Wednesday, 25 October 2006

A TREE FOR HALLOWEEN

Yesterday's blog recommending Ray Bradbury's The Halloween Tree not only prompted various comments from my regular readers it also stirred the leaf-mould of my own memories...

It was twenty-six years ago, in 1980, after six years of corresponding with Ray Bradbury, that we met for the very first time when I interviewed him at the London offices of his publishers.

The book which I took with me on that occasion to ask him to inscribe was the first UK edition of The Halloween Tree...


Six years later, we met for lunch in a restaurant on Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles and waiting for me under the napkin by my plate was an American edition of the book with an inscription and a golden Halloween Tree drawing by the author, studded with grinning pumpkin lantern stickers!


No wonder this book has always been special to me...

That lunchtime gift was given twenty years back and yesterday came another gift from Ray Bradbury: an e-mail response to my blog, recounting a short history of how the Halloween Tree came to be planted and how it grew and put forth its unique autumnal fruits...

Here, with Ray's permission, is that story...

The Halloween Tree came about because I had lunch with [legendary Bugs Bunny animator] Chuck Jones forty years ago; he had just become a new friend.

The night before, an animated [Peanuts] film - The Great Pumpkin - had been on TV. My children disliked it so much that they ran over and kicked the TV set, along with me, because the whole idea of the Great Pumpkin supposedly arriving and then not arriving was incorrect to me. It was like shooting Santa Claus on the way down the chimney!

Chuck Jones and I agreed that we didn't like The Great Pumpkin, though we did admire Charlie Schultz, the cartoonist, very much. Then Chuck said, "Why don't we do a really good film on Halloween?" I said, "I think we could. Let me go home and bring something."

So I went home and brought Chuck a large painting of a Halloween Tree that I had painted down in the basement with my daughters a few years before.


Chuck took one look at it and said, "My God, that's the genealogy of the holiday. Will you write a screenplay on this?" I said, "Yes, hire me!" So Chuck Jones and MGM hired me to write a TV script called The Halloween Tree.

Several months down the road, MGM decided to turn its back on animation, so they closed their unit and fired Chuck and me. I had nothing to do then so I took the script and wrote the novel of The Halloween Tree.

Later I wrote a second script for the final animated film, which was done by Hannah-Barbera a few years later, for which I received an Emmy Award for the script.

About three years ago I produced Something Wicked This Way Comes at a theater in Santa Monica and on Halloween night my biographer, Sam Weller, drove me to the play and then home again at around 10:30 at night and on the way, in four different yards we saw that people had placed pumpkins, real ones or papier mache, lit with candles in trees in their front yards.

Now, there are Halloween Trees beginning to appear all over the United States and I realized that with my story and that picture that I painted down in the basement with my daughters more than forty years ago, I've changed the history of Halloween in the entire country.

I've discussed this with the Disney people and suggested that they invite me to Disneyland on Halloween night and put up a tree full of papier mache pumpkins and have me there to turn on the whole thing. They would make themselves and me part of the future history of Halloween because no trees existed forty years ago -- they began to appear only after my book and my film.

The Disney people haven't reacted so far because, I believe, the notice is very short. If we don't do it this year I'm hoping that Disney will invite me out next Halloween and initiate the birth of the Halloween Tree and the history of the holiday.

It's been an interesting experience for me and it thrills me to think that 100 years from now there will be Halloween trees all across our world...

Thanks for reminding me about all this...


And thank you, Ray...


[Images: The cartoon of Ray Bradbury is by myself and accompanied my first interview with him in 1980; the autumnal Tree was painted by Ray in c. 1960, the green Tree, some years later and both are featured in a superb limited edition of the book from Gauntlet Press; the mask is one of Joe Mugnaini's decorations to the 1972 edition of The Halloween Tree.]

3 comments:

Scrooge said...

Travelling in Holland earlier this month, it was great to see that the Dutch still put out the pumpkin (and other vegetables)on the garden chair or front door step and the outdoor cafes have similar festooning each table - all as gifts for the ancestors.It would be great to a Hallowe'en tree catching on there and exactly what Ray had in mind when he wrote the book - trying to do for the festival what Dickens did for Christmas !
Glad to see you mentioned November 5th also. Hope you're going to do more on that soon !

Phil said...

I was never entirely sure whether the Halloween Tree was an invention of Bradbury's, or whether they existed before his story. Now I know!

(A similar situation with something else in Ray's fiction: 'fire balloons'. I had always assumed he had invented them, but apparently they were a memory from his childhood.)

Incidentally, on the halloween theme, there are some wonderful scary and comical jack-o-lanterns on the official Ray Bradbury Message Board, here:
http://tinyurl.com/yxgsjw

Scrooge said...

That's a very accurate cartoon Mr B.I shall have to have a sitting one day. I've always fancied being cartoonised...
Great background about 'The Halloween Tree'. Although it is a little disturbing to find plastic witches everywhere at this time of year, the Dutch put real pumpkins on their garden chairs and front doorsteps as a meal for their dead relatives and that's a great thing to see.