Harlan Jay Ellison (born May 27, 1934) is a prolific American writer of short stories, novellas, teleplays, essays, and criticism. His literary and television work has received many awards. He wrote for the original series of both The Outer Limits and Star Trek; edited the multiple-award-winning short story anthology series Dangerous Visions; and served as creative consultant to the science fiction TV series The New Twilight Zone and Babylon 5.
Ellison's most famous stories have been within the speculative fiction genre. He has won multiple Hugo and Nebula awards. He was also very active in the science fiction community (a founding member of the Cleveland Science Fiction Society, he edited its fanzine as a teenager), and gives colorful and confrontational talks at science fiction conventions. In the 1960s, he served as the Science Fiction Writers of America's first vice president. He prefers not to place his works in a genre, but will use the term "speculative fiction" to describe his work.
Ellison's fantasy work, however, is generally better aligned with surrealism or magic realism than space opera-type science fiction. There is also a strong ethical current running through his work, half of which is nonfiction, including social activism and criticism of the arts.
Fiercely protective of his work, he has on several occasions sought (and won) legal action against copyright infringements. He occasionally uses the pseudonym Cordwainer Bird for reasons explained in the "Controversy" section, below.
Ellison attended Ohio State University for 18 months before being expelled. He has said that the expulsion was a result of his hitting a professor who had denigrated his writing ability, and that over the next forty-odd years he had sent that professor a copy of every story he published.
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. In 1957, Ellison decided to write about youth gangs. To research the issue, he joined a street gang in the Red Hook, Brooklyn area, under the name "Cheech Beldone". His subsequent writings on the subject include the novel, Web of the City/Rumble, and the collection, The Deadly Streets, and also compose part of his memoir, Memos from Purgatory.
Ellison was drafted into the army, serving from 1957 to 1959. In 1960 he returned to New York, living at 95 Christopher Street in Greenwich Village. Moving to Chicago, Ellison wrote for William Hamling's Rogue magazine. As a book editor at Hamling's Regency Books, he published novels and anthologies by such writers as B. Traven, Kurt Vonnegut, Robert Bloch and Philip José Farmer.
In the late 1950s, Ellison wrote a number of erotic stories, such as "God Bless the Ugly Virgin" and "Tramp", which were later reprinted in Los Angeles-based magazines. That was the beginning of his use of the name Cordwainer Bird as a pseudonym. The name was later used in July and August of 1957, in two journals, each of which had accepted two of his stories. In each journal, one story was published under the name Harlan Ellison, and the other under Cordwainer Bird. Later, as discussed in the Controversy section below, he used the pseudonym for material when he disagreed with its use or editing.
During the late 1960s, Ellison wrote a column about television for the Los Angeles Free Press. Titled "The Glass Teat", the column addressed political and social issues and their portrayal on television at the time. The columns have been reprinted in two collections, The Glass Teat and The Other Glass Teat.
In 1966, in an article that Esquire Magazine would later name as the best magazine piece ever written, the journalist Gay Talese wrote about the goings-on around the enigmatic 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 suddenly took exception to Ellison's boots during a billiards game.
Ellison continued to publish short pieces, fiction and nonfiction, in various publications, and some of his most famous stories were written in this period. ""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, with Ellison participating in the game's design and providing the voice of the god-computer AM. "A Boy and His Dog" examines the nature of friendship and love in a violent, post-apocalyptic world. It was made into the 1975 film of the same name, starring Don Johnson.
He has also been honored with the Edgar Award by the Mystery Writers of America twice, the Georges Méliès fantasy film award twice, and the Silver Pen for Journalism by International PEN, the international writers' union. He was presented with the first Living Legend Award by the International Horror Guild at the 1995 World Horror Convention. He is also the only author in Hollywood ever to win the Writers Guild of America Award for Most Outstanding Teleplay (solo work) four times, most recently for "Paladin of the Lost Hour" in 1987.
In March 1998, the National Women's Committee of Brandeis University honored him with their 1998 Words, Wit, Wisdom award. In 1990, Ellison was honored by International PEN for continuing commitment to artistic freedom and the battle against censorship.
He also edited the influential science fiction anthology Dangerous Visions (1967), which collected stories commissioned by Ellison, accompanied by his commentary-laden biographical sketches of the authors. He challenged the authors to write stories at the edge of the genre. Many of the stories went beyond the traditional boundaries of science fiction pioneered by respected old school editors such as John W. Campbell, Jr. As an editor, Ellison was influenced and inspired by experimentation in the popular literature of the time, such as the beats. A sequel, Again Dangerous Visions, was published in 1972. A third volume, The Last Dangerous Visions, has been repeatedly postponed (see Controversy).
Ellison served as creative consultant to the science fiction TV series The Twilight Zone (1980s version) and Babylon 5. As a member of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), he has voiceover 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".
Ellison has commented on a great many movies and television programs (see The Glass Teat and The Other Glass Teat for television criticism and commentary; see Harlan Ellison's Watching for movie criticism and commentary), both negatively and positively. He believes that "quality" and "popularity" are not synonymous, and is well-known for his vociferous disdain for anything he believes is bad.
For two years, beginning in 1986, Ellison took over as host of the Friday-night radio program, Hour 25, on Pacifica Radio station KPFK-FM, Los Angeles, after the death of Mike Hodel, the show's founder and original host. Ellison had been a frequent and favorite guest on the long-running program. In one episode, he brought in his typewriter and proceeded to write a new short story live on the air (he titled the story "Hitler Painted Roses"). Hour 25 also served as the inspiration for his story, "The Hour That Stretches".
Ellison's 1992 novelette "The Man Who Rowed Christopher Columbus Ashore" was selected for inclusion in the 1993 edition of The Best American Short Stories.
Ellison was hired as a writer for Walt Disney Studios, but was fired on his first day after being overheard by Roy O. Disney in the studio commissary joking about making a pornographic animated film featuring Disney characters. He recounted this incident in his book Stalking the Nightmare, as part 3 of an essay titled "The 3 Most Important Things in Life".
Ellison has provided vocal narration to numerous audiobooks, both of his own writing and others. Ellison has helped narrate books by authors such as Orson Scott Card, Arthur C. Clarke, Jack Williamson and Terry Pratchett.
In 2006, Harlan Ellison received the title of SFWA Grand Master from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. The Board of Directors and past Presidents of SFWA inducted Ellison as the newest Grand Master at the Nebula Awards Weekend in May of that year.
His outspoken reputation earned him frequent appearances as a panelist on Politically Incorrect, and a regular spot on the fledgling Sci-Fi Channel where he was given an opportunity to express his views on whatever he chose to talk about. Ellison's segments, of which some transcripts are available, were broadcast from 1994 to 1997. Some found this ironic, as Ellison has derided the term "sci-fi" as a "hideous neologism" that "sounds like crickets fucking." (Forrest J. Ackerman, who coined the term, responded by producing buttons bearing the slogan, "I love the sound of crickets making love.")
British science fiction author Christopher Priest critiqued 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 instances in which Ellison promised TLDV would appear within a year of the statement, but did not fulfill those promises. Priest claims he submitted a story at Ellison's request which Ellison retained for several months until Priest himself withdrew the story and demanded that Ellison return the manuscript. Ellison has a record of fulfilling obligations in other instances (though sometimes, as with Harlan Ellison's Hornbook for Mirage Press, several decades after the contract was signed), including to writers whose stories he solicited, and has expressed outrage at other editors who have acted unprofessionally.
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 studio. In a meeting with the head of the Warner film studio, Bob Shapiro, Ellison concluded that Shapiro was commenting on the script without having read it, and accused him of having the "intellectual capacity of an artichoke". Shortly afterward, Ellison was dropped from the project. Progress on the film came to a dead end, as the executive refused to let Ellison become involved again with the project, but subsequent scripts were less satisfactory to potential directors. After a change in studio heads, Warner Brothers studio agreed to allow Ellison's script to be published as a serial in Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine and in book form. The 2004 film was conceived and produced with no connection to the Ellison script.
This book, an account of the history of Fantagraphics, discussed a lawsuit that resulted from a 1980 Ellison interview with Fantagraphics' industry news magazine, The Comics Journal. In this interview, in his typical no-holds-barred fashion, Ellison referred to comic book writer Michael Fleisher, calling him "bugfuck" and "derango". Fleisher sued Ellison and Fantagraphics for libel, but lost the lawsuit 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 filed suit 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 in the lawsuit ruled against Fantagraphics' anti-SLAPP motion for dismissal of the case. On June 29, 2007, Ellison posted on his web site 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. The details of the settlement were posted on August 17, 2007.
Ellison did not respond until three days later when he wrote on his message board, "I was unaware of any problem proceeding from my intendedly-childlike grabbing of Connie Willis's left breast, as she was exhorting me to behave." He also posted that "I'm glad, at last, to have transcended your expectations. I stand naked and defenseless before your absolutely correct chiding." By August 31 his contrition seemed to be waning, as he posted: "Would you be slightly less self-righteous and chiding if I told you there was NO grab…there was NO grope…there was NO fondle...there was the slightest touch. A shtick, a gag between friends, absolutely NO sexual content. How about it, Mark: after playing straight man to Connie's very frequently demeaning public jackanapery toward me — including treating me with considerable disrespect at the Grand Master Awards Weekend, where she put a chair down in front of her lectern as Master of Ceremonies, and made me sit there like a naughty child throughout her long 'roast' of my life and career — for more than 25 years, without once complaining, whaddaya think, Mark, am I even a leetle bit entitled to think that Connie likes to play, and geez ain't it sad that as long as SHE sets the rules for play, and I'm the village idiot, she's cool … but gawd forbid I change the rules and play MY way for a change …", and complained that Willis had not called him to discuss the matter.
Note: the White Wolf Edgeworks Series was originally scheduled to consist of 31 titles reprinted over the course of 20 omnibus volumes. Although an ISBN was created for Edgeworks. 5 (1998), which was to contain both Glass Teat books, this title never appeared. The series is noted for its numerous typographical errors.
See also The Starlost #1: Phoenix without Ashes (1975), the novelization by Edward Bryant of the teleplay for the pilot episode of The Starlost, which includes a lengthy afterword by Ellison describing what happened during production of the series.
NOTES: Objects... was later included in the 2001 revised and expanded edition of The Essential Ellison. From A to Z... was later scheduled to be included in Deathbird Stories: 25th Anniversary Edition. This edition never appeared. The Toad Prince,... is a novelette which, according to the author's afterword, was originally written in the early-90s. Incognita, Inc. was commissioned the previous year by Hemispheres, the inflight magazine of United Airlines. It was also reprinted in 2001 in The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror: Fourteenth Annual Collection edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling and most recently in 2007 in Summer Chills edited by Stephen Jones. Never Send to Know... is a heavily revised, expanded and retitled version of an Ellison story originally published in 1956. It was also included in the 2001 reprint collection Troublemakers. Goodbye to All That was originally written in the mid-90s for the Harlan Ellison's Dream Corridor comic series, but was not included at the time due to the series ceasing publication. It was finally incorporated into the series in March 2007 as part of Harlan Ellison's Dream Corridor: Volume Two. Loose Cannon is a 200 word piece of flash fiction accompanied by an 800 word introduction by Neil Gaiman as part of the magazine's series of 1,000 words inspired by a painting. Luck be a Lady Tonight is an article in which Ellison sets down the challenge of adapting an idea of his into a short story; an idea which Ellison himself was unable over the years to turn into a work of fiction. Three writers were ultimately commissioned by the magazine's editor and their stories appeared in the same issue alongside Ellison's essay of proposal.
Several stories have been adapted and collected into comic book stories for Dark Horse Comics. They can be found in two volumes. For each issue of the comic there was a new original story based on the cover.
In 1981, then-24-year-old producer Erik Nelson began shooting footage of Ellison while the author was at work on his typewriter. The footage was meant for a PBS segment set to air in March of that year. Ellison allowed Nelson to repeatedly film and interview him over subsequent years, stating that he thought Nelson to be "a fan working on a student project", and has stated that he never suspected that the film would amount to a serious production on such a professional level.
The result of those sessions, and subsequent sessions spanning decades from the original, have been culled and edited, with additions from contemporaries of Ellison into what has become a documentary following a rough arc of Ellison’s life and activities.
The film's screenings have been met with critical acclaim by contemporaries of Ellison and Nelson, and the production company is currently searching for distribution to bring it to a larger audience.
He has won the Hugo Award eight and a half times; the Nebula Award three times; the Bram Stoker Award, presented by the Horror Writers Association, five times (including the Lifetime Achievement Award in 1996); the Edgar Award of the Mystery Writers of America twice; the Georges Méliès fantasy film award twice; and was awarded the Silver Pen for Journalism by International PEN, the international writers' union. He was presented with the first Living Legend Award by the International Horror Guild at the 1995 World Horror Convention. He is also the only author in Hollywood ever to win the Writers Guild of America Award for Most Outstanding Teleplay (solo work) four times, most recently for "Paladin of the Lost Hour" in 1987. In March 1998, the National Women's Committee of Brandeis University honored him with their 1998 Words, Wit, Wisdom award. In 1990, Ellison was honored by International PEN for continuing commitment to artistic freedom and the battle against censorship. Some of the specific occasions are listed below.
One of the more benevolent parodies of Ellison is the main character in a mystery novel by an author who is better known for science fiction: Murder at the A.B.A. by Isaac Asimov (The title refers to the annual convention of the American Booksellers Association). The novel's main character and narrator is an author named "Darius Just", who finds himself serving as an amateur sleuth to solve the murder of a fellow author at the convention. Asimov intended the name "Darius Just" as a pun on "Dry As Dust", and the protagonist is a slightly exaggerated pastiche of Ellison himself. Ellison has objected to the depiction: Darius Just is only five feet (1.52 m) tall, whereas Ellison is four inches (10 cm) taller at about 5 ft 4 in (1.63 m). Just reappears in the Black Widowers mystery short story "The Woman in the Bar", which is unrelated to the novel, and after Asimov's death in the pastiche "The Last Story" by Charles Ardai.
Ben Bova's comic-SF novel The Starcrossed was inspired by Ellison's and Bova's experience on the Canada-produced miniseries The Starlost. In Bova's novel, a 3D television projection system has been developed, and a new show is produced to encourage people to buy the new sets. The producers hire a famous writer named Ron Gabriel to write the show; the character is a thinly disguised Ellison. Although Bova is a friend of Ellison's, and his portrayal of Gabriel is admiring and sympathetic, the novel is broad comedy, and should not be read as a true roman a clef. Ellison has given his own non-fiction account of his Starlost experience in a lengthy essay titled "Somehow, I Don't Think We're in Kansas, Toto".
Ellison was paid a bizarre homage by writer Mike Friedrich and artist Dick Dillin in the May 1971 issue of the comic book Justice League of America. In a hallucinatory story called "The Most Dangerous Dreams of All," the literary efforts of a flashy, insecure writer named Harlequin Ellis somehow become reality for the members of the JLA.
In the Ron Goulart novel Galaxy Jane, a birdman character by the name of Harlan Grzyb (author of I Have No Perch But I Must Sing and editor of Dangerous Birdcages) rages about the terrible things others have done to his script for the film Galaxy Jane.
In The Dark Knight Returns, Frank Miller featured Ellison by name as a television talking head. His only dialog is elliptical, prophesying a world where "[we'll] be eating our own babies for breakfast." Ellison and Miller are friends, the latter drawing the cover and writing the introduction for the stand-alone publication of Mefisto in Onyx.
In a somewhat less sympathetic vein, Ellison serves as a partial basis for a composite character in Sharyn McCrumb's Bimbos of the Death Sun. The novel is a satirical look at Science Fiction and Fantasy fandom and Conventions.
In an episode of the animated television show Freakazoid! entitled "And Fanboy is His Name," Freakazoid offers Fanboy "his very own Harlan Ellison" (as a slow, slightly dischordant version of For He's A Jolly Good Fellow plays on the soundtrack) in an attempt to convince Fanboy to stop following him.
In the 1970s, students at the University of Michigan produced a narrated slide show called "The City on the Edge of Whatever," which was a spoof of "The City on the Edge of Forever." Occasionally screened at Star Trek conventions, it featured an irate writer named "Arlan Hellison" who screamed at his producers, "Art defilers! Script assassins!"
Yet another Ellison-character appears throughout a 1971 novel by David Gerrold and Larry Niven, The Flying Sorcerers. The pantheon of gods in this delightful and zany story are all named after various SF writers. Ellison becomes Elcin, "The small, but mighty god of thunder" who will "Rain lightning down upon the heads" of those who "deny the power of the gods".
Mystery Science Theater 3000 has also poked fun at Ellison in the episode "Mitchell", identifying a short irritable looking man being booked into a police station as the writer.