On June 5, I lost a dear friend. I had spoken to him only once, by phone for a half hour in October of 1986, but his words had filled my thoughts and influenced my own writing since I was a teenager in the 1970s. He was the reason I wanted to be a writer.
Ray Bradbury was 91 when he passed away after having penned some of the greatest works of fiction of any American author in the 20th century.
When you're the host of a daily radio talk show in a small market like North Adams, as I was from 1985 to 1988, you have aspirations of getting that one great interview with a celebrity, and as Halloween approached that year, I thought, why not, let's give it a shot (a long shot at best). I found the name and number of Ray Bradbury's agent and called. He was polite, but firm in his response. He told me that he passes along all interview requests to Mr. Bradbury, but he also makes a recommendation on each, and he was going to recommend that he not do the interview, because our market was too small and it would give him no benefit. I hung up the phone thinking it was time to call some other prospect for a Halloween-related program.
A week later, a small envelope appeared on my desk at WNAW. In it was a note, typewritten on a slip of paper with the words, "From the Desk of Ray Bradbury" on the top. It said, "Dear Michael, I would be happy to do your show. I cannot do it live as that hour of the morning is too early for this little old
The 30-minute period that I spent on the phone with Ray Bradbury was one of the greatest experiences I've ever had, or will ever have. In addition to eloquently answering questions about the inspirations for his stories, how his upbringing in a small town in the Midwest impacted his writing, and what he thought about the works of Stephen King, the then and still reigning champ of horror, he was a true gentleman throughout the interview.
I'm all but certain that once we ended our conversation, Mr. Bradbury never thought about that interview on a radio station in a market far too small for him to bother with, but that brief interlude in my life has never left me.
Whenever I mention Ray Bradbury's name to friends or acquaintances, I receive one of two replies - I love him, or I've never heard of him. You never get, "Name sounds familiar," or, "He was okay, I guess." I can't recall anyone telling me they read his works and found them to be dull or unreadable.
Most references in the media label him a "prolific science fiction writer," and anyone who has read "The Martian Chronicles," "Fahrenheit 451" or "I Sing the Body Electric" can attest that's the gospel truth. But try reading "Dandelion Wine," the story of a young boy's magical summer, or an incredible short story collection called "Long After Midnight" (my personal favorite), and you'll see that what he wrote about most was the wonder of life.
He once said, "And what, you ask, does writing teach us? First and foremost, it reminds us that we are alive and that it is gift and a privilege, not a right. ... So while our art cannot, as we wish it could, save us from wars, privation, envy, greed, old age, or death, it can revitalize us amidst it all."
We all have role models. Some are famous actors or athletes, some are family members, and some are teachers that we can never forget (thank you, Ms. Karpec, Taconic High School, 1978). When that role model is a celebrity, most often we never get to meet them or speak with them, and unfortunately, sometimes when that rare event does happen, we're disappointed, as they don't live up to the image you have of them in your mind.
Long before I had that unforgettable talk with my hero, his words loomed large in my life, and after that Halloween in 1986, I realized that Ray Bradbury the person was just as impressive as Ray Bradbury the author. Farewell and Godspeed, my Martian friend.
Michael Leary was a news anchor at WNAW from 1982 to 1988 and is currently the Director of Media Relations for Berkshire Health Systems.