The death of author Ray Bradbury this week touched millions of readers worldwide. But it had very personal significance to Colorado Springs' Barry Hoffman, who first made contact with Bradbury around a quarter-century ago, published limited editions of his work on his Springs-based Gauntlet Press imprint, and facilitated a unique connection between the Fahrenheit 451 scribe and his son, Bridesmaids actor David Hoffman.
"It was not something unexpected," Hoffman says of Bradbury's passing at age 91, "but it's obviously a terrible loss and a little bit of a shock. I know people who've seen him relatively often in the past year, and they would fill me in on how he was doing -- and he hadn't been doing well."
Fortunately, Hoffman believes Bradbury's legacy remains in exceedingly good shape. "Unlike many authors in the 20th century and even now, I think Ray is going to be remembered hundreds of years from now."
In Hoffman's view, Bradbury was just as fine a man as he was a writer, as exemplified by the way they first came into contact.
During the late '80s, Hoffman was a middle school teacher living in Philadelphia, and rather than teach his students about literature by using material from the assigned basal reader, he shared "stories from authors I was most interested in: Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Bob Bloch, Stephen King. I would make copies of the stories, which was probably illegal but was important to the kids in the class, and if there were videos of the stories, we'd watch them, too -- things like The Ray Bradbury Theater," an intermittent series that ran on HBO and the USA Network from 1985 to 1992.
In this context, Hoffman had his students write Bradbury a letter "saying what they thought of his writing -- and I had them write a story in his style, which was obviously pretty impossible for kids to do at that age, but they did their best. And he was kind enough to write a letter to the class and send a poster that he signed."
This tie was strengthened considerably when Hoffman launched Gauntlet. Among the first books the press issued was a limited edition of Bloch's Psycho -- the book on which Alfred Hitchcock's ageless shocker is based. He then reached out to Bradbury and Matheson, known for the likes of I Am Legend, to write an introduction and an afterword, respectively -- and both eagerly agreed. Then, just before the new version was set to go to the printer, he sent a copy to Bloch, who told Hoffman he received it on the same day he learned he had terminal cancer. "He said, 'When I read Ray's introduction and Richard's afterword, I cried,' because it made him feel so wonderful," Hoffman recalls.
In the years that followed, Hoffman began publishing limited, autographed editions of Bradbury's writing, including October Country, Something Wicked This Way Comes and The Illustrated Man -- the last book featuring an illustration by Bradbury himself. "Initially he did it in black and white and faxed it to me -- and he wrote on it, 'Is this okay?'" Hoffman reveals. "I thought to myself, 'Even if this is terrible, I'm not going to say that to Ray Bradbury.' But it was really good." What stuck out to him, though, is that "Ray was humble enough to ask, 'Is this acceptable? Or should I start over?'"
On top of established classics, Gauntlet also issued never-before published Bradbury stories, sketches and drafts, as well as reissuing early works such as Dark Carnival. And then there's Match to Flame: The Fictional Paths to Fahrenheit 451, which Hoffman describes as "one of the things I'm most proud of," because it collects "all the stories he wrote leading up to Fahrenheit 451."
Bradbury expert Donn Albright gathered the material, which included "the very first story Ray wrote dealing with censorship all the way to the novella that led to him finally writing the novel," Hoffman says. "There were several short stories that had been published and several novellas that were unpublished -- because he would work on something, and if he got tired of it or thought it wasn't working, he would set it aside and then work on it again in two or three years, or in one case, fifty years after he started it." He feels the results are historically significant in addition to being manna for Bradbury fanatics.
Hoffman doesn't claim to have become an intimate of Bradbury during their years of working together, but he was privy to plenty of lore, including tales of the author penning a screenplay adaptation of Something Wicked This Way Comes for Gene Kelly during the 1940s or 1950s (it would have been "far darker" than the 1983 Disney movie, Hoffman says) and various attempts by actor/producer/director (and current pariah) Mel Gibson to remake Fahrenheit 451. "There were at least twelve different versions of that script," Hoffman divulges, "and one of them had a lot of profanity in it. Ray ignored the whole thing until he read the version with the profanity -- and then he said, 'No, you're not going to do that.'"
Another Hoffman collected even more tales -- actor David, a member of the Groundlings who had a small roles in Bridesmaids, parts on recent episodes of The New Girl and 2 Broke Girls, and, says his proud father, "Super Bowl commercials three years in a row." As Hoffman points out, shipping copies of books to Los Angeles-based Bradbury to autograph was impractical, since the typical run was 500 copies. So he was instead sent "tip sheets" -- single pages that Bradbury would sign and mail back for insertion at the printing stage. "But as he was getting older, rather than sending him the tip sheets and bothering him by having him do 500 at a time," he says, "David would go over and visit him, and he would sign as many as he wanted -- and when he got tired, he would say, 'That's it,' and David would say, 'Fine, I'll call you in a couple of weeks.'
"But when David was there, Ray would regale him with different stories -- things that had occurred to him when he went to Mexico, things with his family. He was just a wonderful storyteller; you couldn't have a conversation with him without getting at least one story. And David was able to just soak in all of this information."
Many obituaries of Bradbury have identified him as a science-fiction writer, but Hoffman thinks that's inaccurate. "He never really wrote science fiction," he says. "When you think about The Martian Chronicles, those stories took place on Mars, but none of them were based on scientific fact, and there are things that occur that would be scientifically impossible. And Ray never considered himself a science-fiction writer. He wrote horror and fantasy, but he really crossed genres."
Some of the Bradbury editions published by Gauntlet are out of print, while others remain available on the Gauntlet website. As for the possibility of more Gauntlet titles from Bradbury, who was incredibly prolific, Hoffman doesn't know what his family will decide. But whatever happens in the short run, he knows Bradbury's work will live on.
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"He wrote so many wonderful things," Hoffman allows. "Fahrenheit 451 is a book that's going to be required reading until the end of time -- as much of a classic as books by Dickens or any other author being read now. That's the kind of author he was -- not someone who's just popular for a certain period of time, but someone whose writing will last."
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