Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Legendary Sci-Fi Author and Walt Disney's Friend Ray Bradbury Has Died at 91

Legendary sci-fi author and Walt Disney's friend Ray Bradbury has died yesterday at 91, in California.
Ray Bradbury who was born in 1920 in Waukegan, Illinois, became almost instantly a literary celebrity when "The Martian Chronicles " was published in 1950 - a series of intertwined stories that satirized capitalism, racism and superpower tensions as it portrayed Earth colonizers destroying an idyllic Martian civilization. At that time he was only 30, and three years later "Fahrenheit 451", one of his most famous books was also published. Since then Ray Bradbury has written dozens of novels or short stories and even wrote the screen play for John Huston 1956 movie "Moby Dick".

Generally labeled as a science fiction writer, Bradbury resists that categorization, however: "First of all, I don't write science fiction. I've only done one science fiction book and that's Fahrenheit 451, based on reality. It was named so to represent the temperature at which paper ignites. Science fiction is a depiction of the real. Fantasy is a depiction of the unreal. So Martian Chronicles is not science fiction, it's fantasy. It couldn't happen, you see? That's the reason it's going to be around a long time—because it's a Greek myth, and myths have staying power." Ray Bradbury was not only a brilliant author, but also a poet.

In early 1960 Ray Bradbury met Walt Disney for the first time: "I was walking down a street in Beverly Hills and a man passed by with so many gifts he couldn't seem to hold them all. And then I saw it was Walt Disney!" Bradbury asked Walt if they might have lunch together but Walt turned the offer into an invitation and both had lunch the next week: "I got there at noon and Walt's secretary warned me that I better be out by 1 p.m. because he had a lot of work to do. Walt gave me a tour of the lot and showed me some hippos they had been building as well as the work they were completing on the audio-animatronics figure of Abraham Lincoln. When we got back around 3 p.m. his secretary just glared at me, and I told her it was Walt's fault!" Bradbury said with a laugh.

Bradbury described his relationship with Walt as a "quiet friendship" characterized by a mutual respect for each other's work. During the next few years, Bradbury consulted with Walt, sharing numerous ideas and suggestions. In appreciation, Walt asked him what he could do to repay for the author. "Open up your vaults!" Bradbury replied and to his amazement, Walt did exactly that and let Ray select 20 items that Bradbury cherished all his life. Here is a video of Ray Bradbury talking about his first encounter with Walt.

Later, Bradbury was asked by Walt Disney to be a consultant for the American Pavilion at the 1964 New York World's Fair and later helped design the geodesic sphere of Spaceship Earth at Epcot and wrote the original story of the attraction. When Bradbury was contacted to work on Spaceship Earth, he said, "I wanted to put in some of the ideas Walt and I talked about many years ago." There was a reason why Disney and Bradbury connected, because they both genuinely cared for the future. Even though Bradbury is still somewhat reluctant of technology today, he believes in its proper use for good, as did Disney. Bradbury once quoted in Beyond 1984: The People Machines: "People ask me to predict the future, when all I want to do is prevent it. Better yet, build it. Predicting the future is much too easy, anyway. You look at the people around you, the street you stand on, the visible air you breathe, and predict more of the same. To hell with more. I want better!"

Ray Bradbury also did a direct contribution on another well known WDI attraction that Disneyland and Disneyland Paris guests ride every day: the Orbitron. “For Orbitron, I suggested that the planets should move in the opposite direction of the rockets. This makes the rockets seem to move at twice
their actual speed.” A small detail, certainly, but an important one!

But Bradbury is also the author of the very famous quote about Walt Disney Imagineers when he said, back in 1976 that they were "Renaissance People". Two years ago, thanks to a eBay auction i found back the origin of the quote in a rare document called ""You are Renaissance People" Excerpts from two addresses by Ray Bradbury to WED and MAPO Imagineers on December 23, 1976". The document has only four pages but what a great piece of history! On the first one is the title "You are... Renaissance People" and on the last one only the copyright with a Mickey logo, but it's the middle pages who are of great interest as it is there that you find the complete text that Ray Bradbury adresses to WED and MAPO Imagineers on his talk, back in 1976.

Double-click on the picture below to read this historical text.

Mind you, the relation between Ray Bradbury with Disney didn't start on December 23, 1976. As you can read in this chapter called "The Disney Connection" from "Ray Bradbury Uncensored! : The Unauthorized Biography" that i strongly recommand you to read on this link.

In this chapter Ray Bradbury remembers some of his meetings with Walt Disney, back in the 1950's:

And Marty Sklar tell us how WDI asked Ray Bradbury to work on Epcot's Spaceship earth concept:

Few lines below it's Bradbury himself who describe how he had conceived Epcot's iconic attraction:

Years later, as i've said, Ray Bradbury worked again with WDI Imagineer Tim Delaney on the Orbitron concept for Disneyland Paris Discoveryland. Imagineer Pat Burke who worked on DLP Frontierland, including Phantom Manor remember: "Ray Bradbury was a common fixture walking around the halls of WED, as he was the New Voice for Walt's Epcot and World Showcase for Walt Disney World. Walt's friend John DeCuir Senior could visualize what the project could possibly become. Harper Goff realized it on a working plan. Ray Bradbury expressed it in words that we could all visualize as we worked on the many concept models and pieces of the Bigger Pie as we sometimes called the model. We often sat with Ray Bradbury at lunch and listened to his stories and concepts. I was able to attend his play on his Martian Chronicles at a small theater near the old Disney Hyperion Studio. Having read it in school in the early 60's, this was a great event seeing it with the actual writer present and get his questions and answers afterwards. When Disney produced in 1983 "Something Wicked This Way Comes" starring Jason Robards and Jonathan Pryce, based on the Bradbury novel of the same name, we were allowed to preview it at the Studio, as we were often allowed back then. We were all amazed at the special effects in the film and how some of the film treatments might be used in our projects at WDI, as we were called by then. The corpse in the Mortuary window coming to life in the coffin was an eerie experience. The Carousel scene that followed was hypnotic. I had hoped these could be used in the Haunted Mansion or even our DLP Thunder Mesa, when we were going to have a carriage barn for the Manor. I had even located 2 hearses for the Manor and wanted to employ Ray's Coffin effects. Budget cutbacks erased the DLP plans but not the thoughts and Images Ray had created for us on many levels".

So, you see, Ray Bradbury was not only a legendary sci-fi or fantasy author but he also has been a lot of inspiration for WDI Imagineers.

As there is nothing better than to see Ray Bradbury talking in person to understand how great - and cool - he was, i've embedded these videos. The first one was filmed in 2001 and Bradbury who was at that time 81 years old did a speech at the Sixth Annual Writer's Symposium by the Sea where he delighted his audience with stories about his life and love of writing. Take the time to watch the video, Ray Bradbury is fantastic on it!

The next video - in two parts - was filmed at Disneyland Club 33 in 2007. On this 2007 Halloween evening Disneyland honored Ray Bradbury's with his very own Halloween Tree, which will be decorated every Halloween forever more. Tony Baxter and Tim Delaney of Walt Disney Imagineering were the hosts of the event.

May Ray Bradbury rest in peace, wherever he is now...probably on Mars!

Pictures: copyright DR, Disney

Ray Bradbury has also written a great untitled essay about Walt that you can read on Mouse Planet HERE.


Matt said...

Excellent review, Alain - really great. RIP Ray.

Sara said...

"Fahrenheit 451" is one of my all time favorite books. Bradbury is a genius. May he rest in peace.

Anonymous said...

I just bought a blue ray copy of Rays "Something Wicked This Way Comes" as it had such an impact on me when he took us to it's Disney Studio showing. Glad you mentioned that above. Patrick

Anonymous said...

"If you enjoy living, it is not difficult to keep the sense of wonder."
Ray Bradbury
Ray we will miss you, but you are in our future now. PD