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For Seniors : Sci-Fi Master Plots Novel Future for L.A.

March 26, 1995|LINDA FELDMAN

When Ray Bradbury picks up a newspaper he starts with the funnies and then moves to the editorial page. If he gets mad about what he reads there he goes back to the funnies. "I may grow old but I never grew up," he says.

Bradbury, his head topped with a shock of white hair, answers the door to his yellow-painted West Los Angeles home wearing shorts, white shirt and tie, Windbreaker jacket, high white socks and tennis shoes.

Writer and recognized innovator of the science-fiction genre, he is the author of some 5,000 pieces of published work, including novels, short stories, screenplays, poetry, plays and children's literature.

He wrote "The Martian Chronicles," "The Illustrated Man" and "Fahrenheit 451," among other well-known works, and says he still writes every day with joy, living in the "fever of hyperventilated ecstasy."

He says he has never suffered writer's block. "Don't push it, walk away. Suffering doesn't do a thing," he says. "I gave up thinking years ago."

Bradbury, 75, was born in Waukegan, Ill. He moved to Los Angeles as a child and grew up with the future--something he can trace to his love of Buck Rogers.

"When I was 9, I loved Buck Rogers comic books, and the kids made fun of me so I threw out my collection," he says. "I cried, and I thought, 'Who died?' And the answer was me, because I listened to idiots. I never listened to idiots again."

Instead, he followed his own imagination and passions. He credits his parents with "knowing I was nuts but never saying so. I felt loved because they left me alone and so I always believed in myself."

The beautiful but dangerous power of the imagination is a theme that appears in many of his works, especially in film, with "The Illustrated Man" and "Something Wicked This Way Comes."

But if there's a theme to Bradbury's life, he says, it's this: "Don't criticize, offer alternatives--build up, don't tear down."

Bradbury travels all over the country speaking to groups like a recent meeting of publishers of 500 small newspapers.

"I told them that they had a responsibility to participate in solving problems because Washington doesn't know how," he said. "It's up to the cities, the churches and the PTA to come up with solutions. It's up to those of us who live in the cities to pitch in and save them."

Bradbury remembers the days when Downtown was a thriving place for all of the city to shop and socialize.

"When the department stores vanished, the people stopped coming," he said. "And that, combined with theaters closing and few restaurants, meant there was no night life. The big banks replaced small businesses and the bookstores are gone. We have to build it all back in."

Bradbury said he has been trying to do that for a long time. He said he does not feel the slightest bit daunted when he makes suggestions and nothing comes of it, like the time 15 years ago when he proposed that Little Tokyo and Chinatown be connected by a well-lighted walkway. But someone is listening.

The architects for the Glendale Galleria, Horton Plaza in San Diego and the Westside Pavilion all incorporated some of his vision in their projects and told him so, he said.

It drives him crazy that Hollywood and Vine--once one of the most well-known places in the world--has virtually nothing there.

"Why can't we make it remarkable? You know where you can see the real Hollywood and Vine? Disneyland has it," he said.

Nowadays, Bradbury participates in a group with Mayor Richard Riordan. "We read books together. Nothing political. The mayor has 40,000 books of his own and he's very interested in new ideas for the city, but I drop hints rather than come out with something," he said.

Take graffiti.

"If everyone bought a small can of paint and a brush and we picked one day to paint over all the graffiti, we could do it," he said.

Or Downtown.

"I'd like to see every councilman and the Los Angeles Times writers get out of their offices and have a parade down Broadway and look at what has to be done," he said.

"Downtown belongs to Mexican Americans, so why not turn it into Rio or Mexico City and use the best of the culture, with architecture, tiles in the sidewalks and the beautiful esplanades?"

The future includes three books soon to come out--a volume of short stories, a book of essays and a "Chapbook for Burned-Out Priests, Rabbis and Ministers," which he describes as "essays on getting through Sundays somehow." He is also raising funds for the Thousand Oaks Library.

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