Harlan Ellison Tribute

In Memoriam: Harlan Ellison 1934 – 2018

Harlan Ellison / Fair use doctrine.Around 1988, I had the great pleasure of spending two days off and on with Harlan Ellison. My first encounter was as part of a group of six having dinner with Harlan Ellison the night before he was to speak at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. When we met him in his hotel lobby, we discovered that no one had bothered to tell Harlan. There were mutterings of what to do, our group asking Harlan because he seemed annoyed. In typical Harlan fashion, he snapped, “Don’t ask me what I want to do because I want to go upstairs and go to bed.” Without missing a beat, I asked, “So should we all go upstairs and go to bed with you?” Harlan’s face was priceless, but the ice had been broken and we proceeded to dinner and an evening I will always remember.

Harlan was cantankerous, abrasive, temperamental, kind, considerate, and a force all his own. I will miss him deeply.

Original cover for Harlan Ellison's Rumble, now titled Web of the City.Born in 1934, Harlan Ellison grew up in Ohio and briefly attended Ohio State University before being expelled allegedly for punching a teacher who had criticized his writing ability. Ellison also served two years in the army in spite of being staunchly anti-war. Ellison published his first work in 1958, a novel titled Rumble, now retitled Web of the City, a semi-autobiographical non-fiction recollection of his time in a Brooklyn gang. The same year two short story collections were published, A Touch of Infinity and The Deadly Streets. After working in television for many years, Ellison published The Glass Teat in 1970, a collection of essays reflecting his opinion of television. The Other Glass Teat, published in 1975, is a follow-up work in the same vein.Harlan Ellison's The Glass Teat and The Other Glass Teat

Harlan Ellison was an American author whose fictional pieces were often of a science fiction, horror, or sci-fi horror nature, but anyone who ever called Harlan a “science fiction” writer never made that mistake a second time. Harlan eschewed labels that pigeon-holed his writing. Ellison’s 1,700+ published works include teleplays, screenplays, novellas, comic book scripts, and short stories as well as essays and critiques of television, film, literature, and more. For his work, Ellison has won Jupiter, Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy, Writer’s Guild of America, and Edgar awards. In 2000, Ellison also received the World Horror Convention Grand Master Award for his contributions to the field of horror literature.

Don Johnson as Vic and Tiger as Blood in Harlan Ellison's A Boy and His Dog

Don Johnson as Vic and Tiger as Blood in Harlan Ellison’s A Boy and His Dog

Ellison’s work can be seen on television shows such as Star Trek, The Sixth Sense, The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, The Hunger, Logan’s Run, and Babylon 5. In 1975, Ellison’s novella A Boy and His Dog was adapted into a movie with a very young Don Johnson and a (not as young) Jason Robards (Harlan, though not pleased with the adaptation, kindly autographed my copy). His 1967 short story “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream”, a post-apocalyptic tale of sentient computers and suffering humans, won the Hugo award that year and is often considered one of the greatest post-apocalyptic stories of the 20th Century.

William Shatner and Joan Collins in Harlan Ellison's "The City on the Edge of Forever", one of the most highly acclaimed Star Trek episodes.

William Shatner and Joan Collins in Harlan Ellison’s “The City on the Edge of Forever”, one of the most highly acclaimed Star Trek episodes.

Ellison was also known for taking a vocal stand when he perceived that his work was being butchered or his creative contributions undermined. When this happened, Ellison would direct that the credits read Cordwainer Bird – save when he disagreed with changes to the Star Trek episode “The City on the Edge of Forever”. Interestingly, both Ellison’s original script and the shooting script won awards, the former being the Writers Guild for best episodic television drama (1968) and the latter being a Hugo for best dramatic presentation (1968). This episode also inspired the punk band Edith Keeler Must Die and the song “Edith Keeler Must Die” by Arigon Starr, both named after Spock’s assertion that, “Jim, Edith Keeler must die.” Nevertheless, while Hollywood may’ve not appreciated his efforts, Constant Readers certainly did. For fans, the name Cordwainer Bird immediately evokes knowing nods and “Um-hms”.

Harlan Ellison at the LA Press Club / Copyright 2006 by Galen A. Tripp

Harlan Ellison at the LA Press Club / Copyright 2006 by Galen A. Tripp

Regardless of his irascibility, his work has influenced countless other authors. Stephen King speaks fondly of Harlan and other authors who helped answer questions for Danse Macabre, his 1981 non-fiction book on horror in media.

Lastly, thanks are due to the writers— Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, Richard Matheson, Jack Finney, Peter Straub, and Anne Rivers Siddons among them— who were kind enough to answer my letters of enquiry and to provide information about the genesis of the works discussed here. Their voices provide a dimension to this work which would otherwise be sadly lacking.
— Stephen King

I think that sentiment is as appropriate now – Harlan’s death will leave the world and the world of fiction sadly lacking. Rest in peace, Mr. Ellison.

I’d like to end this with another anecdote from my adventure with Harlan. Among the many outstanding moments, this one stands out above the others.

After dinner, we walked around 5-Points South and stopped to look over some items in the window of Memory Lane. I spotted a button that read “WAR is Menstruation ENVY” and laughed outrageously. We all agreed that it was awesome. The following day Harlan spoke to a small group from the UAB Honors Program. I arrived late to find that he had saved me a seat beside him. As I sat down, Harlan presented that same button to me. I still have it.

Thank you, Harlan. Rest in peace. You will be sorely missed.


Posted by Woofer McWooferson

Woofenstein “Woofer” McWooferson is a writer, editor, proofreader, researcher, reviewer/critic, and werewolf active in the horror community. A werewolf from birth, Woofer had an otherwise normal childhood. Woofer grew up in a suburban home and found more friends in books, television than at school. In college, Woofer undertook an honors degree while majoring in English with a minor in criminal psychology. Woofer later earned a Master’s degree in English, focusing on the modern British novel and then pursued a degree in Metaphysics at Miskatonic University. Woofer was a contributing author for William Castle Presents: Scare It Forward: “Angel Island” (2010) and an editor for Blake Petit’s Opening Night of the Dead (2012) and Claus Holm’s Dreams and Awakenings (2014) and Tempus Investigations (2016).

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