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Remembering Ray

In January 2005 I received a copy of a special edition of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. It was inscribed by the author, and the inscription began:

Dear Stan, A lifetime ago—summer 1953—you flew to L.A. to feed me ice cream and advice on how to finish this novel! What a grand summer!

Actually we were together only four days, but it was grand, and there was ice cream.

In 1953 I was the editor-in-chief of Ballantine Books, and when we acquired Ray’s manuscript, his agent warned me about proofs. Ray, he said, was notorious for fussing with them at length. What was worse, when he was stressed, he over-ate. When I sent the proofs of Fahrenheit 451 to Ray in L.A., we were already behind in our schedule, and when he kept delaying his return of them, I decided to go out and get them.

He welcomed me. He was worried about some points in the book and wanted advice but was reluctant to ask for it. Now it was at his door—or rather at my hotel. We spent four days in my room, poring over the manuscript, with Ray, as his agent had promised, sending out frequently for ice cream—to help his stress. Well, I couldn’t let him eat alone, so we both put on weight. I felt as if I were dealing with a giant of enthusiasm streaked with doubt that was subdued by ice cream, which I forced myself to eat in order to help him.

I worked with Ray on one more book, The October Country, but this was a collection of stories that had already been published, so it needed little work. I regretted that I couldn’t go out there for that book, too.

Through the years I have not kept up with his writing as I wish I had, but I’ve seen the progress of Fahrenheit 451 to its present prominence and of course was gratified by François Truffaut’s interest. Others who admired Ray’s work in general include Bertrand Russell, Christopher Isherwood, and Ingmar Bergman. Ray must have known that he was one of those increasingly rare artists whose work attracts a wide audience, from popular up and vice versa. Humanitarian that he was, he must have liked that.

Stanley Kauffmann is the film critic for The New Republic.