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Ray Bradbury peers at you, one eye gleaming and fully open as if challenging you, the other squinty and small as if sizing you up. Maybe it’s the asymmetry left by his 1999 stroke. Or maybe it’s the bent way the author see things, having reached the age of 88 as one of the most widely read humans on the planet, yet one who doesn’t care for the limiting term “science fiction” to describe his art.
He still works with great vigor in his comfy house in upscale Cheviot Hills, where his interior decorating includes man-sized stuffed animals that take up every seat in a little-used living room. On this day, the gruff old terror who authored Something Wicked This Way Comes and left millions sleepless with The October Country, which was released in 2007, is cooing into his telephone. Because he’s hearing impaired, the speaker volume is high, making privacy impossible. The caller, a publicist, is telling Bradbury how his new play, the comedic charmer Falling Upward, is doing at the historic El Portal Theater in North Hollywood.
“You are wooonderful,” Bradbury tells her. “I sit in the audience and I cry with happiness, the play makes me so happy. I want that play running longer. I think a lot of people will see it — I’ll send you a check!” Hanging up, he grins impishly. “I finance my own plays,” he says. “I lose my own money.”
His work is his life, and it’s a good one. His well-received story collection, We’ll Always Have Paris, is just out, and each day he is surrounded by stacks of his masterworks — several being adapted as screenplays by others. “Mel Gibson owns Fahrenheit 451,” he says. “The mistake they made with the first one was to cast Julie Christie as both the revolutionary and the bored wife.” One of his enduring beefs is that “screenwriters don’t know a goddamn thing about writing — they didn’t grow up in a library, consuming words. When I grew up, I was educated. They are not.”
He yanks on a stack of papers near his elbow to extract a script for The Martian Chronicles, his complex vision of mankind’s flight from Earth. “Universal has owned it for 10 years, and they’ve come up with nothing but terrible, terrible scripts,” he says, emphasizing the obvious idiocy of Universal with a long humming sound deep in his throat. “I learned to write from Charles Dickens, H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. A Christmas Carol changed my life. You have to say no to these awful scripts, you have to say, ‘You can’t buy me.’ ”
In 2007, in a stunning disclosure, Bradbury announced that readers had long misconstrued his classic, Fahrenheit 451, as a tale about government censorship. In fact, he says, it was his warning that TV would hypnotize us, causing book-reading to wane and creating a society of watchers who stare at flat, moving pictures on the wall. That was in 1953.
Bradbury is unconventional and tough, and he delivers his lines with a sweet, craggy smile. He doesn’t buy evolution: “They call it a theory for a reason.” He can’t stand filmmaker Michael Moore, who titled Fahrenheit 9/11 without contacting Bradbury. At the mere mention of Moore, Bradbury issues a particularly loud, throaty hum. “He stole without asking permission. He’s a fat bastard, and he doesn’t make real documentaries.”
Long politically active, Bradbury decries the negativity of Hollywood films, the culture of greed, and inept politicians who lighten taxpayers’ wallets. He fought hard for Proposition 13 property-tax reform, and now watches Los Angeles City Hall with fascination and dread, commenting, “Such fools.”
But he doesn’t worry too much over the things he can’t change. “I write from love, always love,” he says. “We are an impossibility, and yet we are here. We will go to the moon, and then from the moon we will populate Mars, and then the Universe. That is how we will become immortal.”