Jun 6, 2012

Stage-Door Ray

I've little to add to the encomiums (encomia?) for the late Ray Bradbury, except to recount that he was a source for my first Arts & Leisure byline back in 2006, when Godlight Theatre was staging a version of Fahrenheit 451 at 59E59. He'd given countless interviews already but of course I wanted a fresh one for my piece; but he was in L.A. and quite hard of hearing, I was told. So to make it happen, I was to fax him written questions, which he would then answer by calling me a few minutes later. Problem is, the nearest fax machine to me, a new-to-Brooklyn freelancer, was the Fedex/Kinko's down the street in Cobble Hill, so I had to request that Mr. Bradbury delay his reply for, say, 15 minutes, so I could rush back to my home phone and receive his call. It all worked out, and he gave me some fine quotes (including a provocative solution to Israel/Palestine conflict).

My only other experience with him (as opposed to with his work, which has been blessedly everywhere around me throughout my life, as it has all of us) was when he accepted a special award for his theater work at the L.A. Weekly awards back in 2004. He was, as always, very quotable:
"This is the culmination of a lifelong dream," he began, recalling that in junior high he told his friends he was going to be an actor at the local radio station. " 'Do you know anybody?' my friends asked me. I said no. 'Does your father know anybody?' they asked me. I said no. And they said, 'How are you going to get work as an actor if you don't know anybody?'" The only logical reply: "I said, 'I'll hang around the stage door and be lovable.' "

Bradbury thanked the theatre for "saving my life, when motion pictures have so often destroyed it." He explained, "I've dedicated my life to the theatre. I've always written plays, but no one was interested in doing them. So I saved my money. Eventually I asked my wife, 'Is this the year we open the window and throw the money out?'" He hailed Charles Rome Smith, the founder of Pandaemonium, an all-Bradbury-all-the-time company which has gone into overdrive on the man's work of late. His sharpest jab was at Hollywood mendacity: "The studios want to come over and pee in my soup. They say it will improve the flavor."
Though Francois Truffaut's film of Fahrenheit 451 is a bit of a dead letter, it did inspire one of Bernard Herrmann's most gorgeous scores (sampled above). The tireless imagination around which such inspiration orbited will be missed. This beautiful, James Agee-worthy childhood recollection in a recent New Yorker is a good a way as any to remember him:
I’d helped my grandpa carry the box in which lay, like a gossamer spirit, the paper-tissue ghost of a fire balloon waiting to be breathed into, filled, and set adrift toward the midnight sky. My grandfather was the high priest and I his altar boy. I helped take the red-white-and-blue tissue out of the box and watched as Grandpa lit a little cup of dry straw that hung beneath it. Once the fire got going, the balloon whispered itself fat with the hot air rising inside.

But I could not let it go. It was so beautiful, with the light and shadows dancing inside. Only when Grandpa gave me a look, and a gentle nod of his head, did I at last let the balloon drift free, up past the porch, illuminating the faces of my family. It floated up above the apple trees, over the beginning-to-sleep town, and across the night among the stars.

We stood watching it for at least ten minutes, until we could no longer see it. By then, tears were streaming down my face, and Grandpa, not looking at me, would at last clear his throat and shuffle his feet. The relatives would begin to go into the house or around the lawn to their houses, leaving me to brush the tears away with fingers sulfured by the firecrackers. Late that night, I dreamed the fire balloon came back and drifted by my window.

No comments: