Ray Bradbury Unbound

Ray Bradbury Unbound

by Jonathan R. Eller


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A successful, award-winning writer on the brink of placing Fahrenheit 451 in the American canon, Ray Bradbury entered the autumn of 1953 as a literary figure transcending fantasy and science fiction. Jonathan R. Eller continues the story begun in his acclaimed Becoming Ray Bradbury, following the beloved writer's evolution from a short story master to a multi-media creative force and outspoken visionary.
Drawn into screenwriting by the chance to adapt Moby Dick for Hollywood, Bradbury soon established himself in film and television. Though the work swallowed up creative energy once devoted to literary pursuits, Bradbury's successes endowed him with the gravitas to emerge as a sought-after cultural commentator and media figure. His passionate advocacy validated the U.S. space program's mission and allowed him to assume the role of a dreamer of futures voicing opinions on technology, the moon landing, and humanity's ultimate destiny.
Eller draws on interviews with Bradbury and unprecedented access to personal papers and private collections to tell the story of how a great American author helped shape his times.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780252085628
Publisher: University of Illinois Press
Publication date: 08/24/2020
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 826,815
Product dimensions: 6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Jonathan R. Eller is a Chancellor's Professor of English at Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis, the senior textual editor of the Institute for American Thought, and director of the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies at IUPUI. Ray Bradbury Unbound and its predecessor Becoming Ray Bradbury were each finalists for the Locus Award in the Nonfiction category.

Read an Excerpt

Ray Bradbury Unbound

By Jonathan R. Eller


Copyright © 2014 Jonathan R. Eller
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-252-09663-1



On the surface, everything seemed fine.

By the late summer of 1953, 33-year-old Ray Bradbury had become one of the most recognized names broadly associated with fantasy and science fiction.

His initial pulp fiction successes had quickly opened out into an ever-widening range of major market magazines since the end of World War II, and his first three Doubleday titles—The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man, and The Golden Apples of the Sun—were already on their way to becoming perennial classics. His newest title, Ballantine's Fahrenheit 451, was nearing release amid a barrage of prepublication publicity. During the previous six years, individual Bradbury tales had been featured in three of the annual Best American Short Stories anthologies and two volumes of O. Henry Prize Stories. In little more than a decade, he had published nearly 200 professional stories.

But privately, he was increasingly tormented by doubts that were making it more and more difficult for him to let go of his newest creative efforts. Fewer and fewer stories made their way east from his Los Angeles home to the New York office of his agent, Don Congdon. Bradbury had finally transformed the core of his novella "The Fireman" into Fahrenheit 451 during June of 1953, but only after months of worry and broken deadlines. This breakthrough achieved much, but it changed nothing about his creative worries; the closer Fahrenheit came to completion, the more Bradbury anguished over the final product, sending increasingly smaller installments to Congdon as the summer dragged on.

Finally, with Ian Ballantine in danger of losing the printing window for his most heavily advertised book, Bradbury sent the final pages in for galley composition; in early August, Ballantine's trusted colleague Stanley Kauffmann closeted himself with Bradbury in Los Angeles for a final revising pass through the galleys, leaving at the last possible minute to drop off the galley sheets with the Chicago printer before returning home to New York. It was a close call, but the reading public knew nothing of the drama going on behind the scenes.

Don Congdon was deeply concerned, for he had seen this obsession with perfection building throughout his seven-year association with Bradbury. To some degree, it was a natural consequence of Bradbury's abiding hatred of slanting or writing to please a market. The meager penny-a-word pay of the pulp houses where he began had tempted him, but he rarely succumbed after learning to avoid the influence and subjects of his mentors and turn to his own experiences and emotions for inspiration. Nevertheless, his rapid rise to prominence was paralleled, beneath the surface, by a growing unease with work that was, in reality, ready for submission to his agent. Scores of fascinating stories were in his files, and many of these should have been in circulation. This wasn't just about stories, however; the Illinois novel he had contracted with Doubleday was now nearly two years overdue, and nowhere near ready for submission.

These private dramas were symptoms of a deeper tension in Bradbury's creative psyche. In late July 1953, just before Kauffmann arrived to work through the galleys, Bradbury wrote Congdon to confess a persistent uneasiness with the way the core ideas of Fahrenheit 451 had played out: did he even know enough about literary traditions and purposes to provide believable motivation for Fireman Montag? Could he express the core intellectual implications of the novel well enough to avoid charges of naïveté or excessive sentimentality? Bradbury felt that his command of emotional situations had outrun his understanding of the intellectual purposes of art and literature.

Congdon waited until the final stage of galley revision had passed and then reminded Bradbury that his ability to bring vitality and focused intensity to many of his stories had already brought him widespread popularity. He also applauded Bradbury's desire to develop his intellect, to study the world of ideas in ways that would deepen and broaden his writing. But Congdon was dead set against Bradbury's mounting desire to hold back a story until it seemed perfect: "You should have more faith in yourself and in your achievements from day to day and not be afraid to publish and communicate while you are struggling; as I say, you will always be struggling with this, and in many instances, it is not for you to say what is your best, or worst work. The public and the writer seldom agree."

Then, unexpectedly, a new challenge suddenly suspended all thoughts of this creative dilemma, and ended any chance of taking up the long-deferred Illinois novel. The expatriate motion picture director John Huston had returned from Europe for a brief Hollywood visit to finalize financial backing and studio distribution with Warner Brothers for his next project, an ambitious attempt to film Herman Melville's classic novel Moby Dick. But Huston also had a more private and unpublicized objective in mind—he wanted Bradbury to come back to Europe with him and write the screenplay. Huston was notorious for his unpredictable personnel decisions, but there was a history behind this unexpected choice.

Bradbury had, in fact, sought out Huston more than two years earlier. His own media agent, Ray Starke, knew Huston well, and at Bradbury's request he arranged a dinner with Huston at Michael Romanov's restaurant on Saint Valentine's night, 1951. Bradbury brought all three of his books that evening—Dark Carnival, The Martian Chronicles, and The Illustrated Man—and would always recall making this declaration: "Mr. Huston, it's very simple. I love your films, I love you, and if you love these books half as much as my affection for you, I want you to hire me some day." The evening went well, perhaps because Starke could vouch for the growing Hollywood interest in Bradbury's work.

The next night Huston invited Bradbury to a preview showing of The Red Badge of Courage at the Pickwood Theater, and during the course of the evening he saw firsthand how Huston's passion for adapting novels to film played out with a classic title as subject. Bradbury (and the critics) thought the film was too long in its first release form, but his desire to work with Huston remained unabated. Huston was in the midst of a very productive period in his career, yet nevertheless found time to read some of the young writer's offerings. He wrote within two weeks with comments on stories from both Dark Carnival and The Illustrated Man and declared The Martian Chronicles "most beautiful & wise & moving."

For the next two years Huston worked out of London and various locations on The African Queen and Moulin Rouge and eventually settled his family on a leased estate twenty miles outside of Dublin. Meanwhile, the English edition of The Martian Chronicles, re-titled The Silver Locusts, came out in September 1951 and Bradbury immediately sent several copies on to Huston. Between films, in late December 1951, Huston wrote Bradbury thanking him for the new edition and noting that the Chronicles "would make a great picture." He didn't think his London production company could handle the technical challenges, but he sent a copy of The Silver Locusts on to Sir Alexander Korda, the only English filmmaker that Huston thought capable of mounting such a large-scale production.

Huston nevertheless held out the possibility of directing an American studio production of the Chronicles some day. He was in no hurry to return to the Hollywood witch hunts of the McCarthy era (in fact, he would not make another film in America until The Misfits in 1960). He spent much of 1952 on the production of Moulin Rouge, which quickly achieved great critical and box office success. In early 1953 Bradbury sent Huston an insightful note about the pioneering Technicolor effects of Moulin Rouge, along with another offer to work on a Huston film. Huston considered the feasibility of integrating several Bradbury tales into a single film, but in the end asked for longer fictions: "I would infinitely prefer to do one long one with you."

The catalyst for that one long film was actually one of Bradbury's shortest story masterpieces, "The Fog Horn," originally published in a June 1951 issue of the Saturday Evening Post as "The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms." On January 14, 1953, Bradbury sent Huston an advance copy of The Golden Apples of the Sun, the first Bradbury collection to privilege fantasy over the hallmark science fiction and weird tales of his earlier years. The collection opened with "The Fog Horn," and Huston read it in England as he began work on his next film, Beat the Devil. At this point, Bradbury did not know that Huston had read the story. The only hint was a rare straightforward compliment in Huston's February 1953 letter: "yours is just about the most striking and original talent in America today."

Eventually, after he began to work with Huston on Moby Dick, Bradbury discovered that this story above all others had sold Huston on his work. In 2006, he could still recall Huston's October 1953 revelation: "I read the story 'The Fog Horn,' and I smelled the ghost of Melville." In particular, Huston found Bradbury's self-contained paragraph about the creation of the foghorn to be "pure Melville." The paragraph presents the old light-keeper's theories about the origins of the foghorn in a passage that Bradbury would always regard as one of his best pensées, or prose-poems:

One day many years ago a man walked along and stood in the sound of the ocean on a cold sunless shore and said, "We need a voice to call across the water, to warn ships; I'll make one. I'll make a voice like all of time and all of the fog that ever was; I'll make a voice that is like an empty bed beside you all night long, and like an empty house when you open the door, and like trees in autumn with no leaves. A sound like the birds flying south, crying, and a sound like November wind and the sea on the hard, cold shore. I'll make a sound that's so alone that no one can miss it, that whoever hears it will weep in their souls, and hearths will seem warmer, and being inside will seem better to all who hear it in the distant towns. I'll make me a sound and an apparatus and they'll call it a Fog Horn and whoever hears it will know the sadness of eternity and the briefness of life."

This paragraph, like Bradbury's well-known description of his Tyrannosaurus Rex in "A Sound of Thunder," has the self-contained qualities of a prose poem. Both of these pensées appeared in the Golden Apples collection, and no doubt both made an impact on Huston. He had only a very distant familiarity with Moby Dick as a work of literature, but he knew enough from his own experiences with the cinematic adaptation of literary works to know that here, in Bradbury, he had found his screenwriter. All he had to do was convince Bradbury that he was right for the job.

Huston already had a production plan in mind before he arrived in Los Angeles. Harold and Walter Mirisch had produced Huston's successful Moulin Rouge, and they agreed to use some of the profits from that film to back Moby Dick. Warner Brothers put up the rest of the financing in return for worldwide distribution rights. Bradbury knew none of this, but he was aware that his favorite director was in Los Angeles. Huston's looming presence remained in the back of his mind as he set off on a daylong expedition in search of books on dinosaurs at Acres of Books in Long Beach. That evening he was astounded to find out from Maggie that John Huston had called and wanted to meet with him the very next evening—Huston's last evening in town. It seemed a purely social visit for the first five minutes, until Huston asked him point-blank if he would come to Europe in September to begin work on the screenplay for Moby Dick. Bradbury had not yet read Moby Dick, but Huston needed an answer by the next day.

Bradbury had less than twenty-four hours to get a sense of the task at hand and make his decision. He read selectively through a Modern Library edition that he purchased on the way home from Huston's hotel, and at every point of entry he seemed to hit a poetic high: the seas of mysterious microscopic "brit" that float with the currents and feed the whales; the "'Spirit Spout,' seen in the spectral whiteness at night"; the remarkable catalog chapter on the whiteness of the whale, and finally Ahab's mystically persuasive speech to Starbuck aloft before the final three-day chase. Bradbury had great reverence for Melville's reputation, and immediately sensed a kinship with Melville's style and poetic vision. He already had some idea of what wouldn't work; three weeks earlier, he had seen the 1930 John Barrymore version, with Joan Bennett as Ahab's wife—a role created out of thin air by the screenwriter—and no Ishmael at all. The next day he told Huston that he was ready to take on the challenge.

Against all odds, Huston's long-shot hunch that Bradbury was up to this challenge would soon prove true to the mark. Bradbury could not overcome his abiding fear of flying, however, and his slow journey by land and water began to take on overtones of "Loomings," the opening chapter of the book he would live with for many months to come; like Melville's Ishmael, he slowly began to make his way down to the sea, and beyond.


Strangers in a Strange Land

Bradbury's wife, two young daughters, and a governess were able to travel on a screenwriter's budget, which was far more money than he had yet earned from story and book sales. On September 2, 1953, Bradbury signed a seventeen-week contract for $650 a week plus travel and living expenses and enough money up front to cover the logistics of an immediate departure for Europe. They were scheduled to meet Huston in Paris on September 26, but little else was certain. The original plan had been to write with Huston in Biarritz, but with fall rapidly approaching Huston decided to begin work at his home in Ireland to take advantage of the fox-hunting season. Passports were the most immediate problem, and Warner Brothers provided a letter to expedite the process. The Bradburys quickly engaged Regina Ferguson, Susan's preschool teacher, as a governess-nanny for both Susan (almost 4) and Ramona (aged 2), and departed Los Angeles on the evening of the 12th.

He wrote the first page of his screenplay on September 13, 1953, en route to New York by train, little knowing that it would be seven months to the day before he would run the last draft of the final page through his portable typewriter. In New York, during his September 15th-16th layover before boarding his liner for Europe, Bradbury had brief meetings with his Bantam paperback editors and received informal prepublication praise for Fahrenheit 451 from Theodore Sturgeon and science fiction anthologist Groff Conklin. On the 16th, he had a working lunch with his Doubleday editor Walt Bradbury and his agent Don Congdon to discuss his latest draft and outlines for the long-awaited Illinois novel. He would leave these still incomplete materials with Walt Bradbury for review, but all three men knew that the challenge of the great white whale would keep Bradbury occupied for months to come. He nearly finished the first of nine full readings of Moby Dick on the afterdeck of the SS United States, during one of the worst storms that the grand liner ever encountered.

The United States docked at Le Havre on September 22nd, and Bradbury, with family in tow, traveled to Paris for several days at the Hotel St. James where he finished his first reading and began to discuss specifics with Huston. Both men wanted a script that would "reflect the philosophical, religious, and literary overtones of the original." But they also shared a respectful boldness toward the book, and Huston had made it clear from the start that Bradbury would have a free hand in developing the script. This freedom was quickly put to the test; by the time he arrived in Paris, Bradbury was convinced that Fedallah, the sinister and mysterious chief of Ahab's personal longboat crew of Lascars, represented the principal yet perhaps most expendable obstacle to production. He asked permission then and there to "throw him overboard" and allow Ahab to absorb his function. Huston readily agreed, and this support would provide a key catalyst for Bradbury as he prepared to move beyond the opening scenes of the script.

Paris also initiated Bradbury into Huston's high-profile world of celebrities and fast living. During his two or three days out with Huston he was introduced to the racing scene at Havre de Grace and actually came out ahead with his timid wagers at the Longchamps track. Here was a strange land indeed; as a child and teenager Bradbury had experienced the migrations and poverty of the Great Depression, but his adult life had been relatively uneventful. Now, in Paris, Huston introduced him to the noted combat photographer Robert Capa, who would be killed by a land mine in French Indochina less than a year later. Bradbury also met novelist Irwin Shaw and actress Suzanne Flon, whose role in Moulin Rouge had led to an ongoing affair with Huston.


Excerpted from Ray Bradbury Unbound by Jonathan R. Eller. Copyright © 2014 Jonathan R. Eller. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS PRESS.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xi

Introduction 1

Part I A Place in the Sun 5

1 Loomings 7

2 Strangers in a Strange Land 12

3 Indecisions, Visions, and Revisions 17

4 Fatal Attraction 22

5 A Whale of a Tale 28

6 "Floreat!" 33

7 A Place in the Sun 39

Part II The End of the Beginning 45

8 Post-Scripts 47

9 Invitations to the Dance 55

10 Pictures within Pictures: The October Country 61

11 Laughton and Hitchcock 67

12 "The First to Catch a Circus in a Lie Is a Boy" 74

13 Various Wines 81

14 The End of the Beginning 89

Part III Dark Carnivals 97

15 Strange Interlude: Dandelion Wine 99

16 Return to Hollywood 106

17 "And the Rock Cried Out" 110

18 Berenson at Sunset 116

19 The Unforeseen 120

20 Dreams Deferred 128

21 The Great Wide World 133

22 The Dreamers 139

23 Dark Carnivals 144

Part IV "Cry the Cosmos" 151

24 Medicines for Melancholy 153

25 Escape Velocity 159

26 Martian Odyssey 167

27 "Cry the Cosmos" 175

28 In the Twilight Zone 182

29 Something Wicked This Way Comes 191

50 Out of the Deeps 200

31 Machineries of Joy 208

Part V If the Sun Dies 217

32 A Backward Glance 219

33 Stops of Various Quills 225

34 The World of Ray Bradbury 232

35 If the Sun Dies 237

36 Truffaut's Phoenix 242

37 A Colder Eye 250

38 The Isolated Man 257

39 A Touch of the Poet 263

40 "Christus Apollo" 269

41 "Take Me Home" 277

Notes 285

Index 301

Illustrations follow pages 96 and 216

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