Sunday, 22 August 2010

UNCLE RAY & UNCLE WALT

I have had two honorary American uncles in my time: one was the late Walt Disney, whom I never met, but whose work has been probably the greatest single influence on my life...

The other is Walt's friend and devoted admirer, the science-fiction/fantasy writer, RAY BRADBURY with whom I have been blessed to have a for thirty-six-year-long friendship and who, today, celebrates his 90th birthday!

To mark that event, I am sharing one or two items from my extensive Bradbury collection relating to Disney and his studio.

It was in 1974, that I wrote Ray Bradbury a fan letter: partly to ask him some questions about Disney (I had ambitions to write a book about my hero) but also to tell him how much I admired his books. The truth was that I had fallen under the Bradbury spell upon reading The Golden Apples of the Sun and had been a hostage to his startling imagination from then on.

The first thing I received, by way of reply, was a photocopy of a review Ray had written for the Los Angeles Times of Christopher Finch's then recently-published book, The Art of Walt Disney.

The piece ended (as you will read) with Ray's recollection that when he had once suggested Walt run for mayor of LA and Disney had replied, "Why should I run for mayor when I'm already king?" – an anecdote verified with the annotation: B.S. TRUE STORY! R.B.

All images: CLICK TO ENLARGE and READ

There was also the following article from Holiday magazine in which Ray sang the praises of Disneyland...






Then, just short of two months later, came the promised letter which you can read on Brian Sibley: The Blog. Once read, it obviously had to be answered and so began a exchange of correspondence that has gone on in some shape or form ever since (letters, post-cards giving way, eventually, to e-mails and faxes) along with visits whenever trans-Atlantic travel made that possible.

One of those visits came about in 1982 when I was making a BBC radio documentary about the soon-to-open EPCOT. I love the fact that Ray talks about Spacehip Earth as his building! And there is also a glimpse of his frustration over the delays involved in completing the Disney Studio's film of his novel, Something Wicked This Way Comes...


As you can see, it seemed as if our dates were doomed not to coincide; but that was not the end of the story, because fate (and Disney) stepped in, as Jiminy Cricket would say, "like a bolt from out the blue"!

Earlier in 1982, I had spent a couple of weeks filming in Florida and Los Angeles for another EPCOT-centric documentary - this time for television. The plan had been that we would return to film the finished product when the park debuted in the October, but, in the intervening months, the BBC had run out of programme funding and so were unable to send both my producer, Norman Stone, and I back to Orlando to capture the opening and the necessary wrap-up interviews with our contributors.

Disney offered to fly us out and take care of us, but since such a gesture might be thought to compromise the independent editorial voice of the BBC, the corporation declined. Norman, it was decreed, would have to make the trip solo and work with a US film crew.

Then, while in Florida making my radio programme (separate division, separate funding) during EPCOT's preview weeks, Disney in true fairy godmother fashion waved a magic wand by telling me that I was going to be invited to the opening events as a guest and the BBC, with an example of dubious (but gratefully accepted) reasoning, argued that whilst it would have been unacceptable for Disney to fly me out to cover the opening, if - as a guest who just happened to be there anyway - I chanced to meet up with Norman and his film crew and was able to record a few interviews (unpaid, of course!) honour would be satisfied.

And that is what happened. Which is why, on 22 October 1982 – against all expectations – Ray and I stood chatting in the shade of his Spacehip Earth and I came away with this unique souvenir...


For those who believe that memories are better than photos and autographs, I have to say that the day ended with one of the best Disney-Bradbury gifts I could ever have been given. The evening of 22 October saw a black-tie party in Futureland with champagne, food and music from some of the greatest American dance-bands.

The press contingent were not invited to this bash but, instead, were sent off to an existing well-known Orlando night-spot, Rosie O'Grady's Good Time Emporium – except, that is, for Norman and I who (through the generosity of the friendships we had made with the folks at Imagineering and in particular Marty Sklar and John Hench) were given invitations to the Spaceship Earth party.

Food, drink and music meant that most of the celebrity guests had plenty to occupy them during the evening without actually riding Spacehip Earth which, for most of the evening, had empty cars spiralling up through its geodesic structure.

Then Norman and I bumped into Ray and one of his daughters. "Have you been on Spaceship Earth he excitedly asked?" Well, yes we had; a couple of times. Ray looked crestfallen. "Damn!" he said, "I was going to ask you to ride it with me."

There wasn't a moment's hesitation from Norman and I! "Of course we'd love to ride it with YOU!" And we did. No one else, just Ray and his daughter in the front seats, Norman and I behind in our hired tuxedos; Walter Cronkite's narration coming out of car's loudspeaker system while Ray provided his own unique commentary over the top – adding detail and explanation about why he had chosen this or that moment in history of communication to be part of the Spaceship Earth story.

Unforgettable!

Ten months on from the opening of EPCOT, Something Wicked This Way Comes finally reached the cinemas...

Invitation to 'Something Wicked' Screening

Invitation to 'Something Wicked' Screening

Having fallen in love with the book as a youngster, I was thrilled at the prospect of this allegorical story about light-versus-darkness being realised for the movies by the studio with the greatest track record in retelling fables and folk tales.

Several of Ray's letters around this period, comment on the film. Here are a couple...

Letter from Ray Bradbury, August 1983

Letter from Ray Bradbury, October 1983

The 'Mouse's Tale' referred to by Ray was a spoof interview with Mickey Mouse that I wrote for a humorous magazine in Britain – and which they turned down! The cartoon was inspired by the then-recent publication of Ray's Dinosaur Tales, which is the book being read by the baby dinosaur in the drawing...

Cartoon drawn for Ray Bradbury by Brian Sibley

Another memorable meeting with Ray took place at the Disney Studio in Burbank in 1986. I was there with my writing colleague, Richard Holliss, researching The Disney Studio Story and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: The Making of the Classic – and Ray came over to meet us and have lunch at the Disney commissary. The Green Town sets from Something Wicked were still standing on the Disney back-lot, so where better to get an inscription in one of my all-time favourite books...?



When, two months later, our earlier book, Mickey Mouse: His Life and Times was published, Richard and I sent Ray a copy, receiving this enthusiastic response...


In the twenty-four years since that letter, Ray and I have gone on chattering, gibbering and blabbing about very many things including – as often as not – Walt Disney and his works and worlds.

As a post-script to the earlier comments on the fascinating (if flawed) film of Something Wicked, I was later given – by a kind friend at the Disney studio – one of the fliers for Dark's Pandemonium Carnival – which Mr Dark (Jonathan Pryce) scatters to the winds as he prowls around the unsuspecting Green Town...

Dark's Pandemonium Carnival


NOTE: As reproduced on this blog, Ray Bradbury's address and phone number have been edited from the letterheads out of respect for his privacy.

You can read about one of my encounters with Ray in The Bradbury Machine

And here are some of my thoughts on a few of his books: the one that started my love-affair with Ray's writing, The Golden Apples of the Sun, his autumnal tale celebrating the last day in October, The Halloween Tree (with a follow-up note from Ray, and his enduringly evocative masterpiece, Something Wicked This Way Comes.

Admirers of Ray's works also need to know that the best website devoted to all things Bradburyesque is the endlessly diverting and informative Bradbury Media.

7 comments:

Andy J. Latham said...

Another collection of great memories! Thanks for sharing :)

Are your dreams of a book about Walt long gone now Brian, or are you biding your time?

Love the dinosaurs by the way :D

Brian Sibley said...

Pleasure, Andy. A book about Walt? Yes, I think I've given up on that now: when I was dreaming of such a volume there was only the The Art of Walt Disney (R D Feild), The Art of Animation (Bob Tomas), the Diane Disney Miller "as told to Pete Martin" biography and Richard Schickel's iconoclastic The Disney Version. NOW, there are dozens of books about Walt and, I suspect, little or nothing new to say... :(

Brian Sibley said...

PS: Glad you liked the dinosaurs – I'm a frustrated cartoonist, you see!

Andy J. Latham said...

I don't think I've ever seen a cartoon of yours before Brian. I love how you've got the dinos fitting in together and the simplicity of line. Great stuff, I'd be interested to see any more you have done :)

Nice Disney-esque signature too ;P

Brian Sibley said...

Thank you! :>

The caricature of Ray at the top of the post is also mine. Maybe I'll dig out some of my old cartoons from the WPB and put them up on the Other Blog... As a young man I even applied (unsuccessfully) for a job with the Halas and Batchelor studio!

Andy J. Latham said...

Ah so it is! I didn't spot the "Sibley" on that one! Great stuff :D

I'll look forward to a possible future posting!

Hey at least you applied....nothing ventured and all that :)

Brian Sibley said...

I haven't drawn (properly) for years now – although in committee meetings I still cover my agendas, minutes etc with doodles! :)