Saturday, June 23, 2012

"Mr. Bevis"

Portrait of an oddball: Orson Bean as the eternally awkward Mr. James B. W. Bevis
“Mr. Bevis”
Season One, Episode 33
Original Air Date: June 3, 1960

James B. W. Bevis: Orson Bean
J. Hardy Hempstead: Henry Jones
Mr. Peckinpaugh: Charles Lane
Bartender: Horace McMahon
Landlady: Dorothy Neuman
Margaret: Florence MacMichael
Policeman: William Schallert
Policeman #2: House Peters, Jr.
Young Lady: Colleen O’Sullivan
Peddler: Vito Scotti
Little Boy: Tommy Cletro

Writer: Rod Serling (original teleplay)
Director: William Asher
Producer: Buck Houghton
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Art Direction: George W. Davis and Merrill Pye
Set Decoration: Henry Grace and Keogh Gleason
Assistant Director: Don Klune
Editor: Bill Mosher
Sound: Franklin Milton and Philip Mitchell
Music: Stock

And now, Mr. Serling:
“Next week you’ll meet the occupant of this desk, whose name is James B. W. Bevis, a warm and winning twentieth century oddball about a mile and a half from the norm.  He likes things like zither music, little kids and stuff like this.  Orson Bean stars next week on the Twilight Zone as Mr. Bevis, and Henry Jones plays his guardian angel.  He’s this kind of oddball.”

Rod Serling Opening Narration:
"In the parlance of the twentieth century, this is an oddball.  His name is James B. W. Bevis and his tastes lean towards stuffed animals, zither music, professional football, Charles Dickens, moose heads, carnivals, dogs, children and young ladies.  Mr. Bevis is accident prone, a little vague, a little discombooberated, with a life that possesses all the security of a floating crap game.  But this can be said about Mr. Bevis: without him—without his warmth, without his kindness—the world would be a considerably poorer place, albeit perhaps, a little saner.  Should it not be obvious by now, James. B. W. Bevis is a fixture in his own private, optimistic, hopeful little world, a world that has long ceased being surprised by him.  James B. W. Bevis, on whom dame fortune will shortly turn her back, but not before she gives him a paste on the mouth.  Mr. James B. W. Bevis, just one block away…from the Twilight Zone.”


         James B. W. Bevis, an inattentive, disaster-prone young man with a warm heart, sets about on his usual morning routine which includes playing catch with the children from his neighborhood and driving his 1924 Rickenbacker to work. After arriving thirty minutes late he is called into the boss’s office, reprimanded, and informed that he is no longer employed with the company. Bevis then realizes that his car has rolled down street and crashed into a light post. When he finally returns to his apartment his landlord informs him that he is being evicted. With nowhere left to turn Bevis heads for the nearest bar.
                While drowning his sorrows in alcohol Bevis spots the reflection of a man sitting behind him in the mirror behind the bar. The man waves to Bevis but when Bevis turns to look at him he isn’t there. He motions for Bevis to come join him in the booth. Suddenly, the man materializes out of thin air. Bevis, believing himself to be drunk, goes along with it. The stranger introduces himself as Mr. J. Hardy Hempstead, Bevis’s guardian angel. He claims he wants to help Bevis, as it is obvious that Bevis cannot help himself. He gives Bevis the opportunity to relive the day as a new man. Mildly amused, Bevis agrees.
                Bevis then wakes up in his apartment. He immediately notices differences. His apartment is clean and his clothes are much nicer. Bevis inquires to Hempstead as to why his apartment looks so different. Hempstead says that it takes sophistication to get ahead in the world and a sophisticated man does not indulge in things like zither music or children’s toys and he does not dress in the fashions that Bevis is accustomed to. Outside, Bevis tries to enter into a game of catch with the neighborhood children but instead they treat him like a total stranger. Hempstead says that the new Bevis no longer plays children’s games. He does not have the time. The new Bevis also does not drive a broken-down Rickenbacker that randomly crashes into light poles. Instead he drives a brand new sports car. At work Bevis notices that his desk does not contain any of the familiar trinkets that are so important to him. He tells Hempstead that he appreciates the effort but that he simply does not like being the new James B. W. Bevis. He doesn't want success if it means abandoning all of the things he cares about. He respectfully asks to be changed back to the old Bevis.  Hempstead obliges.
                Bevis ends up back at the bar. When he runs out of money he walks outside and sees he Rickenbacker, no longer wrecked, waiting for him at the curb. He realizes that Hempstead is still watching out for him. Then he sees a police officer writing him a ticket for parking in front of a fire hydrant. As he is being thoroughly reprimanded by the officer the fire hydrant suddenly disappears and reappears well away from Bevis’s car. The officer is baffled. Bevis nods to Hempstead and concedes that the fire hydrant bit was a nice touch. Then he gets in his car and drives back to his wonderful life.

Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:
“Mr. James B. W. Bevis, who believes in a magic all his own.The magic of a child’s smile, the magic of liking and being liked, the strange and wondrous mysticism that is the simple act of living.James B. W. Bevis, species of twentieth-century male, who has his own private and special Twilight Zone.”


                  By now we have probably made it more than clear that comedy was not something The Twilight Zone did very successfully. In most cases it simply just didn’t fit the atmosphere of the show. There are pleasant exceptions throughout the show’s five year run but “Mr. Bevis” is not one of them. Stilted and predictable, it’s simply too hokey to be effective. To twist the knife a bit it has the unfortunate luck to be sandwiched between “A Passage for Trumpet” and “The After Hours” which are regarded by most as two of the best efforts from the first season. Before going any further it is probably a good place to note that Orson Bean, Buck Houghton, and Rod Serling all considered this episode to be more or less a forgettable failure.
                Serling may have taken the poor reception of this episode harder than everyone else involved because he had intended it to be the pilot for a half-hour comedy series for CBS. The series would see a clumsy protagonist getting himself into various situations every week with a guardian angel having to rescue him. This is not a bad premise and would have possibly made a charming situational comedy but, unfortunately, the finished product just does not work. Serling’s dialogue seems forced and the humor uninspired. Likewise, director William Asher (of I Love Lucy and Bewitched fame) does little to enhance a poor script and the episode feels flat and choppy.
             Despite Serling’s disappointment with this episode he would recycle elements of this story for two later episodes of the show, season two's "The Whole Truth" and season three's "Cavender is Coming." Unfortunately, his efforts on these episodes would bring similar results and neither is regarded very highly. When scripting "The Whole Truth" Serling re-used several plot elements from his abandoned "Mr. Bevis" series including an episode in which Bevis is introduced to a guardian angel who is unable to tell a lie and another episode in which Bevis gets a job as a used car salesman. At the end of the third season, after learning that rising comedy star Carol Burnett was interested in appearing on the show, Serling was faced with a great opportunity but not much time in which to write a script that would showcase Burnett's talents. As an added pressure CBS expressed a desire to possibly use the episode as the pilot for a comedy series and increased the production budget and lengthened the shooting schedule. Serling decided to try his hand at the "Mr. Bevis" script one last time. This time, however, he decided that the focus should be placed on the angel and not the recipient of his good deeds. So "Cavender is Coming" was actually a vehicle for a series which would star Jesse White, who plays the angel, and not the clumsy but lovable young woman played by Burnett. This is why White gets top billing in the episode even though Burnett is clearly the lead.
                “Mr. Bevis” is Orson Bean’s only appearance on the program. Throughout his career, which spans over six decades, Bean has made a name for himself as a dependable comedic performer. His film and television credits include Anatomy of a Murder (1958) with James Stewart, the voice of Bilbo Baggins in the 1970’s animated films The Hobbit (1977) and The Return of the King (1980), a regular role on Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman (1993-1998), Being John Malkovich (1999) and a reoccurring role on Desperate Housewives.
                This episode marks the only appearance by Henry Jones as well. Jones had a highly versatile career as a character actor on Broadway in the 1940’s before making his way into film and television. His big break came when he starred in both the stage and film versions of Maxwell Anderson’s play The Bad Seed (1958). Other notable film roles include 3:10 to Yuma (1957) Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), Nine to Five (1980), Deathtrap (1982), Dick Tracy (1990), Arachnophobia (1990) and The Grifters (1990). His television appearances include Thriller, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Rod Serling’s Night Gallery, Gunsmoke, Kolchak: the Night Stalker, The Six Million Dollar Man, and Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color. But he is probably best known as the coroner in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958). Jones died in 1999 at the age of 86.
                There is really not much to say about this episode and not many reasons to recommend it to anyone. It does, however, have a handful of slightly charming and quirky moments which saves it from being completely unwatchable. Still, if you are new to the show and want to start with the best and work your way down it will be quite a long time before you make your way to “Mr. Bevis.” 

Grade: D

Grateful acknowledgement is made to:

The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic by Martin Grams, Jr. (OTR Publishing, 2008)

-William Schallert also appeared in the first revival Twilight Zone series episode "Shadow Play," a remake of the original episode written by Charles Beaumont. Schallert appeared as well in Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983), in the third segment, "It's a Good Life."
-Vito Scotti also appeared in the third season episode "The Gift."
-Henry Jones appeared in an episode of Rod Serling's Night Gallery titled "You Can't Get Help Like That Anymore."
-"Mr. Bevis" was adapted into a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Bruno Kirby.
-Orson Bean also appeared in the Twilight Zone Radio Drama episode "The Changing of the Guard." 


Friday, June 15, 2012

"A Passage for Trumpet"

Jack Klugman as Joey Crown
“A Passage for Trumpet
Season  One, Episode 32
Original airdate: May 20, 1960

Joey Crown: Jack Klugman
Gabriel: John Anderson
Baron: Frank Wolf
Truck Driver: James Flavin
Nate, the Pawnshop Owner: Ned Glass
Nan: Mary Webster

Writer: Rod Serling (original teleplay)
Director: Don Medford
Producer: Buck Houghton
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Director of Photography: George T. Clemens
Art Direction: George W. Davis and Merrill Pye
Set Decoration: Henry Grace and Keogh Gleason
Assistant Director: Don Klune
Editor: Joseph Gluck
Sound: Franklin Milton and Philip Mitchell
Music: Lyn Murray

And now, Mr. Serling:
“Next week you’ll stand in this alley at the shoulder of Jack Klugman, who plays the role of a trumpet player who has run out of music and run out of dreams.  Poignant, is the best word for Mr. Klugman’s performance.  Next week on The Twilight Zone, ‘A Passage for Trumpet.’  I think they’re unusual notes indeed and we hope you’ll be listening to them.  Thank you and goodnight.”

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:
“Joey Crown: musician with an odd, intense face, whose life is a quest for impossible things, like flowers in concrete, or like trying to pluck a note of music out of the air and put it under a glass to treasure.  Joey Crown: musician with an odd intense face, who in a moment will try to leave the Earth and discover the middle ground, the place we call, the Twilight Zone.”

Joey Crown, former jazz player with a golden horn, finds solace now only at the bottom of a bottle.  He stands alone in a sad, rain-slicked alleyway behind his favorite jazz joint, trumpet in hand, wearing apprehension like a dirty suit.  Inside horns scream furiously to the sound of a cheering audience as a band finishes up its set.  Patrons begin to spill out into the alleyway.  A man in a tuxedo, presumably the owner, walks outside and lights a cigarette and Crown walks sheepishly over to him, trumpet still clutched in his hands.  Baron, the man, seems genuinely happy to see him.  Crown wants to know if maybe Baron has a spot open for him on stage tonight.  Reluctantly, Baron tells him no.  Crown keeps at it and, remaining respectful but wanting to get his point across, Baron tells him that the last time they played together he had to share Crown with a bottle.  Crown tells him that he has been sober for eight months.  Moments later he reaches for his trumpet case and when he picks it up a bottle topples out and shatters to pieces on the ground.  Embarrassed and defeated, he stares at the ground in silence, unable to look Baron in the eye.  Baron takes out a wad of money and slips it into Crown’s coat pocket.  He asks the woeful trumpet player why come he gave up everything to live in misery.  In a monologue of self-deprecation Crown tells him that he drinks because he doesn’t understand the world.  And when he drinks he doesn’t have to know that he is alone.  With this, he bids Baron a silent farewell and walks solemnly off into the night. 
                The next morning a suicidal Joey Crown walks into a pawn shop to hawk his trumpet for enough money to buy a drink.  Judging from the tone of the shop owner this is a reoccurring event.  Crown does not get as much for it as he had anticipated.  He walks out of the pawnshop in a trance-like state of despondence.  He decides to end it all by jumping in front of a delivery truck and, in doing so, is knocked unconscious.
                He wakes up at night.  Confused, he slowly pulls himself up off the ground.  Curiously, there is no crowd gathered around him.  In fact, no one seems to have even noticed him lying unconscious in the middle of the street.  He spots a patrolman writing a ticket a few feet away and, out of habit, thinks he is issuing a citation for public intoxication.  Crown walks over to him to profess his innocence but the officer doesn’t respond and eventually walks away.  Crown continues to walk around apprehensively and eventually makes his way to a movie theatre.  With a cigarette in hand, he asks the girl at the box office for a light.  She doesn’t seem to hear him.  He asks a stranger passing by the same question, but the man walks right past him.  Finally, Crown notices a full length mirror on the wall.  He sees reflected in the mirror all of the things surrounding him (movie posters, the box office, the girl, lights) but he notices that something is missing: Joey Crown.  He realizes that he must be dead and is now a ghost.
                Continuing his destinationless stroll, Crown ends up back at the jazz hall.  He spots a man playing a trumpet in the alleyway and decides to watch him play.  To his astonishment the man hears every word he says.  Crown soon realizes that this man is sort of a divine representative for the afterlife.  He tells Crown that he has a choice.  He can stay here in this world, which is a kind of purgatory, or he can go back.  Crown says that he simply forgot about all the good things in life.  He wants to go back.  As the stranger bids Joey Crown farewell and begins to make his exit, Crown stops him and asks for his name.  His name is Gabe, he says.  Short for Gabriel. 
                Crown wakes up in the middle of the street surrounded by a group of onlookers.  The truck driver seems adamantly concerned for Crown’s health and swears that he didn’t see him.  Not wanting to be involved in any kind of lawsuit he hands Crown a fistful of cash and asks him to be a nice guy.  Crown walks back into the pawnshop and reclaims his trumpet.

Mary Webster and Jack Klugman on a rooftop.
                Night.  Joey Crown stands on a rooftop blowing his trumpet into the wind, unaware that he has an audience.  He finishes playing and notices a woman standing behind him.  She introduces herself as Nan.  She tells Crown that he plays beautifully.  He tells her that earlier in the day he wanted to give it up, but was glad he didn’t.  She tells him that she is new to New York City and she asks in a roundabout fashion if maybe he could show her around.  Crown says that that would be lovely and together they stroll casually off into the night.

Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:
“Joey Crown, who makes music and who discovered something about life; that it can be rich and rewarding and full of beauty, just like the music he played, if a person would only pause to look and to listen.  Joey Crown, who got his clue in the Twilight Zone.”

Beautifully illustrated by an overtly noirish atmosphere, “A Passage for Trumpet” is, in a number of ways, Rod Serling’s version of Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life (1946).  The Serling-penned Season Three episode “The Changing of the Guard” is also reminiscent of Capra’s classic holiday film and his influence can be seen throughout Serling’s work.  As I have mentioned in previous posts Serling seemed to idealize the early twentieth century image of America that was ushered into the public conscience by people like Capra and Norman Rockwell.  Fueled by a growing sense of national pride following WWI and WWII, these artists painted America as the land of eternal promise.  They also provided an idyllic alternative to the stark reality of soaring gang violence in the 1920’s, complete economic collapse in 1930’s, the threat of invasion in the 1940’s and the fear of Communism and the McCarthyist witch hunts during the 1950’s.  This seemed to be the vision of America that Serling longed for but ultimately gave up on, for there is another side of his work which is quite cynical of it.  Stories like Patterns, “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” and “The Gift” have far more in common with Mark Twain or Ambrose Bierce than with Capra or Rockwell.
              But “A Passage for Trumpet” finds its identity with the lighter fare of Zone episodes and it is an example of why Serling’s sentimentalism is far more substantial than many of the maudlin, feel-good melodramas that are often found on network television.  The protagonist here, Joey Crown, is the archetypal Serling character, what Marc Scott Zicree refers to in The Twilight Zone Companion as the “urban loser.”  Serling seems to have been perpetually cheering for the underdog.  Many of his most memorable characters come from nothing and are headed nowhere.  His roster of heroes includes sidewalk salesmen, aging beauty queens, washed up fighters, bank clerks, librarians and scores of despondent alcoholics from every corner of life.  These types of characters are what give his stories a distinct quality and while “Passage” may lose points for originality Serling makes up for this by creating a universally sympathetic character. 
But what elevates Joey Crown from being simply a likable character to an extraordinary one is the astounding performance of Mr. Jack Klugman, who is, for my money, probably the finest actor that this program ever employed (although Bill Shatner and Fritz Weaver are tied for a very close second).  Joey Crown is a tricky character for an actor because the line between pathos and pathetic is a thin one.  Crown spends a great deal of this episode walking around in a despondent haze feeling sorry for himself.  And although Serling’s dialogue is superb here it requires an actor of Klugman’s caliber to portray this character in a sympathetic light.  His performance is especially important because the story revolves exclusively around his character, and if the audience decides they don’t like him then the entire episode crumbles.  Fortunately, Klugman brings a spectacular performance with seemingly little effort, never losing the pace of the story and hitting all the right marks.  To give his character an added degree of realism Klugman trained with a classical trumpet player for two weeks before shooting this episode in order to have the finger positions down correctly even though in the final cut he was not actually playing.
Jack Klugman has enjoyed a rare kind of success as an actor and his career in television spans back to beginning of the medium.  When “A Passage for Trumpet” first aired in 1960 Klugman was already becoming a highly sought-after performer in film, television and on the stage.  In 1957 Sidney Lumet cast him as Juror #5 in Reginald Rose’s 12 Angry Men and in 1962 he appeared with Jack Lemmon in Days of Wine and Roses. He was a regular fixture on anthology programs and in the live dramas of the 1950’s including a critically praised 1955 televised adaptation of Robert E. Sherwood’s play The Petrified Forest for Producer’s Showcase where he starred alongside Humphrey Bogart, Henry Fonda, Lauren Bacall and Jack Warden.  He put in four appearances on The United States Steel Hour and Studio One in Hollywood and five appearances on Kraft Theatre where he also directed an episode.  His other television credits during this time include appearances on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Inner Sanctum, Gunsmoke, Suspicion, The Untouchables, Naked City, Kraft Suspense Theatre, The Fugitive and The Defenders to name just a few.  From 1964-65 Klugman was given a shot at his own show when he starred as Alan Harris in the NBC half-hour comedy Harris Against the World.  Unfortunately, the show was cancelled after only thirteen episodes.  From 1970-1975, however, he achieved pop culture immortality as Tony Randall’s unrefined roommate in the television adaptation of Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple.  Klugman had already played the role of Oscar Madison in 1965 when he replaced original cast member Walter Matthau in the Broadway production.  At the end of the show’s run in 1975 Klugman stepped from one iconic television program into another when he took the role of crime-solving medical examiner Dr. R. Quincy in Quincy, M.E.  The show ran from 1976–1983.  After Quincy Klugman continued to appear regularly on television and on the stage and even at the age of 90 he still occasionally takes roles.  In 1989 Klugman, a lifelong smoker, had to have part of his larynx removed as a result of throat cancer.  This left him with a raspy, harsh voice but despite this setback he continued to act regularly.  Klugman and Serling first worked together in 1957 when Klugman was cast as Art Carney’s literary agent in Serling’s semi-autobiographical Playhouse 90 production of The Velvet Alley.  Klugman played the lead in a total of four Zone episodes, a record he shares with Burgess Meredith.

John Anderson and Jack Klugman
                As exquisite as Klugman’s performance here is it should not overshadow Anderson’s terrific performance as Gabriel.  Tall, with long, sharp facial features and a soft, baritone voice, Anderson always had a unique presence on the screen.  For one thing he bore a very obvious resemblance to Abraham Lincoln and according to Wikipedia he played the 16th United States president three different times.  Today he is probably best known for his role as California Charlie, the car salesman in Psycho (1960).  Earlier in his career Anderson saw many jobs as an actor in westerns including Have Gun-Will Travel, Wanted: Dead or Alive, Gunsmoke, Lawman, Cheyenne, Tales of West Fargo, Laramie and eleven appearances on The Rifleman.  He also made the rounds on all of the major anthology programs including the famous Outer Limits episode “Nightmare,” episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents / The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (including Richard Matheson's "Ride the Nightmare") and Thriller.  Anderson died in 1992 at the age of 69.
                The only flaw in this episode is in its length.  According to director of photography George T. Clemens Serling’s original script was substantially longer than the final cut.  But apparently it was not until they were in the middle of production that the crew realized the final cut would run longer than their allotted time slot.  Serling and Houghton made a pitch to the network for a one time only one hour episode or possible two part episode but CBS turned down both proposals.  The ending result was that they had to make significant cuts to the film.  For the most part this hardly affects the episode which flows along quite coherently.  The only time it seems noticeable is when Crown, who only moments before wanted to off himself by jumping in front of a speeding delivery truck, suddenly decides that maybe life isn’t so bad after all.  But because the scene between Klugman and Anderson is written and shot so well and the performances are so great, this inconsistency is quickly forgotten.
                There is an interesting story about the scene in which Crown looks into the mirror at the theatre and does not see his reflection.  This was accomplished by making a duplicate of the set on the other side of the mirror.  So instead of a mirror Klugman is actually looking through a piece of clear glass at an exact replica of the set, although at one point his reflection in the glass can be seen quite clearly.  As far as the girls in the ticket booths they are supposedly identical twins.  Despite its setbacks it is still a clever trick.  The idea came from the genius of director Don Medford.  Medford was already a veteran behind the camera in the field of television having put his mark on numerous programs throughout the 1950’s.  In total he would go on to direct five episodes of The Twilight Zone including another Klugman episode, Season Four’s “Death Ship.”
                Effortlessly blending the bleak world of mid-twentieth century urban noir and the hopeful vision of Frank Capra “A Passage for Trumpet” stands out as one of the defining episodes of the first season.  Ultimately the thing that leaves a lasting resonation with the audience is the distinct atmosphere that pervades this episode.  It could not feel more like a Twilight Zone story.  Despite its few insignificant flaws this episode still manages to leave me felling optimistic every time I watch it which, as far as I am concerned, makes it truly as timeless as infinity.

Grade: B

--Jack Klugman also appears in the Season Three classic “A Game of Pool,” the Season Four masterpiece “Death Ship” and another terrific Serling episode, Season Five’s “In Praise of Pip.”
--John Anderson also appears in Season Two’s “The Odyssey of Flight 33,” Season Four’s “Of Late I Think of Cliffordville” and Season Five’s “The Old Man in the Cave.”
--Ned Glass appears in an episode of Rod Serling's Night Gallery titled "Last Rites for a Dead Druid."
--Don Medford also directed Season Two’s “The Man in the Bottle,” Season Three’s “The Mirror” and “Deaths-Head Revisited” and Season Four’s “Death Ship.”
--This episode was also adapted into a Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring Mike Starr (Falcon Picture Group, 2002).

--Brian Durant

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

In Memory of Ray Bradbury (1920-2012)

Ray circa early 1950s
It seemed as though he would live forever. He was a giant among giants and nobody ever expects the giant to fall. This morning he did fall after 91 years. My wife called me and told me the news. She said she wanted to cry. All day people have been sending me messages with their thoughts on the loss of Bradbury. The world doesn't look the same today. It's a little dimmer. That's how important Ray Bradbury is.

Illustration for "The Veldt" by Leo and Diane Dillon
I can remember the first time I read a Ray Bradbury story. The story was "The Veldt" and I was seven years old and it hit me like a slap to the face. This was the type of story I had been waiting for, the perfect fusion of science fiction and horror, of fantasy and reality. I had already gone through most of Poe's good stuff and I thought that was the end of that. There couldn't possibly be any other writer that could shake me around and chill me and thrill me like that. Boy, was I wrong. I can't quite remember what book I found it in but I'll never forget the impact the story had on me then and still has on me now. It was that moment, I'm sure of it, that I realized I wanted to be a writer. All of Ray's work is like that. It wasn't writing meant simply to pass the time, though it could certainly serve that purpose. No, Ray's work was what Theodore Sturgeon called "wisdom fiction." It not only made you think but, more importantly, it made you see the world in a different way, a more colorful way, for the darkness that Ray illuminated was filled with color. The wonderful burnt orange of the autumn sky, the fire red visions of Mars, the kaleidoscopic lights of the ferris wheel. For those of us with unfocused yet overactive imaginations, Ray roped us in and said "Look at this!" He took us into mirrored funhouses and onto the surface of Mars, into long ancient Egyptian tombs and among the dandelions in the fields of eternal summer in Green Town, Illinois. You just don't forget that work. How could you? His stories became memory for his readers. Ray was so good that he could fool a reader into remembering something that never happened.  

His were the perfect books for me in my formative years because they were so infused with energy and imagination. In his early days Ray wrote deliciously dark fantasy stories and I relished stories like "The Small Assassin" and "The Crowd" and "The Halloween Game" and "The Handler" and "Mars is Heaven" and "The Black Ferris." I was awed by his ability to tap right into what I loved about horror fiction and science ficiton, how he fused the two and blurred the lines that so many writers and readers love to draw separating the various forms of "speculative fiction." I wanted to do what Ray did when I grew up. His was such a unique vision and he was, of course, a famous writer who lived a thousand miles away from me and yet his books were like carrying your best friend around in your pocket, a friend that always knew exactly the kinds of stories you loved to hear.

When I discovered E.C. Comics soon after those first few Bradbury encounters I was overjoyed to discover that my favorite comics had adapted a generous number of my favorite writer's stories into comic form. I mailed off to Russ Cochran, who at the time was reprinting the entire E.C. line in single issue form, and paid my money to amass a near complete collection of the adaptations of Ray's stories. I found used copies of The Autumn People and Tomorrow Midnight, the Ballantine reprints with the wonderful Frank Frazetta covers. I loved how Ray could move from horror to crime to science fiction to fantasy and never skip a beat, never lose that unmistakable and irresitable narrative voice of his that could pull you in so easily. There are very few writers (I can probably count them on one hand) of whose work I can never tire. King. Ellison. Beaumont. Matheson. Bloch. Gaiman. Maybe a few more. But Ray stands above them all and I don't think any of the other gentlemen would say otherwise. Thankfully, there are still stories of Ray's that I have not read. I'm going to take my time getting to them. Though I can reread the best of Ray's stories a seemingly endless amount of times, there's nothing like the prospect of sitting down with a new Bradbury story and I don't ever want to be left empty of them.

As I grew older I haunted bookstores and libraries always searching for more Bradbury. I picked up scores of paperback science fiction anthologies because Ray's name was on the cover or Ray had a story inside. From those books I found other science fiction writers I have grown to love and whose works I have come to cherish. Sturgeon. Leiber. Kuttner. Fredric Brown. John Collier. Asimov. Heinlein. Pohl. Bester. It seems like the list is endless of writers I discovered and can trace that discovery back to Ray. Finding a new Bradbury book (there could never be enough) in a secondhand bookstore would improve my mood for the rest of day. As my collection of Ray's books grew, I started filling in the holes of the collection on the secondhand market that grew up around the internet. Suddenly, I could get any Bradbury book I wanted, no matter how rare or expensive. Though I still haven't to this day managed to acquire a copy of Dark Carnvial, Ray's first book from that veritable publisher Arkham House and the Holy Grail for collectors of Ray's work, I still often buy a new book of Ray's anytime I can spare the money. I eagerly await for it to arrive in the mail and I read it, sometimes in one sitting for Ray's work can read quickly, that is not to say anything of the complexity and intelligence of vision that rereadings will reveal, and then place it in on the shelf with the other Bradbury books. The last one I picked up was a collection of Ray's work adapted into comic form by some of the greatest names in comics. It's a Del Rey paperback and I found it at a library book sale. It was, as finding a new Bradbury book always is, an unexpected and delightful surprise. It is a book I'll never give away or get rid of. I do hope that I will never collect all of Ray's books, though. I hope there is always one more to add to the shelf.

There were exactly two books that were required reading in my school days that I considered a treat, works that had somehow slipped through the cracks of the usual dry works that they forced upon us. The first was Lord of the Flies by William Golding. The second was Fahrenheit 451. I was, of course, already an avid Bradbury reader and I envied those other kids that hadn't read his work before. The discovery of Ray was a wonderful thing and for many of my classmates it was the first time they had consciously realized the work of this highly influential writer. Whereas the teacher would, when building a discussion around other books, almost always have to push and pull and push and pull to get any kind of lively discussion going among the class, Ray's work shot off like fireworks and there suddenly seemed not enough time in the world to say everything we wanted to say about his wonderful books. That's Ray's magic.

Ray's impact on American popular culture is overwhelming and I won't attempt to gauge it here. Those of you that love programs like The Twilight Zone and writers like Charles Beaumont and Richard Matheson know well what Ray has given, and given so well and so often. He mentored some of the biggest names in speculative fiction to emerge post WWII. He was best friends with Ray Harryhausen and it boggles the mind to consider the imaginative thrust those two gentlemen have had on generations of writers, readers, filmmakers, and fans.

When Ray got around, in the early 1950s, to writing his masterpieces, he was already revered among science fiction fans. A run down of what he would go on to produce is staggering. The titles alone speak for themselves, conjuring up indelible images of eternal childhood and far space, of Mars and dark ravines and carnival lights under midnight skies, of Halloween pumpkin spice and dinosaurs and fog horns and Moby Dick.

The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man, Fahrenheit 451, Something Wicked This Way Comes, Dandelion Wine, The Golden Apples of the Sun, The October Country, The Halloween Tree, I Sing the Body Electric. . .

For me personally, the book was The October Country. I discovered it young, led to it by E.C. Comics and Ray's scattered stories thoughout anthologies. I read it compulsively, over and over. "The Jar," "The Crowd," "Skeleton," "The Dwarf," "The Wind," "The Lake," "The Small Assassin," "Homecoming," "Touched With Fire." It was as though that book had been written especially for me. It was Ray's secret stories told to me over many nights and I always asked for more, more, more. When I grew older I pushed the book upon my friends and told them they must read these stories and they did read them and they loved the stories as I loved the stories. We still talk about them today, remembering our first readings of them, our envy over Ray's amazing talent and knowing that we could write a million stories over a hundred years and we'll still never write anything as good as "A Sound of Thunder" or "The Fog Horn" or "The Emissary." But we will try because Ray could inspire like no other writer could. He was full of boyish energy and enthusiasm, living proof that strong will and an uncompromising allegiance to oneself can conquer all.

I'm sure that there will be a lot of interest in the near future in Ray's work because of his death but it should go well beyond that. Ray is timeless and so are his books. He left so much behind and we should all be very thankful for that. Check out his episodes on Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Or his long running cable show Ray Bradbury Theater. It seems impossible that anyone reading this hasn't already read Ray's work and probably a lot of it. Though he only contributing one episode to the show, suffice to say that without Ray Bradbury there would be no Twilight Zone at all. I don't think Rod Serling would disagree with that were the statement put to him. And though there has been written of animosity between the two men I don't believe anything other than Ray and Rod had the utmost respect for one another.

Live forever!
If it's been a while since you've read Ray's work, do yourself a favor and go back to it, to any of it. It is all of the highest quality, the ability and enthusiasm didn't wane or waver. It held steady from first to last. I sincerely hope that we haven't seen the last book of new Bradbury stories. Ray was a magician and I imagine that he left a few tricks behind that have yet to be revealed. May there be many more! Click here to visit Ray's official site.

---Jordan Prejean

P.S.- Here are some Ray Bradbury related links:'s tribute to Bradbury inspired illustration
Author Neil Gaiman's moving tribute
Bradbury resource site