Ray Bradbury Versus the Idiots

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By Carl Slaughter: I put in a lot of mouse time, a lot of chair time, and a lot of headphone time going through YouTube watching talks with Bradbury. His oral storytelling skills are almost as good as his print storytelling skills. Some of these stories I found already transcribed on the Internet, some I had to transcribe myself. Most of these stories were told at writers conferences.

He kept telling the writers not to listen to the idiots who try to shut you down and shut you out. So this theme of Bradbury versus the idiots developed in his talks. I selected the three best stories on this theme. And of course, Bradbury’s point in the end of all these stories is that if don’t listen to the idiots, you’ll eventually be vindicated. He used his personal experiences with naysayers, and his overwhelming vindication, to convince people, in this case writers, to believe in themselves

Ray Bradbury Versus the Smithsonian Observatory:

The Smithsonian Observatory hired Bradbury to revamp their presentation.

They were not happy with the way he jazzed up presentation. His defense: “You’ve got people falling asleep during your presentation!”

They were also not happy with his text and contended with him on several points, especially on scientific accuracy. He submitted a 32-page script. They sent back 28 pages of corrections.

He said the Earth was 12 billion years old. They said, “It’s much older.” He said, “How old?” They said, “14 billion.” He said, “Prove it.”

After going around with them for a couple of months, he said, “How much do you owe me?” They said, “15,000.” He said, “Just give me 7,000 and let me go. This is a bad marriage. You promised to take me into the woods and you didn’t.”

He sold the same presentation to the Air and Space Museum in Los Angeles. It’s entitled, The Great Shout of the Universe: The Creation of Mankind in the World.

Ray Bradbury Versus David Frost:

As Ray Bradbury told it:

My enthusiasm for space travel is so immense, that when I had a chance to be on the David Frost Show – when we landed on the moon, back in July, 31, 32 years ago – I went over to be on the David Frost Show. And we landed on the moon at 8:30 at night, London time.

So I got over there, and David Frost said, “I am now going to introduce an American genius.” I said, “That’s got to be me.” And he immediately introduced the next guest, Engelbert Humperdinck. Well, I was very upset. And then he said, “And the next guest after this is Sammy Davis, Jr.” And so they both got up and sang their stupid songs.

I walked off the show. Smoke was coming out of my ears. And the producer came running after me

He said, “What are you doing out here?” And I said, “I’m leaving the show.” I said, “That man in there is an idiot. He doesn’t realize the most important moment in the history of mankind – our landing on the moon. And he’s ruined this special night. Get me out of here.”

So they put me in a cab, and I went across London. I did a show with Walter Cronkite. I stayed up all night – I cried all night. I was on four or five different TV shows, on Telstar around the world.

And at 9 o’clock in the morning, I walked back across London, very happy and full of cheer, but totally exhausted. And I got out in front of my hotel, and I saw a little, tiny newspaper there. This wonderful, wonderful headline:

“The astronauts walk at 6 a.m.- Bradbury walks at midnight.”

Ray Bradbury Versus Critics:

In Bradbury’s words –

I had a thing happen to me when I was 9 years old, which is a great lesson.

That was in 1929. A single comic strip in the newspaper sent me into the future. The first comic strip of Buck Rogers.

In October 1929 I looked at that one comic strip, with its view of the future, and I thought, “That’s where I belong.”

I started to collect Buck Rogers comic strips. And everybody in the fifth grade made fun of me. I continued to collect them for about a month, and then I listened to the critics. And I tore up my comic strips. That’s the worst thing I ever did.

Two or three day later, I broke down. I was crying, and I said to myself, “Why am I crying? Whose funeral am I going to? Who died?” And the answer was, “Me.” I’d torn up the future.

And then I sat down with myself, and I was crying, and I said, “What can I do to correct this?” And I said, “Well, hell, go back and collect Buck Rogers comic strips! For the next four or five years, move into the future. And don’t listen to any more damn fools after this.”

And that’s what I did. I started collecting Buck Rogers again. And I began to write when I was 12 years old, about going to the moon, about going to Mars, about moving out into the universe.

Thank God I made that decision. Against all the people who said don’t do that.

Because science fiction in those days didn’t exist. We had maybe two or three books a year. You had to wait for six months, or eight months, for a new book to come out.

So I made my decision – I began to write.

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29 thoughts on “Ray Bradbury Versus the Idiots

  1. So Ray Bradbury left in a huff because he was third billed? Surely they told him the order the guests would come out before the show went on.

    These stories don’t do much to make me like Ray Bradbury more, as much as I like his books.

  2. Bradbury versus idiots. Makes me chuckle every time I think about it. Godzilla versus Bambi.

  3. He said the Earth was 12 billion years old. They said, “It’s much older.” He said, “How old?” They said, “14 billion.” He said, “Prove it.”

    Ah, SF Lysenkoism.

    The current models suggest the Earth is about 4.5 billion years old. Older estimates suggested values smaller than that so it’s not that Bradbury was remembering a value from Olden Days.

    Now, the universe is thought to be about 14 billion years old but I know a supersmart guy like Bradbury wouldn’t have confused Earth with the universe.

  4. He said the Earth was 12 billion years old. They said, “It’s much older.” He said, “How old?” They said, “14 billion.” He said, “Prove it.”

    The earth is actually somewhere between 4 and 5 billion years old. It’s the universe as a whole that is in the 12-14 billion year old timeframe. If that was in fact the point of contention, the Smithsonian was closest to being correct.

    Being in-your-face about having been presented a factual correction is something I would expect from Donald Trump, not Ray Bradbury.

  5. I was wondering about that myself. The estimate of the age of the universe has fluctuated, with some figures higher than the current estimate of around 13.8 billion. But I have never heard of estimates of the Earth’s age in the 12 to 14 billion or higher range. Before radiometric testing, it was estimated to be much, much less than that, and with radiometric testing, it was possible to actually test for the age (and to test the age of meteorites, therefore indirectly placing an upper limit on the age of the Earth.) Does anyone know of any 20th century estimates that come anywhere close to the Bradbury claim?

  6. @Darren Garrison: Nope. (Speaking as someone with a background in geology/planetary sciences/astrophysics.)

  7. “A horrible little boy came up to me and said, ‘You know in your book The Martian Chronicles?’ I said, ‘Yes?’ He said, ‘You know where you talk about Deimos rising in the East?’ I said, ‘Yes?’ He said ‘No.’ — So I hit him.”

    I don’t understand the thought processes that lead someone who cares about the science to hire Bradbury. That’s like hiring PKD.

  8. Okay, I found a different version of that anecdote:

    I said, “What’s the one thing that bothers you the most about my script?” They said, “Well, you’ve got a thing in there about the Big Bang occurring 10 billion years ago.” I said, “When did it occur?” They said, “12 billion years ago.” I said, “Prove it.” Well, that ruined it right there.

    So Bradbury was closer to being the idiot than the Smithsonian people, but I won’t hold it against either of them because nobody had very good estimates at the time.

  9. @Darren Garrison: So Bradbury was closer to being the idiot than the Smithsonian people, but I won’t hold it against either of them because nobody had very good estimates at the time.
    It’s difficult to evaluate that statement, since none of the anecdotes gives a date for when this occurred. However, I think the important point is that one of these numbers was the best astronomical estimate of the time, and the other was Ray Bradbury’s.

  10. I think the future (and the past) was where Bradbury wanted to play, not study or rigorously explore. 12 billion, 14 billion? As long as he could get back to the time of the dinosaurs, I don’t think it mattered much to him.
    Also, thank the gods for Buck Rogers.

  11. It’s difficult to evaluate that statement, since none of the anecdotes gives a date for when this occurred.

    1980.

  12. @Darren Garrison: Thanks. Certainly in 1980, the error bar on the age of the universe included 10 billion years as well as 12, but I don’t think that alters my point.

  13. The point is not the age of the Earth. The point is that Bradbury didn’t allow people who didn’t believe in him to influence him. He found another home for his presentation and the other museum didn’t bicker with him and the people who visited the museum benefited from his presentation.

  14. So Ray Bradbury left in a huff because he was third billed?

    If I were a talk show host and man had just landed on the moon, I would devote my entire show to interviewing NASA officials and science fiction authors. If I were a network programming executive, I would devote the entire night to moon landing discussion. I’m afraid I’m going to have to side with Bradbury on this one.

  15. Bradury’s advice to new science fiction authors:

    Step #1: Inform all your friends you’re going to become a science fiction writer.

    Step #2: Make a list of all your friends who respond with “This is a bad idea,” “You can’t be a writer,” or “You can’t write science fiction.”

    Step #3: Send a note to all the naysayers telling them, “You can’t be my friend anymore.”

    Sounds brutal, but it sure worked for him. Again, the theme is not to allow people who don’t believe in you to come between you and your goals.

  16. The point is that Bradbury didn’t allow people who didn’t believe in him to influence him.

    But in this case, the people were scientists who wanted a scientific presentation to be scientifically accurate. Ray Bradbury didn’t want to be influenced by little things like “facts” and “scientific accuracy.” That does not leave him smelling like roses, as you seem to think.

    He found another home for his presentation and the other museum didn’t bicker with him and the people who visited the museum benefited from his presentation.

    Yes, it is always easy to find a museum willing to dumb down their exhibits with “infotainment” and celebrity namedropping in order to get higher traffic. Move the standards downward towards the least common denominator.

  17. There are a few points when reading Bradbury, I kept thinking he was a doofus. In THE OCTOBER COUNTRY, he asserts the Moon is masculine and the sun is feminine. And he gave a lecture, claiming computer were and could never be creative.

    As for being third guest on a TV show, assures me (without his acknowledging it) that he head was a bit too swelled.

    He must have loved listening to himself.

  18. There are a few points when reading Bradbury, I kept thinking he was a doofus.

    He must have loved listening to himself.

    The excerpts from the proposed speech I saw from one of those links reminded me of “The Star Hustler”–except said (apparently) unironically. They should have asked Clarke or Asimov or Benford and not wasted $7000.

  19. But in this case, the people were scientists who wanted a scientific presentation to be scientifically accurate.

    One scientist says the age of the Earth/universe is X, another says it’s Y. 20 years later, another claims it’s Z. 50 years from now, yet another insists it’s XYZ. All of them taut their scientific methods, all of them dismiss the other scientists, all of them speak disparagingly of anyone who refuses to accept their findings.

    (What’s a textbook publisher to do with such a spectacle?)

  20. But in this case, the people were scientists who wanted a scientific presentation to be scientifically accurate.

    The point Bradbury was making is that the people he was dealing with were bickering with him about 12 billion versus 14 billion, and many other points of dispute, instead of letting him make their presentation interesting. That was the whole reason they hired him. People were staying away in droves because their presentation was boring. They hired Bradbury to bring in the crowds, so he tried to engage the visitors with his presentation.

    They hired him to accomplish a task, then would not allow him accomplish that task. Instead of dealing with people who were holding him back, he ended the relationship. That is the point of his stories, don’t struggle with people who are trying to hold you back.

  21. As for being third guest on a TV show, assures me (without his acknowledging it) that he head was a bit too swelled. He must have loved listening to himself.

    It wasn’t about his ego, it was about his perspective. He didn’t walk out because he had 3rd billing. He walked out because dealing with this talk show host would have been a losing proposition. Man had just walked on the moon and David Frost treated the day like any other. He was more interested in the latest hot singers than scientific advancement. “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” is in the history books, “Please Release Me” and “What Kind of Fool Am I” are not. Had Bradbury stayed, Frost no doubt would have asked stupid and irrelevant questions instead of allowing Bradbury to expound on the importance of the event. Bradbury did the smart thing. His advice is to follow his example, and it’s good advice.

  22. The point Bradbury was making is that the people he was dealing with were bickering with him about 12 billion versus 14 billion, and many other points of dispute, instead of letting him make their presentation interesting.

    The presentation had to say the age of the universe was 12 billion years old in order to be interesting?

  23. Bradbury’s anecdote about the David Frost show cannot be true. The Apollo 11 landing was on July 20, 1969, which was a Sunday. The David Frost Show only aired on weekdays, and there was no show that aired the day the Eagle landed.

    The closest airing of the David Frost show to July 20 was the July 21 show, and neither Humperdinck or Davis were guests on that show. In fact, neither Humperdinck or David were guests on Frost’s show for any airing of the program in July 1969.

    Humperdinck appeared on the show in November of 1969, and Davis appeared in October 1970. They never appeared on the same episode of the show.

  24. Upon further investigation, it appears that Bradbury was not slated to appear on the David Frost Show, but rather a special program called David Frost’s Moon Party. This program had to fill the time in between the gaps in news bulletins for sixteen hours. Bradbury’s objection to the fact that a couple of singers got air time in that pile of air time that needed to be filled seems silly, and almost petty, especially when one considers that various other “serious” personages were featured as well, such a Desmond Morris and AJP Taylor.

    To be blunt, this anecdote doesn’t really make Bradbury look good at all.

  25. I was asked to appear that evening on the David Frost show in London., happened to be on the night of the landing. So I went to the David Frost show, they have all kinds of celebrities there, including the Lord Mayor of London as I recall…and around about 8:30 or 9:00 that night they, we landed on the Moon London time…and we were all in tears. I don’t know how many of you were, but I most certainly was.
    I thought it was a very special moment in the history of Mankind. I waited to be put on the air. I waited half an hour. And finally an hour. And they put on that great space expert Engelbert Humperdinck. (laughter) and I waited an hour an a half to be, I wanted someone to ask me ‘What does it mean? What is it all about?’ I just wanted, on that one special evening, to have someone look me in the face and ask that question. Because I hope, I feel, I think, I believe…I have some of the answers. I hope I do. But, an hour and a half went by and they put on…that other great space expert Sammy Davis Jr.(laughter) Well, I love Sammy Davis Jr., he’s one of the great entertainers of our time, but this was not the evening for Engelbert Humperdinck, or Sammy Davis, Jr, the scientist…so I walked out of the studio into the parking lot, the producer came running after me saying ‘What are you doing?’ i said ‘ I came out for some air but I think I’m leaving!’ He says ‘Well, you cant do that’ I say ‘Oh yes I can…I don’t like you, I don’t like David Frost, I don’t like your show…I don’t like your network…(loud laughter and applause) He said ‘Oh you’re not a nice man’ I said ‘Oh, let’s get our priorities right…You’re not nice…I hate you all! You have managed to destroy in half an hour, in an hour, the greatest night in the history of the world! The greatest night in the history of the world, you managed to turn it into Vaudeville. They’ll have Jesus Christ doing a tap dance here next! (laughter) The kind of people you are, I said Take your hand off my elbow, keep your money, let baby go. I got a cab, I got the hell out of there. The next morning, I’m very proud to say, and this is terribly egotistical, but it is in the London papers, it said ‘Armstrong walks at two AM, Bradbury walks at Midnight!’

    I went on, over to CBS, blind fool that I was, and I did a TV show there instead. And I was…confronted by…a panel…of three…great intellects, and I mean that on several levels, seriously and facetiously at the same time I suppose, the Lord, Guard Ritchie Calder the scientist, a very wonderful gentleman indeed, the Bishop of Geneva, and Bernadette Devlin from the North of Ireland. (laughter) Well I knew I was in for trouble…because all of them were saying ‘Oh, why are we spending all this money on space, why are we not spending it all and doing this or doing that …and I’ve heard this argument a million times now…and I’ve had to defend space. And I will defend space here this evening, once more, again.
    And finally, when all three of these intellectuals had finished lamenting space travel, Oh the waste, Oh this, Oh that…I finally said ‘Hey everyone, shut up! Everyone shut up, all three of you, you don’t know…the least thing of what you’re talking about. You’re totally ignorant the whole three of you! And now I’ll tell you what space is. What do we have here tonight? This…is the result of six billion years of evolution, this very evening…We’re sitting here in this studio…our men have been on the Moon two hours…it took billions of years for this Earth to cool, for the rains to fall, for the oceans to form, for the animalcules to come out of the chemistry and ferment of the seas. For the small creatures of the sea to give up their gills, to build spines, to crawl out on the land, to hide in the caves, to, to seek the trees, to come down out of the jungles. To till the fields, to build the cities, to envy the birds, to SEE THE STARS! To…revile gravity and…finally wish to wind up somewhere else except riveted here to this tombstone Earth! Tonight, we have given the lie to gravity! We have reached for the stars. We have touched down on another world! After six billion years of evolution, and you refuse to celebrate? TO HELL WITH YOU! They didn’t say a word!

    http://www.donaldedavis.com/2012%20new/BRADBURY.html

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