Happy Birthday

ray bradbury
Associated Press

Happy Birthday, Ray Bradbury, Science Fiction Author of “Fahrenheit 451”

August 22, 2010
by Anita Gutierrez-Folch
Best known as a science fiction author, Ray Bradbury’s writing is courageous and visionary, combining poignant social criticism with a desire to raise awareness of the dangers of uncontrolled technology. Science fiction and horror classics such as “The Martian Chronicles,” “Something Wicked This Way Comes” and “Fahrenheit 451” have earned Bradbury a place within the canon of modern Western literature.

Ray Bradbury’s Early Days

Born Aug. 22, 1920, in Waukegan, Ill., Raymond Douglas Bradbury was the third son of Leonard Spaulding Bradbury and Esther Marie Moberg Bradbury. Even though his middle name, Douglas, was meant to honor dashing silent film star Douglas Fairbanks, the adventures in Ray Bradbury’s life were developed “behind a typewriter, in the realm of imagination,” says Ray Bradbury Online.

The atmosphere of safety and homeliness that characterized Bradbury’s early childhood in Waukegan became “Green Town,” in his fiction, often contrasted with the fantastic and menacing backdrops of his sci-fi settings.

In 1934, the Bradburys settled in Los Angeles, where Bradbury had the chance to befriend creative and talented individuals such as radio celebrity George Burns, who first paid him for his writing: a joke contributed to the “Burns and Allen Show.”

During his years at Los Angeles High School, Bradbury moved away from an early interest in drama to develop his literary talent. It was rough going at first; according to one of his former classmates, “Ray was not considered a great writer as a high school senior.” Two of his English teachers helped him improve his prose and poetry.

Bradbury chose not to attend college; instead, he sold newspapers in the streets of Los Angeles and wrote during the night in his neighborhood’s public library.

Bradbury’s Writing

Some of Bradbury’s early short stories were published in fanzines, such as his own “Futuria Fantasia.” He took up writing as a full-time job in 1943. His first collection of stories, “Dark Carnival,” was published in 1947, and was followed in 1950 by the “Martian Chronicles,” a linked series of stories inspired by Sherwood Anderson’s “Winesburg, Ohio.”

In 1953, he released his most famous and enduring work, “Fahrenheit 451,” long considered a searing condemnation of censorship. Ironically, in the years since its publication, its publisher has altered offensive sections, and several attempts have been made to ban the book.

In recent years, Bradbury has said that the novel was not about government censorship, but about how television negatively affects literacy and intelligence. “It’s about the moronic influence of popular culture through local television news, the proliferation of giant screens, and the bombardment of factoids,” he remarked in a 2001 interview.

Overall, Bradbury’s work includes more than 30 published books, approximately 600 short stories and a great number of poems, plays and essays. He has received a host of prestigious awards for his work, including the O. Henry Memorial Award, the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement, the Grand Master Award from the Science Fiction Writers of America, the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, the National Medal of Arts, a special Pulitzer citation and a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. 

Bradbury’s work has also appeared on the big and small screen. He co-wrote the screenplay for John Huston’s “Moby Dick,” an experience that he turned into the novel “Green Shadows, White Whale.” 

“The Ray Bradbury Theater,” for which he adapted 65 of his short stories, won a CableACE Award in 1993; his teleplay of the animated movie “The Halloween Tree” (1994), earned him a Daytime Emmy Award and his animated film “Icarus Montgolfier Wright” (1962) was nominated for an Academy Award.

Bringing his passion for science fiction into reality, Ray Bradbury contributed to the design of the interior of the Spaceship Earth display at Epcot Center, Disney World, and the Orbitron Space ride at France’s Euro-Disney.

The Rest of the Story

Despite his advanced age and the complications arising from a stroke in 1999, Bradbury’s creativity remains intact. Though he is unable to type on his own, he dictates his writing to his daughter in Arizona, who transcribes it and faxes it back to him.

When he turned 80 in 2000, Bradbury noted that “the feeling I have every day is very much the same as it was when I was twelve. In any event, here I am, eighty years old, feeling no different, full of a great sense of joy, and glad for the long life that has been allowed me. I have good plans for the next ten or twenty years, and I hope you'll come along.”

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