Friday, December 7, 2012

Ray Bradbury, Crime, and Christmas

Today is "Ray Bradbury Day" over at Patti's Friday's Forgotten Book site, link.  Links to other relevant posts are there, as always.

Previously I've discussed his rather noir cross-genre mysteries including Death Is A Lonely Business, here.   One of the greatest hits of this blog, to judge by pageviews, is the blog I wrote on Bradbury's memoir, Green Shadows, White Whale at this link.  More on that in a minute.

Bradbury died in June of this year, at the age of 91.  He was active and writing for most of his life, even during his last illness.  You can read three of his unpublished poems at this link.  They touch on his ideas about science and religion.

The December, 1972, issue of Playboy Magazine carried Bradbury's rant on American apathy, war, and the space effort:

How often in the past years have we heard: Why spend all that money on the moon when we need it for jobs for people here on earth? This is dimwit, ten-watt-bulb thinking. It's like saying: Let's unemploy people in order to employ them. Let's fire people in order to hire them. But fire from what to hire for what?  The fact is, of course, that not a single penny has been spent on the moon. Not a mill. Not a whisper of a sliver of a dollar. Everything has been spent in Poughpeepsie and Muskegon and Houston and El Monte and East Tuskegee and West Waukegan. The money has been spent on black people and white people. And the money has bought jobs, jobs, jobs. All of the money for Apollo flooded earth and hired and enriched hundreds of thousands of people--who now, gunshot, walking wounded, rank as unemployeds.
Wouldn't it make more sense to unemploy the millions involved with the illogic of Vietnam? Where is the real money we can grab and use for cities, civil rights, ecology? It jingles in the pockets of the military. It clinks in the vest of black marketers in Saigon. It nestles in Swiss banks, seeded there by our friends the South Vietnamese. Where are our priorities?

But where does that money come from?  Taxes, of course.  A redistribution of the common wealth.

Ray Bradbury, the man, wavered between his materialism and his spirituality, but at bottom he was a spiritual man.  Some of the things he said make you think he was a materialist and a hard-core Republican, but in the final analysis, the Democrat in him always comes around.

In Ireland with John Huston, at first he went along with the director's assessment of the "Irish beggars."  But the humanist in Bradbury rebelled.  Just before Christmas, he began to see evidence of the compassionate message everywhere:

For in the week before Chrismas, the Dublin streets had teemed with raven flocks of children herded by schoolmasters or nuns.  They clustered in doorways, peered from theater lobbies, jostled in alleys, "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" on their lips, "It Came Upon A Midnight Clear" in their eyes, tambourines in hand, snowflakes shaping a collar of grace about their tender necks.

It was singing everywhere and anywhere in Dublin on such nights, and there was no night I had not walked up Grafton Street to hear "Away In A Manger" being sung to the queue outside the cinema or "Deck the Halls" in front of The Four Provinces pub.  In all, I counted in Christ's season one night half a hundred bands of convent girls or public school boys lacing the cold air and weaving great treadles of song up, down, over, and across from end to end of Dublin.  Like walking in snowfalls, you could not walk among them and not be touched.

The divide between Bradbury and John Huston perhaps began over Huston's treatment of his wife and other women, but it developed into a Starbuck/Ahab divide, with the materialist Huston demanding that the blocked Bradbury produce a script without delay.  Bradbury's self-doubts increased until one night, when rereading the scene of the coin nailed to the mast, he suddenly became inspired and the final movie script then poured swiftly from him.

The most forgotten Ray Bradbury piece, the one that I most want to see, is the play entitled "Merry Christmas 2116."  It is set up like O. Henri's "The Gift of the Magi."  Listen, link:

In “Ray Bradbury’s Merry Christmas 2116,” an aging couple approaching the 40th anniversary of their married lives together each decide to give their spouse a present. As coincidence would have it, Mr. Wycherly and Mrs. Wycherly each separately approach a maker of realistic, lifelike robots, called marionettes although they have no strings. Mr. Wycherly requests that Mr. Marionette manufacture a highly customized younger, more vital version of himself to please Mrs. Wycherly. The Missus, for her part, asks the robot-maker to fashion a young, hot, sassy, saucy version of herself for her Mister. When the new marionettes are each delivered to their designated recipients, the fun really begins.

This musical was first conceived fifty years ago for two Bradbury friends, the husband and wife team of Charles Laughton and Elsa Lanchester, with director James Whale attached. With Whale’s sudden death, the project was set aside.

Now, with a brand new musical score, “Ray Bradbury’s Merry Christmas 2116” will be shown to theatre audiences, including his legions of fans. John Hoke composed the music, but the book and lyrics are by Ray Bradbury.            

A longtime session musician and singer in Los Angeles, Nashville, New York and London, Hoke has written music for commercials and for television. He has toured North America and Europe extensively with the John Stewart Band, and has recorded his own album, “Fortunato,” for Homecoming Records.

In addition to the links at Patti Abbott's blog, see this link for a Christmasy interpretation of Bradbury's story, "The Gift," and see this link for some notes on Bradbury's unpublished sequel script to "The Day The Earth Stood Still," which begins on Christmas Eve.  And for the complete text of Bradbury's Playboy essay, click here.

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