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Nearing 90, Ray Bradbury defines prolific. Author, essayist, playwright, screenwriter, lecturer, poet and visionary all apply, but his description is far earthier.
“The truth is I’m a great big pomegranate that exploded and all my seeds are all over the place. I’m very thankful for that,” he told his biographer, Sam Weller, during a Skype chat Wednesday night at McNally Jackson Books in Manhattan.
Best known for “Fahrenheit 451,” the 1953 sci-fi thriller that predicted the advent of flat-screen TVs, violence, electronic devices for long distance messaging and a society of nonreaders, he is now polishing up “Juggernaut,” a book of short stories due out in December. He will make the rounds as a guest of honor at this weekend’s Comic-Con International in San Diego. Asked Wednesday how his writing has changed over 60-plus years, he chortled, “It’s become brilliant — that’s what.”
Contrary to recent film industry rumors, no one has bought the rights for a film remake of his short story “The Martian Chronicles,” nor for “Fahrenheit 451,” whose rights are still owned by Mel Gibson. “And he’s having trouble with his Russian girlfriend. I think I saw on TV that he hit her,” Bradbury said, which caused the crowd to erupt with laughter.
Au courant as he is, Bradbury was repeatedly reminded of his salad days by Weller. Office-free and strapped for cash in the early Fifties, Bradbury recalled getting “a big bag of dimes” from the bank, renting a typewriter for 10 cents an hour in a UCLA building’s basement, sitting down and whipping off “Fahrenheit 451” in nine days. “I spent $9.80,” the Illinois native said. But “The Fog Horn,” a story penned in 1951, was the life changer that made filmmaker John Huston recruit him to write the screenplay for “Moby Dick.” Bradbury was less enthused about François Truffaut’s 1966 “Fahrenheit 451” flick, only commending Bernard Herrmann’s musical score and leading actor Oskar Werner’s warring ways with Truffaut.
Nor was he too high on the New Yorkers he encountered as a young man. “I made a lot of friends in New York. They were all very sick and very strange. I learned from them the scent of death. I knew I didn’t want to die, be sick or be noncreative, so I went home and said, ‘To hell with those people.’ I just learned to be me,” Bradbury said.
Bradbury, a high-school graduate, addressed the demise of education in America: “All our students shouldn’t do what their teachers tell them to do or to be. They should go to the library and teach themselves. Libraries should be the center of our life. There you can get a free education and become yourself. You don’t need a teacher. You can teach yourself. Don’t think — do.”
And for such a prescient author, it’s no surprise he has some predictions of his own. “Big government is too big,” he said. “We’ve got to give government back to the people. Remember the United States is governed by the people for the people. We the people need to speak now and demand that government get out of the way.”