Ellison in 1986
|Born||Harlan Jay Ellison|
May 27, 1934
Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.
|Died||June 28, 2018 (aged 84)|
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Pen name||Cordwainer Bird, Nalrah Nosille, and 8 others|
|Occupation||Author, screenwriter, essayist|
|Genre||Speculative fiction, science fiction, fantasy, crime fiction, mystery, horror, film and television criticism|
|Literary movement||New Wave|
|Notable works||Dangerous Visions (editor), A Boy and His Dog, "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream", 'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman",The City on the Edge of Forever'|
Harlan Jay Ellison (May 27, 1934 - June 28, 2018) was an American writer, known for his prolific and influential work in New Wave speculative fiction, and for his outspoken, combative personality.Robert Bloch, the author of Psycho, described Ellison as "the only living organism I know whose natural habitat is hot water".
His published works include more than 1,700 short stories, novellas, screenplays, comic book scripts, teleplays, essays, and a wide range of criticism covering literature, film, television, and print media. Some of his best-known works include the Star Trek episode "The City on the Edge of Forever" (he subsequently wrote a book about the experience that includes his original screenplay), his A Boy and His Dog cycle, and his short stories "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream" and "'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman". He was also editor and anthologist for Dangerous Visions (1967) and Again, Dangerous Visions (1972). Ellison won numerous awards, including multiple Hugos, Nebulas, and Edgars.
Ellison was born to a Jewish family in Cleveland, Ohio, on May 27, 1934, the son of Serita (née Rosenthal) and Louis Laverne Ellison, a dentist and jeweler. He had an older sister, Beverly (Rabnick), who was born in 1926. She died in 2010 without having spoken to him since their mother's funeral in 1976. His family subsequently moved to Painesville, Ohio, but returned to Cleveland in 1949, following his father's death. Ellison frequently ran away from home (in an interview with Tom Snyder he would later claim it was due to discrimination by his high school peers), taking an array of odd jobs--including, by age 18, "tuna fisherman off the coast of Galveston, itinerant crop-picker down in New Orleans, hired gun for a wealthy neurotic, nitroglycerine truck driver in North Carolina, short-order cook, cab driver, lithographer, book salesman, floorwalker in a department store, door-to-door brush salesman, and as a youngster, an actor in several productions at the Cleveland Play House". In 1947, a fan letter he wrote to Real Fact Comics became his first published writing.
Ellison attended Ohio State University for 18 months (1951-53) before being expelled. He said the expulsion was for hitting a professor who had denigrated his writing ability, and over the next 20 or so years he sent that professor a copy of every story that he published.
Ellison published two serialized stories in the Cleveland News during 1949, and he sold a story to EC Comics early in the 1950s. During this period, Ellison was an active and visible member of science fiction fandom, and published his own science fiction fanzines, such as Dimensions (which had previously been the Bulletin of the Cleveland Science Fantasy Society for the Cleveland Science Fantasy Society, and later Science Fantasy Bulletin.) Ellison moved to New York City in 1955 to pursue a writing career, primarily in science fiction. Over the next two years, he published more than 100 short stories and articles. The short stories collected as Sex Gang -- which Ellison described in a 2012 interview as "mainstream erotica" -- date from this period.
He served in the U.S. Army from 1957 to 1959. His first novel, Web of the City, was published during his military service in 1958, and he said that he had written the bulk of it while undergoing basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia. After leaving the army, he relocated to Chicago, where he edited Rogue magazine.
Ellison moved to California in 1962, and subsequently began to sell his writing to Hollywood. He co-wrote the screenplay for The Oscar (1966), starring Stephen Boyd and Elke Sommer. Ellison also sold scripts to many television shows: The Loretta Young Show (using the name Harlan Ellis),The Flying Nun, Burke's Law, Route 66, The Outer Limits,Star Trek, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Cimarron Strip, and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Ellison's screenplay for the Star Trek episode "The City on the Edge of Forever" has been considered the best of the 79 episodes in the series.
In 1966, in an article that Esquire magazine later named as the best magazine piece ever written, the journalist Gay Talese wrote about the goings-on around Frank Sinatra. The article, entitled "Frank Sinatra Has a Cold", briefly describes a clash between the young Harlan Ellison and Frank Sinatra, when the crooner took exception to Ellison's boots during a billiards game.
Ellison was hired as a writer for Walt Disney Studios, but was fired on his first day after Roy O. Disney overheard him in the studio commissary joking about making a pornographic animated film featuring Disney characters.
Ellison continued to publish short fiction and nonfiction pieces in various publications, including some of his best known stories. "'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman" (1965) is a celebration of civil disobedience against repressive authority. "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream" (1967) is an allegory of Hell, where five humans are tormented by an all-knowing computer throughout eternity. The story was the basis of a 1995 computer game; Ellison participated in the game's design and provided the voice of the god-computer AM. Another story, "A Boy and His Dog", examines the nature of friendship and love in a violent, post-apocalyptic world and was made into the 1975 film of the same name, starring Don Johnson.
Ellison served as creative consultant to the 1980s version of The Twilight Zone science fiction TV series and Babylon 5. As a member of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), he had voice-over credits for shows, including The Pirates of Dark Water, Mother Goose and Grimm, Space Cases, Phantom 2040, and Babylon 5, as well as making an onscreen appearance in the Babylon 5 episode "The Face of the Enemy".
In 2014 Ellison made a guest appearance on the album Finding Love in Hell by the stoner metal band Leaving Babylon, reading his piece "The Silence" (originally published in Mind Fields) as an introduction to the song "Dead to Me."
Ellison married five times; each relationship ended within a few years, except the last. His first wife was Charlotte Stein, whom he married in 1956. They divorced in 1960, and he later described the marriage as "four years of hell as sustained as the whine of a generator." Later that year he married Billie Joyce Sanders; they divorced in 1963. His 1966 marriage to Loretta Patrick lasted only seven weeks. In 1976, he married Lori Horowitz. He was 41 and she was 19, and he later said of the marriage, "I was desperately in love with her, but it was a stupid marriage on my part." They were divorced after eight months. He and Susan Toth married in 1986, and they remained together, living in Los Angeles, until his death 32 years later. Susan died in August 2020.
In September 2007, Ellison made his last public appearance in his hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, for the Midwestern debut of the documentary Dreams with Sharp Teeth at the Cleveland Public Library.
On about October 10, 2014, Ellison suffered a stroke. Although his speech and cognition were unimpaired, he suffered paralysis on his right side, for which he was expected to spend several weeks in physical therapy before being released from the hospital.
Ellison on occasion used the pseudonym Cordwainer Bird to alert members of the public to situations in which he felt his creative contribution to a project had been mangled by others, beyond repair, typically Hollywood producers or studios (see also Alan Smithee). The first such work to which he signed the name was "The Price of Doom", an episode of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (though it was misspelled as Cord Wainer Bird in the credits). An episode of Burke's Law ("Who Killed Alex Debbs?") credited to Ellison contains a character given this name, played by Sammy Davis Jr.
The "Cordwainer Bird" moniker is a tribute to fellow SF writer Paul M. A. Linebarger, better known by his pen name, Cordwainer Smith. The origin of the word "cordwainer" is shoemaker (from working with cordovan leather for shoes). The term used by Linebarger was meant to imply the industriousness of the pulp author. Ellison said, in interviews and in his writing, that his version of the pseudonym was meant to mean "a shoemaker for birds". Since he used the pseudonym mainly for works he wanted to distance himself from, it may be understood to mean that "this work is for the birds" or that it is of as much use as shoes to a bird. Stephen King once said he thought that it meant that Ellison was giving people who mangled his work a literary version of "the bird" (given credence by Ellison himself in his own essay titled "Somehow, I Don't Think We're in Kansas, Toto", describing his experience with the Starlost television series).
The Bird moniker became a character in one of Ellison's own stories. In his book Strange Wine, Ellison explains the origins of the Bird and goes on to state that Philip José Farmer wrote Cordwainer into the Wold Newton family that the latter writer had developed. The thought of such a whimsical object lesson being related to such lights as Doc Savage, The Shadow, Tarzan, and all the other pulp heroes prompted Ellison to play with the concept, resulting in "The New York Review of Bird", in which an annoyed Bird uncovers the darker secrets of the New York literary establishment before beginning a pulpish slaughter of the same.
Other pseudonyms Ellison used during his career include Jay Charby, Sley Harson, Ellis Hart, John Magnus, Paul Merchant, Pat Roeder, Ivar Jorgenson, Derry Tiger, Harlan Ellis and Jay Solo.
Ellison had a reputation for being abrasive and argumentative.[a] Ellison generally agreed with this assessment, and a dust jacket from one of his books[which?] described him as "possibly the most contentious person on Earth." Ellison filed numerous grievances and attempted lawsuits; as part of a dispute about fulfillment of a contract, he once sent 213 bricks to a publisher postage due, followed by a dead gopher via fourth-class mail.[third-party source needed] In an October 2017 piece in Wired, Ellison was dubbed "Sci-Fi's Most Controversial Figure."
At Stephen King's request, Ellison provided a description of himself and his writing in Danse Macabre: "My work is foursquare for chaos. I spend my life personally, and my work professionally, keeping the soup boiling. Gadfly is what they call you when you are no longer dangerous; I much prefer troublemaker, malcontent, desperado. I see myself as a combination of Zorro and Jiminy Cricket. My stories go out from here and raise hell. From time to time some denigrater or critic with umbrage will say of my work, 'He only wrote that to shock.' I smile and nod. Precisely."
Ellison repeatedly criticized how Star Trek creator and producer Gene Roddenberry (and others) rewrote his original script for the 1967 episode "The City on the Edge of Forever". Despite his objections, Ellison kept his own name on the shooting script instead of using "Cordwainer Bird" to indicate displeasure (see above).
Ellison's original script was first published in the 1976 anthology Six Science Fiction Plays, edited by Roger Elwood. The aired version was adapted for the Star Trek Fotonovel series in 1977. In 1995, Borderlands Press published The City on the Edge of Forever, with nearly 300 pages, comprising an essay by Ellison, four versions of the teleplay, and eight "Afterwords" contributed by other parties. He greatly expanded the introduction for the paperback edition, in which he explained what he called a "fatally inept" treatment.
Both versions of the script won awards: Ellison's original script won the 1968 Writers Guild Award for best episodic drama in television, while the shooting script won the 1968 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation.
On March 13, 2009, Ellison sued CBS Paramount Television, seeking payment of 25% of net receipts from merchandising, publishing, and other income from the episode since 1967; the suit also names the Writers Guild of America for allegedly failing to act on Ellison's behalf. On October 23, 2009, Variety magazine reported that a settlement had been reached.
Ellison was among those who in 1968 signed an anti-Vietnam War advertisement in Galaxy Science Fiction. In 1969, Ellison was Guest of Honor at Texas A&M University's first science fiction convention, Aggiecon, where he reportedly referred to the university's Corps of Cadets as "America's next generation of Nazis", inspired in part by the continuing Vietnam War. Although the university was no longer solely a military school (from 1965), the student body was predominantly made up of cadet members. Between Ellison's anti-military remarks and a food fight that broke out in the ballroom of the hotel where the gathering was held (although, according to Ellison in 2000, the food fight actually started in a Denny's because the staff disappeared and they could not get their check), the school's administration almost refused to approve the science fiction convention the next year and no guest of honor was invited for the next two Aggiecons. However, Ellison was subsequently invited back as Guest of Honor for Aggiecon V (1974).
The Last Dangerous Visions (TLDV), the third volume of Ellison's anthology series, was originally announced for publication in 1973, but had not as of 2020 been published. Nearly 150 writers, many now dead, submitted works for the volume. In 1993, Ellison threatened to sue New England Science Fiction Association (NESFA) for publishing "Himself in Anachron", a short story written by Cordwainer Smith and sold to Ellison for the book by his widow, but later reached an amicable settlement.
British science fiction author Christopher Priest criticized Ellison's editorial practices in an article entitled "The Book on the Edge of Forever", later expanded into a book. Priest documented a half-dozen unfulfilled promises by Ellison to publish TLDV within a year of the statement. Priest claims that he submitted a story at Ellison's request, which Ellison retained for several months until Priest withdrew the story and demanded that Ellison return the manuscript. Ellison was incensed by "The Book on the Edge of Forever" and, personally or by proxy, threatened Priest on numerous occasions after its publication.
In November of 2020, the executor of the Harlan Ellison estate, J. Michael Straczynski, announced on Patreon that he was proceeding with the final preparations for the publication of TLDV with the proceeds to go to the Harlan and Susan Ellison Trust. The book was expected to be published in April, 2021, as significant publisher interest was expressed.
Christopher Priest was unimpressed, saying that Straczynski was "in the same sort of unenviable position as Trump's caddie", but as an experienced professional would possibly work something out. He added "I kind of lost interest in all that years ago. Ellison clearly did too, along with everyone else. (Although I gather he went on with his magical thinking if anyone asked when he was going to deliver). Many of the stories were withdrawn, because Ellison acted like a dick. Of the ones that remain, most of them are by writers who are now deceased, so the rights have expired and the estates would have to be traced. A lot of the writers have disowned their stories as juvenilia, or outdated, or simply because Ellison was acting like a dick."
Shortly after the release of Star Wars (1977), Ben Roberts contacted Ellison to develop a script based on Isaac Asimov's I, Robot short story collection for Warner Brothers; Ellison and Asimov had been longtime friends, so Ellison may be presumed to have attached particular significance to the project. In a meeting with the Head of Production at Warners, Robert Shapiro, Ellison concluded that Shapiro was commenting on the script without having read it and accused him of having the "intellectual and cranial capacity of an artichoke". Shortly afterwards, Ellison was dropped from the project. Without Ellison, the film came to a dead end, because subsequent scripts were unsatisfactory to potential directors. After a change in studio heads, Warner allowed Ellison's script to be serialized in Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine and published in book form. The 2004 film I, Robot, starring Will Smith, has no connection to Ellison's script.
In 1985 Ellison allegedly publicly assaulted author and critic Charles Platt at the Nebula Awards banquet. Platt did not pursue legal action against Ellison, and the two men later signed a "non-aggression pact", promising never to discuss the incident again nor to have any contact with one another. Platt claims that Ellison often publicly boasted about the incident.
Ellison was presented with a special committee award at the 2006 Hugo Awards ceremony. When Ellison got to the podium, presenter Connie Willis asked him "Are you going to be good?" When she asked the question a second time, Ellison put the microphone in his mouth, to the crowd's laughter. He then placed his hand on her breast during an embrace. Ellison subsequently complained that Willis refused to acknowledge his apology.
On September 20, 2006, Ellison sued comic book and magazine publisher Fantagraphics, stating they had defamed him in their book Comics As Art (We Told You So). The book recounts the history of Fantagraphics and discussed a lawsuit that resulted from a 1980 Ellison interview with Fantagraphics' industry news magazine, The Comics Journal. In this interview Ellison referred to comic book writer Michael Fleisher, calling him "bugfuck" and "derange-o". Fleisher lost his libel suit against Ellison and Fantagraphics on December 9, 1986.
Ellison, after reading unpublished drafts of the book on Fantagraphics's website, believed that he had been defamed by several anecdotes related to this incident. He sued in the Superior Court for the State of California, in Santa Monica. Fantagraphics attempted to have the lawsuit dismissed. In their motion to dismiss, Fantagraphics argued that the statements were both their personal opinions and generally believed to be true anecdotes. On February 12, 2007, the presiding judge ruled against Fantagraphics' anti-SLAPP motion for dismissal. On June 29, 2007, Ellison claimed that the litigation had been resolved pending Fantagraphics' removal of all references to the case from their website. No money or apologies changed hands in the settlement as posted on August 17, 2007.
Ellison alleged that James Cameron's film The Terminator drew from material from an episode of the original Outer Limits which Ellison had scripted, "Soldier" (1964). Hemdale, the production company and the distributor Orion Pictures, settled out of court for an undisclosed sum and added a credit to the film which acknowledged Ellison's work. Cameron objected to this acknowledgement and has since labeled Ellison's claim a "nuisance suit". Some accounts of the settlement state that another Outer Limits episode written by Ellison, "Demon with a Glass Hand" (1964), was also claimed to have been plagiarized by the film, but Ellison stated that "Terminator was not stolen from 'Demon with a Glass Hand,' it was a ripoff of my OTHER Outer Limits script, 'Soldier.'"
In 1983, Marvel Comics released The Incredible Hulk #286, entitled "Hero", written by Bill Mantlo. Three issues later, Marvel put up a letter claiming that Mantlo adapted "Soldier" for use as a Hulk story, but they forgot to credit Ellison and had it pointed out by readers. In actuality, then-Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter signed off on the story, not having seen the Outer Limits episode it was based on and not realizing Mantlo copied it wholesale. The day the issue went to stands, he was contacted by an angry Ellison, who calmed down after Shooter admitted the error. Although he could have claimed hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages, Ellison only requested the same payment Mantlo got for the story, writer's credit and a lifetime subscription to everything Marvel published.
On April 24, 2000, Ellison sued Stephen Robertson for posting four stories to the newsgroup "alt.binaries.e-book" without authorization. The other defendants were AOL and RemarQ, an internet service provider who owned servers hosting the newsgroup. Ellison alleged they had failed to halt copyright infringement in accordance with the "Notice and Takedown Procedure" outlined in the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Robertson and RemarQ first settled with Ellison, and then AOL likewise settled with Ellison in June 2004, under conditions that were not made public. Since those settlements Ellison initiated legal action or takedown notices against more than 240 people who have allegedly distributed his writings on the Internet, saying, "If you put your hand in my pocket, you'll drag back six inches of bloody stump".
Ellison won eight Hugo Awards, a shared award for the screenplay of A Boy and his Dog that he counted as "half a Hugo", and two special awards from annual World SF Conventions; four Nebula Awards of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA); five Bram Stoker Awards of the Horror Writers Association (HWA); two Edgar Awards of the Mystery Writers of America; two World Fantasy Awards from annual conventions; and two Georges Méliès fantasy film awards. In 1987, Ellison was awarded the Inkpot Award.
Ellison won the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement in 1993. HWA gave him its Lifetime Achievement Award in 1996 and the World Horror Convention named him Grand Master in 2000. He was awarded the Gallun Award for Lifetime Achievement in Science Fiction from I-CON in 1997.
SFWA named him its 23rd Grand Master of fantasy and science fiction in 2006 and the Science Fiction Hall of Fame inducted him in 2011. That year he also received the fourth J. Lloyd Eaton Lifetime Achievement Award in Science Fiction, presented by the UCR Libraries at the 2011 Eaton SF Conference, "Global Science Fiction".
He was awarded the Silver Pen for Journalism by International PEN, the international writers' union, in 1982. In 1990, Ellison was honored by International PEN for continuing commitment to artistic freedom and the battle against censorship. In 1998, he was awarded the "Defender of Liberty" award by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.
Ellison was named 2002's winner of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal's "Distinguished Skeptic Award", in recognition of his contributions to science and critical thinking. Ellison was presented with the award at the Skeptics Convention in Burbank, California, on June 22, 2002.
In December 2009, Ellison was nominated for a Grammy award in the category Best Spoken Word Album For Children for his reading of Through the Looking-Glass And What Alice Found There for Blackstone Audio, Inc.
In the 1970s artist and cartoonist Gordon Carleton wrote and drew a scripted slide show called "City on the Edge of Whatever", which was a spoof of "The City on the Edge of Forever". Occasionally performed at Star Trek conventions, it features an irate writer named "Arlan Hellison" who screams at his producers, "Art defilers! Script assassins!"
Justice League of America #89 ("The Most Dangerous Dreams Of All") 1971, written by Mike Friedrich, is centered around a character named Harlequin Ellis. The character is smitten with Black Canary, and injects himself into Justice League adventures, taking on the role of different heroes in his attempts to woo her. Ellison himself was both well known as a ladies' man, and had written several comic book scripts.
Ben Bova's novel The Starcrossed (1975), a roman à clef about Bova and Ellison's experience on The Starlost TV series, features a character "Ron Gabriel" who is a pastiche of Ellison. Bova's novel is dedicated to Ellison's pseudonym "Cordwainer Bird", who was credited as series creator on The Starlost per Ellison's demand. In the novel, "Ron Gabriel" requires the fictional series producers to credit him under the pseudonym "Victor Lawrence Talbot Frankenstein".
In Murder at the ABA (1976) by Isaac Asimov, the protagonist, Darius Just, was based on Ellison, as stated by Asimov in footnotes to the book itself, and in his autobiographical volume In Joy Still Felt.
Robert Silverberg named a character in his first novel, Revolt on Alpha C, for Ellison, who was Silverberg's neighbor in New York City at the time he was writing the book. This was confirmed in a special edition on the occasion of Silverberg's 35th year in the business.
Sharyn McCrumb's mystery novel Bimbos of the Death Sun (1988) featured a cantankerous antagonist-turned-murder-victim based on Ellison. Fans of Ellison sent him copies of the book, and upon meeting Ellison later that year at the Edgar Awards, Ellison told McCrumb he had read the book and thought it was good.
Ellison appeared as himself in an episode of The Simpsons ("Married to the Blob", 2014) in which he meets Bart and Milhouse, and parodies his contention that the film The Terminator used ideas from his stories.
Harlan Ellison wrote what is widely considered the best episode ever of Star Trek: The Original Series.
This is Harlan's little breakfast nook at Webderland. When he's not here, we chat about him and his work. When he is, we act like we're guests in his home.
I have a busy social calendar in the remaining weeks of this month. On Friday, September 21, my dear friends Harlan and Susan Ellison will be in Cleveland for A Tribute to Harlan Ellison at the main library of the Cleveland Public Library: Join us in the Louis Stokes Wing Auditorium beginning with a reception at 6:30 p.m. followed with a Midwestern debut screening of Dreams With Sharp Teeth, a documentary on the writer and native Clevelander, Harlan Ellison. Screening will be followed by special guests with a special appearance by Harlan Ellison.
Ellison felt his story, which was aired in cut form, received a 'fatally inept' treatment.
He appeared on 'Babylon 5' and provided voice work for a number of animated series. Most recently, he appeared as a fictionalized version of himself on two episodes of 'Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated'.