Classic Ray Bradbury on “Fahrenheit 451″ Redo

by Glenn Lovell

Eloquent, profane, blustery, eternally boyish — Ray Bradbury, who died Tuesday at age 91, proved all of the above in our numerous chats. I met the science fiction-fantasy author in 1983, upon the release of the long-stalled adaptation of “Something Wicked This Way Comes.” Our interview was set for late afternoon at a San Francisco hotel.

But it didn’t come off as planned because Bradbury, by 4 p.m., was happily in his cups, slurring his words after one too many martinis. We rescheduled for two weeks later — at his office-cum-warehouse on Wilshire Blvd. Bradbury couldn’t have been more gracious, regaling his guest with stories of his love/hate relationship with Hollywood. A child at heart, the author surrounded himself with toys and movie memorabilia, including, on his large, cluttered mahogany desk, a model of the Nautilus from Disney’s “20,000 Leagues under the Sea.”

Though we talked numerous times after that meeting, the last story I wrote about Bradbury was on a proposed remake of “Fahrenheit 451″ by Mel Gibson. Excerpts from that never-before-published 2001 interview show Bradbury in rare form, at once caustic and testy.

RAY BRADBURY IS FUMING mad at Mel Gibson’s Icon Productions. “One of their scripts for ‘Fahrenheit 451’ should be seen by people to show how dumb studios can be,” the author grouses. “And please quote me on that!”

Bradbury was hoping things would go smoother this time around with Icon holding the rights to his 1953 sci-fi classic and Frank Darabont now set to direct for Castle Rock Ent. But so far, the author reports, the new “F-451” has been more exasperating than the 1966 Francois Truffaut version with Oskar Werner as Montag and Julie Christie — in what Bradbury calls “a stupid bit of miscasting” — as both Montag’s wife Mildred and the 16-year-old girl next door.

“F-451,” about a dystopian society in which reading is outlawed, was optioned four years ago by Icon as a possible “Braveheart” follow-up for Gibson. Bradbury lunched with Gibson in 1998 to discuss the project. “We had a terrific meeting,” the author recalls. “He seemed very enthused. He showed me plans for the sets and a design for the mechanical hound, which was cut from Truffaut’s version.”

But then, complete silence. “Every six months I call them and they say the same thing: ‘Oh, we were just about to call you.’ Yeah, sure. Can you believe they’ve let so much time go by, when the novel is in every school in America?”

Bradbury says there are now nine “F-451” scripts circulating, plus his own. “How can you write 10 screenplays on ‘F-451,’ when all you have to do is open the book and shoot the pages? It’s stupid.”

Adding insult to injury, none of the scripts has been sent to Bradbury for comment. He did, however, receive a bootlegged copy of draft six from a bookseller in Atlanta. It was very “un-Bradbury-like,” in the author’s words.

“I was afraid to open it. Finally I turned to page 42, very gingerly. It’s where Fire Chief Beatty comes to Montag’s house and Mildred asks, ‘Would you like some coffee?’ Beatty replies, ‘Does a bear s— in the woods?’ I closed the script and didn’t read the rest. I couldn’t believe it.”

Now that the highly regarded Darabont (“The Shawshank Redemption”) is connected with the project, as well as a proposed $70-million HBO serialization of Bradbury’s “The Martian Chronicles,” the author is more optimistic. “He’s does beautiful work. When I saw ‘The Green Mile,’ I called him and said, ‘Is the ending a Bradbury ending?’ He said, ‘Yes, I read you in high school.’ ”

Among the actors periodically mentioned for the Montag role – after Gibson bowed out as director or star – are Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt. Sean Connery once expressed interest in the Beatty role. “Either Cruise or Pitt would be great,” says Bradbury. “Especially Cruise – he’s a very good actor.”

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