Ray Bradbury – Life, Love and Literature

By Neil Earle

(Science fantasist Ray Bradbury died June 6, aged 91. Glendora pastor Neil Earle interviewed him twice at the Duarte, CA Festival of Authors.)

The First century writer Paul of Tarsus was definitely a man in love with life. “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again, Rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). He was no narrow-minded sundowner but a man who rejoiced in life – the Greek games, and good poetry (2 Timothy 2:5; Acts 17:28).

I have no doubt that Paul would have enjoyed meeting with science fantasist Ray Bradbury whom I met twice at our Author’s Festivals here in Duarte. As our guest speaker, Ray took on the air of a motivational speaker.

“See what love does,” he would exclaim excitedly even at age 87, when speaking of his remarkable writing career. “What I’ve done. I’ve done for love. Money comes later.”

Bradbury was a perennial crowd favorite under the big tent in spite of intermittent rain showers. “All the women in my life have been librarians, booksellers and English teachers and my wife was all three. She came from a well-off family and took a vow of poverty to marry me,” he quipped.

“You’re a Poet”

Ray and his wife’s honeymoon amounted to one night in Santa Barbara in 1947. The young would-be author was having a rough go of it. “My first book got an obituary notice.” But he was in love with the Planet Mars from his early reading as a nine-year old devouring the writings of Jules Vernes and Edgar Rice Burroughs. “A friend named Norman Corwin said come to New York and they’ll know you exist.” That meant a long Greyhound Bus trip to Manhattan in 1950 (“curled into a ball of fungus”), but the young hopeful had hardly any money in the bank so what choice was there?

Once there, talking to Doubleday editors and eking out a stay in the 40th street YMCA, he was convinced by his editor that his recently-completed Martian short stories could be turned into a novel. After a few nights sitting in his underwear in a muggy Manhattan garret editing, retyping and weaving his episodic tales into a novelistic format he was headed back to LA with $700. All because of love, Bradbury says. Love of the printed word.

Some time later, invited to tea with the famous Aldous Huxley, the British genius told him, “You’re a poet.”

“Really?” Bradbury thought. “All I am was a lover of reading and a library person.”

Ray Bradbury: 10 of his most prescient predictions - The Washington Post

But the life lesson was obvious: “You become the thing you love with all your heart,” he told us. Bradbury’s writing philosophy revolved very much around reading the greats – Herman Melville, Charles Dickens, H.G. Wells. But the essence was doing what you love. “All of my behavior is love,” he re-emphasized. “Jump off the cliff and build your wings on the way down” he told his audiences.

The Writing Cure

Only one other speaker at our Duarte Festivals came close to projecting Bradbury’s aura. S.J. Cannell was a worthy guest as well, now deceased – way too early. A mega-star in several fields, Cannell executive-produced some 1500 prime time television shows, from The Rockford Files (1974-1980) to Silk Stalkings. “What a joy to live your dream,” Cannell expostulated. For him it was a dream that led through the discomfort of dyslexia. He was not aware of the problem till he reached 35 when his own daughter was analyzed with the symptoms! This meant that Cannell’s high school and (yes!) college learning track was major bluff work. “I was only a C student but I was a pretty good running back so that got me into the University of Oregon,“ he chuckled.

His one positive nudge toward writing as a career came in high school when he wrote an iambic pentameter poem on Martin Luther King for which he received a B-. When his sister later published it and got an “A,” Cannell realized he was on to something.

“Even though I flunked every qualifying test at U of Oregon my creative writing instructor, Ralph Salisbury, taught me how to write phonetically. He told me, ‘You have a gift from God. Don’t stop being a writer.’”

This is why it is so important to not let dyslexic students give up on themselves, Cannell exhorted us. Out of high school he wrote every night for five hours and half-days on Saturday and Sunday. After six years he turned in his first TV script with the usual long wait to see an executive. When he did it was to meet the “You’ll never make it” reaction. Inspired by Salisbury, Cannel got himself an agent, a Hedda Hopper Hollywood type, he says, who called everyone “dearie” and got in to see talent scouts on the strength of her great home-made cookies.

The Big Break…and After

Finally came the big break. One year, the season finale of Adam-12 (1968-1975) was not yet written and the studio was desperate. Cannell took the assignment immediately and started Thursday to prepare for a Monday delivery. “I always over-prepared, that’s one thing my dyslexia taught me,” he says, “and a typist really helps.”

It worked. The studio liked it. Two days later he was hired as head writer. For the next eight years he worked at Universal to growing acclaim, writing eight episodes of such hits as Beretta. In 1981 this led him to develop his own company, Cannell Studio, which eventually hired 2100 employees – the third largest in Hollywood. His father sat on his Board of Directors helping supervise $100 million worth of TV stations.

This worked well for him until 1995 when the inevitable changes in the industry made him restless for more creative pastures. Writing again came to his rescue – his first love. The Plan, his initial novel, worked well and he soon mastered the detective story format. Once again, time to move on. A later novel, At First Sight, he liked because it addresses what Cannell calls “the hollowing out of the American value system.” He worried about a world where we go from Dr. Christian Barnard on the cover of Time magazine to the unfortunate Anna Nicole Smith. He himself exemplified strong family values. The darkest day in his life, he admits, was when his 15½ year old son died.

Cannell is openly evangelistic about a person making it in spite of the obstacles. His love for his craft and the opportunities life has thrown his way makes him a captivating speaker. “Treat “C’ students well,” he advises teachers, “because they’ll come back later and endow a library.”

Politicians and Pedagogues

Cannell graced our day in the company of authors on such subjects as Autism, self-help, women’s issues and education. Professor Dale Salwak, an English professor from Citrus College, displayed his thoughtful and helpful, Teaching Life: Lessons from a Life in Literature. Salwak developed the idea when a young girl student supposed to visit him in his office was killed in a car crash on the way to the meeting. This became the frame for Salwak’s eloquent attempt to distill thirty five years of college teaching in 188 pages. One of his insights serves as a good conclusion to this article as well as a “Thank you” to Ray Bradbury, S.J. Cannell and the Duarte folks for such successful events. Dale wrote:

“We are what we read. If we want to know the truth of other people, then read what they have read…Read for information, read for stimulation, read for fun…To keep growing we must also keep reading.” All our speakers that memorable afternoon would endorse that sentiment.

They all loved what they did and were not bashful to show they cared about people and about life. St. Paul, who coined the phrase, “all things to all men” would have enjoyed it immensely. In his most famous letter he reported that he was “obligated both to Greek and barbarians, to the wise and the foolish” (Romans 1:14). You learn a lot when you stray off the church campus and learn wisdom from yes, “unbelievers.” Paul is with me on that one.

Pastor Neil Earle is also a free-lance journalist and community volunteer who hosts Duarte, CA’s DCTV show “A Second Look” and writes for the community “DuarteView” from which this article is taken..