Thursday, October 03, 1996

Ray Bradbury Interview - Part 4

Read Part 3

...It all began when he met the carnival side show's Mr. Electrico.

A grand tale that is as he expounds on it to the audience. "He sat in a chair and got electrocuted every night," Bradbury explains, painting this illustration so the crowd can envision the barker on a long ago carnival midway: "We are now going to put one million volts into Mr. Electrico's fragile body!"

Bradbury and friends went nightly, checking to see if one time the electric chair would work, but Mr. Electrico always survived to take up a sword and aim it at his amazed patrons.

As he pointed the sword, the guests hair would stand on end. When he aimed it at Bradbury one night, and the charge turned his hair into needles, Mr. Electrico said: "Live forever!"

Bradbury thought: "Gee, that's a great idea."

He went back the next day to ask how that could be done and encountered Mr. Electrico anew. The carnival man, a defrocked Presbyterian minister, befriended the young Bradbury and told him: "We've met before."

He saw in Bradbury the soul of a friend killed in the Argonne Forest in 1918, he said.

"What a double gift," Bradbury says. "He gave me the past and the future."


Another of his illustrations, more recent, comes to mind, a piece called "Banshee." I only recently learned it was based on his experiences with John Huston when they worked on "Moby Dick" in Ireland.

The story was adapted as an early "Ray Bradbury Theater" with Peter O'Toole as a film director haunted by the howl of the legendary portent of death.

Some of it really happened. Some was made up, but as with other works, Bradbury continued with the theme, crafting Green Water, White Whale about his experiences with Huston.


If the love of Buck Rogers was an impetus for the young Bradbury, a love of Huston's films would propel him even further on his search.

"I'd seen his `Maltese Flacon' 20 times. Paid twice," he tells his audience, explaining he once had a friend who owned a theater.

After he had three books to his credit, Bradbury asked his agent to set up a meeting with the director. That occurred Valentine's night 1951, and he handed Huston copies of The Illustrated Man, The Martian Chronicles and Dark Carnival.

In August 1953, Huston gae him a call. Bradbury's imitation of Huston's deep rasp is so accurate it's like hearing the director's old RCA commercial.

Huston asked: "How'd you like to come live in Ireland and write the screenplay for Moby Dick?"

"Gee Mr. Huston," Bradbury responded. "I've never been able to read the damned thing."

Huston told him to read as much as he could that night, and "Tell me if you'll help me kill the white whale."

By 3 a.m. Bradbury had covered about 150 to 200 pages, but more importantly he'd found the metaphors; they spoke to him, and he went in the next day and took the job, again following the path of his enthusiasm.

Huston revealed later that the story "The Lighthouse" in one of the books had led him to hire Bradbury. The piece, basis for The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms in which Bradbury worked with his childhood pal, dinosaur builder Ray Harryhausen, tells of a sea dwelling dinosaur who comes to believe a light house's fog horn is the call of a mate only to "discover it was only a damned lighthouse and a damned foghorn."

"It was that short story of yours about the dinosaur falling in love with the light house," as Huston put it, and Bradbury is imitating him again. "I thought I smelled the ghost of Melville in that story."

He learned, aside from the metaphors, he hand Melville had similar influences, he terms them midwives. Both read Shakespeare and the Old Testament.

And Bradbury's love of dinosaurs from his youth had served him well.

To be concluded

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Really enjoying this interview!

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