Harlan Ellison

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Name: Harlan Ellison
Also Known As: He used the pseudonym Cordwainer Bird to alert the public when he felt his creative contribution to a project had been mangled. Other pennames: Phil "Cheech" Beldone, Jay Charby, Sley Harson, Ellis Hart, John Magnus, Paul Merchant, Pat Roeder, Ivar Jorgenson, Derry Tiger, Harlan Ellis and Jay Solo.
Occupation: author, zine editor
Medium: novels, scripts, and short stories
Official Website(s):
Fan Website(s):
On Fanlore: Related pages
from the story, TrekWorld in Menagerie #10 (1976), art by Martynn

Harlan Ellison (1934-2018) was a colorful, often controversial science fiction writer and fandom personality.

He had a history of violent physical assault, sexual assault, as well as being very litigious. [1] [2] [3]

He was involved in fandom for many years before he "went pro," and edited several fanzines in the 50s and 60s.

from Star Trek Today #7 (1976), Burt Libe and Cara Sherman the artists: Edith Keeler says: "Jim, we can't go on meeting this way; if Harlan ever finds out, he'll KILL me!"

"Robert Bloch, author of Psycho, called him “the only living organism I know whose natural habitat is hot water”." [4]

fan art by Gordon Carleton for Harlan's 1981 short story, "Night of Black Glass"

From his bio in a 1978 convention program:

But Ellison is more than just another pretty face. He is a cult figure as well. He is one of those truly rare individuals with enough personal power to command a loyal, even fanatical following. There exists almost as many stories about him, from claims that he is a "Trained Killer," to the time he heaved a book at an inattentive student. Whatever else he is or has done, one thing is certain, Ellison is a complex, fascinating personality on stage and off -- articulate, outspoken, and unpredictable. [5]

inside page from the 1977 program book for Space-Con, guest of honor Harlan Ellison strikes a pose

Ellison passed away in 2018.


There is much out there about Harlan Ellison. Below are some small bits one may not find elsewhere:

1966 letter from Harlan Ellison calling on fans to oppose the series cancellation, also see a PDF here
a 1975 commentary, artist unknown, from Where No Fan Has Gone Before: A fan says, "Gosh, Mr. Ellison I loved your episode "Journey to Bable [sic]" Ellison replies: "yeah, sure..." [6]
  • enjoyed combative mind games with fans, and while probably not intentional, played matchmaker to at least two of them [7]
  • supposedly enjoyed the 1976 City on the Edge of Whatever Slide Show [8]
  • wrote the script for, and had a love/hate relationship with, the Star Trek: TOS episode "The City on the Edge of Tomorrow" -- his original submission is much altered from the viewed episode, one that Ellison calls "absolute bullshit" and railed against for years [9] [10]
  • consumed a home-cooked chicken dinner with some fans in 1973; see A Conversation with Paula Smith
  • Ellison Wonderland: A View from Trekland (1974) is an essay by Sharon Ferraro which contains this quote from Dr. Isaac Asimov: "You can even have your back to him and be unaware that he is within five states of where you are standing, but from the way all the young ladies in the place are shaking, you know at once that that must be Harlan behind you somewhere, and he may not even be doing anything."
  • contributed to 1971's The Star Trek Songbook
  • is sometimes credited with coining the term Egoboo... but no, that honor goes to someone else... in 1947 [11]
  • referred to Kirk/Spock as "Kirk-shtups-Spock soft porn stories" [12]
  • impressed some fans at a 1976 con while dressed in nothing but a towel [13]
  • sat in a window at A Change of Hobbit in 1976 where, on one occasion, signed an eleven-year old's copy of "Strange Wine" with Dear Tana, this asshole told me to sign this to ‘Frogchild,’ but I told her to fuck off. Sincerely, Harlan Ellison. [14] For another fan's recollection of Ellison's presence at A Change of Hobbit, see Paula Block's essay How Much is that Harlequin in the Window? (1976)
  • wrote essays: one example is The Words in Spock's Mouth (1968) a rant in which he castigates a fan for making an error in her newsletter, insults the Star Trek actors, and more
  • Ellison was notoriously thin-skinned when it came to criticism about his own works, but was often cruelly critical of others'
  • in 1980, Ellison bragged about attacking ABC Television executive Adrian Samish in 1964 for altering the script Ellison wrote for Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. Ellison recounted that “I tagged him a good one right in the pudding trough and zappo! over he went… windmilling backwards, and fell down, hit the wall.” This altercation left Samish with a broken pelvis. [15]
  • slugged Charles Platt at the 1985 Nebula Awards [16]
  • grabbed Connie Willis' breast on stage at Worldcon 2006 during the Hugo Awards and later claimed "there was the slightest touch. A shtick, a gag between friends, absolutely NO sexual content." [17] [18] [19]


In 1979, Isaac Asimov described meeting him in 1953 (he later goes on to describe the young Ellison purposefully insulting him to his face and their subsequent friendship):

At that same convention I met another personage, not a professional author yet, but destined to become one, and a more colorful one, perhaps, than anyone else in science fiction, even myself.... He was a little fellow. He insists he is five feet, five inches tall, but that is, I think, by a specially designed ruler. He is five feet, two inches tall by the internationally accepted yardstick. Either way he had sharp features and the livest eyes I ever saw, filled with an explosive concentration of intelligence.[20]

A fan in 1977 wrote about her impressions in a con report:

Part III: Risking My Neck

Harlan Ellison has a reputation. It is not easy to sort through all the gossip and half truths and try to find out why he is what he is. I don't like what I saw.

He is outrageously funny and sarcastic, worldly cynical, and a ladies man. He gets his way through intimidation, being considerate only when it suits him. He admitted that a great many of his works are revenge stories. When someone or something crosses him, he dashes to his typewriter and draws the poison out of his system, putting it on paper, and selling it for a great sum of money. He jabs, cuts, and tears to pieces his subject matter with bitter humor. The strongest example coming to mind is the story he read on Sunday night at the Con. It dealt with the "best f--k in the universe". I roared with laughter with the rest of the audience as he moved in and out of the different characters white he read. It was uncanny to see him shift from a bulling interrogator to a meek and hempecked temponaut (time traveler). When he was finished, I felt a faint after-taste of bile. The more I thought about the story -- "disgusting things" (Mr. Ellison's noun), "coitusing" (Mr. Ellison's verb) the human race to death -- the more I wondered how much of it was a reflection of his own life. The story was stimulating--physically. Sex was reduced to an exercise, indulged in only for the pleasure of orgasm.

Mr. Ellison's bed-hopping is almost legendary. It's an open secret he shared his bed at the Con with a nineteen year old girl. Cynicism. Sarcasm. Intimidation. Sex for the hell of it. What does it point to? A clue to Harlan Ellison's character; am embittered, dirty old man, ready to pounce on anything that threatens him. He can't stand it when an editor rewrites his work. If his stories are part of himself, does he consider an attack on his words an attack on himself? Probably.

I suspect very few people know what lies deep inside of him. I can only guess, but I see is frightened, insecure, unloved little boy inside. Mr. Ellison tries to prove his courage by putting on a tough act. He looks for security in material things, writing as much and as fast as he can to make money. He looks for love between a woman's thighs, moving to the next one when he doesn't find what he is looking for. I wonder if he will ever find it. [21]

Another fan in 1977 wrote:

Met Harlan Ellison? Tell us what a great guy he really is. (We accept all kinds of fantasy.) [22]

From a fan in 1978:

One of the most intriguing story topics is Harlan Ellison, a tru-fan turned professional writer, and very successfully, too. Harlan, who is infamous among fandom and mundane world alike, can be seen once or twice a year on the Tomorrow show, being interviewed by a cowering Tom Snyder. Snyder can usually be seen after one of Harlan's visits counting up the number of lawsuits Harlan has provoked and praying that the network won't fire him because of the way Harlan tore apart television this time. Harlan Ellison, once called the "Godzilla of Munchkinland" by his fellow science fiction writer David Gerrold, can be likened in many respects to the fannish lore counterpart of Trickster, a basic character in Amerind folklore. There are obviously many differences, but the resemblance runs deep. Unfortunately, Harlan, though a mythical character, does exist. [23]


  1. ^ Harlan Ellison’s Death Raises a #MeToo Quandary: The science fiction and fantasy communities grapple with the legacy of a violence-prone writer, by Jeet Heer (July 2, 2018), Archived version
  2. ^ The Insanity Offence: The Fleisher/Ellison/Comics Journal Libel Case by Charles Platt (Ansible 48, February 1987)
  3. ^ Possibly the most contentious person on Earth, Archived version (June 28, 2018)
  4. ^ Harlan Ellison obituary: The Guardian, Archived version
  5. ^ from the program book for the seventh Space-Con
  6. ^ Part of this joke stems from the fact that it wasn't Ellison that wrote "Journey to Babel," but instead D.C. Fontana
  7. ^ Harlan Ellison, Matchmaker, Archived version (January 30, 2005)
  8. ^ From the flyer for the coloring book that was published later: ..."City has been on the convention circuit to such places as Toronto, Salt Lake City, New York City, and my living room. Toronto had to be the best. Harlan saw City in Toronto. Harlan liked it. Boy, did Harlan like it!"
  9. ^ "... all I was concerned about was telling a love story. I made the point that there are some loves that are so great that you would sacrifice your ship, your crew, your friends, your mother, all of time, and everything in defense of this great love. That's what the story was all about. All of the additional stuff that Gene Roddenberry kept trying to get me to put in, kept taking away from that. The script does not end the way the episode does. Kirk goes for her to save her. At the final moment, by his actions, he says, "Fuck it. I don't care what happens to the ship, the future, and everything else. I can't let her die. I love her," and he starts for her. Spock, who is cold and logical, grabs him, holds him back and she's hit by the truck. The TV ending, where he closes his eyes and lets her get hit by the truck, is absolutely bullshit. It destroyed the core of what I tried to do. It destroyed the art; it destroyed the drama; it destroyed the extra human tragedy of it." -- from "The Fifty Year Mission: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History" by Edward Gross and Mark A. Altman, published in 2016 by St. Martin's Press
  10. ^ A fan in 1999 wrote: "The original script isn't *nearly* as good as Ellison thinks it is. In this book, D.C. Fontana reveals that she did the re-write to produce the filmed version, which was a forehead-slap revelation for me: "Duh! Strong female character! Who else would have written it?" In Ellison's version, Edith Keeler shows that she's the woman of Kirk's dreams by baking him a cake." -- Mary Ellen Curtin, 1999, alt.startrek.creative.erotica.moderated
  11. ^ "Egoboo" was first used in a letter written to a science fiction fanzine by someone named Rick Sneary.
  12. ^ from his 1984 review of Star Trek III: The Search For Spock for Asimov's Science Fiction magazine
  13. ^ Con Reports
  14. ^ harlan Tumblr, Archived version
  15. ^ Harlan Ellison’s Death Raises a #MeToo Quandary: The science fiction and fantasy communities grapple with the legacy of a violence-prone writer, by Jeet Heer (July 2, 2018), Archived version
  16. ^ Harlan Ellison’s Death Raises a #MeToo Quandary: The science fiction and fantasy communities grapple with the legacy of a violence-prone writer, by Jeet Heer (July 2, 2018), Archived version
  17. ^ Wikipedia article.
  18. ^ The Harlan Ellison Incident the Official Shrub.com Blog, posted August 30, 2006.
  19. ^ GropeGate
  20. ^ Asimov, Isaac. In Memory Yet Green: the Autobiography of Isaac Asimov, 1920-1954. New York: Doubleday, 1979. Avon Books, 1980. p. 690.
  21. ^ Margaret McEwen in Saurian Brandy/Dandelion Wine #4
  22. ^ from Fleet #8
  23. ^ from Fiawol, or, How to feel at home in a purple wig and a cape