Harlan Ellison left the earthly plane on June 28, 2018. He was a beyond-prolific writer and legend, and probably one of the most notorious contributors to the Now Write! series.
When I consulted film industry friends on approaching Mr. Ellison about contributing to Now Write! Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror, the response was invariably, “Don’t bother.”
Harlan’s philosophy: “We’re all stupider than we should be.”
Harlan had a reputation for being, er, um, ah… difficult. He once sent a dead gopher to a publisher (an incident he recounted with glee during my visit.) He’s also known in the entertainment industry for being lawsuit-happy, most famously settling out of court with James Cameron over Cameron’s admitted use of one of Harlan’s Outer Limits episodes for TERMINATOR.
Despite the warnings, I was undaunted in my quest to include him in the book. Still, I was a little surprised when he graciously agreed to allow a reprint of an article he wrote in the seventies, with the new addition of a writing exercise that would make it fit for our Now Write! format (“First, There Was The Title” in the Theme and Meaning chapter.)
I honored his specifications – including the registered trademark symbol after his name – and we never had a problem.
After the book came out, we had a phone conversation in which he offered me a lot of thoughtful advice as a book editor. He then invited me to his home for a face-to-face visit – an offer I couldn’t resist.
The Lost Aztec Temple of Mars
Quote from Harlan’s website, where you can find a lot more Harlan FAQs:
“Harlan’s home, high in the hills above Sherman Oaks, is a work of art and a wonder to behold. My meager talent at tippy-tapping out words falls far short of coming to grasp with the idea of the concept of describing Harlan’s home. Even Ray Bradbury would pause and frown in thought. This is Ellison Wonderland, and evidently, it has undergone a re-christening, as Harlan’s address, as listed in _Contemporary Authors_ Vol. 46, New Revised Edition, 1995, reads ‘The Lost Aztec Temple of Mars, CA.’”
My Visit With Harlan
Harlan had suffered a recent stroke, and I found him physically weak, but mentally quite strong.
He wasn’t able to give me a tour but allowed me to roam his domain, which really is a work of crazy art: the décor and mind-boggling collections of books, art and kitsch, custom ladders, odd-shaped rooms, secret entrances and Aztec exterior made this a fitting home for a one-of-a-kind eccentric genius like Harlan.
The pictures below can’t possibly do it justice, but may serve to give you some idea.
Harlan can quote from his thousands of stories and books, as well as rattle off how many of each glass, knife, comic book and action figure he’s collected. Despite his recent stroke, the man’s mind remains sharper than a steel trap, which he claims is both a blessing and a curse. I believe him.
During several hours of candid conversation we hit it off better than I expected, including an in-depth discussion of philosophy and relationships.
I learned he had a close friendship with Robin Williams, who he said was too gentle and kind to ever be at ease in the cutthroat entertainment industry.
He spoke glowingly of Roger Dean, designer and artist best known for fantasy posters and album covers for conceptual rock bands, and who shared a common experience of suing James Cameron – in Dean’s case it was for his paintings being the inspiration for much of the look and feel of AVATAR.
Harlan also introduced me to Pen World Magazine, which we both sort of drooled over before his lunch arrived. I had been invited to stay but didn’t want to wear out my welcome.
Harlan is a true character, a bit of a curmudgeon, definitely not the type to suffer fools. I’m grateful he didn’t deem me as such – it was a surprising and memorable visit indeed!
5 thoughts on “My Visit With Harlan Ellison”
I really enjoyed your account of your visit with Harlan, Laurie. Thanks for writing it, and congratulations on emerging relatively unscathed!
Very nice article. And I’m sure you’re no longer surprised to have learned that Harlan (and his lovely wife) is a very nice guy. Before things went south — with the agent, Merideth Bernstein (who admitted she’d never marketed such a book before, who didn’t do much to actually market it), with the ingénue at Random House, and with the economy in 2007 — and before I moved to another country, Harlan signed onto a book about writing that I had dreamed up (so did Geo RR Martin, Neil Gaiman, S. King, John Irving, and…ah, nevermind). Point is: most writers are good guys and gals. The “bad reputation” some attain is merely the splatterings of the juices of various sour grapes that have been squashed when they insisted on making nuisances of themselves.
Nice guy — Harlan Ellison.
Thanks for the feedback. Yes I agree he’s a nice guy – and most writers are : )
Meeting Harlan is truly riding the light fantastic! I drooled over everything you wrote and appreciated the tidbit about Robin. Wish I could have been with you to ride the Harlan train. How lucky you are. 🙂
I had the absolute pleasure of meeting and talking with Harlan Ellison on a couple of occasions. Once at Again Dangerous Visions bookstore over on Ventura Boulevard where I was able to sit with Mr. Ellison in a couple of old chairs, sun streaming in through the window on a warm afternoon, and listen to him tell of the time when L.Ron came into his downstairs poker room to announce how he thought that starting a new religion might just be the neatest way to best the government fatcats.
Mr. Ellison has always been kind to people when I have seen him – just as long as they were sincere in their questions he would be the same with his answers and comments. Gad! have I been so privileged to be around people like him.
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