On August 22, Ray Bradbury will celebrate his 89th birthday. By a happy coincidence, The Saturday Evening Post is featuring a new story by Bradbury—“Juggernaut”—in the September/October issue.
The Post’s collaboration with Bradbury traces back to 1950, when we published his short story, “The World the Children Made.” All tolled, the Post has published 14 short stories and two poems—just a small part of the man’s output, which is somewhere around 500 published works.
Anyone wanting to know American literature or wanting to be an American writer must read Ray Bradbury. He speaks to a part of the American spirit that no other writer has addressed so directly. Part poetry, part elegy, sentimental, fantastic, but usually rooted in everyday experiences.
“It was summer twilight in the city, and out front of the quiet-clicking pool hall three young Mexican-American men breathed the warm air and looked around at the world. Sometimes they talked and sometimes they said nothing at all, but watched the cars glide by like black panthers on the hot asphalt or saw trolleys loom up like thunderstorms, scatter lightning, and rumble away into silence.”
This is the first paragraph of “The Magic White Suit,” which the Post published in 1958. It tells of five men with identical height and proportions who combine their money to buy a special white suit, which they take turns wearing.
“There on the dummy in the center of the room was the phosphorescence, the miraculously white-fired ghost with the incredible lapels, the precise stitching, the neat buttonholes. Standing with the white illumination of the suit upon his cheeks, Martinez suddenly felt he was in church. White! White! It was white as the whitest vanilla ice cream, as the bottled milk in tenement halls at dawn. White as a winter cloud all alone in the moonlit sky late at night.”
Around 1990, movie director Frank Zuñiga worked with Bradbury to film the short story. He remembers meeting Bradbury at his office:
“In the reception area, where a secretary might sit, there was a life-sized, stuffed version of Bullwinkle the Moose. The rest of the room was books. Books on top of books, stacked from floor to ceiling. We had to walk this narrow path between them back to his own desk. There were even more books, and three old typewriters. They weren’t even electric—and this was in 1990! Three manual typewriters, each holding a page of typing. He told me, ‘When I get tired working on one story, I move to the next typewriter.’”
He mastered his craft on such typewriters. Living in Los Angeles during the Depression, he graduated from high school and began selling newspapers to support his family. His college, he has said, was the 10 years he spent in the LA libraries, pounding out stories on the ancient typewriters that rented for 10 cents an hour.
Bradbury said that the “The Magic White Suit” was based on a personal experience. At graduation, Bradbury’s parents gave him his first suit. It was used, and worn, and fit him poorly, but it was a suit. Only later did he learn that it was the suit his uncle had died in. “They hadn’t even sewn up the bullet hole,” he said. It was such a good story, Zuñiga didn’t have the heart to ask Bradbury if it was true.
For all his fantastic visions, Bradbury has lived a low-tech life. He never drove. He preferred to be driven around LA or simply bike to his office or the studio. He never flew in a plane until he was 73, when he attended the premier of the movie, The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit. But he was always excited by innovation. “He was incredibly excited during the moon landing in ’69,” says Zuñiga. “It was a dream come true for him. He wished he could experience it himself, but he knew that was unlikely. So what he did was ask to visit the Chatsworth, California, site where the rocket engine was being tested. He stood on the pavement, safely out of range, but close enough for the sound and force of the engines to hit him and whip his clothes around his legs. He told me it was among the biggest thrills in his life.”
With the story “Juggernaut,” Ray Bradbury has now contributed to the Post for 60 years. And if he wants to write for another 60 years, The Saturday Evening Post will be glad to keep publishing his treasured stories.