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Sunday, August 22, 2010

Today On The Birthday List ...

Ray Douglas Bradbury ... aka Ray ... was born today in 1920 during the Depression in Waukegan, Illinois. He grew up with a strong work ethic derived from his Swedish immigrant mother and utility lineman father. From a very young age, Bradbury haunted his local library, devouring all types of fiction. Two of his paternal relatives were noted newspaper publishers, so maybe my theories on genetics and creativity are truly valid.

Anyway, the Bradbury family moved about following employment opportunities, but finally settled in Los Angeles. Ray never attended college, claiming that "libraries raised me!" Bradbury published his first professional story, "Hollerbochen's Dilemma," in 1938 in Imagination!. His first paid piece, "pendulum," was published in Super Science Stories in 1941 and earned him $15 ... today a decent dinner and beer at Applebee's. Over the years, Ray Bradbury has published dozens of books and short stories, and has been involved in more than 20 film dramatizations of his work. I remember him most from his television work as seen on shows like "Night Gallery," "Twilight Zone," and "The Ray Bradbury Theater."

Bradbury is probably best known for his novels "Fahrenheit 451" ... if you haven't read it, do!! .. and "The Illustrated Man," and his works that became the acclaimed "The Martian Chronicles" ... did you see the TV movie version with Rock Hudson? ... wicked cool! But I'd say that Bradbury's most notable achievement was how he successfully criss-crossed the lines between fantasy, mystery, horror, science fiction, and social commentary, setting the bar incredibly high for current and future authors.

He might not agree, though, since his mantle is pretty crowded with a Emmy, a World Fantasy Award, an honorary doctorate from Woodbury University, the National Medal of Arts, and more. And he has a "star" on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and an asteroid ... yes, a space rock ... named in his honor. What he doesn't have ... which I find funny and delightful ... is a valid driver's license. Ray Bradbury has never learned to drive in 90 years.

I celebrate Ray Bradbury's birthday because I enjoy his work and attention to detail when creating fantasy worlds peopled with sometimes-alien-but-all-too-human characters. I also celebrate because I had the privilege of meeting the man very briefly. During one summer in my undergraduate college years, I applied for and was accepted to a young writers symposium/workshop. It was held at a university campus and attended by around 85 other aspiring writer juniors and seniors ... even a few sophomores for good measure. The work was grueling and competitive, but the guest lecturers were fantastic. During the last week, there was a cocktail party held for a special visiting author ... none other than Ray Bradbury. I weaseled my way onto the planning committee which made me one of a dozen attendees who got the opportunity to attend the cocktail event and listen to the man comment on life and his work. I remember he was very wise and gentle, and knew how to put away a drink or three.

I was almost 22 at the time, and the opportunity to meet someone like that and actually get to ask him a question or two was thrilling. The bar we were in had a small upstairs for music ... mostly jazz ... and the college had rented it for the party. There was cheese cubes and finger foods circulating amidst a collection of overstuffed chairs and sofas ... imagine those comfy seats at Barnes & Noble. And the booze was flowing like a very active volcano! I imagined "this" was what all the artists and musicians and poets and novelists did in the '60s and '70s ... lounged around and discussed literature and world events. I've rarely felt so heady with coolness.

I got very, very drunk!

POINT OF RANT: Happy 90th, Ray Bradbury ... and many more!

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