One of the great virtues of Sam's book is that he distinguishes the essential from the inessential.
Some reviewers may have wanted Mr. Bradbury's biographer to focus on his feet of clay. Sam does amply demonstrate Mr. B's personal shortcomings.
But his book acknowledges that these flaws are not, in fact, what make Mr. B and his life important, interesting, and worthy of a biography.
Ray Bradbury's importance to American culture and world literature lies in his his seemingy bottomless creativity.
Creativity is Mr. B's fundamental characteristic, the one aspect of his personality that has been most important--factually, objectively important--to his life, his career, his literary legacy.
Mr. B's politics, extramarital affairs, etc. are only important--and worthy of mention in a biography--in so far as they illuminate his creative achievement.
Sam did not make the mistake of taking his eye off of Mr. B's creative genius and focusing on other, less important, aspects of his life.
Intellectuals in our cynical, "postmodern" culture delight in tearing down whatever and whomever rises. It is to be expected that some critics will attack Sam for the reverential tone that pervades his biography.
But any biographer who did not respect Mr. B's work could not have explained just why Ray Bradbury is important to American culture.
Ironically, it is Sam's obvious love for Ray Bradbury that sustained him over many years of compiling the facts and that kept his book focused on the most essential of those facts.
Love is not the enemy of objective cognition, but its fuel.
J. Patrick Mullins, Ph.D.
For those interested in the Mister Electrico Mystery, my own research continues to confirm Sam's conclusion that the Dill Brothers Combined Shows was indeed the small circus at the American Legion carnival, not the Downie Brothers Circus.
In the March-April 1976 issue of "Bandwagon: The Journal of the Circus Historical Society," there is an article by the late circus historian, Joseph T. Bradbury, called "Downie Bros. Circus: Part III, the 1932 and 1933 Seasons."
Mr. Bradbury (no relation to Ray) confirms Sam's conclusion that Mister Electrico did not perform in the Downie Brothers sideshow in 1932.
Bradbury quoted the circus's 1932 program: "Sideshow has Mrs. Robbins, mentalist; Maxine Roberts, musical act; Ralph Redden, Punch, magic, and ventriloquism (also inside lecturer); Gertrude Redden, snakes and impalement act; Gloria Hand, cockatoos; Al Freita's Hawaiian Trio; Abdallah Ben Deb, fire act; Minstrels and band (11 in company), Ed Washington, leader; and untamable lion, Birch Hand."
The program says nothing of an electrocution act performer.
Also, the Downie Brother sideshow did not feature any of the "human oddities" that Ray Bradbury recalled seeing on his visit to Mister Electrico, such as a tattooed man, fat lady, dwarf, human skeleton, etc.
The Downie Brothers sideshow for 1932 bears no resemblance to the one that Ray Bradbury remembered visiting.
Incidentally, Joseph Bradbury's article also confirms what Sam said about the presence of three circuses in Waukegan on the same Labor Day Weekend in 1932.
"At Waukegan, Sept. 2, Downie Bros. and Hagenbeck-Wallace played day and date. Both shows were billed heavily and Ora Parks of H-W and Irish Horan of Downie [the circuses' advance press agents] landed good material in the daily press. Downie placed tickets on sale at a big downtown department store at reduced rates 3 days in advance and on show date occupied a lot just outside the city limits. To add to the Labor Day festivities, the American Legion opened its carnival the same day so there were three attractions all seeking the natives' loose change." (p.7)
Considering that Downie Brothers and Hagenbeck-Wallace were huge, opulent circuses, heavily advertised in Waukegan, and with discounted tickets, it seems bizarre that young Ray would have preferred to go to the small, "seedy" circus at the American Legion carnival.
And yet, if he had not made that strange, fateful choice, he would not have met Mister Electrico, and then perhaps his potential as a writer would have developed very differently. Thank goodness he wandered off the path and stepped on that butterfly!
J. P. M.
Your research is so very welcomed. It's amazing how much facts are really out there, strewn...needing careful hands to gather into practical piles for perusal.
Thanks! There was a young fellow magician I met in Chicago last year who claimed to know some stuff about Mister Electricos now and then. (...seems there are several...) But never can get a hold of him. His name is Pedro Nieves. Connected with something called AahBalloons.com
On another note...
...how different it would be if Ray did NOT meet Mr. Electrico...different in at least in this way:
Going back and forth on the topic, I realized that Mr. Bradbury's current beliefs of re-incarnation and his views on life after death are tied strongly to the words recited by Mr. Electrico to young Bradbury...that Ray died in the arms of Mr. Electrico on a battlefield in France and now re-united as a boy with the traveling magician. Even the Unitarians consider Ray their friend.
What if Ray walked into a tent of Billy Sunday, at that age? Or if a D.L. Moody should he have lived another 32 years? Or if a George MacDonald or G.K. Chesterton put their arm around Ray and talked to him about God. But it didn't happen that way. We do know that Ray, at that very impressionable age, was made wide-eyed by feats of elctricity and sword play, and powerful words that meant everything to him.
Maybe that 'butterfly' was not meant to be stepped on...
Nard, thanks so much for your kind words. Yes, there's a lot of data out there that could help fill in the blanks of Mr. Bradbury's life and thought--if you know where to look.
Unfortunately, I'm pretty new to this field of research, and I'm still trying to figure out just where to look.
My dissertation was about the political thought of a Congregationalist minister in 18th century Boston (who, incidentally, was America's first Unitarian), so I'm a little out of my depth delving the mysteries of 20th century midwestern circuses!
Needless to say, Mr. Bradbury's humanistic theology is of scholary interest to me, and Mister Electrico's cryptic comment probably did have some religious significance for him.
(It is my understanding from interviews, though, that he does not believe in literal reincarnation. Please correct me if I'm mistaken.)
I think the primary significance of Electrico's "live forever" idea for Mr. B was more symbolic. It fuelled his quest to cheat death by attaining immortality through creative achievement (from his writing to his grandchildren).
The quest to live forever--to escape, or come to terms with, time, change, age, and death--is, I believe, the fundamental theme of the Bradbury canon, pervading the majority of his work.
Yes, the development of Mr. B's philosophic views would've been quite different had he been caught up in the fundamentalism of the 1920s and 1930s.
His boyhood churching--however sporadic--did leave its mark, though. Mr. B frequently alludes in his stories (the Venice detective novels, for instance) to his "Baptist" conscience.
Attendance of Baptist services in Waukegan was absolutely determinative of his core belief in good and evil, as best dramatized in "Something Wicked."
Bradbury would not have been Bradbury without that early influence.
BTW, Cori told me about Mr. Nieves. I e-mailed him last week. I'll let the gang at RB.com know if I learn something new about the Mister Electrico Mystery.
If anyone out there has any leads to offer, however unpromising, I'd like to hear about them, either in this forum or at my e-mail address, firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks!
Mullins/Nard: Enjoyed your posts and thoughts.
What has become of the special edition of the Sam Weller book, which was said to include more photographs of the Bradbury family as well as additional pages than the original publication? Any info? Thanks!
What has become of Sam Weller?
Sam is scheduled to be the moderator for a discussion of DANDELION WINE at The Book Cellar, a Chicago book store located on North Lincoln Avenue, on the evening of Wednesday, August 3.
Read this book over the summer. I was sad to see it end.
I felt the same way. But what has happened to Sam Weller? I had emailed him a couple of times and he was kind to respond, but now his email address Mr. Electrico is shut down. He had indicated that a Florida appearance was in works, but it seems that the only book signings that he has been involved with have been in the Chicago area, LA area and a couple of places in Texas. What kind of a book promotion is that?
Ray Bradbury Day celebration (April 18th, 2005) at the Chicago Public Library, with the introduction of Sam Weller's biography about Ray, was telecast via cable channel 49 in Chicago today (August 31st, 2005). If this was a repeat, I am not aware.
Sorry this wasn't noted earlier on this website...I am sure those around the viewing area would have loved to see it, or at least set their recorders since it was presented in the afternoon.
But this one observation concerning Ray's great talent and from whence his power:
Has to do with an actor reading a portion from the scene,'The Ravine' from 'Dandelion Wine.' And in his reading I was struck with something. He describes a man, so many miles away, (I believe it was while waiting either for a train or somesorts,) who picked up, in the air, or somewhere in the general atmosphere, a sound that caught his attention. Now the sound was...the sound of the heart thumping of a young girl crossing 'the ravine'. But Ray describes in his wonderful fashion ...''distance''...and the correlation of some relationship with the far away ...
Oooh! Yes! Distance!!
Things so far removed from each other, yet the descriptions Ray has dictated his pen must inscribe...find fantastic points of contact. For instance: A movement of lips faintly push a single leaf upon some far away oak, as like an immense piano string strumms movement so far upon atmospheres, so a single leaf upon a single branch high above some hill top senses a smile...
Something like that. It has to do with vast distances and how contact is made in the most subtle and profoundly 'spiritual' ways. THIS, I believe, runs through all of Ray's works...
Thanks! Most interesting insight. What other contemporary writer mystifies as much as Bradbury?
...that Sam Weller will be at the Comic Con in San Diego next week. He will hosting a panel with Ray Bradbury and Ray Harryhausen.
Lucky San Diego...
I was there once for a week. I never wanted to leave...(lol)
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