Harlan Ellison

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Name: Harlan Ellison
Also Known As:
Occupation: author
Medium: novels and short stories
Works:
Official Website(s):
Fan Website(s):
On Fanlore: Related pages

Harlan Ellison is a science fiction writer and colorful, often controversial, science fiction personality. People who know him have described him as his "own worst enemy".

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. [1]
inside page from the 1977 program book for Space-Con, guest of honor Harlan Ellison strikes a pose

Tidbits

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
  • attended many conventions where he was, among other things, an entertaining, unpredictable, and controversial guest of honor
  • wrote the script for the Star Trek episode City on the Edge of Forever; his original submission is much altered from the viewed episode, one that Ellison calls "absolute bullshit" and railed against for years [3] [4]
  • is sometimes credited with coining the term Egoboo... but, no that honor goes to someone else... in 1947 [5]
  • referred to Kirk/Spock as "Kirk-shtups-Spock soft porn stories" [6]
  • 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. One excerpt: "I have stood on shooting sets when tourists from The Real World have come to visit, and upon being introduced as The Man Who Wrote The Show, the kindly little old lady from Poughkeepsie has smiled at me and said in a voice vaguely reminiscent of Johnathan Winters as Maudie Frickett, "Oh, do you write them words they say into the air out of their faces, too?" Yes, ma'am, I reply. I write them words, too. "And do you tell them cameras to go up and down and back off like that?" Yes, ma'am, I do all that, too. Every camera angle. "And it must be nice for you that the actress had such a good idea for this story, isn't it?" And what do you say? Do you say, you jerky little old uninformed illiterate you! What makes you think that nitwit starlet with rice pudding between her ears has the brains to have an idea about anything, much less the intricate plot of an entire story? No, you just smile wearily and say, Yes how nice it is that all those stories on all those shows are thought up by the actors. It seems incredible to me that people can be so ill-informed as to read books and not remember the name of the author (much less the title, 90% of the time), and then to be so abysmally stupid, and so painfully smug as to pooh-pooh it with a wave of the hand and a casual, "Oh, I never bother looking at who wrote it.""

Recollections

Isaac Asimov describes 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.[10]
A fan in 1977 wrote about her impressions in a con report:

Part III: Risking My Neck

Halan [sic] 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. [11]

References

  1. from the program book for the seventh Space-Con
  2. 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!"
  3. ... 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
  4. 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
  5. "Egoboo" was first used in a letter written to a science fiction fanzine by someone named Rick Sneary.
  6. from his 1984 review of Star Trek III: The Search For Spock for Asimov's Science Fiction magazine
  7. Wikipedia article.
  8. The Harlan Ellison Incident the Official Shrub.com Blog, posted August 30, 2006.
  9. GropeGate
  10. Asimov, Isaac. In Memory Yet Green: the Autobiography of Isaac Asimov, 1920-1954. New York: Doubleday, 1979. Avon Books, 1980. p. 690.
  11. Margaret McEwen in Saurian Brandy/Dandelion Wine #4