Ray Douglas Bradbury was born August 22, 1920 in Waukegan, Illinois. He received his middle name from the swashbuckling film star Douglas Fairbanks. “Douglas Spaulding” is a name he often used for boys in his stories – “Spaulding” was his great-grandmother’s maiden name – and he also used the pseudonym “Leonard Spaulding” early in his career (Leonard being his father’s first name).
During the winter of 1926-27, his family moved to Roswell, New Mexico for two weeks, then to Tucson, but by the spring of 1927 they were back in Waukegan. They had another spell in Tucson in 1932-33, and finally settled for good in Los Angeles in 1934.
Radio, movies, and magicians were huge influences. His grandfather built a crystal-set radio when Ray was 2, and he never forgot seeing Lon Chaney on the screen in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” when he was 3. Later, he would do a little acting on radio and writing for it, as well as creating screenplays and teleplays from his own books and those by other authors (most famously, Moby Dick). In 1928, he became obsessed with Blackstone the Magician, attending all his shows in Waukegan and making copious notes and sketches.
Bradbury graduated from Los Angeles High School in 1938, but he never attended college. He sold newspapers and spent much time in libraries, having always been an avid reader. The same year he graduated from high school, Bradbury began to publish stories in science fiction fanzines. He made the acquaintance of other influential fans (especially Forrest J Ackerman) and established writers (such as Robert Heinlein, Henry Kuttner, Leigh Bracket, and Jack Williamson). He was a full-time writer by the age of 22.
His first book collection of stories in 1947, Dark Carnival, featured horror and fantasy tales. That same year, he married Marguerite McClure, an employee of Fowlers Brothers Bookstore who sized him up as a thief when they first met. She was a college dropout fluent in three other languages and broadly read in literature. They would have four daughters and remain married until her death in 2003.
The Martian Chronicles, published in 1950, was a loosely connected series of science fiction and fantasy stories related to the colonization of Mars. Collections that followed included The Illustrated Man (1951), The Golden Apples of the Sun (1953), The October Country (1955), A Medicine for Melancholy (1959), The Machineries of Joy (1964), I Sing the Body Electric! (1969), and Long After Midnight (1976).
Other loosely connected narratives in the style of The Martian Chronicles included Dandelion Wine (1957), a nostalgic array of tales stemming from his boyhood in Waukegan, and Green Shadows, White Whale (1992), a variety of semi-autobiographical stories set in Ireland and inspired by his six-month stay there in 1953 to write the Moby Dick screenplay with film director John Huston.
Fahrenheit 451, a 1953 dystopian novel, would become one of Bradbury’s most famous books. Set in a near-future society where firemen destroy books as threats to the social order (the title refers the temperature at which book paper is supposed to ignite), a first draft of the novel was pounded out on a rental typewriter in the basement of UCLA’s Powell Library (at a cost of $9.80 for 49 hours). Intended to express the author’s love of books and libraries and to criticize the imagination-deadening influence of television, the novel has come to be regarded as a stand against censorship (though for a time, ironically, a publisher edited out salty language from 1970s printings, fearing a pernicious effect on children—or upsetting their parents).
Bradbury’s next novel was Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962). Both books would be made into films—Fahrenheit 451 in 1966 and Something Wicked in 1982. Many other Bradbury stories have been adapted over the years (sometimes by the author) for radio, stage, and television. Chief among these have been “It Came From Outer Space” (1953), a science-fiction classic based on a treatment by Bradbury called “The Meteor.” “The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms” (1953) was a very loose adaptation of “The Foghorn,” Bradbury’s short story about a deep-sea monster who mistakes a lighthouse horn for a female monster. “The Illustrated Man” (1969) dramatized the prologue and three stories from the book.
Bradbury adapted 65 of his stories for the anthology television series “The Ray Bradbury Theater” and also did voiceover narration and appeared on-screen, between 1985 and 1992. He also recorded many of his stories for long-playing records, cassette tapes, and other audio media.
Aside from his writings, Bradbury collaborated with architects and designers on imaginative projects such as the American Pavilion of the 1964 New York World’s Fair, the original exhibit for Epcot Center’s Spaceship Earth geosphere at Walt Disney World, and the whimsical Horton Plaz a mall in San Diego.
Despite his futuristic writings, Bradbury was afraid to fly for most of his life. He took his first ride on a blimp at age 49, and his first airplane flight at the age of 62. He owned a computer for only a short time and never learned to use it. He never learned to drive a car.
Ray Bradbury died on 5 June, 2012.
Official Ray Bradbury Web site:
Center for Ray Bradbury Studies, Indiana University-Purdue: