Ray Bradbury
Ray Bradbury was investigated by the FBI for possible communist sympathies (Reuters) Reuters

Science fiction author Ray Bradbury was extensively investigated by the FBI during the 1950s as the US government believed he might be a communist sympathiser.

A Freedom of Information request by the Daily Beast has revealed the extent of the scrutiny of the author of Fahrenheit 451 in a period of heightened national paranoia.

Bradbury, who died at the age of 91 in June, was put under surveillance while government agents interviewed his peers. The FBI documents read: "Raymond Douglas Bradbury, a freelance science fiction, television and motion picture scenario writer ... has been described as being critical of the United States government."

The investigation took place in 1959, six years after Bradbury published his most famous work, Fahrenheit 451, which portrayed an American dystopia where books are outlawed and burned.

The FBI documents focused on 1950's The Martian Chronicles, which "afforded Bradbury national recognition" but raised concerns over the subtext.

"The book dealt with the development and exploitation of Mars, its effects on mankind and its home world. The stories are connected by the repeated theme that Earthmen are despoilers and not developers."

It also quotes Martin Berkeley, a former member of the Communist party (CP), as an informant who suggests Bradbury's involvement.

"He [Berkeley] also felt Bradbury was probably sympathetic with certain pro-communist elements in the WGAW [Writers Guild of America West]," the report reads.

"He stated that Bradbury, during a meeting of the Screen Writers' Guild (SWG), now known as WGAW, entered into a discussion of a resolution propounded for the membership as to whether or not to keep CP members and those writers who had invoked the Fifth amendment from becoming members of the SWG.

"Berkeley reported that Bradbury, during the course of the discussion, rose to his feet and shouted 'cowards and McCarthyites' when the resolution was discussed.

"Berkeley stated it has been his observation that some of the writers suspected of having communist backgrounds have been writing in the field of science fiction and it appears that science fiction may be a lucrative field for the introduction of communist ideologies.

"He noted that some of Bradbury's stories have been definitely slanted against the United States and its capitalistic form of government."

Another informant, unnamed, claimed that "individuals such as Ray Bradbury are in a position to spread poison concerning political institutions in general and American institutions in particular".

The informant adds: "The general aim of these science fiction writers is to frighten the people into a state of paralysis or psychological incompetence bordering on hysteria which would make it very possible to conduct a Third World War which the American people would seriously believe could not be won since their morals had been seriously destroyed".

Vocal critic

Bradbury apparently did nothing to dissuade any rumours about his political beliefs, going so far as to print an advert in Daily Variety in 1952, in which he criticised the culture of fear pervading the US.

The advert read: "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 rumour. I do not want unsigned letters or nameless telephone calls from either side, or from anyone."

Despite the level of investigation into Bradbury, including a detailed physical description pointing out the "diagonal scar on left side of forehead", the FBI did not find sufficient evidence to claim he was ever a member of the Communist party.

The Daily Beast spoke to Bradbury's biographer Sam Weller about the investigation and the author's thoughts on the matter, which are described in his book The Bradbury Chronicles.

Weller said: "[Bradbury] beamed from ear to ear and dismissed it with a wave of his hand and laughed and said, 'I'll be damned, I've had nothing to hide over the years - what are they going to investigate? What a bore.'"

Bradbury was among hundreds of artists and intellectuals who the FBI kept files on during that period. They included Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Picasso.