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Ray Bradbury and the dime-at-a-time typewriter of 'Fahrenheit 451'

June 6, 2012 | 12:16 pm

Raybradbury-2003Ray Bradbury's novel "Fahrenheit 451" was an instant hit, and has remained in print since its publication in 1953. In its futuristic dystopia, learning is forbidden and books are banned. As the book explains in its opening pages, Fahrenheit 451 is "the temperature at which book-paper catches fire, and burns." While the book may be the most lasting way that Bradbury has been remembered, the circumstances of its creation are less well known.

In Los Angeles in the early 1950s, Ray Bradbury went in search of a peaceful place to work. "I had a large family at home," he said five decades later. They must have been a particularly lively bunch, because at the time it was just Ray, his wife Marguerite and two young children.

The writing refuge Bradbury found was in the basement of the Lawrence Clark Powell Library at UCLA -- and in fact, it wasn't all that quiet. "I heard this typing," he explained. "I went down in the basement of the UCLA library and by God there was a room with 12 typewriters in it that you could rent for 10 cents a half-hour. And there were eight or nine students in there working away like crazy."

So he went to the bank and returned with a bag of dimes. He plugged a dime into the machine, typed fast for 30 minutes, and then dropped another. When he took breaks, he went upstairs to the library, soaking in a book-loving ambience he was making forbidden in the fiction he was writing below. He took books off the shelves, finding quotes, then ran downstairs to write some more.  Nine days -- and $9.80 in dimes later -- he'd written "Fahrenheit 451." Almost.

What he'd finished there was "The Fireman," a short story published in Galaxy magazine in 1951. Later, he expanded the story into "Fahrenheit 451," which was published in paperback by Ballantine.

When "Fahrenheit 451" was selected as one of the books for the National Endowment for the Arts' Big Read project, Bradbury said, "My God, what a place to write that book!"

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Ray Bradbury at the 2003 Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times

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