Ray Bradbury and John Huston – a whale of a time
Sir, – I very much enjoyed George O’Brien’s account of the turbulent collaboration between writer Ray Bradbury and director John Huston on Moby Dick in 1950s Ireland (“When two titans came to Ireland to fight over the white whale”, Magazine, July 4th).
As O’Brien notes, Bradbury took the opportunity of visiting Ireland to write “some dozen stories” set here.
One of them is a thinly veiled, savagely humorous rendering of his encounter with Huston. Although realistically based on the clash of egos between the two men, the story’s title “Banshee” indicates the extent to which it is framed by Irish fantasy and folklore. The narrator arrives deep in the Irish countryside, “with twenty pages of final screenplay in my pocket, and my film director employer waiting inside”. Though all surface charm and good humour, “John Hampton” proceeds to humiliate the writer, “condescend[ing] to and eviscerating” the work, as O’Brien puts it. Outside the house, a beautiful woman is waiting. “Hampton” persuades the narrator she is a banshee and sends him out to investigate. The exchange with the dead woman confirms her supernatural provenance. When the narrator returns, he stresses the woman’s beauty. The goatish director goes out to see for himself and exercise droit du seigneur. The story ends with the screenwriter going to the top of the house so he will be unable to hear the screams and cries for help. There is a very good TV version with Peter O’Toole silkily perfect as “Hampton”. Ray Bradbury is one of America’s greatest writers, especially of short stories, and it’s good to be reminded of his work in this centenary year. – Yours, etc,