Ray Bradbury, the influential science-fiction writer who transcended the genre’s limitations to be hailed as a literary lion for such works as “Fahrenheit 451” and “The Martian Chronicles,” died Tuesday night in Los Angeles. He was 91.
Many of Bradbury’s stories and novels were adapted for radio, television, film and stage, and he also worked directly in some of these mediums.
His 1953 dystopian novel “Fahrenheit 451,” about a society in which free communication is restricted and firemen put what few books are left to the torch, was adapted for the bigscreen in 1966; Francois Truffaut directed the film, which starred Oskar Werner and Julie Christie. Bradbury adapted his novel “Something Wicked This Way Comes” for Disney’s 1983 horror film; in his review, Roger Ebert praised Bradbury’s obvious “love of language.”
The 1950 novel “The Martian Chronicles,” which consisted of loosely connected stories, was made into a 1980 NBC miniseries that starred Rock Hudson. Bradbury penned three of the episodes.
New film adaptations of “Fahrenheit” and “Martian Chronicles” are in development at present.
Bradbury’s novels and short stories have been cited as seminal inspirations by countless filmmakers. In a statement, director Steven Spielberg called the author ” my muse for the better part of my sci-fi career.”
Even President Obama weighed in with praise for the author. “His gift for storytelling reshaped our culture and expanded our world,” he said. “But Ray also understood that our imaginations could be used as a tool for better understanding, a vehicle for change, and an expression of our most cherished values.”
Bradbury was born in Waukegan, Ill., where he spent much of his youth in the library, reading such authors as H.G. Wells, Jules Verne and his favorite, Edgar Rice Burroughs. The Bradbury family settled in Los Angeles in 1934, and he was always effusive in his love of his adopted hometown. Bradbury graduated from Los Angeles High School but he did not attend college.
Bradbury told the New York Times in 2009: “Libraries raised me. I don’t believe in colleges and universities. I believe in libraries because most students don’t have any money. When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years.”
During the 1950s, the creatives in the new medium of television found the young author’s work appealing: Anthology shows including “Tales of Tomorrow,” “Lights Out,” “Out There,” “Suspense,” “CBS Television Workshop,” “Jane Wyman’s Fireside Theatre” and “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” adapted some of his stories. For “Alfred Hitchcock” he penned five episodes himself.
Several stories were adapted for radio drama during the same period, particularly on the sci-fi anthologies “Dimension X” and its successor “X Minus One.”
In 1953, two Bradbury-based films hit movie theaters. “It Came from Outer Space” was based on his screen treatment “Atomic Monster”; “The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms” featured one scene based on Bradbury’s “The Fog Horn,” about a sea monster mistaking the sound of a foghorn for a female’s mating cry. Ray Harryhausen, a close friend of Bradbury’s, created the stop-motion animation of the creature. (Bradbury returned the favor: His short story “Tyrannosaurus Rex” concerns a stop-motion animator who strongly resembles Harryhausen; later, Bradbury appeared in the 2011 documentary “Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan.”)
Also in 1953, Bradbury worked on the script for what would become director John Huston’s adaptation of “Moby Dick.” Bradbury’s book “Green Shadows, White Whale” was a semi-fictionalized account of the making of the film.
His short story “I Sing the Body Electric” was adapted for the 100th episode of “The Twilight Zone” in 1962 (Bradbury himself adapted the same material for 1982 telepic “The Electric Grandmother.”)
A 1969 feature adaptation of material from Bradbury’s short story collection “The Illustrated Man” did not impress critics.
In 1984, Michael McDonough produced “Bradbury 13” in conjunction with National Public Radio. Bradbury provided the opening voiceover for this series of audio adaptations of famous Bradbury stories, and the series won a Peabody Award.
From 1985-92 the author hosted “The Ray Bradbury Theater,” a syndicated anthology TV series for which he adapted 65 of his stories.
Bradbury scripted Touchstone Pictures’ 1998 film “The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit,” based on his 1957 story “The Magic White Suit,” which had previously been adapted for a TV in 1958.
Indeed, Bradbury was interested in bringing his work to the stage. The first productions of “The Martian Chronicles” and “Fahrenheit 451” were mounted at the Colony Theater in Burbank in the late 1970s. In 2002, Bradbury’s own Pandemonium Theater Company staged “Fahrenheit 451” at Burbank’s Falcon Theater, projected digital animations supplementing the live actors.
Bradbury had founded Pandemonium with director Charles Rome Smith in 1964, staging the New York production of “The World of Ray Bradbury” (1964), adaptations of “The Pedestrian,” “The Veldt” and “To the Chicago Abyss.”
The 2005 film “A Sound of Thunder” was based loosely upon Bradbury’s short story of the same name but failed both at the box office and with critics. (A year earlier, “The Butterfly Effect” brought the same concept to the bigscreen much more effectively and contains many references to its inspiration.)
Until near the end of his life, Bradbury resisted one of the innovations he helped anticipate: electronic books, likening them to burnt metal and urging readers to stick to the old-fashioned pleasures of ink and paper. But in late 2011, as the rights to “Fahrenheit 451” were up for renewal, he gave in and allowed his most famous novel to come out in digital form. In return, he received a special promise from Simon & Schuster: The publisher agreed to make the ebook available to libraries; it became the only Simon & Schuster ebook that library patrons were allowed to download at the time.
In August 2011, three days before the his 91st birthday, Bradbury and producers Mike Medavoy and Doug McKay of Phoenix Pictures announced a bigscreen adaptation of Bradbury’s semi-autobiographical novel “Dandelion Wine.” Bradbury called the pact “the best birthday gift I could ask for.”
Also in development are a new adaptation of “The Illustrated Man,” scripted by Frank Darabont and to be directed by Zack Snyder, and a miniseries called “The Bradbury Effect.”
The tiny chamber musical “Wisdom 2116,” first tailored decades earlier by Bradbury for Charles Laughton and Elsa Lanchester, was unveiled in 2010 as “Ray Bradbury’s Wisdom 2116” in a world preem at the Fremont Center Theater in Pasadena, Calif.
Terry Sanders’ 1963 film “Ray Bradbury: Story of a Writer” documented Bradbury’s works and approach to writing.
For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Bradbury received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
In 2007, Bradbury received a special citation from the Pulitzer Board “for his distinguished, prolific, and deeply influential career as an unmatched author of science fiction and fantasy.”
Bradbury is survived by four daughters. Marguerite Bradbury, his wife of 57 years, died in 2003.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
- 1958: “Thoughts While Sleeping at My Machine” by Ray Bradbury (Written for Variety)
- Why Bradbury’s words will live forever by Peter Debruge
- “Magic moments” by Ray Bradbury
- “Ray Bradbury: How movies changed us” by Bob Hofler