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08.28.12

Inside Author Ray Bradbury’s FBI File: Was He a Communist Sympathizer?

Was Ray Bradbury a communist sympathizer? A threat to the American way of life? Clark Merrefield digs into the newly obtained FBI files on the celebrated science-fiction writer.

Ray Bradbury, the science-fiction writer who died at age 91 in early June, was the target of FBI investigations over a period spanning more than a decade, according to 40 pages of government documents obtained by a Freedom of Information Act request by The Daily Beast.

Bradbury was born August 22, 1920 in Waukegan, Ill., and enjoyed a literary career spanning eight decades. He is best known for his short stories and the novel Fahrenheit 451, which chronicles Guy Montag, a conflicted protagonist tasked with setting books on fire, and the detached society punctuated by a paranoid government in which Montag lives.

The government in Montag’s world, it turns out, was not so different from the government in Bradbury’s.

The FBI’s investigation of Bradbury in the late 1950s centers on alleged communist activity, and it reveals more about the author’s talent for holding up a dystopian mirror to reflect society’s flaws than actual communist tendencies. These government documents were first obtained by Bradbury biographer Sam Weller and described in his 2005 book The Bradbury Chronicles.

“I remember distinctly his response when I visited him and presented him with the files,” Weller told The Daily Beast. “He beamed ear to ear and dismissed it with a wave of his hand and laughed and he said, ‘I’ll be damned, I’ve had nothing to hide over the years—what are they going to investigate? What a bore.’”

Still, Bradbury was amused. He held the pages to his chest and asked Weller for a copy.

Bradbury did not dissuade the government when, in 1952, he took out an advertisement in the trade publication Daily Variety and wrote, according to the documents:

“I have seen too much fear in a country that has no right to be afraid. I have seen too many campaigns in California, as well as in other states won on the issue of fear itself, and not on the facts. I do not want to hear any more of this claptrap and nonsense from you. I will not welcome it from McCARTHY or McCARRAN, from Mr. NIXON, DONALD JACKSON, or a man named SPARKMAN. I do not want any more lies, any more prejudice, any more smears. I do not want intimations, hearsay or rumor. I do not want unsigned letters or nameless telephone calls from either side, or from anyone.”

Bradbury got exactly what he didn’t want. The FBI investigation of Bradbury spans April 2 through June 3, 1959, and included surveillance from special agents.

“There’s some case notes to indicate they were parked outside the street of his house, watching his house. There were definitely agents stationed, watching his family and the goings on at the Bradbury home,” Weller says.

According to Martin A. Berkeley, a former member of the Communist Party and one of few named sources in the files, Bradbury, “was probably sympathetic with certain pro-Communist elements in the WGAw [Writers Guild of America, West].” He told the FBI that during a meeting of the Writers Guild, formerly the Screen Writers Guild, the union was considering whether to keep Communist Party members from joining, and Bradbury rose up and shouted, “Cowards and McCarthyites.”

At times the files venture into a sort of detached literary criticism, likely aimed at elucidating Bradbury’s worldview. Of Bradbury’s short-story collection The Martian Chronicles, which according to the documents sold over 200,000 copies in its second edition, special agent John S. Temple writes, “The stories were connected by the repeated theme that earthmen are despoilers and not developers.”

Bradbury may have been an inconvenient public figure to some, but the FBI ultimately concluded, “No evidences have been developed which indicate he was ever a member of the CP.”

Roughly 10 years after its initial investigation, the FBI again trained its sights on Bradbury regarding a suspected trip to Cuba to attend the Cultural Congress of Havana, a conference meant to “obtain unity of action in the anti-imperialist fight and in defense of the cultural nucleus of each country.”

Bradbury’s suspected interest in the Cultural Congress appears to stem from a confusion over a tip about a “Roy Bradbury.” Bradbury’s passport file was ultimately investigated. The FBI connected with two unnamed informants during the third and fourth weeks of July 1968, and another informant during the second week of August 1968, to attempt to nail down a link between Bradbury and Cuba.

One informant editorialized that “Bradbury would be a type person [sic] who might be invited to attend the Cultural Congress of Havana because of his liberal view,” but none of the sources could provide the FBI with any usable information.

“The files were so sloppy they called him Raymond at points in there—that’s not even his legal name,” Weller says.

The FBI decided it would be imprudent to continue their investigation and speak with him directly: “Due to Bradbury’s background as a known liberal writer, vocal in anti-United States war policies, an interview with Bradbury would be deemed unadvisable.”

Bradbury ultimately found resigned humor in the time and resources wasted on investigating his normal American life.

“The files were so sloppy they called him Raymond at points in there—that’s not even his legal name,” Weller says.