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Ray Bradbury celebrates 89th birthday at Clifton's Cafeteria

Sci-fi club members return to the Broadway eatery, a place where a young, poor Bradbury used to eat free. Now the older Bradbury hopes to see the struggling restaurant revived.

September 19, 2009|Mary MacVean

To celebrate his 89th birthday, Ray Bradbury returned Friday to a place where his writing career was nurtured, but it should be no surprise that the science-fiction master was more interested in talking about the future than the past.

Bradbury belonged to the Science Fiction Society, whose members met in the 1930s at Clifton's Cafeteria on Broadway in downtown L.A.

But it was the Broadway of tomorrow that was on the mind of the author of "Fahrenheit 451" and "The Martian Chronicles," among many books.

"All the money is being spent on the south end of Broadway. . . . Staples and what have you," he said. "The money should be distributed all along Broadway."

He'd like to see Clifton's thriving near 7th Street, a restaurant in the Bradbury Building, mosaics on the sidewalks and a consistent color used prominently along the street -- preferably something that calls to mind the Latino community.

"I want to rebuild all of Broadway. That's why I'm here today," said Bradbury, who told of informally advising people about the design of a few shopping malls and of the downtown plaza outside the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Grand Avenue.

Bradbury and some friends organized Friday's lunchtime party, held about halfway between his Aug. 22 birthday and the Oct. 15 anniversary of the Science Fiction Society's founding. They had heard that the economic downturn had hit Clifton's hard and wanted to show their support.

The party of eight went through the cafeteria line, several of them choosing turkey with dressing and gravy, before going to a third-floor table just a few feet from the room where the club met decades ago. Back then it was an impressive membership that included Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard and filmmaker Ray Harryhausen ("Jason and the Argonauts").

The club founder was Forrest Ackerman, who died last year at 92. Ackerman was the editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine and had what has been called the world's largest personal collection of science-fiction and fantasy memorabilia. He was a writer, editor and literary agent who published Bradbury's first short story in 1938.

"They dreamed of the future, and many of those dreams came true," said Robert Clinton, one of the owners of Clifton's.

Clinton gave Bradbury a cake and a cafeteria tray as a birthday gift.

One of the things the young Bradbury liked about Clifton's was its owners' policy that anyone who couldn't afford to pay didn't have to.

"In those days, Ray Bradbury never had money and always ate for free," Clinton said.

Bradbury has been "a huge, wonderful influence for everybody," said Lisa Mitchell, a friend since the 1970s, who joined him at Friday's lunch.

She recalled that no matter how tired he was after a lecture, he would sign autographs for all comers. "And then he would look over and find the shy boy who was too shy to come up, and he'd go over and ask, 'Do you want me to sign your book?' "

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mary.macvean@latimes.com

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