February 28th, 2010

An amazing day with Ray

Seeing Ray Bradbury last week and talking about him with friends over the last few days got me thinking about an unforgettable gift that Ray gave me in 1983...

Back in the early '80s, I was fortunate enough to be around several of my writing idols. I got to know Ray and Dennis Etchison fairly well (Dennis - as his blurb for my novel The Castle of Los Angeles proves! - remains a friend to this day); heck, I even drove the non-driving Mr. Bradbury to a few events.

One day Ray invited me to the set of Something Wicked This Way Comes, then filming at the Disney Studios in the valley; he even told me to bring my camera. The day - a sunny one in December of 1983 - was spectacular.

I believe it was Jonathan Pryce's first day of filming as "Mr. Dark", and the day's big scene was the carnival parade. This was cool, because it meant that most of the principals were on hand, and that I could snap plenty of photos without getting in anyone's way.

Pryce fascinated me. He seemed quiet, focused, slightly nervous when not on camera, and happy to let me snap him. Royal Dano was amazing, and I adored both of the young stars, Vidal and Shawn. And here's the part that still kills me: I spent the better part of an hour just gabbing with Pam Grier...and at the time I had virtually no idea who she was. Now she's one of my all-time favorite actresses, and it still kills me...but at least she was incredibly nice, very articulate, passionate about the work, and of course stunningly gorgeous.

Anyway, here are a couple of my favorite shots from that day:

This, of course, is Ray and his brilliant creation, Mr. Dark, as enacted by the equally brilliant Mr. Pryce. Later on, I had Ray sign this photo for me (and I gave him copies, of course!).

Here's the entire carnival, posing with Ray. You can also see Robards in there, to the left of Ray, and Ray's got the two young stars on either side of him.

One of the all-time great character actors, Royal Dano (as the "Lightning Rod Salesman"), chatting between takes while little Vidal Peterson looks on. I love the lighting in this shot; in fact, this photo makes me nostalgic for the richness of 35mm. film as compared to digital.

Silly me, I didn't ask Pam Grier for a photo. However, she wasn't in costume that day; they'd brought her in hoping to get to a shot of the "Dust Witch", but ended up running out of time (which was how I got lucky enough to have her to gab with for a while).

And this last is something I picked up that day and had customized: Because they were shooting the parade sequence, they were flinging these beautiful prop flyers everywhere. I grabbed one and had it signed by Vidal, producer Peter Douglas, director Jack Clayton, Ray, Pam, Jason Robards, and Royal.

It makes me sad to realize that three of the fine gentlemen who signed this - Dano, Robards, and Clayton - are now gone. It's also somewhat melancholy to think that the film didn't turn out to be the classic it could have been; I saw an early cut of it that was utterly magnificent (Clayton, after all, also directed the classic The Innocents), but Disney, in their infinite wisdom, screwed with it until it was rendered down to amusement park-style family junk food. It at least remains a fine debut for Mr. Pryce, and one of the better Bradbury adaptations.

After the '80s, I kind of lost touch with Ray, which is unfortunate...but I will always be grateful to him for the gift of this one particular day.