The legendary sci-fi author is steaming that Michael Moore appropriated his title

By Oliver Jones and Stephen M. Silverman
Updated June 17, 2004 10:00 AM

Michael Moore’s anti-Bush documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 may have scored the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival, but there’s one person who isn’t too thrilled with the picture: celebrated sci-fi writer Ray Bradbury, whose 1953 novel Fahrenheit 451 gave Moore the inspiration for his title in the first place.

“No. 1, he didn’t ask (permission), and, No. 2, he took it – period,” Bradbury tells PEOPLE. “Even if he did ask, what he has done is a crime.”

Speaking from his Los Angeles home Wednesday, the 83-year-old author says he never would have allowed Moore to use the name, “because it doesn’t belong to him. It belongs to me. I have several new editions of the book coming out this summer. I have a new film version of Fahrenheit 451 with Mel Gibson starring, and it is going into production sometime in the next six months.”

Bradbury says that Moore, 50, contacted him only last Saturday – months after the controversial movie started making headlines.

“He was embarrassed because he didn’t want to call me,” says Bradbury, adding that he felt Moore was “forced into” making the call and that the filmmaker hasn’t offered to screen the film for him.

“He didn’t want to face me,” says Bradbury. “He is supposedly a big fan of mine and read my work years ago. Now suddenly he has to call someone he has been reading for most of his life and apologize for what he did.”

A spokesman for Moore relased a statement that read, in part: “We have the greatest respect for Ray Bradbury – he is one of our nation’s great fiction writers. Mr. Bradbury’s work has been an inspiration to all of us involved in this film. When you watch the film, you will see that title reflects the fact that the movie explores the very real life events before, around and after 9/11.”

Bradbury’s novel, which deals with book burning (paper ignites at a temperature of 451 degrees Fahrenheit), is standard reading in American high schools and has fans all over the world.

“I got a letter from Paris today from a friend of mine saying, ‘What about this Michael Moore? How dare he do that to you?'” huffs Bradbury. “A lot of people are on my side.”

Bradbury suggests it all could have been avoided had Moore asked properly – six months ago. When he spoke to Moore last weekend, Bradbury says he told Moore, “What I want is for you to give me my book and my title back.”

Bradbury even suggested a way for Moore to handle it: “Let’s have a ceremony with the press there, and at the ceremony you hand a metaphorical copy of my book back to me with the title.”

That way, Bradbury told Moore, “You’re a good soul for owning up to it, then I accept you giving it back to me, and I am a good soul for forgiving you.”

And Moore’s response? “He said, ‘Well, it is an awful long way down the line for that.'”