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‘Fahrenheit 451’ still incites more than 60 years later

Jun 14, 2018
Jason Aukerman and Jon Eller examine pages from a script.
Jason Aukerman, left, coordinator for development and programming at the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies at IUPUI, and Jon Eller, director of the center, examine some pages of Ray Bradbury’s stage play script of “Fahrenheit 451” in the center. All photos by Liz Kaye, IU Communications

From book to film to stage adaptation to radio play and now to cable television and streaming platforms, Ray Bradbury’s timeless “Fahrenheit 451” has conquered just about every media format since its 1953 publication.

The dystopian tale of a government censoring ideas and thoughts by any means possible is as poignant in 2018 as it was in the Cold War paranoia it first met those 60-plus years ago. Last month, HBO debuted its take on “Fahrenheit 451” with a movie version starring Michael B. Jordan, fresh from “Black Panther,” as protagonist Guy Montag and the always-jarring Michael Shannon as nemesis Captain Beatty. Both head up a fire station in Cleveland, but instead of fighting fires, they are fanning the flames to banish books and other forms of media deemed “graffiti.”

Directed by Ramin Bahrani, “Fahrenheit 451” is currently available on HBO streaming. Since the film’s May 19 debut on the premium cable channel, the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies based in IUPUI’s Cavanaugh Hall has been fielding media requests and welcoming scholars who want to study original manuscripts of the science fiction classic.

“Just before this film, we were in an AP syndicated story that ran in a wide range of newspapers worldwide,” said Jon Eller, director of the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies and Chancellor’s Professor of English.

Eller estimates that dozens of “Fahrenheit 451” items reside in the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies, which was given a boost thanks to a recent grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The number dramatically increases by including the countless pages of manuscripts related to the book and the various adaptations scattered within 31 filing cabinets and boxes once used by Bradbury. These typed pages often contain pen and marker notes scrawled by the celebrated author himself.

“He was even working on musical and operatic versions of the book,” Eller said.

The center is home to thousands of Bradbury artifacts, including rare first editions, the author’s typewriters, desks, awards and mementos from a career that spanned more than 40 years.

Eller thought the new movie did an excellent job of tapping into modern sensibilities with a “first-rate” performance from a tremendous cast.

In honor of the new movie, here are some of the center’s most interesting “Fahrenheit 451” pieces.

A book
Photo by Liz Kaye, IU Communications

’233 Celsius’

“Fahrenheit 451” was extremely popular internationally – it was published in just about every language on the planet. One rare pressing was the Danish 1955 version, for which the title was given the local, proper Celsius temperature format. The increasingly famous Fahrenheit title was quickly restored in later pressings in Scandinavia, so this was the only version to have “Celsius” in the title.

Pages from a republishing of 'Fahrenheit 451' in Playboy
Photo by Liz Kaye, IU Communications

Republished in Playboy No. 2

Yes, the issue of Playboy after the famed Marilyn Monroe-led debut of the enduring men’s lifestyle magazine featured the first of three installments of “Fahrenheit 451” in the second issue, published in January 1954. Though it’s rare that a novel would be republished after it was made available at bookstores, Hugh Hefner believed the book was crucial to First Amendment rights, which his magazine obviously supported. The center has the first two pages from an original edition of the magazine framed on a wall, which established a literary dimension to the publication.

Pages from a stage adaptation of 'Fahrenheit 451'
Photo by Liz Kaye, IU Communications

Notes from a 1977 stage play

Among the thousands of pages that Bradbury typed out, a reworked stage play makes up a bulk of the “Fahrenheit 451” material. The author recognized that some of the characters’ relationships had to be expanded upon. These updates carried over into the new movie version.

“He didn’t kill off Clarise, the young girl who wakes up Montag to all of these impulses he’s been suppressing,” Eller said. “She disappears early in the book. He kept her alive in the stage play, and he makes fire chief Beatty a more complicated character. Instead of being Montag’s nemesis, Beatty has a particular fondness for Montag.”

Photo by Liz Kaye, IU Communications

“The Fireman”

An early version of “Fahrenheit 451” was published in the February 1951 issue of Galaxy, a science fiction magazine that ran from 1950-80. The story was titled “The Fireman” and came in at 25,000 words. Bradbury doubled it into a proper novel length in 1953. He also wisely changed the title to the temperature at which book paper burns.

“It was Ray’s idea to change it as the Cold War led to the development of the hydrogen bomb by both the U.S. and Russia,” Eller explained. “He wanted a title that would express movement toward destruction.”

A poster of the original
Photo by Tim Brouk, IU Communications

Original movie poster

An original, 41-inch-tall 1966 poster of the first cinematic version of “Fahrenheit 451” is in the center’s collection. The film starred Oskar Werner, Cyril Cusack and Julie Christie, and it was directed by Francois Truffaut. The center also has a copy of Truffaut’s movie script.

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