called in to torch collections being held by secret readers. Part satire of current events; park dark warning of what the future might hold, Fahrenheit 451 - which was named after the temperature at which books burn - was the novel that propelled Bradbury past being a mere sci-fi writer into the echelon of great literary novelists. Following its publication, the novel was serialized in 1954 in Playboy magazine and was turned into a rather disappointing film by Francois Truffaut in 1966. Most importantly, however, Bradbury wrote a novel that became synonymous with dystopian future in much the same way as George Orwell's 1984 and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World.

Meanwhile, Bradbury turned to writing for the screen, penning the story for the science fiction classic, "It Came from Outer Space" (1953), and several episodes of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" (CBS/NBC, 1955-1965). Returning to film, Bradbury had what he later described as "the worst six months of my life" when he adapted Herman Melville's Moby Dick for John Huston in 1956. Starring Gregory Peck as the brooding and obsessive Captain Ahab, Bradbury's adaptation of the novel stayed true to Melville's allegorical tale, though his success came at a price. Bradbury was wooed by a charming Huston, who lured the writer to Ireland to write the script, and proceeded to berate and browbeat the sensitive writer for the next six months. So cruel was Huston's treatment of Bradbury that the writer wanted to quit; only his love for Melville's novel and his appreciation for the opportunity kept him from there. He later recounted the experience in the fictional account Green Shadows, White Whale (1992), which he was inspired to write after reading Katherine Hepburn's rather dull book about the filming of "The African Queen" (1951).

Despite his forays into the high-profile world of screenwriting, Bradbury continued to find solace in writing novels. He next published two of his most enduring works, Dandelion Wine (1957), a semi-autobiographical accounting of his childhood set in the fictional Green Town, IL, and Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962), a fantasy-horror novel about a traveling circus that lures unsuspecting customers with the promise of fulfilling offers to live out their most secret fantasies. The novel was highly praised by critics, who dubbed it an instant classic of the genre, while becoming heavily influential on future horror writers like Stephen King. Also that year, he penned the 100th episode, "I Sing the Body Electric," for "The Twilight Zone" (CBS, 1959-1964) TV series. Based on his short story of the same name, the episode was poorly received by reviewers, some of whom later deemed it one of the most disappointing of the entire series. Though it would be another 10 years before he published another novel, Bradbury continued to churn out short stories like "The Man in the Rorschach Shirt" (1964) and "The Lost City of Mars" (1967), as well as numerous story collections. Meanwhile, his stories were routinely adapted for film and television, including "The Illustrated Man" (1969) and "The Screaming Woman" (ABC, 1972).

In the 1970s, Bradbury began to venture into other forms of expression; most notably poetry and plays. After publishing the novel The Halloween Tree (1972), which he later adapted into an Emmy Award-winning television movie in 1993, NBC adapted "The Martian Chronicles" (1980) into a three-part miniseries starring Rock Hudson, Roddy McDowall and Bernadette Peters. Bradbury later remarked that he thought the adaptation was "boring." He next had "The Invisible Boy" adapted into "Robbers, Rooftops and Witches" (CBS, 1982), while his play "Any Friend of Nicholas Nickleby is a Friend of Mine" (PBS, 1982) was made into an "American Playhouse" special. Following a successful big screen adaptation of "Something Wicked This Way Comes" (1983), Bradbury began writing and hosting "The Ray Bradbury Theater" (HBO/USA, 1985-1992), an anthology series that consisted of episodes based on novels or short stories he had written. The author penned each episode himself, while the series attracted a wide array of actors, including William Shatner, Drew Barrymore, Elliott Gould and Shelley Duvall. He also wrote one of his most influential and popular non-fiction works, Zen in the Art of Writing, which was a collection of essays that he wrote about his love of the art form that had made him famous.

Once the series was over in 1992, Bradbury focused his attention more on his prose than with occasional returns to the screen, though he may have been better off staying away from the dismal television movie "It Came from Outer Space II" (Syfy, 1996). Meanwhile, Bradbury remained busy on the lecture circuit while also serving as a consultant for numerous different corporate ventures, including helping to design the original Epcot Center for the Disney and lecturing NASA astronauts at Cape Canaveral. As he got on in years, Bradbury showed no signs of slowing down and in some instances even increased his output with several collections, including One More for the Road (2002) and The Cat's Pajamas: Stories (2004), and the novels Let's Kill Constance (2002) and Farewell Summer (2006). In 2005, he criticized filmmaker Michael Moore for titling his critical look at the George W. Bush presidency "Fahrenheit 9/11," which he did strictly for literary, not political reasons. The year before, ironically, Bradbury had received the National Medal of Arts from President Bush. Sadly, just prior to that happy occasion, Bradbury lost his wife of 56 years, Maggie, in 2003. But Bradbury continued his work unabated, publishing collections like Summer Morning, Summer Night (2007) and We'll Always Have Paris: Stories (2009). On June 6, 2012, the author passed away at age 91 in Los Angeles.

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