Interview with Ray Bradbury
This writer doesn’t need any introduction. His books have been read for several generations. Here is an interview with Ray Bradbury, printed in Playboy magazine in 1996. The worst part is that a quarter of a century later, it’s far more relevant than it was then…
This is the full English version of the interview, from Florida State University Libraries.
Playboy Interview: Ray Bradbury
Playboy, 43.5 (May 1996), 47, 48, 50, 52, 53, 54, 56, 149, 150. Copyright © 1996 by Playboy.
Reprinted by permission.
PLAYBOY: Many people don’t take science-fiction seriously, and yet you maintain that it is the
essential literature of our age. Why is it so important?
BRADBURY: In science-fiction, we dream. In order to colonize in space, to rebuild our cities,
which are so far out of whack, to tackle any number of problems, we must imagine the future,
including the new technologies that are required.
PLAYBOY: Yet most people don’t consider science-fiction to be part of mainstream literature.
BRADBURY: It isn’t part of the mainstream—science-fiction is the mainstream. It has been
since Sputnik. And it will be for the next 10,000 years.
PLAYBOY: So how did Sputnik change things?
BRADBURY: People, especially kids, went crazy over science-fiction after Sputnik lit the sky.
Overnight, instead of an apple on the teacher’s desk, there was a book by Asimov. For the first
time in history, education came from the bottom up as kids taught their teachers.
PLAYBOY: Why do kids respond to science-fiction more than adults?
BRADBURY: Obviously, children’s imaginations are piqued by the implications of sciencefiction.
Also, as a child, did you want to have someone tying your shoes? Like hell you did. You
tied your own as soon as you could. Science-fiction acknowledges that we don’t want to be
lectured at, just shown enough so we can look it up ourselves.
The way to teach in this world is to pretend you’re not teaching. Science-fiction offers
the chance to pretend to look the other way while teaching. Science-fiction is also a great way to
pretend you are writing about the future when in reality you are attacking the recent past and the
present. You can criticize communists, racists, fascists or any other clear and present danger, and
they can’t imagine you are writing about them. Unfortunately, so much old science-fiction is too
technical and dry.
PLAYBOY: Beyond kids, science-fiction is the purview of men, for the most part. Why aren’t
women as interested?
BRADBURY: There are two races of people—men and women—no matter what women’s
libbers would have you pretend. The male is motivated by toys and science because men are
born with no purpose in the universe except to procreate. There is lots of time to kill beyond that.
They’ve got to find work. Men have no inherent center to themselves beyond procreating.
Women, however, are born with a center. They can create the universe, mother it, teach it,
nurture it. Men read science-fiction to build the future. Women don’t need to read it. They are
PLAYBOY: Some women don’t like it when you make those distinctions. In fact, in People,
you said that CD-ROMs are more for men than for women—and you were denounced as sexist
on the letters-to-the-editors page shortly thereafter.
BRADBURY: Oh well. Unscrew them.
PLAYBOY: What does “unscrew them” mean?
BRADBURY: That they’ll never get any sex again. [Laughs] Listen, men are nuts. Young men
are crazy. We all love toys. I’m toy oriented. I write about toys. I’ve got a lot of toys. Hundreds
of things. But computers are toys, and men like to mess around with smart dumb things. They
PLAYBOY: But computers aren’t just toys. They’re tools for the future.
BRADBURY: People are talking about the Internet as a creative tool for writers. I say, “B.S.
Stay away from that. Stop talking to people around the world and get your work done.” We are
being flimflammed by Bill Gates and his partners. Look at Windows ’95. That’s a lot of
flimflam, you know.
PLAYBOY: Why is it flimflam?
BRADBURY: Because it doesn’t give most people anything more than what they already have.
On top of that, when they buy it they have to buy other things to go with it. So you’re talking
about hundreds of dollars from people who can’t afford it. The Windows thing isn’t bought by
women. I bet if you look at the sales figures, it’s 80 percent men. Crazy young men or crazy
older men who love toys.
PLAYBOY: For a man who has built a career looking into the future, you seem skeptical of
technology—CD-ROMs, the Internet, multimedia—
BRADBURY: It’s all meaningless unless you teach reading and writing. It’s not going to do a
bit of good if you don’t know how to read and write.
PLAYBOY: But reading is involved—on computers, people can interact with works of fiction,
choosing to move the plot any way they want to.
BRADBURY: Don’t tell me how to write my novel. Don’t tell me you’ve got a better ending for
I have no time for that.
PLAYBOY: When you talk about the future, you tend to talk about space travel. Do you really
think it’s in our future?
BRADBURY: It must be. First of all, it’s a religious endeavor to be immortal. If the earth dies,
we must be able to continue. Space travel will give us other planets to live on so we can continue
to have children. It’s that simple, that great and that exciting.
PLAYBOY: Will we really be forced to escape earth? Will we be able to in time?
BRADBURY: We are already on our way. We should be back on the moon right now. And we
should be going off to Mars immediately.
PLAYBOY: Yet there doesn’t seem to be a rush into space anymore. NASA’s budget is being
whittled away as we speak.
BRADBURY: How come we’re looking at our shoes instead of at the great nebula in Orion?
Where did we mislay the moon and back off from Mars? The problem is, of course, our
politicians, men who have no romance in their hearts or dreams in their heads. JFK, for a brief
moment in his last year, challenged us to go to the moon. But even he wasn’t motivated by
astronomical love. He cried, “Watch my dust!” to the Russians, and we were off. But once we
reached the moon, the romance started to fade. Without that, dreams don’t last. That’s no
surprise—material rewards do last, so the history of exploration on earth is about harvesting rich
lodes. If NASA’s budgeters could be convinced that there are riches on Mars, we would explode
overnight to stand on the rim of the Martian abyss. We need space for reasons we have not as yet
discovered, and I don’t mean Tupperware.
BRADBURY: NASA feels it has to justify everything it does in practical terms. And
Tupperware was one of the many practical products that came out of space travel. NASA feels it
has got to flimflam you to get you to spend the money on space. That’s b.s. We don’t need that.
Space travel is life-enhancing, and anything that’s life-enhancing is worth doing. It makes you
want to live forever.
PLAYBOY: How much is NASA to blame for the apathy about the space program?
BRADBURY: The NASA bigwigs have been their own worst enemy. I’ve pleaded with them
for 20 years to let me do a film for them. Most of the early films NASA made about the Mercury
and Apollo projects were inept. I want to fuse poetry and fact in a way that, as my various
presentations at world fairs did, leaves the audience in tears. But NASA never does transcendent,
poetic or explosive things to sell itself—nobody cares about NASA in Congress except, notably
enough, Bob Packwood.
PLAYBOY: Do you still see Packwood as a visionary even though he was forced to resign in
BRADBURY: He’s still a visionary. I wish he were still in Congress. I sent him a telegram a
year ago and told him to stand firm because those women are jerks. They wait 20 years. They are
offended 20 years later. Don’t hand me that. There are very few other senators like him, and it’s
a shame he’s gone.
PLAYBOY: What’s the biggest mistake NASA has made?
BRADBURY: It should have done the space shuttle before the Apollo missions. The shuttle is a
big mailbox, an expensive experimental lab. It’s not nearly as exciting as it should be. It should
have been launched first to circle the earth, which is all it’s doing. After that, it should have been
sent to the moon, and the program could have ended there. Then we could have built a colony on
the moon and moved on to Mars. We need something larger than ourselves—that’s a real
religious activity. That’s what space travel can be–relating ourselves to the universe.
PLAYBOY: When the space program started, did you expect all that to occur?
BRADBURY: Yes. But it didn’t. NASA is to blame—the entire government is to blame—and
the end of the Cold War really pulled the plug, draining any passion that remained. The odd
thing to me is the extraordinary number of young people the world over who care about these
things, who go to see science-fiction films—2001, Close Encounters and Star Wars—who spend
billions of dollars to watch the most popular films ever made. Yet the government pays
absolutely no attention to this phenomenon. It’s always the last to know.
PLAYBOY: Do you think we will at least return to the moon?
BRADBURY: I hope we do it while I’m still alive, which means within the next ten to 15 years.
But I think it is a forlorn hope. I hope we’ll have a manned expedition to Mars, though the
politicians put it way down on their list. But it would be so uplifting for the human spirit. It’s
hard to get the government to act the way it should.
PLAYBOY: How did you feel when Viking landed on Mars?
BRADBURY: There was this festive feeling, like a surprise party, at the Cal Tech Planetarium
the night the Viking ship landed. Carl Sagan and I and a lot of others stayed up all night.
Suddenly, the first photographs of Mars started coming back on the giant screen. We were all
exhilarated—dancing, laughing and singing. Around nine in the morning, Roy Neal from NBC
News came by and held this microphone in front of my face. He said, “Mr. Bradbury, you’ve
been writing about Mars and its civilizations and cities for all these years. Now that we’re there
and we see that there’s no life, how does it feel?” I took a deep breath—I’m so proud I said this
out loud to him—and replied: “You idiot! You fool! There is life on Mars—look at us! Look at
us! We are the Martians!”
PLAYBOY: You must have felt much the same way when Galileo reached Jupiter last year.
BRADBURY: These scientists are incredible. Every time I go to a place like the Jet Propulsion
Lab and someone shows me a telescope, he says, “Isn’t it wonderful?” I say, “No, it’s not.” He
says, “What do you mean?” I say, “You are wonderful. You invented this. You are the genius.”
PLAYBOY: What is your motivation for writing?
BRADBURY: I had decided to be a magician well before I decided to be a writer. I was the little
boy who would get up on-stage and do magic wearing a fake mustache, which would fall off
during the performance. I’m still trying to perform those tricks. Now I do it with writing. Also,
writers write because of a need to be loved. I suppose that’s greedy, isn’t it?
Writing has helped me in other ways. When I started writing seriously, I made the major
discovery of my life—that I am right and everybody else is wrong if they disagree with me.
What a great thing to learn: Don’t listen to anyone else, and always go your own way.
PLAYBOY: Do you admit that that’s an unrepentant, egotistical view?
BRADBURY: Unfortunately, I don’t think I keep my ego in check very well. I try to remember
that my voice is loud, which is an ego problem. But at least I don’t suffer from a self-deluding
identity problem like, say, Carl Sagan does.
PLAYBOY: What is the problem with Sagan?
BRADBURY: With each passing year he grows stiffer because he goes around thinking he’s
Carl Sagan. Just as Norman Mailer thinks he’s Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal thinks he’s Gore
Vidal. I don’t think I’m Ray Bradbury. That’s a big distinction. It doesn’t matter who you are.
You mustn’t go around saying who you are, or else you get captured by the mask of false
identity. It’s the work that identifies you.
PLAYBOY: Some critics say that you rely too much on fantasy and not enough on science to be
a respected science-fiction writer.
BRADBURY: I don’t care what the science-fiction trade technicians say, either. They are
furious that I get away with murder. I use a scientific idea as a platform to leap into the air and
never come back. This keeps them angry at me. They still begrudge my putting an atmosphere
on Mars in The Martian Chronicles more than 40 years ago.
PLAYBOY: A review by Christopher Isherwood launched The Martian Chronicles. Did you
BRADBURY: The entire scenario set in motion was a fluke. Summertime, 1950, I recognized
Isherwood browsing in a Santa Monica bookstore. My book had just come out, so I grabbed a
copy off the shelf, signed it and gave it to him. His face fell and my heart sank, but two days
later he called and said, “Do you know what you’ve done?” I asked, “What?” And he simply told
me to read his review in the Times. His rave turned my life around; the book immediately made
the best-seller lists and has been in print ever since.
He was very kind in introducing me to various people he thought I should know, like
Aldous Huxley, who had been my literary hero since Brave New World came out.
PLAYBOY: What was Huxley like?
BRADBURY: He was very polite. Most Englishmen, most intellectual Englishmen, are very
polite, and they treat you as if you’re the genius, which is a sweet thing to do. Years after we
met, I was a panelist along with Huxley discussing the future of American literature. However, I
was disappointed when he refused to admit that science-fiction is the only way for fiction to go.
PLAYBOY: He was already extolling the virtues of psychedelics by then. We presume he
offered you some,
BRADBURY: I gave him the right answer: No, thanks. I don’t want anyone lifting the trapdoor
on my head—it may not go down again.
PLAYBOY: Who are the best new science-fiction writers?
BRADBURY: I’m so busy with a full agenda, I just don’t have the time to hunt around for any.
Do you realize that hundreds of novels come out every year now?
PLAYBOY: Are you ducking the question?
BRADBURY: OK—I admit I don’t want to read in my own field.
PLAYBOY: Why not?
BRADBURY: Because it’s incestuous, and you can’t do that. You should read in your own field
only when you’re young. When I was 8, 10, 12, 16, 25, I read science-fiction. But then I went on
to Alexander Pope and John Donne and Molière to mix it up.
PLAYBOY: What about some of the more famous science-fiction names, such as Kurt
BRADBURY: I know him and we get on fine. We had a wonderful day together in New York a
few years ago, and he had a nice sense of humor. But I haven’t read anything since Player Piano,
and that was 40 years ago. So I can’t give you any comment.
PLAYBOY: How about Robert Heinlein?
BRADBURY: I met him at Clifton’s cafeteria in downtown Los Angeles. I had just graduated
from high school, and Heinlein was 31 years old. He was well known, and he wrote humanistic
science-fiction, which influenced me to dare to be human instead of mechanical.
PLAYBOY: What about those writers who popularize science in nonfiction books, such as
Stephen Hawkings and his Brief History of Time?
BRADBURY: We have his book, but I’m not going to kid you and say I read it. My wife claims
she has, but I don’t believe her. I don’t believe anyone has read it. I’m positive the guy is a
genius and it’s wonderful he has done what he’s done.
PLAYBOY: You have also written nonfiction, such as Green Shadows, White Whale, about
your attempt to adapt Moby Dick with director John Huston. Were you attempting to get even
for a disastrous experience?
BRADBURY: Writing that book was gloriously cathartic. What got me started was that
Katharine Hepburn’s bad book about the making of The African Queen excluded so much and
was quite scant about Huston’s character. Her skimpy failure made me furious and propelled me
to begin my own book.
PLAYBOY: Was it that she was too easy on Huston?
BRADBURY: Yes, and that upset me.
PLAYBOY: How did you get the job to adapt Moby Dick in the first place?
BRADBURY: Huston invited me to his Beverly Hills Hotel suite, put a drink in my hand and
flattered me with enough Irish charm that, before I knew it, I’d agreed to spend six months in
Ireland writing the script. Acting ability runs in Huston’s bloodline.
PLAYBOY: So he was on good behavior.
BRADBURY: And I was fooled. I should have just admitted that he embodied the monster I
realized he was and then quit. What kept me going despite the merciless cruelty he showed
toward me and everyone else near him were three things: the love I felt for Herman Melville and
his whale; my awe of John Huston’s genius, as proved in The Maltese Falcon—he had directed
the perfect movie; and my deep appreciation of how very few people in the world are lucky
enough to get that kind of opportunity. Now I’m left with the bittersweet knowledge that, thanks
to him, I learned so much that I otherwise wouldn’t know. Nobody else in Hollywood would
have given an unproven newcomer the chance to write a major script.
PLAYBOY: Did that experience influence your decision not to write the screenplay for the
movie adaptation of your next hit novel, Fahrenheit 451?
BRADBURY: No. In 1955, Charles Laughton got me thoroughly drunk before he told me how
bad the stage play I’d adapted for him was and convinced me I should give it up. So years later I
told François Truffaut, “You do it.” I’d had it.
PLAYBOY: Were you happy with Truffaut’s effort?
BRADBURY: It was very good, but he was a coward about doing certain things. He didn’t put
in the Mechanical Hound, which should be included, because it’s a metaphoric adventure thing.
The tactical stuff is really miserable. The flying men should be cut out. They’re not flying
anywhere except down. And the casting was a mistake. Not all of it. Oskar Werner I like very
PLAYBOY: Who didn’t you like?
BRADBURY: Julie Christie playing the girl next door. She couldn’t play it. She was supposed
to be 16. So Truffaut did the trick. He had Julie Christie play the wife and the girl next door,
which was confusing. Sometimes you weren’t quite sure who was talking.
PLAYBOY: How do you feel about having a second opportunity to turn the novel into a movie
now that Mel Gibson is interested?
BRADBURY: I’ve wanted to redo Fahrenheit 451 ever since it came out in 1966, because
Truffaut left out so much from the novel. I sat bolt upright when I was told that Warner Brothers
wanted to make the new version with Mel Gibson.
PLAYBOY: Along with Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World, your book presents a
bleak view of the future. Were you trying to write a cautionary story?
BRADBURY: That’s fatal. You must never do that. A lot of lousy novels come from people
who want to do good. The do-gooder novel. The ecological novel. And if you tell me you’re
doing a novel or a film about how a woodsman spares a tree, I’m not going to go see it for a
PLAYBOY: It’s hard to imagine that the man who wrote Fahrenheit 451 was not trying to
predict the future.
BRADBURY: It’s “prevent the future,” that’s the way I put it. Not predict it, prevent it. And
with anger and attacking, yes. You have the fun of attacking the thing you think is stupid. But
your motives are hidden from you at the time. It’s like, “I’ll be damned. I didn’t know I was
For instance, when a bright Sony inventor read about my seashell radios in that novel, he
invented the Walkman. That was one good thing to emerge from that book—the banishment of
most picnic-ruining ghetto blasters. But I had no idea I was doing it.
PLAYBOY: Fahrenheit 451 seems to have predicted the unpredictable for years.
BRADBURY: Yes. When O.J. Simpson prowled the freeway pursued by cop cars and
helicopters, Russell Baker wrote in his New York Times column words to the effect: This is the
last act of Fahrenheit 451! I watched the reruns and thought, My God, he’s right. In the final
pages of my novel, Montag is running ahead of the book burners and sees himself on TV screens
in every home, through each window, as he flees. When he eludes the Mechanical Hound, the
society he left behind gets frustrated and kills a proxy Montag on television to satisfy the
Even more depressing is that I foresaw political correctness 43 years ago.
PLAYBOY: In Fahrenheit 451, too?
BRADBURY: Yes. [At one point, another character,] the fire chief, describes how the
minorities, one by one, shut the mouths and minds of the public, suggesting a precedent: The
Jews hated Fagin and Shylock—burn them both, or at least never mention them. The blacks
didn’t like Nigger Jim floating on Huck’s raft with him—burn, or at least hide, him. Women’s
libbers hated Jane Austen as an awfully inconvenient woman in a dreadfully old-fashioned
time—off with her head! Family-values groups detested Oscar Wilde—back in the closet, Oscar!
Communists hated the bourgeoisie—shoot them! And on and on it goes. So whereas back then I
wrote about the tyranny of the majority, today I’d combine that with the tyranny of the
minorities. These days, you have to be careful of both. They both want to control you. The first
group, by making you do the same thing over and over again. The second group is indicated by
the letters I get from the Vassar girls who want me to put more women’s lib in The Martian
Chronicles, or from blacks who want more black people in Dandelion Wine.
PLAYBOY: Do you respond to them?
BRADBURY: I say to both bunches, “Whether you’re majority or minority, bug off!” To hell
with anybody who wants to tell me what to write. Their society breaks down into subsections of
minorities who then, in effect, burn books by banning them. All this political correctness that’s
rampant on campuses is b.s. You can’t fool around with the dangerous notion of telling a
university what to teach and what not to. If you don’t like the curriculum, go to another school.
Faculty members who toe the same line are sanctimonious nincompoops! It’s time to stop the
trend. Whenever it appears, you should yell, “Idiot!” and back them down. In the same vein, we
should immediately bar all quotas, which politicize the process through lowered admission
standards that accept less-qualified students. The terrible result is the priceless chance lost by all.
PLAYBOY: So you disapprove of affirmative action?
BRADBURY: The whole concept of higher education is negated unless the sole criterion used
to determine if students qualify is the grades they score on standardized tests. Education is purely
an issue of learning—we can no longer afford to have it polluted by damn politics. Leave
pollution up to the politicians [laughs].
PLAYBOY: How did you feel being so prescient?
BRADBURY: Thoroughly disgruntled.
PLAYBOY: Is the public well informed about these issues?
BRADBURY: The news is all rapes and murders we didn’t commit, funerals we don’t attend,
AIDS we don’t want to catch. All crammed into a quarter of a minute! But at least we still have a
hand with which to switch channels or turn off altogether. I tell my lecture audiences to never,
ever watch local TV news.
PLAYBOY: What about magazines? You have been an avid magazine reader since you were a
kid. How would you rate the current crop?
BRADBURY: Magazines today are almost all stupid and moronic to start with. And it makes
me furious that I can’t find any articles to read anymore. I used to enjoy Forbes and Fortune, but
now the pages are completely cluttered by ads. That’s what caused me to explode three years ago
when I spoke to a gathering of the country’s leading editors and publishers.
PLAYBOY: Why did you explode?
BRADBURY: Let’s say the slow burn grew hotter the more I thought about what a chance I
had. So I took along my props—copies of Forbes, Fortune, Good Housekeeping, McCall’s,
Vogue and People. I went up on stage and said, “Let’s talk about the real problems with your
magazines.” I held up Good Housekeeping, flipped through the pages and said, “Find the
articles—you can’t.” I held up McCall’s and Vogue and said, “Look, the same thing.” I held up
Forbes and Fortune—“Look at this,” I said. “You’ve got a half-page article here, you’ve got the
start of an article on the left, then you look to the right and it’s a full-page ad.” I threw them off
the podium. Then I held up an issue of People and said, “Do you really want to read a magazine
like this? To hell with Time Inc.!” and threw it down. I paused and lowered the boom, saying,
“The magazines of this country have to take over education—even more than the corporations—
because you want readers in the future, don’t you? Can you keep downgrading people’s
intelligence and insult them with the shit you’re publishing? You should make sure the schools
teach reading, or you’re out on your ass in a couple of years. You won’t have any readers—
doesn’t that scare you? It scares me. Change your product and invite me back to talk to you
again.” I stopped and waited, figuring that maybe they would do something if I managed to scare
PLAYBOY: Did they?
BRADBURY: I got a standing ovation. Afterward, Christie Hefner came over and congratulated
me—I didn’t even know Playboy would be there. Playboy is in fact one of the best magazines in
history, simply because it has done more than any other magazine. It has published the works of
most of the important short story writers of our time, as well as some of the most important
novelists and essayists—and just about every important American artist. The interviews have
included just about everyone in the world with something important to say. Nowhere else can
you find such a complete spectrum, from the semivulgar to the highfalutin [laughs]. I have
defended Playboy since the beginning. Its editors were brave enough to say, “The hell with what
McCarthy thinks” when they ran excerpts from Fahrenheit 451. I couldn’t sell that to any other
magazine because they were all running scared. And I must add another important point—one
I’m sure that many other guys growing up in the sorry years before Playboy existed will agree
with—which is that there would have been a lot fewer problems if Playboy had been around
back then. I wish I’d had Playboy when I was 14.
PLAYBOY: To sharpen your writing skills?
BRADBURY: Come on! Those pictures are great. There was nothing when my generation was
growing up. Like it or not, I rest my case, except to add that Hugh Hefner is one of the great
PLAYBOY: Why do you shy away from eroticism in your own writing?
BRADBURY: There is no reason to write pornography when your own sex life is good. Why
waste time writing about it?
PLAYBOY: It has always struck us as strange that most science-fiction is relatively sexless.
BRADBURY: There are certain kinds of people who write science-fiction. I think a lot of us
married late. A lot of us are mama’s boys. I lived at home until I was 27. But most of the writers
I know in almost any field, especially science-fiction, grew up late. They’re so interested in
doing what they do and in their science, they don’t think about other things.
PLAYBOY: What is the most challenging literary form you have worked in?
BRADBURY: I’m trying to write operas. I’m still learning. I’m writing a musical based on
Dandelion Wine, which I’ve been working on for 30 years with various composers. I’m doing a
new thing now with Jimmy Webb. We’ve been messing around with these things for eight years.
Juggling the pieces, trying to figure out where you shut your mouth and let the song take over.
PLAYBOY: What brought you to Hollywood in the first place?
BRADBURY: The Depression brought me here from Waukegan, Illinois. The majority of
people in the country were unemployed. My dad had been jobless in Waukegan for at least two
years when in 1934 he announced to my mom, my brother and me that it was time to head West.
I had just turned 14 when we got to California with only 40 dollars, which paid for our rent and
bought our food until he finally found a job making wire at a cable company for $14 a week.
That meant I could stay in Los Angeles, which was great. I was thrilled.
PLAYBOY: With what aspect of it?
BRADBURY: I was madly in love with Hollywood. We lived about four blocks from the
Uptown Theater, which was the flagship theater for MGM and Fox. I learned how to sneak in.
There were previews almost every week. I’d roller-skate over there—I skated all over town, hellbent
on getting autographs from glamorous stars. It was glorious. I saw big MGM stars such as
Norma Shearer, Laurel and Hardy, Ronald Coleman. Or I’d spend all day in front of Paramount
or Columbia, then zoom over to the Brown Derby to watch the stars coming or going. I’d see
Cary Grant, Marlene Dietrich, Fred Allen, Burns and Allen—whoever was on the Coast. Mae
West made her appearance—bodyguard in tow—every Friday night.
PLAYBOY: The story is that you pestered George Burns to give you your first show-business
job. Is that true?
BRADBURY: Yes. George was kind. He would read the scripts I’d write every week. They
were dreadful, and I was so blindly and madly in love with the film and radio business in
Hollywood that I didn’t realize what a pest I was. George no doubt thought he could get me off
his back by using my words for one of the eight-line vignettes he had Gracie close their
broadcasts with. I wanted to live that special life forever. When that summer was over, I stopped
my inner time clock at the age of 14. Another reason I became a writer was to escape the
hopelessness and despair of the real world and enter the world of hope I could create with my
PLAYBOY: Did your parents approve?
BRADBURY: They were very permissive, thank God. And strangely enough, my parents never
protested. They just figured I was crazy and that God would protect me. Of course back then you
could go around town at night and never risk getting mugged or beaten up.
PLAYBOY: What do you think of modern Los Angeles—earthquakes, riots, O.J., fires and all?
BRADBURY: The big earthquake actually renewed optimism throughout L.A.—it fused us, just
as all the other calamities did. You pick up the first brick, then the second and so on. I’ve never
seen so many people helping so many other people. A small boy came to my door to tell me my
chimney was about to collapse—I didn’t know. The next day a stranger from up the street
dropped in to give us the names of some really good builders and repairmen. They turned out to
be superb—jolly, bright and inventive library people, readers! They lived with us for more than a
month. They became family—we missed them when they left. I’ve heard similar things from
everyone around us and in the San Fernando Valley, where things were 20 times worse.
PLAYBOY: Were you surprised when, after the earthquake, the freeways were rebuilt within a
BRADBURY: And almost before anything else? No. Here a human without a car is a samurai
without his sword. I would replace cars wherever possible with buses, monorails, rapid trains—
whatever it takes to make pedestrians the center of our society again, and cities worthwhile
enough for pedestrians to live in. I don’t care what people do with their cars, as long as they give
them up three quarters of the time—roughly the amount of time people spend every week
superfluously driving places they don’t want to go to visit people who don’t want to see them.
PLAYBOY: That’s easy for you to say; you have never driven a car.
BRADBURY: Not a day in my life.
PLAYBOY: Why not?
BRADBURY: When I was 16, I saw six people die horribly in an accident. I walked home
holding on to walls and trees. It took me months to begin to function again. So I don’t drive. But
whether I drive or not is irrelevant. The automobile is the most dangerous weapon in our
society—cars kill more than wars do. More than 50,000 people will die this year because of them
and nobody seems to notice.
PLAYBOY: Until recently, you were the futurist afraid to fly in airplanes, never mind
spaceships. What was it that cured your phobia?
BRADBURY: A car breaking down in so many small Southern towns and the chauffeur taking
three miserable days just to get through Florida. After the second tire blew, I got the word. In a
loud and clear voice from the heavens above I heard the message: Fly, dummy, fly! [Laughs] I
was afraid for 40 years that I’d run around the plane yelling, “Stop! Let me off!” But I fly all the
time now. I just sit back relaxed, occasionally peep out the window and peruse the magazines.
PLAYBOY: Was your faith in law enforcement shaken because of Stacey Koon and Mark
BRADBURY: We’ve become what I call a Kleenex society—I saw the public’s reaction as the
symbolic chance to blow its collective nose on the whole police force of the United States,
holding all cops responsible for incidents in Los Angeles. Of course I knew there was a problem
in the LAPD. On the other hand, three of my daughters have been raped and robbed by black
men, so I have a prejudice, too, don’t I? And if I ever were to find the bastards, I’d kill them.
I’ve seen violence used by police, and I’ve seen it used against white people, too.
PLAYBOY: Did the Rodney King riots shock you?
BRADBURY: I was more than shocked—I was terribly upset, and terribly angry at Mayor
Bradley. The friend I’ve known for ten years was the man who went on television half an hour
after the trial was over and used terrible language to say he was outraged. Boom!—next thing
you know, the mobs burned the streets. Thus far I haven’t had the guts to tell Tom Bradley, faceto-
face, “you did it!”
PLAYBOY: Did you have any idea there was so much rage in Los Angeles’ black community?
BRADBURY: I don’t think anybody knew.
PLAYBOY: Did you feel any empathy for the rioters?
BRADBURY: None. Why should I? I don’t approve of any mob anywhere at any time. Had we
not controlled it in L.A., all the big cities in this country would have gone up in flames.
PLAYBOY: If Los Angeles is an indicator for the nation, what is the future of other big cities?
BRADBURY: Along with man’s return to the moon, my biggest hope is that L.A. will show the
way for all of our cities to rebuild, because they’ve gone to hell and the crime rate has soared.
When we can repopulate them, the crime rate will plunge.
PLAYBOY: What will help?
BRADBURY: We need enlightened corporations to do it; they’re the only ones who can. All the
great malls have been built by corporate enterprises. We have to rebuild cities with the same
conceptual flair that the great malls have. We can turn any bad section of town into a vibrant
PLAYBOY: How do you convince corporate leaders and bureaucrats that you have the right
BRADBURY: They listen because they know my track record. The center of downtown San
Diego was nonexistent until a concept of mine, the Horton Plaza, was built right in the middle of
bleakest skid row. Civilization returned to San Diego upon its completion. It became the center
of a thriving community. And the Glendale Galleria, based on my concept, changed downtown
Glendale when it was built nearly 25 years ago. So if I live another ten years—please, God!—
I’11 be around to witness a lot of this in Los Angeles and inspire the same thing in big cities
throughout the country.
PLAYBOY: You have said that you want to influence children. Is that your most important
BRADBURY: I feel like I own all the kids in the world because, since I’ve never grown up
myself, all my books are automatically for children.
PLAYBOY: How does it feel to have an impact on children?
BRADBURY: It’s mutual delight and love made manifest. For one thing, kids love me because I
write stories that tell them about their capacity for evil. I’m one of the few writers who lets you
cleanse yourself that way.
PLAYBOY: Would you say you’re nostalgic for childhood?
BRADBURY: Yeah. Once you let yourself begin to be grown-up, you face a world full of
problems you can’t solve. The politicians and specialists—adults, all—have a hard enough time
trying to figure out where to look. It doesn’t have to be that way. The greatest solutions in
society are reached by corporate thinking, ruled by a motive to either make a profit or go out of
business. There’s great incentive to strive for excellence. On the other hand, bloated
bureaucracies like city governments don’t have to make a profit—they just raise people’s taxes
when they need more money. If you want to get anything done, it should be through a
corporation. Disney is a prime example.
PLAYBOY: Didn’t the Eighties—the decade of Wall Street junk-bond scandals and bankrupt
banks—establish that corporate chiefs can be little more than thieves?
BRADBURY: I’m talking about top-flight people like those at IBM, Apple, AT&T. If
corporations don’t take over the educational system soon, we’ll end up with all black-and-brown
cities surrounded by white-flight small towns, which are under construction even as we speak.
You can’t blame whites for getting the hell out. City governments have neglected the biggest
factor in our criminal environment—education. Kindergarten. First grade. If we don’t change
those immediately, we’ll raise another generation of empty-headed dummies. If you let boys
grow up as that, when they reach the age of ten they’re bored, drop out, take dope, rob stores,
rape—all that good stuff. Our jails overflow with illiterates who have been ignored by our city
leaders. Jails should be run as schools, where kids are taught the basics, instead of spending a
billion dollars a day just to keep them locked up. The government should stop sending schools
money until they prove they are teaching reading and writing. We should fire half the teachers
right now. This is an emergency—we’re raising a criminal culture in all races and every walk of
life by not teaching kids how to read and write. That scares me more than anything, yet I don’t
hear anyone else talking about the primary grades—where our future lies. The corporations I
mention are getting involved more and more in magnet school relationships with local schools.
The reasoning is hardly utopian—it’s actually a selfish endeavor since they must educate the
kids who grow up to be a part of their companies.
PLAYBOY: A future when our children are taught to be useful employees of big companies? It
sounds like a robotic race in some science-fiction story.
BRADBURY: You mean the way Japan-bashers portray that society? Listen, you can’t turn
really bright people into robots. You can turn dumb people into robots, but that’s true in every
society and system. I don’t know what to do with dumb people, but we must try to educate them
along with the sharp kids. You teach a kid to read and write by the second grade and the rest will
take care of itself. To solve the drug problem, we have to start at the root—first grade. If a boy
has all the toys in his head that reading can give him, and you hook him into science-fiction, then
you’ve got the future secured.
PLAYBOY: How does it feel to get older?
BRADBURY: On my seventieth birthday, when I reflected that so many of my friends were
dead or dying, it hit me that it was high time I got more work done. Ever since that time, I have
done the active, smart thing by increasing my productivity. I’m not on the rocks or shoals yet,
but the last few years have been a devastation of illnesses and deaths of many good friends. [Star
Trek creator] Gene Roddenberry was a loss that deeply grieved me.
PLAYBOY: How well did you know him?
BRADBURY: Gene was an intimate friend. We’d been friends for many years when he asked
me to write for Star Trek more than 25 years ago. But I’ve never had the ability to adapt other
people’s ideas into any sensible form.
PLAYBOY: What did you think of Roddenberry’s final flourish, when NASA honored his
will’s request and released his ashes into space on one of its missions? Sound tempting?
BRADBURY: That was interesting. At one time, I had planned to have my ashes put into a
Campbell’s tomato soup can and then have it planted on Mars. [Laughs] But in recent years, I
have come to realize that I have a lot of fans and lovers out there. So I plan to design a big, long,
flat gravestone that will be inscribed with the names of my books and lots of dandelions, as a
tribute to Dandelion Wine, because so many people love it. At the bottom of the slab there will
be a sign saying PLACE DANDELIONS HERE—I hope people will, so a living yellow meadow
can bloom in the spring and summertime.
PLAYBOY: Do you believe in God?
BRADBURY: I believe in Darwin and God together. It’s all one. It’s all mysterious. Look at the
universe. It’s been here forever. It’s totally impossible. But, then, the size of the universe is
impossible. It goes on forever, there’s no end. That’s impossible. We’re impossible. And the fact
that the sun gave birth to the planets, and the planets cooled, and the rain fell and we came out of
the oceans as animals. How come dead matter decided to come alive? It just did. There is no
explanation. There’s no theory.
PLAYBOY: You almost sound like a fundamentalist preacher. You say you believe in
Darwinism, but you sometimes sound like a creationist.
BRADBURY: Or a combination of both. Because nobody knows. Science and religion have to
go hand in hand with the mystery, because there’s a certain point beyond which you say, “There
are no answers.” Why does the sun burn? We don’t know. It just does—that’s the answer. Why
were the planets created? We don’t know. It happened. How come there’s life on the earth? We
don’t know. It just happened. You accept that as a scientist and as a religious preacher. The
scientist can teach us to survive by learning more about how the body works, what disease is,
how to cure ourselves and how to work on longevity. The preacher then says, “Don’t forget to
pay attention to the fact that you’re alive.” Just the mere fact, the glory of getting up every
morning and looking at the sunrise or a good rainfall or whatever, and saying, “That’s
wonderful.” That’s just wonderful. The Darwin theory can’t be proved; it’s a theory. We think it
PLAYBOY: Do you think it’s true?
BRADBURY: Nobody knows. I can’t give you an opinion about it. It’s only a theory, you see.
PLAYBOY: Do you go to church?
BRADBURY: No. I don’t believe in the anthropomorphic God.
PLAYBOY: Do you think our souls live on or do we cease to exist when we die?
BRADBURY: Well, I have four daughters and eight grandchildren. My soul lives on in them.
That’s immortality. That’s the only immortality I care about.