Goddamned eccentric geniuses. I should have known that Ray Bradbury doesn’t drive, that my question about how he’s getting down to Solana Beach on June 3 —
" Duh, so, like, are you just driving down for the night or what?” — would bring forth a contemptuous snort and a short lecture on the evils of the horseless carriage:
“I do not drive. I have never driven. I’d have to be crazy to drive. Never wanted to. I saw a lot of people killed. Driving is the most dangerous thing in the world. I saw five people killed in an accident, all turned to mush, one of them decapitated. After an experience like that, I had no desire ever to get into an automobile.”
I shrink into a lump of mush as the very busy Mr. Bradbury calls the telephone interview to a close. For the rest of the day I curse and scratch myself for not having done my homework.
It is my considered opinion that Mr. Raymond Douglas Bradbury puts more effort into his book titles than he does into the novels and stories themselves. A maestro of packaging, this guy — and never you mind that the contents often seem to have settled during shipment. Big on Whitman (I Sing the Body Electric!, When Elephants Last in the Dooryard Bloomed) and Shakespeare (Something Wicked This Way Comes). As literature, these examples are far from his best work. The point is, they were written decades ago and they’re STILL IN PRINT!
A merchandising genius, that’s our Ray.
Question I forgot to put to Ray Bradbury: Did you ever eat pizza at a place called Famous Ray's?
Imagined answer: Eat there? I founded the place. I made $6 million last year on licensing the name alone! Didn't you read the cover story on me in Time magazine???
I didn’t really expect old Ray to return my call. There’s a man in Solana Beach, Richard Schwartzlose, who spent 18 months trying to arrange the upcoming Bradbury event. Richard told me Ray Bradbury doesn’t often return calls. The Bradbury answering machine in L.A. says something like, “Leave your number, and if Ray feels like calling you back, he will.” Anyway, said Richard, “I don’t think he’s back from France yet.”
A couple of hours later I was on the phone when the call-waiting click sounded. It was Ray Bradbury. I pursued my usual obscurantist line of interview, bugging him with questions about the screenplay he wrote for Moby Dick 37 years ago. This irritated the famous writer.
“Now listen. You want an article about my talk in Solana Beach, and I’m not going to be talking about Moby Dick. I’m going to be lecturing about my new book, and a book of short stories that I just
published, two new mysteries, my musical, Fahrenheit 451 —” “Who wrote the music for Fahrenheit 451?"
“Czech name. I can’t pronounce it.... I’ve got four different operas going. I’ve just finished doing 64 films for Ray Bradbury Theater on USA cable —”
Night before I talked to Ray, I was flipping through the channels, trying to tape political campaign spots. Stopped at The Dennis Miller Show. My God — there he is — Bradbury himself — plugging his latest, Green Hunter, White Heart, and doing a superb impersonation of John Huston.
But the astonishing thing is, he’s wearing a coat and tie and long pants. The last time I saw Bradbury in long trousers it was about 1968, and he was on Les Crane. Since then he’s done the talk-show rounds dressed invariably in short-short white tennis togs and a blue warmup. I hear they let him into Chasen’s like that.
“What happened to the white shorts?” I asked Ray the next afternoon.
“Oh, I wear them 95 percent of the time. But yesterday I had a meeting to go to.”
Ray Bradbury’s Dennis Miller experience: “He made me really uncomfortable. He likes to inject politics into everything. It was awful how he kept going after Dan Quayle. I feel sorry for poor Quayle. Everyone dumps on him.”
On August 22, 1920, a bouncing baby boy was born in a large Midwestern town. When he grew older he would dream of becoming a writer for the pulps. Family pressure would attempt to steer him toward an engineering career. Alas; he would fail at this and everything else.
The boy’s name was John P. Sheehan, and his family lived in St. Louis, Missouri. The same day he was born, young Raymond Bradbury was entering the world in Waukegan, Illinois. Raymond also would entertain fantasies of becoming a writer. His family couldn’t care less. By his early 20s, Raymond had cranked out dozens of science fiction tales for cheap magazines.
Today, both men are hale and hearty and sport full heads of white hair. But Mr. Bradbury is fabulously rich, while Mr. Sheehan, my father, is poor.
Moral: Leave your kids alone.
— Margot Sheehan
The Solana Beach Library presents: An Evening With Ray Bradbury 7:30 p.m. June 3 St. Janies Catholic Church, Parish Hall, 625 S. Nardo Avenue, Solana Beach Admission: $10 755-1404