So my young good-looking intellectual and supremely talented friend (who incidentally is looking for the Perfect Woman, I do believe) decided to go see Ray Bradbury
the other night. I wish he'd called me about it, because, let's face it, any place Ray Bradbury's at, if you're a writer, you wanna be too.
The Living Master of what we've come to term Science Fiction but what I'll call just plain writing prefers to reside in Los Angeles. Perhaps at one time our city of dreams represented for him something of what the Future was going to be like. Significantly I think, this man who could live anywhere in the world chooses to remain in the place he's called home since 1932. This act, for me, mirrors something of what I believe is necessary for every writer—sitting down, right where you are, and simply getting the job done. Word after word after word. Ray Bradbury turns 82 this year. He's been writing all his life, though he's down to only about four hours a day now. On his typewriter.
He chose to speak to my friend about writing movies, which is not something you think about Ray Bradbury doing, not at all.
He'd already published hundreds of stories, Dark Carnival, The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man, and Fahrenheit 451 by the early 1950s. He was leaving a restaurant one night, the story goes, and sitting there was one of his idols (yes, even idols have idols), the esteemed film director John Huston, who himself had already created The Maltese Falcon, Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Key Largo and Asphalt Jungle, among others.
Bradbury happened to have a number of his books in hand. He placed them on the table in front of Huston, introduced himself as a writer, and told the director he'd "really like to work with him some time." You know, one of those kinds of conversations you feel really stupid about later.
More than a year passed, and Bradbury hadn't been thinking about movies at all, when one day out of the blue he gets a call from Africa, where John Huston is shooting The African Queen.
"Ray, John Huston here, what're you doing?" goes the conversation.
"Well…unh…not much, actually," Bradbury replies, glancing at his wife Maggie, not without chagrin
"I like your work," says the director. "Care to team up with me in Ireland on a picture for a year?"
Duh…. Bradbury reacted the same way you or I might, and he meets Huston in London not that long after.
"Ever read Moby Dick?" asks the director.
Bradbury told him the truth: "No."
"Well here's a copy. Have a look tonight and let's see what you've come up with tomorrow."
Maggie was on pins and needles back at the hotel room. "How'd it go, hon?"
"Well," said Ray with admirable understatement, "I've gotta do two things tonight—read Moby Dick and come up with a screenplay for John Huston."
And so he sat down and he did what all of us do, only the difference is he's Ray Bradbury, he's working for John Huston, and it's not exactly a daylog that he's gotta knock out by dawn.
For the longest time, he hasn't got a clue, and it's not the most comfortable feeling, as you might imagine. But finally, in the wee hours, the typewriter starts doing its thing.
"It was as if the spirit of Herman Melville was telling me what to do," he told my friend half a century later. "Like taking dictation."
By morning he had the last forty pages of the script, but not the beginning, and definitely not the middle. He reported dutifully to Huston, and the director read the draft with that tough-Mick look he's got.
"Jayzus, Ray," he exclaims, "it's like Melville wrote this himself."
"Well we better hurry up then," says Bradbury, "cause I don't know how long he's gonna be around."
Together, Ray Bradbury and John Huston brought Herman Melville into my life a couple years later. I saw Moby Dick on my eleventh birthday, and I thought it was one of the most exciting movies I'd ever seen.