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A Giant Steps Forward, Carrying the Message of Shakespeare and Prince Valiant

January 16, 1986|MARY BARBER

This above all: To thine own self be true.

--Polonius, in Shakespeare's "Hamlet"

First, there was the hot, stuffy room filled with people--all strangers--and silence.

Then there appeared, as if by magic, a white-haired, pink-skinned giant who stood up and bellowed:

"Crazy Ray tells you--you can change your life right now!

"Get the hell out of here! Do what you want to do. Don't listen to anyone who doubts you. Pick your friends to believe in you. Listen to your stomach--if it's serene, those are your loving friends. If not--Aaarrrgh!--get out!"

It was like a scene from a Ray Bradbury science fiction story.

As a matter of fact, it was Ray Bradbury.

The white and pink giant is one of the country's most popular and prolific writers. The occasion was the opening of the new season of the Pasadena Public Library's Author Series, and the message was Bradbury's formula for good and creative living.

It's the message Shakespeare wrote for Polonius to deliver in "Hamlet." It's the same message repeated in "Prince Valiant" and "Buck Rogers" comic strips and in "Tarzan" and "Oz" books, Bradbury said.

It's the same message Bradbury has shouted to audiences ever since he came to fame more than 30 years ago when the first of his 400 books, short stories and poems were published.

Bradbury, 64, is a big man with a rosy complexion, thick white hair, a loud voice and a smile that seems uncontrollable. He lives in the Cheviot Hills area of Los Angeles.

To the 300 people who packed into the Little Theater of the Pasadena Conference Center last week, both Bradbury and his ancient message seemed unique.

Yet he assured listeners that being true to himself may be his only unusual quality, but it is a quality available to everyone.

He was a kid from Waukegan, Ill., who moved with his family to Los Angeles when he was 13 and never got a college education; a poor kid who roller-skated to the public library every day and never learned to drive; a kid who stayed with what he loved--which included dinosaurs, Tarzan, Buck Rogers, Prince Valiant, Oz, great and not-so-great writers.

"Stay with the trash," Bradbury advised.

As he grew, he became enamored of public libraries, librarians, book stores, Venice, unusual characters, science, fiction, Shakespeare, Alexander Pope and Charles Dickens. The list went on and on.

"I graduated from the Los Angeles Library at the age of 27," he said. "Then I discovered that in the basement of the UCLA library you could use a typewriter for a half-hour for 10 cents. For half an hour you could write like hell, then you'd put in another dime. I wrote 'Fahrenheit 451' for $9.50."

Bradbury's other early books included "The Martian Chronicles," and "The Illustrated Man" and he wrote the screenplay for director John Houston's "Moby Dick" in the early 1950s.

"I love to do things quick, in an emotional explosion," Bradbury said. "I wrote a short story a week for several years--that's 52 a year. I discovered the more you do, the more you dredge up from the subconscious. Then it starts getting good."

But he said he spent 30 years on his latest book, a mystery novel, "Death Is a Lonely Business." And among the elements he wove into the story are libraries, dinosaur-like structures, Venice, unusual characters, etc.

A Times reviewer said the book is "in the domain of poetry . . . and uses the conventions of the detective novel to create something that is profoundly, fundamentally different."

Bradbury said, "My task is to raise you to the limit of your genetic abilities and make you want to live forever.

"Too much fiction now is about reality. I don't have to tell you any more about despair, disaster, war, crime--you get that all the time.

"I hate the doomsayers. Around them I speak positively in the hope that I'll depress the hell out of them."

He said his current work includes "a novel, a couple of musicals, 'Ray Bradbury Theater' on cable TV and an opera based on Moby Dick in outer space--a great white comet that appears every 40 years.

"It's a big gamble," Bradbury said of the opera. "But I don't want to see another play in which a woman walks on stage and turns on a faucet and water comes out. I want wine to come out."

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