The Venice Historical Society (VHS) celebrated its 20th anniversary with a champagne brunch at the Historic Venice Beach House. The ivy-covered turn-of-the-century house, now a bed-and-breakfast hotel, created a garden-party setting for an event featuring some of the best things about Venice: sunshine, good food, historic preservation and a meet-and-greet with two local legends. Guests at the August 20 event signed up for the Society’s benefit silent auction, bidding on items like vintage greeting cards, framed vintage bank notes, books, VHS family memberships and a poster for the movie version of guest speaker Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man. The refreshments – catered by restaurants Meditrina, James Beach and Nadine’s Cakes – included scones, fruit, three kinds of quiche, champagne mimosas and cakes decorated with reproductions of antique Venice postcards. But the real treat of the morning was an audience with both actor Orson Bean (also director of Venice’s Pacific Residence Theatre) and literary giant Ray Bradbury, author of novels, short stories, screenplays and more. While the guests waited for Bradbury to arrive, they were entertained by Bean, who dismissed the need for a microphone. “I’m a man of the theatre,” he intoned in a voice that certainly needed no amplification. He cracked jokes, sang a funny song, and in response to a guest’s request, demonstrated his famed magic trick of making a paper eucalyptus tree from rolled-up newspapers. He also sang the praises of living in Venice: “Even our bums have more flair than other people’s bums.” Bean paid homage to Venice history by noting, “I’m delighted to be in Venice which was built not for commerce but for fun!” In contrast to Orson Bean’s effervescence, Ray Bradbury seemed subdued and dignified, but not without humor of his own. Seated in a wheelchair, the 86-year-old Bradbury’s voice didn’t carry far due to a small sound system. But the audience pressed closer to hear his stories about living in Venice as a young writer. Bradbury told of coming to Venice in the late 1930s when the area was an almost-forgotten beachside slum and rents were very low. He lived with his new wife at 33 S. Venice Blvd., paying $30 a month and using the telephone at the gas station across the street. Nearby, the Venice Canals were full of lion cages that had been abandoned by a recently departed circus, an eerie image that he was prompted to use in one of the stories he was writing. These early stories dealing with space travel, robots and futuristic scenarios were published in the small pulp “science fiction” magazines and earned Bradbury barely enough to cover the rent. He went to New York in an attempt to convince publishers to use his work. When one editor asked if he had a novel, Bradbury admitted he didn’t. But the editor recalled the stories Bradbury had written in Venice about life on Mars, and Earth being conquered by Martians. “He said, ‘Why don’t you tie a bunch of them together and create a novel?’ and so at the YMCA I sat down and wrote the outline for The Martian Chronicles.” Other books followed. More of Bradbury’s sci-fi stories were published as The Illustrated Man. Fahrenheit 451, the novel about book censorship that gave the world a catch-phrase, was written at the UCLA library, where Bradbury rented typewriters for a dime an hour. Although he eventually left Venice as his success grew, Bradbury never forgot to care for his old neighborhood. “I wrote to the City [of Los Angeles] about the Canals – they needed cleaning. They had become very polluted.” His early efforts to alert the City to the dangers facing the environment paid off when the Canals were finally cleaned and fixed up. VHS outgoing president Mary Jane Weil presented Bradbury with a gift from the Society – a shadow box filled with a copy of his book about Venice, Death is a Lonely Business. He stayed to chat with guests and sign books.The Venice Historical Society is a nonprofit organization devoted to preservation of Venice history and promoting awareness about historic preservation. It is open to individuals, businesses and organizations, and individual membership is still only $25 a year. For more information, call 310.967.5170 or go to www.veniceofamerica.org.
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