Ramblings About Harlan Ellison By Matthew Rizzuto

“The two most common elements in the universe are hydrogen and stupidity.”
                                                    – Harlan Ellison
In case you didn’t know it, the legendary Harlan Ellison was an illustrious American writer, novelist and essayist considered as one of the most eminent writers ever in the genre of science fiction.
Renowned for his short stories, the creative writer has also expressed his thoughts, opinions and views on subjects close to his heart through essays, screenplays, teleplays, novellas and comic book scripts. He has also been an anthologist and editor for “Dangerous Visions” and “Again, Dangerous Visions” which are two science fiction anthologies. He has also bagged in a number of awards and accolades, including Edgars, Hugos and Nebulas.
Currently, Harlan Ellison is in the cosmos with so many other great minds.
He left his footprint as a writer with a edge in his voice.
When Harlan spoke, people listened and he was never dull!!!
A tremendous personality gone. His presence was undeniable, both inspiring and a force of nature!!! The man was a legend!!!!
At this conjuncture, people should be aware of that this piece is gonna use some strong language that I firmly believe that Ellison would’ve approved.
Harlan was 375 years old. He died fighting alien space bears. Yeah, he swung that way.
Harlan is dead. He exploded in his living room, in his favorite chair, apoplectic over the absolute garbage fire this world has become. He’s dead, gone missing under mysterious circumstances, leaving behind many suspects. He went down arguing over the law of gravity with a small plane in which he was flying. Harlan took the contrary position. He won.
Ellison, science fiction writer and legendarily angry man, has died. He exited peacefully (as far as such things go) at home and in his sleep. He was 84 years old.
Any one of those first lies seems to me more likely than the truth of the last one. Hard enough to believe that Ellison is gone — that something out there finally stilled that great and furious spirit and pried those pecking fingers from the keyboard of his Olympia typewriter (without, apparently, the aid of explosives).
A quiet farewell to this life that he loved so largely and this world that he excoriated so beautifully? If someone had asked me, I would’ve bet on the space bears.
Ellison brought a literary sensibility to sci-fi at a time when the entire establishment was allergic to any notion of art, won awards for it, was glorified by millions and held those who’d doubted him early in a state of perpetual contempt.
“The world is turning into a cesspool of imbeciles.”
                                                   – Harlan Ellison
Harlan Ellison was, after all, one of the most interesting humans on Earth. He was one of the greatest and most influential science fiction writers ever and now is one of the best dead ones.
To some people, he was a complete jerk, mostly unapologetically and a purely American creation — short, loud, furious, outnumbered but never outmatched — who came up in Shaker Heights, Ohio, went to LA and lived like some kind of darkside Forrest Gump. Harlan Ellison was a man who, however improbably, however weirdly, inserted himself into history simply by dint of being out in it, brass knuckles in his pocket and always looking for trouble. Sometimes, trouble found Ellison.
In his youth, he claims to have been, among other things, “a 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.” He was the kid who ran off and joined the circus. Bought the circus. Burned the whole circus down one night. Why?! Because Ellison just wanted to see the pretty lights.
Stone Fact: He marched with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, lectured to college kids, visited with death row inmates, partied with and defended famous comics creators and once mailed a dead gopher to a publisher. If that wasn’t enough, he famously got into it with Frank Sinatra one night in Beverly Hills. Omar Sharif and Peter Falk were there. Ellison was shooting pool, being his usual self and in walks Sinatra, who laid into Ellison because he didn’t like the kid’s boots.
Remember, this is Sinatra in 1965. Sinatra at the height of his power and glory. A Sinatra who could wreck anyone he felt like. None of that didn’t matter because Ellison simply did not care. He went nose-to-nose with Sinatra, shouting, ready to scrap. Gay Talese was observing, working on a story, so Ellison became a tiny part of what, among magazine geeks, stands as the single greatest magazine profile of all time: “Frank Sinatra Has A Cold.” “Sinatra probably forgot about it at once”, Talese wrote, “but Ellison will remember it all his life.”
That was absolutely true.
But that moment?! It encapsulated Ellison. His luck, his deviltry, his style and violence. He lived like he had nothing to lose and he wrote the same way. Twenty hours a day sometimes, hunched over a typewriter, just pounding. He published something like 1,800 stories in his life and some of them (not just one of them or two of them, but a lot of them) are among the best, most important things ever put down on paper.
“You must never be afraid to go there.”
                                                  – Harlan Ellison
Ellison brought a literary sensibility to sci-fi at a time when the entire establishment was allergic to any notion of art, won awards for it, became adored and respected and loved by a community that wanted to ignore science fiction and held those who’d doubted him early in a state of perpetual contempt.
He wrote “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” and “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said The Ticktockman” and everyone knows that, right? He wrote “A Boy and His Dog”, which became the movie of the same name and still stands as one of the darkest, most disturbing, most gorgeously weird examples of post-apocalyptica on the shelves.
His anthology, “Dangerous Visions”, gave weight and seriousness to the New Wave movement that revitalized sci-fi in the 1970’s. That kicked open the door for everyone who came after and the scene we have today. He wrote a flamethrower essay about hating Christmas and the script for “City on The Edge of Forever”, the “Star Trek” episode that most of my fellow nerds who lean in that direction will tell you was the best of the series. He wrote for comics, for video games, for Hollywood, got fired from Disney on his first day for making jokes about Disney porn. Even Goofy was taken aback by that one.
He was science fiction’s Hemingway. Its Picasso. Talented and conflicted, both and with a fire in him that sometimes came out as genius and sometimes as violence and no one ever knew which one they’d get.
“My work is foursquare for chaos”, he once told Stephen King. “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.”
Believe it or not, he followed those stories right out the door. Did he get in fights? Yup. He did. Bragged about every one of them. Filed lawsuits like they were greeting cards. He assaulted book people with frightening regularity, went to story meetings with a baseball bat back in the day. He groped the author Connie Willis on stage during a Hugo Award ceremony, for which some people never forgave him and there’s nothing to say to normalize that. He wasn’t just some growler or crank to wave off.
“You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant.”
                                                  – Harlan Ellison
I once called him “America’s weird uncle”, but that almost seems too gentle because he was more than that. He was an all-American asshole, born and bred. Science fiction’s Hemingway. Its Picasso. Talented and conflicted, both and with a fire in him that sometimes came out as genius and sometimes as violence and no one ever knew which one they’d get.
But all of this?! None of it really matters today. Because the man is dead and these are the Legends of Ol’ Harlan now. The tales he left behind — on paper and in the heads of those fortunate enough to read him when he was at his acetylene brightest — and the stories that followed in his stories wake.
To say he was one-of-a-kind would be trite, reek of nonsense and he would likely hate that. What he was, was a legend. Singular. Absolutely deserving of all the love and all the anger he earned in his time.
With his work, he has purchased immortality at bulk rates. With his life, he stayed on till dawn and cursed the sun for rising. If ever there was a man who lived more than he was due, it was Harlan Ellison.
He’s earned his rest and the respect of the space bears.
From the two times that I met him in Cleveland, we argued since I was a kid, shared friends and causes and I still learn from him each time I read his beautiful work.
It has been said that, whether you agree with it or not, all writers put a bit of themselves into their work, hoping to shape the world. Perhaps, that’s accurate. In any case, Harlan leapt into the world, demanding it become better or simply conform to his whims.
“Don’t start an argument with somebody who has a microphone when you don’t. They’ll make you look like chopped liver.”
                                                – Harlan Ellison
If you ever get bored, choose to read a story of his tonight and listen. Those echoes will not be stilled, not ever.
The beast that shouted love at the heart of the world has finally stopped shouting. My favorite writer when I was a teenager and one of the reasons for becoming a writer in the long run. Within the realm of my sincere opinion, Harlan Ellison was utterly irreplaceable.
He remained an angry young man until his recent death, and while he made no secret of his disdain for the darker side of all things Disney and of The Magic Kingdom, he also made no secret of his delight in the bright side. I’m sure there are many who recall, as I do, the wonderful photo of Ellison receiving advice from his muse, Jiminy Cricket.
Believe me, you’ll never forget a human being who informs you that two of his greatest idols in this life are Jiminy Cricket and Zorro. That’s a unique combination that should take anyone’s breath away.
To place Ellison in context, you must also place him with his peers, the great self-promoters of the ages. That’d be, among others, Walt Kelly, P.T. Barnum, Ward Kimball (a lesser light, to be sure, but a brightly shining one), Ivar Haglund, Harry Houdini and others. Harlan was the science fiction version of Charles Bukowski. If Harlan was a stand-up comedian, he’d be immediately compared with the greatest philosopher of the 20th Century, the legendary George Carlin. Then again, there was a pinch here and there of the raw talent and genius and the wisdom that can only come from other late comedians, such as Bill Hicks and Sam Kinison. When it came to Harlan, he never held back. In a related story, neither did they. Harlan, like Houdini, like Barnum, like Carlin, like Bukowski, like Kinison and Hicks, Harlan was an entertainer, first an foremost and his voice was his medium. He insisted that people take that voice seriously and to make sure that people heard it, he had to sell it and to sell it, the pitch had to be entertaining.
“The minute people fall in love, they become liars.”
                                           – Harlan Ellison
Nobody, but Harlan could have made the idea of vitriol so entertaining. I’m not arguing that the fight for Creators Rights isn’t worthwhile. Oh, for the glorious love of Krypton, it is, nor am I saying that Harlan didn’t usually fight on the side of the angels. I’m just reminding people that he had flaws and he was always right. I think Harlan should be admired and canonized.
Now, I’m sure there are those who would disagree with that, but I don’t think anyone that has ever written about him suggests canonization. Of course, he deserves it. Even though, my interesting religion of choice is DC-Drinking Catholic. Sure, I’m no expert in Canon Law. Then again, I wouldn’t mind being a fly on the wall and watching Harlan debate Canon Law with those who adore it. If someone’s gonna believe in two wonderful fictional characters, like Zorro and Jiminy Cricket, they may wanna watch out. After all, Harlan never held back and you would expect him to do so. For a man whose voice was his medium, you knew what you were in store for when you heard the his name.
Kinda makes you wonder what kind of defense attorney Harlan would have made. It definitely boggles the mind!!!
I’m proud, proud indeed to admit for the two times that I met him. The first time that I met Harlan, I was 11 years old and it was June of 1988 in Cleveland, Ohio. The town was celebrating 50 years of The Man of Steel and the second time, it was at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland in March 2005. I was 28 years old, sans any hair on my head, we had brilliant discussions about Cleveland, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster and Superman and I had much to share and vice versa with the legendary genius.
You might think that after writing 80 books and over 1,800 articles, movies, teleplays and essays, it would be time to hang up your hat and retire. Not for the multi-award-winning and Cleveland-born author, whose illustrious career has spanned more than 6 decades—every day of which he says has been controversial. When you’re given the rare chance to hear about what’s new for this famous gadfly, you accomplish what you must and hear what he had to say and I most certainly did when he spoke at Case Western Reserve University, as I did on Tuesday, March 1st, 2005. A day I will never forget.
Having the rare opportunity to see him speak was a combination of educational, thrilling and beautiful. Quite the character. Witnessing Harlan in action, many years ago, he was telling this hilarious story about verbally attacking a “suit” and watching the responses of the audience was REALLY interesting. You could tell that some people just wanted to punch him in the mouth!!! Of course, my favorite Harlan story involved his wife taking care of him after a heart issue in which he was confined to bed. She put the TV on “Teletubbies”, pocketed the remote control and locked him inside, hurling profanities at either her or Tinky-Winky. I’m guessing the latter. No matter what, when you think about it, that had to be a hysterical moment to observe.
“I don’t mind you thinking I’m stupid, but don’t talk to me like I’m stupid.”
                                              – Harlan Ellison
As a last thought, it would really be a mistake to let the man’s big personality overshadow his writing. Even though it appeared on screen with a fair amount changed, his contribution to “Star Trek” was assured. I was so happy when his original screenplay when it was published and I was finally able to read it. I’m not a Trekkie, but I can see where their enthusiasm kicks in. It’s a beautiful piece. I cannot believe that my hero and my literary icon wrote.
True to form, Ellison spent years fighting with the creator of “Star Trek” and editor, Gene Roddenberry over changes to his script he wrote. He was famously a curmudgeon in heat. He sued AOL over unauthorized copies of his work being posted online and went after director James Cameron because of similarities between his stories and the original 1984 Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, “The Terminator”.
Have you ever seen Harlan in the 2008 documentary “Dreams With Sharp Teeth,” talking about his unofficial motto, “Pay the writer”? You should.
In the documentary, he says, “How dare you call me, want me to work for nothing? Well, it would be good publicity. I said, lady, tell that to someone a little older than you who has just fallen off the turnip truck.”
Ellison wasn’t just talking about himself here. He did want all authors to get paid fairly and he did pay it forward. He mentored the author Octavia Butler and bought some of her early work, but sometimes, Ellison’s behavior left a lot to be desired. 
There are those who have claimed that Ellison could never reconcile himself to the compromises necessary to writing for Hollywood–yet he persisted in seeking out that work. One of his many contradictions.
“I will use big words from time to time, the meanings of which I may only vaguely perceive, in hopes such cupidity will send you scampering to your dictionary: I will call such behavior ‘public service’.”
                                                       – Harlan Ellison
It paid well and writers deserve to be compensated. They also deserve to be treated with respect. There is no contradiction.
I see it differently.
It was well known that Hollywood writers of the era were neither well-treated or well-respected. Harlan knew what he was getting into and yet he knew he could never abide mistreatment. Yes, it paid well, but was it worth all the conflict? Only if, on some level, he relished the conflict as much as he loathed the injustice. I’m not disputing that he was a great writer–but some claimed that the boy had some issues.
According to Harlan, the fight was always worth the conflict. It may be that I understood the conflict. In a town where at one point writers working for the two local newspapers were not paid for book reviews because — I was told — reviews were something you did for love, not for money, I insisted on being paid. I didn’t care if the payment was token, I needed the quid pro quo.
The threatened newspaper strike was avoided, but quietly, over time, book reviews became another item for which writers were routinely paid.
Harlan not only fought to be taken seriously, he fought for creators to be taken seriously. Especially, comics creators. Not all fights or for what happens today. Yes, he was a creature of conflicts, but he was almost definitionally the Angry Young Man — even though the phrase was brought into play to describe the generation of post-War British writers, as outlined in this quote:
“The Angry Young Men were a new breed of intellectuals who were mostly of working class or of lower middle-class origin. Some had been educated at the postwar red-brick universities at the state’s expense, though a few were from Oxford. They shared an outspoken irreverence for the British class system, its traditional network of pedigreed families and the elitist Oxford and Cambridge universities. They showed an equally uninhibited disdain for the drabness of the postwar welfare state and their writings frequently expressed raw anger and frustration as the postwar reforms failed to meet exalted aspirations for genuine change.”
                                                   – The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica, “Angry Young Men”, April 28, 2017.
The famous and famously cantankerous, science fiction writer, known to humanity as Harlan Ellison, gave the world material that took our breath away and with Harlan involved, contrary to popular belief, you’re not getting it back. Over a 6-decade career, he won multiple awards for his fiction and television writing.
You can see some of his 1970’s era interviews on “The Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder” on YouTube and the 1980’s “Twilight Zone” is well worth checking out in general. It’s a treasure trove of good writing, some excellent performances by actors – some big names, some about to be – and episodes directed by directors who’d surprise you. In one scenario, you’ve got Wes Craven directing an adaptation of Ellison’s “Shatterday”, with Bruce Willis and William Friedkin directing an adaptation of Robert McCammon’s “Nightcrawlers” are standouts. WOW!!!! “The Day After The Day The Martian’s Came” was adapted from Frederick Pohl’s short story, originally published in the 1967 Ellison edited “Dangerous Visions” anthology. It was adapted by Gerry Conway and illustrated by the talented Ralph Reese in Worlds Unknown #1, May 1973. If you enjoy great storytelling, check out that.
Ellison, who wrote many novels and stories, will be remembered by Trekkies as the author of one of the greatest episodes of the original series.
There are many great stories about Harlan. There was a time when The Comics Journal was having one of their personal and legal dust-ups and I respected both sides. I hate to see people fighting. Harlan WAS a fighter, often for very good causes.
I firmly believe that Harlan was a terrific writer and a true visionary.
I am not ready for him to be gone. Rough times ahead!!! Democracy won’t die – it’s made up of nothing, but democratic people…and we’re not going nowhere.
I read nearly everything he wrote and have followed him on YouTube. There is a large dark hole in the world now that can never be filled.
Love him or hate him, Harlan was a legend. Even as a teenager, he once ran away from home and actually joined the circus, though that only lasted a few months. Ellison moved to New York City in 1955 and went on to write classics like “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream,” episodes of the TV show “The Outer Limits”, “The Twilight Zone”, an unproduced “Batman” script with the nefarious Bat-villain Two-Face and the script for what a lot of fans consider to be the best episode of “Star Trek” ever made, the Hugo Award-winning, “City on The Edge of Forever.” That’s the one where Captain James T. Kirk goes back in time and falls in love, but then he has to let her die in order to prevent the Nazis from winning the war.
Belligerent, boorish, brilliant – that’s Harlan Ellison.
The beast that shouted love at the heart of the world has finally stopped shouting. My favorite writer when I was a teenager and one of the reasons for becoming a writer in the long run.
Thank You, Harlan Ellison. Thank You for enduring, for preserving and for patience that only great love can bring. You, yourself, is utterly irreplaceable.
“The trick is not becoming a writer. The trick is staying a writer.”
                                             – “Strange Wine”, Harlan Ellison
Thank You.

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