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Science fiction giant's screenplay for Moby Dick ends half century of 'invisibility'

Indiana University

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IMAGE: Unseen for 50 years, Ray Bradbury's screenplay for John Huston's 1956 film Moby Dick has been published with an introduction by William Touponce, Ph.D., director of the Center for Ray... view more

Credit: Subterranean Press

Unseen for 50 years, Ray Bradbury's screenplay for John Huston's 1956 film Moby Dick has been published with an introduction by William Touponce, Ph.D., director of the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and an internationally known Bradbury scholar.

Bradbury is the recipient of a 2007 special citation from the Pulitzer Prize Board for his "distinguished, prolific and deeply influential career as an unmatched author of science fiction and fantasy."

"Bradbury, like Edgar Allan Poe, was initially not regarded as a canonical writer - one who should be taught in schools - because he was typed as a genre writer, a view of him that is still reflected in his Pulitzer Prize citation. But he was understood more broadly in Europe as an imaginative writer, and especially in France where his works were greeted with excitement in major literary magazines. Fortunately, the situation at home is changing and we are seeing a growing number of scholars visit the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies," said Touponce, who is also a professor of English at the IU School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI.

Mr. Bradbury was a popular writer, having already published The Martian Chronicles (1950) and The Golden Apples of the Sun (1953) when acclaimed film director John Huston asked him to write a screenplay for Moby Dick late in 1953. In fact Fahrenheit 451, perhaps his most famous book, was published while Bradbury was in Ireland working on the screenplay.

According to Touponce, Bradbury was a fan of Huston's films and Huston was a fan of Bradbury's work, including the short story "The Fog Horn" (collected in The Golden Apples), for which Bradbury had done a lot of research about the sea. Once he read Moby Dick, Bradbury agreed to write a screenplay for Huston. After several months of work in the British Isles, Bradbury submitted a working script for Moby Dick to Huston in early 1954.

By the time that the film came out in 1956, Huston had listed himself as co-author of the screenplay. Bradbury protested Huston's action to the Screen Writers Guild and initially was successful in having Huston removed as a co-author but the powerful filmmaker had the decision overturned.

After the success of the film, Bradbury was asked to do many screenplays based on the novels of others, but declined because he wanted to devote himself to writing novels. Later in his career, however, during the 1980's, he wrote all the screenplays for the Ray Bradbury Theatre.

While the authorship controversy kept the screenplay for Moby Dick from the public, Bradbury has always listed it as one of his works.

Huston died in 1987. Touponce says that Bradbury, now 88 years old, felt strongly about having the screenplay published under his name in his own lifetime. "It was Huston's film, but the language was all Bradbury," said Touponce.

Besides original screenplays, such as It Came from Outer Space (1953), Moby Dick is the sole novel which was not his own that Bradbury adapted for film.

"I know that Ray Bradbury was very proud of his work on this screenplay and feels this work borders on literature. Unlike plays, screenplays usually don't shape up as literature. But Bradbury's Moby Dick has a poetic style that can be read as quasi-literary," said Touponce, who wrote his doctoral dissertation on Bradbury more than 20 years ago and has devoted his career to the study of Bradbury's work. In 2004, he and Jon Eller, Ph.D., professor of English at the IU School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI, published Ray Bradbury: The Life of Fiction with The Kent State University Press. It provides an overview of Bradbury's career of over 50 years.

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In addition to writing the introduction to the screenplay for Bradbury's Moby Dick, Touponce is the editor of the New Ray Bradbury Review, the journal of the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies. The first issue of the journal will appear in November 2008.

A short video interview with William Touponce, Ph.D., director of the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, can be found at http://www.iupui.edu/~iuihome/podcasts/?episode=259

Moby Dick: A Screenplay is published by Subterranean Press.

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