It began in 1953, when a struggling 33-year-old writer named Ray Bradbury discovered the typing room in the UCLA library.
"For 10 cents a half hour you could rent a typewriter," Bradbury recalled this week. "So over nine days I spent $9.80 in dimes, and wrote `Fahrenheit 451.' "
The futuristic novel, about a society that keeps citizens mentally enslaved by burning books, became a Bradbury bestseller. In a prolific literary career that shows no signs of slowing, he's since created other popular fantasy novels, scores of short stories and poems, and dozens of scripts for the cable TV series "Ray Bradbury Theatre."
But few people outside his Los Angeles home base know Bradbury is a theater junkie, too. He's written and produced numerous one-acts and stage versions of his novels. And this week he'll be in Seattle to see the "Fahrenheit 451" musical he scripted four years ago.
Bradbury dabbled in drama as a teen, "but by the time I was 21 I knew I had a lot to learn. So I read just about every play in the history of the world, and saw as many as I could. By the time I was 40 I was ready to try again."
His first attempt to dramatize "Fahrenheit 451" was a botch: "I wrote it for the great actor Charles Laughton. He took me out to dinner, filled me with three martinis, and told me how bad my play of it was. I was stunned and hurt, but he was right."
When French director Francois Truffaut later invited him to pen a movie based on the book, Bradbury demurred. "I thought I would hurt his film. I said, `I trust you, so go for it.' "
But Truffaut's 1966 "Fahrenheit 451," starring Julie Christie and Oskar Werner, came out to mostly negative reviews.
"I heard later there were a lot of problems behind the scenes," Bradbury noted. "By the time shooting ended, Oskar Werner and Truffaut weren't speaking." He calls the movie "very uneven. But I love the last scene, where the hero Montag joins the outlaw `Book People' in the forest."
The musical "Farenheit 451," takes even more liberties with the original novel than Truffaut's film. Bradbury even reunites Montag with his enigmatic paramour Clarice, rather than killing her off.
Why? "I disagree with people who make films with unhappy endings. I don't want to depress everyone, I want to encourage them. Life is full of enough bad things already."
As for the pro-books message of the novel, Bradbury feels it's still relevant - but with a new wrinkle: "The problem in our country isn't with books being banned, but with people no longer reading. Look at the magazines, the newspapers around us - it's all junk, all trash, tidbits of news.
The average TV ad has 120 images a minute. Everything just falls off your mind."
"You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them."