1922-2003

An appreciation by Sam Weller

She changed literature forever. Not bad for a woman who loved books more than just about anything. Books and cats and fine wine and her energetic, irascible, imaginative, brilliant, prolific, Peter Pan of a husband of 56 years-Ray Bradbury. You might know him from The Illustrated Man, The Martian Chronicles, Fahrenheit 451. None of these books would have existed if it weren't for her. None of them.

So much can be said about Maggie Bradbury. No question, she enabled Ray Bradbury's career. In the late 1940s, while she took the 7:30 morning train all the way across Los Angeles every single workday, acting as the household breadwinner in an era when women didn't dare do such things, her spouse was allowed to stay home and work on his writing. He honed his craft, shaped his style, sent his material to editors across the continent in the Big Apple. He would not have had this luxury if she didn't bring home a paycheck. He would have been forced to get a day job and this, very likely, would have been the death knell for his writing career. The proverbial butterfly would have been squashed and the future of high-imaginative literature would have been altered for all time.

       
       



We all owe Maggie Bradbury a debt of gratitude. But to understand just who this great woman truly was, we must go back to the very beginning….

Marguerite Susan McClure was born on January 16, 1922, the only child of Lonal and Anna McClure. She came from a rich genealogical background; among her family were the founders of McClure's Magazine. Another relative had invented the coupler that connected freight train cars. Her grandfather had married a full-blooded Cherokee Native American in the late 1800s. Marguerite's father was a Los Angeles restaurateur. During the First World War, he served as head chef to General John Joseph Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces in France. In his lifetime, Lonal owned many restaurants in the Los Angeles area. But his greatest source of pride was his only child, delivered into a silver-spoon world that knew no want, no hardship, no poverty. The McClures were always well off, even as the Great Depression squelched the U.S. economy.

Marguerite McClure attended school in Los Angeles and later enrolled at UCLA where she studied English and Spanish. She left the university just a few credit hours shy of earning her diploma. In the mid-1940s, she landed a job at Fowler Brothers Bookstore in downtown Los Angeles. And on a hot afternoon in 1946, while in the bookstore, she encountered the future. She spied a young man who was wearing a military-style trench coat even as the outside temperature soared. This young man had been called "Flash Gordon" and "Buck Rogers" by the East Coast literati. He was a pulp magazine writer who had gained recent prominence after one of his short stories had landed in the vaunted anthology, Best American Short Stories of the Year. But mostly, he was looked down upon as a pulp magazine writer—a teller of weird tales and dime detective yarns and stories of far outer space. And Marguerite McClure, spotting this twenty-something young man in her bookstore thought he was a thief. The bookshop had been the victim of recent thievery, and this strange kid, mulling about wearing the trench coat with deep pockets was awfully suspicious. Inquisitive, she talked to him. In turn, he told her of one of his recent publications and she was duly impressed. He asked her out for coffee which turned into cocktails (she loved martinis) which resulted in dinner. Quickly, they fell in love. On September 27, 1947, the same year Ray's first book Dark Carnival was published, they were married. His best friend, Ray Harryhausen (cult stop-motion animation uber-hero) served as best man.

And that's when Maggie went to work. She took the big red rail car across the city each day to an advertising agency as her husband stayed home and wrote tales of the planet Mars and of altered realities. His income was increasing exponentially, but without her guaranteed paycheck, he would not have had the luxury to focus on his fiction.

But in early 1949, Maggie was pregnant. This bit of news gave the needed push to Ray to hightail it into hyper-drive. He traveled to New York in the summer of '49 and over one dinner he sold two outlines for The Illustrated Man and The Martian Chronicles.

In the early years, Maggie Bradbury was the provider. As Ray has often said, this girl from a well-to-do background took a "vow of poverty" when she married. But money was never an issue. She loved Ray and she believed in him—even when they had only a handful of change in their bank account.

They were married for 56 years. And the vow of poverty paid off. He became, arguably, the single most influential author of 20th century popular culture, in large part, thanks to her. Her hard work in the very beginning yielded massive dividends. The man she believed in proved his worth to prompt some to say that he will one day be canonized alongside Shakespeare, Yeats, Melville, and Shaw—not to mention Welty, Fitzgerald, and his beloved Wells, Burroughs, Baum, and Poe.

To the very end, Maggie Bradbury was a towering personality. Her sense of humor was her rubber stamp. She had a nicotine rasp that ranged from high-falutin' hilarity to lowbrow belly laughter. And she loved her books. LOVED THEM. The beams and rafters of the Bradbury house ached under the weight of them all, 7000 at last count. This was her primary passion. Her favorite author (besides a weird tale scribe named Ray) was Marcel Proust. She also had a complete set of Agatha Christie novels. She loved mysteries. And she adored history tomes of all shapes and sizes. She didn't read only in English; Maggie was fluent in French, Spanish and Italian.

And she loved her cats. At one point, in the late 1950s, the Bradbury place was home to 22 felines. In recent years, the number had dwindled to a far more reasonable two: Win-Win and Ditzy. Today, these two kitties wander the rambling Bradbury house in Cheviot Hills in confusion, meowing plaintively, as if to ask: Where's Mama?

And Maggie loved her wine. After 20 visits to France, she had been given a certificate of gastronomy for her great knowledge of the grape. She was quick to wax anatomical, twirling her glass in her nimble fingers and speaking of "nose" and "legs." She was quick to offer a fine glass of Merlot to all whom she deemed worthy.

But most important is the resounding echo she leaves behind in her four daughters: Susan, Ramona, Bettina, and Alexandra; and eight grandchildren: Julia, Claire, Georgia, Mallory, Daniel, Casey-Ray, Samuel and Theodore.

On a personal front—during the last four years, I have been given the great lottery golden ticket honor of visiting the Bradbury home every two or three weeks. In this time, I talked and giggled with Maggie and really got to know her. One Saturday afternoon I handed her one of the books from my own collection—a special edition of The Martian Chronicles. It was back in 1949 that Maggie had typed the final manuscript of this book for her husband before it was whisked off to New York and into history. On the front flyleaf of my book, it reads:

"To my dearest Sam,
One of the joys of my life,

Marguerite M. Bradbury"


Holding this book in my hands now, I look back with gratitude. This great woman who altered literature forever had paid me notice. I was but a pebble in the pool of her life. I had somehow caused a ripple enough for her to say what she did. But she had caused a ripple in time. The living history of books was shaped and changed because of her. Forever. They say that in death comes eternity.

For Maggie Bradbury, it's true.



Sam Weller has written THE BRADBURY CHRONICLES: The Life of Ray Bradbury, an authorized biography published by William Morrow in 2005. He lives with his wife and daughter in Chicago, where he works as a journalist.