Remembrances
11:35 am
Wed June 6, 2012

'Fahrenheit 451' Author Ray Bradbury Dies At 91

Originally published on Wed June 6, 2012 8:17 pm

Ray Bradbury, author of The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451, died Tuesday. He was 91. Bradbury was known for his futuristic tales — but he never used a computer, or even drove a car.

Bradbury was born in Waukegan, Ill., in 1920 and grew up during the Great Depression. He said it was a time when people couldn't imagine the future, and his active imagination made him stand out. He once told Fresh Air's Terry Gross about exaggerating basic childhood fears, like monsters at the top of the stairs.

"As soon as I looked up, there it was, and it was horrible," Bradbury remembers. "And I would scream and fall back down the stairs, and my mother and father would get up and sigh and say, 'Oh, my gosh, here we go again.' "

Bradbury dove into books as a child. Wild tales from authors Jules Verne and H.G. Wells captivated Bradbury — and made him dream of becoming a great author. So he started writing, churning out a short story every week during his teens. After his family moved to Southern California, he would escape to the basement of the UCLA library. There, he'd focus on his craft.

"For 10 cents a half-hour you could rent a typewriter," Bradbury recalled. "And I thought, my gosh, this is terrific! I can be here for a couple hours a day. It'll cost me 30, 40 cents, and I can get my work done."

Bradbury made his mark in the literary world with The Martian Chronicles, a collection of short stories released in 1950. During the height of the Red Scare, he set off a warning flare about censorship with his signature work, Fahrenheit 451 — and he did so in a controversial new magazine: Playboy. The story was later printed as a novel, and in 1966 director Francois Truffaut introduced movie audiences to this bizarre society Bradbury created: one in which firemen burned books to keep the masses completely ignorant but couldn't extinguish their curiosity.

"Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature at which book paper catches fire and starts to burn," explains firefighter Guy Montag.

Oscar-nominated director Frank Darabont wants to bring a new version of Fahrenheit 451 to the big screen. He was inspired by the outlaws in the book — the people who worked desperately to preserve literature and pass wisdom along to future generations. Darabont wants to do just that — deliver this author's lessons to today's youth.

"Bradbury takes us into a journey to the core of the human heart and glories in the potential of humankind," Darabont says. "That's a great message to get at a time in your life when you're looking around and seeing that the world kind of sucks."

Bradbury saw his work more as social commentary than science fiction. And he found new ways to express his take on the world. He adapted a screenplay of Melville's Moby Dick and worked on TV shows like Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone.

But there was one medium Bradbury never embraced: computers. He once told The New York Times that the Internet was meaningless. And it wasn't until 2011 that Bradbury reluctantly gave in to his publisher's demands to release Farenheit 451 as an e-book.

Bradbury may have resisted modern technology, but he influenced plenty of innovation. The crew of Apollo 15 was so inspired by Bradbury's novel Dandelion Wine, they named a lunar crater after the book. Astronaut Buzz Aldrin said Bradbury's impact was universal.

"Ray Bradbury is one who is contributing to the understanding of the imagination and the curiosity of the human race," Aldrin said.

Bradbury married his wife, Maggie, in 1947 and they had four daughters. At age 80, Bradbury suffered a stroke and could no longer write — but he continued to dream. He was so certain mankind would land on Mars, he asked to be buried there. That may never happen, but it didn't stop him from believing it was possible.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

In 1932, a young boy made his way through a carnival. He stopped, captivated by what he saw. A magician calling himself Mr. Electrico stood onstage, holding a sword alive with electricity. When the man saw the boy, he pointed the sword at him and said, live forever.

Some 80 years later, that boy has died. But the stories he wrote over his remarkable life will, indeed, live forever, including "The Martian Chronicles" and "Fahrenheit 451." Author Ray Bradbury died last night after a long illness. He was 91. NPR's Arnie Seipel has this remembrance.

ARNIE SEIPEL, BYLINE: Ray Bradbury grew up during the Great Depression. He said it was a time when people couldn't imagine the future, and Bradbury's active imagination made him stand out. He once told WHYY's FRESH AIR about exaggerating basic childhood fears, like monsters at the top of the stairs.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RAY BRADBURY: As soon as I looked up, there it was - and it was horrible, and I would scream and fall back down the stairs. And my mother or father would get up and sigh and say oh, my god, here we go again.

SEIPEL: He dove into books as a child. Wild tales from authors Jules Verne and H.G. Wells captivated Bradbury, and made him dream of becoming a great author. So he started writing, churning out a short story every week during his teens. After his family moved to Southern California, he would escape to the basement of the UCLA library. There, he'd focus on his craft.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BRADBURY: For 10 cents a half-hour, you could rent a typewriter. And I thought, my gosh, this is terrific, I can be here a couple hours a day. It'll cost me 30, 40 cents - and get my work done.

SEIPEL: Bradbury made his mark in the literary world with "The Martian Chronicles," a collection of short stories released in 1950. During the height of the Red Scare, he set off a warning flare about censorship with his signature work, "Fahrenheit 451," and he did so in a controversial new magazine: Playboy.

The story was later printed as a novel. And in 1966, director Francois Truffaut introduced movie audiences to this bizarre society Bradbury created: one in which firemen burned books to keep the masses completely ignorant, but couldn't extinguish their curiosity.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "FAHRENHEIT 451")

JULIE CHRISTIE: (as Clarisse) That number you will wear, what's it mean?

OSKAR WERNER: (as Guy Montag) Oh, Fahrenheit 451.

CHRISTIE: (as Clarisse) Why 451, rather than 813 or 123 or...

WERNER: (as Guy Montag) Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature at which book paper catches fire and starts to burn.

SEIPEL: Oscar-nominated director Frank Darabont wants to bring a new version of "Fahrenheit 451" to the big screen. He was inspired by the outlaws in the book - the people who worked desperately to preserve literature, and pass wisdom along to future generations. Darabont wants to do just that - deliver this author's lessons to today's youth.

FRANK DARABONT: Bradbury takes us into a journey to the core of the human heart, and glories in the potential of humankind. That's a great message to get at a time of your life when you're looking around and seeing that the world kind of sucks.

SEIPEL: Bradbury saw his work more as social commentary than science fiction. And he found new ways to express his take on the world. He adapted a screenplay of Melville's "Moby Dick," and worked on TV shows like "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" and...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE TWILIGHT ZONE")

ROD SERLING: "The Twilight Zone."

SEIPEL: But there was one medium Bradbury never embraced: computers. He once told the New York Times that the Internet was meaningless. And it wasn't until 2011 that Bradbury reluctantly gave in to his publisher's demands to release "Fahrenheit 451" as an e-book. Bradbury may have resisted modern technology, but he influenced plenty of innovation. The crew of Apollo 15 was so inspired by Bradbury's novel "Dandelion Wine," they named a lunar crater after the book.

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin explains why his impact was so universal.

BUZZ ALDRIN: Ray Bradbury is one who's contributing to the understanding of the imagination, and the curiosity of the human race.

SEIPEL: Bradbury suffered a stroke at the age of 80 and could no longer write, but he continued to dream. He was so certain mankind would land on Mars, he asked to be buried there. That may never happen, but it didn't stop Ray Bradbury from believing it was possible.

ALDRIN: Arnie Seipel, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.