A great red stuffed Bullwinkley, legs crossed coyly in an armchair, sits sentinel in the front room, which is dark. Right down the street blindingly rich and pretty people are striding in and out of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, but in here it feels sort of Sam Spade seedy wood-paneled cool.
On the floor and shelves are precarious piles of Argosy, Redbook, Stanford French Review, King Kong Play Set. The History of Don Quixote, Mickey Mouse Puppetforms, Worlds Beyond, Playboy, stuffed green dinosaurs (moving inside to the inner room), Snoopy atop a doghouse, Sylvester the Cat atop an ice cream cone, Buck Rogers disintegrator, blue plastic ping-pong ball gun, assorted robots, plastic rocket ship, stuffed rabbit and a telephone disguised as Mickey Mouse.
On weekday mornings, if we are to believe his own ebullient self-description, Ray Bradbury enters this office so beset by ideas that he can barely make his way to the typewriter before his fingers begin to move. He comes in tennis shorts, a sweatshirt, whatever fell onto his body when he got of bed; he sits before the big electric keyboard; he taps out phrases, clauses, word associations. "This attic where the meadow greens." He tapped that out a while ago. He was fishing for a title for his new book of poetry, and those particular words crowded out onto his page. "What the hell," Bradbury says he said to himself, "do they mean?" He thought maybe it was more poetry, so he made a poem around them. It took him 10 minutes.
"Beautiful!" he says, "It was a beautiful poem! And I didn't change a word in it! Called my publisher and editor and read it to him, and he said, 'My God, when did you do that?' I just finished it.' He said, 'That's the poem, that's the title poem!' So that's the way I work. Ideas suddenly ask to be born."
He does not drive a car. He has never flown in an airplane. He believes automobiles to be monstrous inventions, clogging and fouling the nation's streets, and he does not fly because he is afraid of falling out of the sky. He is also afraid of the dark. He used to be afraid of girls, but he thinks he has gotten over that. When he lectures away from home he takes trains, or boats; in Los Angeles, where he is believed to be the only physically sound human being over the age of 16 who does not know how to drive, he rides his bicycle, or walks, or accepts lifts, or summons taxis.
Having made a private literary trademark of the shadowy month of October, and having breathed life for something over a million readers into the gentle Illinois setting of his novel "Dandelion Wine," Ray Bradbury lives in a big strange city where there is no small-town circus and there are no autumn leaves.
"I make it," Bradbury says. "Whereever I am."
For the lucky ones Ray Bradbury comes by surprise, buried plain as a spelling lesson, stuck in the midst of some ninth grade literature text just at that awful time around age 14 when the world contracts one day and expands the next and seems sometimes to be doing both at once. Childhood is collapsing, taking wild possibilities of the imagination out beyond reach, and adulthood is breathing huge and terrible down your neck, and here all at once come weird short stories where there are no working rules. A dark lake sighs as it pulls a man inside, to drown him softly, and with love; a tattooed man, pictures crawling like ants on his skin, flexes his muscles and turns each tatoo ark into a separate tale; a Martian madman exhales blue flame until the flame forms the shape of a whispering naked woman.
"They had a house of crystal pillars on the planet Mars by the edge of an empty sea, and every morning you could see Mrs. K eating the golden fruits that grew from the crystal wall, or cleaning the house with handfuls of magnetic dust which, taking all dirt with it, blew away on the hot wind. Afternoons, when the fossil sea was warm and motionless, and the wine trees stood stiff in the yard, and the little distant Martian bone town was all enclosed and no one drifted out of their doors, you could see Mr. K himself in his room, reading from a metal book with raised hieroglyphs over which he brushed his hand, as one might play a harp. And from the books, as his fingers stroked, a voice sang, a soft ancient voice, which told tales of when the sea was red steam on the shore and ancient men had carried clouds of metal insects and electric spiders into battle."
That is one of the opening passages in "The Martian Chronicles," Bradbury's ethereal novel-length collection of stories about the colonization of Mars. The three-prt televised dramatization of the Chronicles continues tonight on channedl 4 at 9; it is the first time one of Bradbury's works has been brought to television, and although he has expressed mixed feelings about the program, he prefers to withhold public comment until after the audience has seen it.
"Can't force these things," he says. "People have to discover you and fall in love, and do things. I've had a lot of younger people grow up and fall in love with me, and come tell me.
"And that's good."
"That's the only way to live, isn't it?
"I fell in love with Tarzan, and Buck Rogers, and Jules Verne when I was a child, and out of that madness I became a writer. So the really good directors, filmmakers, actors, artists, are all people who are maniacs at love, aren't they? If you don't love it, you shouldn't be doing it. You always want to be working with people who are in love with what they do. People who leap out of bed and can't resist doing things. The central thing is mad love."
He rambles happily when he talks, leaning back in the chair he has pulled into the center of his wonderful toy-box office. He has a big loud laugh and a compact, teddy-bear body and a way of making questions of his pronouncements. ("If you're not doing what you love every day of your life, you ought to stop and go do it -- you've only got one chance to do it, haven't you?")
He thinks Walt Disney was the most revolutionary world leader of the last 30 years: "Because of him, the small towns of America are going to get rebuilt. The large cities will be changed. They'll either be torn down, or they'll be done over so they work ... He built two cities which are models for the way we can do these things ... The mayors of some of the most important cities in the world are coming to the Disney people now for advice on how to rebuild the center of the town, how to make it work, how to make it function, how to humanize it."
He thinks technology is softening and warming certain parts of our lives: "We can rebuild the small towns, and use our technologies to provide ourselves with those extra textures of entertainment and education . . . We can fly the Ballet Russe in by jet, and the ballet can dance in Waukegan, you know, one afternoon, and that evening be 500 miles away, performing for someone else ..."
He loves opera, badminton, long lunches, world's fairs, the lion's head umbrella he bought a while ago, museums, his wife and children, trick-or-treating, giving lectures and Buck Rogers (still). He thought writing a glorious occupation when he sold his first short story in 1941, and by now -- two dozen books and assorted accolades later -- Bradbury still thinks so.
"I'm just one of those maniacs that can't stop writing," he says, "It's just every day is an explosion. I explode in the morning and clean up at noon, eh? Someone will say something. Chuck Jones, the animater he's a good friend of mine, he's always calling me. He reads dictionaries, and encyclopedias. And he calls up and says, 'Hey, Ray, guess what?' And I said, 'Oh, God, you've been reading from the encyclopedia again.' He says, 'Yeah, but did you know --' I said. 'No, but tell me.' He says, "Did you know that when they were building the Trans Egyptian Railroad across northern Egypt, when they ran out of fuel, when the locomotive came to a halt, they'd jump out, run into the nearest catacomb, steal mummies out of the tomb, bring 'em back, shove 'em into the firebox, and use 'em as fuel? They'd burn mummies across Egypt late at night!"
"I said, 'GOOD GOD, THAT's BEAUTIFUL!' And I slamed down the phone, ran over to the typewriter, and wrote a poem called "The Nefertiti-Tut Express' Huh? Just like that. And I wrote a screenplay based on the poem. But it's instantaneous. Instantaneous."
Bradbury shakes his head. "You have to learn to step aside and let your creative self come out," he says. "It's a mystery ... I read 'Zen and the Art of Archery' years ago, and was very taken by it, and recognized a similartiy of ways of living between myself and the archer, or the principles of Zen .... so writing is a seance, with a Ouija board, between you and your subconscious. You have to learn how to get out of the way."
He was born 60 years ago in Waukegan, Ill., and he lived, he says, in the ice-cream-and-Fourth-of-July Midwest he has written about so often. My grandma had a boarding house next door, and there was a crazy teen-age girl who could afford to buy magazines," Bradbury says. "We were too poor. Magazines, cost 25 cents. Who had 25 cents in 1929? I didn't. I had a nickel a week, for candy, eh? And a dime for a movie."
But they did have the newspaper, and it thumped on the porch every afternoon at 4 o'clock, smelling fine, freshly printed. Ray Bradbury read it on the living room floor. "I fell in love with Buck Rogers," he says.
'Those beautiful, beautiful strips changed my life forever. I just fell in love with the future so madly. All those fabulous devices!"
Bradbury grabs a big Buck Rodgers anthology off his desk and opens up the book. "Here's the very first panel I saw, when I was 9," he says. "See, you got a girl flying through the air with a jumping belt, right? And she floated down! And she's not killed!" He is smiling hughely and his voice is almost tremulous with wonder. "And here's Buck Rogers waking up, 500 years in the future, and she puts the jumping belt on him, the third day, and they're leaping through the sky!"
After the paper came the science magazines. Flash Gordon. H. G. Wells. "Boy," Bradbury says. "I was off into the future, I never came back. They haven't seen me since."
His family moved to Los Angeles when he was 14, and Bradbury -- living with his parents and selling newspapers on the street corner for his $10 per week survival money -- sold his first short story seven years later. Since that first year, during which he wrote around one story per week and sold a grand total of three, Bradbury has written plays, essays, science articles, poems, unfinished operas, movie scripts (he wrote the screenplay for the John Houston-directed (Moby Dick"), lectures the entire grand concept for the American pavilion at the New York World's fair, and so much fiction that by now he has reportedly been installed in about 800 different literay anthologies.
It is the fiction that people know best, of course, with its breathless Bantam Book covers proclaiming Bradbury the World's Greatest Living Writer of Science Fiction, and its peculiar mix of the future, the supernatural, the bizarre and the thickly sweet nostalgia.
More regimented science fiction writers, following the dictum that S.F. ought to begin with hard scientific fact and explore outward from there, have been known to chafe at Bradbury's particular imaginative style.
The Science Fiction Encylopedia, in mildly condescending summation, calls him "a whimiscal fantasist in an older tradition."
Bradbury looks taken aback when asked about this. "Well, if people want to say that, I can't prevent them," he says quietly, sounding a little hurt. "They're wrong, of course, because I do all kinds of things. And my childhood stories. 'Dandelion Wine -- Something Wicked' [Bradbury's novel about a terrible soul-stealing circus that comes to a small Midwertern town] is a combination of nostalgia plus fantasy -- but it's a metaphor for the totality of existence, isn't it? It has life, birth, aging, growing up, growing old and death. And all the things in between. Sexuality. Love. And there's a metaphor for each at work there ...
"I don't feel compelled to stick to anything," Bradbury says. "Whatever I'm in love with is it. I love essays one month, or one week, and then I write six more poems, and then I do a play, and then I do a screenplay ... Anything that attracts my attention."
He is currently working, more or less simultaneously, on a murder mystery, a sequel to "Dandelion Wine," an opera called "Leviathan 99" ("Moby Dick in outer space," he says), and a project for the Disney people that will sit next to Disney World in Florida and will look, by Bradbury's description, something like this: "A theater of history, a journey in time down through all the levels of all the architecture of all the civilizations in history back to the beginning of -- of mankind's history, and then exploding forward to the Renaissance, to the present time, and then up into the future, so that you bombard whoever goes through the building -- rides through it -- bombard him with ideas of philosophies, theologies, sciences, so that some of the excitement of being alive in the world is transmitted to children, so that we come out wanting to live forever."
Ray Bradbury, smack in the midst of his rocket ships and space guns, can make this sound entirely plausible.
He is smiling as he says it, but his eyes are wide, and his voice is excited.
"I'm very proud of myself," he says. "Because I set out to do a thing, and I did it -- to become the best writer in the history of the world. And I did it, by God!"
He laughs out loud, slaps his knees.
"I think I'm the luckiest writer I've ever known!
"You dream things when you're 15 or 16 -- and you do them! I've always wanted to be a screenwriter -- and I've done it. I've always wanted to be a novelist and short story writer -- and now my novels and short stories are in every school in the country! It's just terrific.
"And I always wanted to be loved," Ray Bradbury says.
"And I am.
"And that's good."