Harlan Ellison Memories

in harlan •  5 months ago

I once actually had the pleasure of meeting and even talking one-to-one with the recently “crossed-over” Harlan Ellison.

It was fall of 1975 (or maybe spring 1976?), and the woman I now refer to as “my ex” (eight years under the same roof, sharing a bed, common law and all that...) and I were in New York City for the Star Trek convention, staying with an old friend of hers. It was my second trip ever to the Big Apple; the first one had been the 1975 Libertarian Party convention, a few months (or a year?) earlier, but that's not important here. . . .

I don't recall how it all set up, but at some point I was in the hallway outside some panel I had no real interest in, when I saw Harlan standing all by himself, probably waiting to go inside for the next event. I wandered over, introduced myself and told him what a fan of his work I was. I might even have told him that my mission I life as a writer was to become an amalgam of him Hunter S.Thompson and H. L. Mencken, which was pretty much true at the time.

Whatever I said, it clicked, and we began a conversation that ran at least 20 or 30 minutes, before he had to go in and speak. Hazy memory recalls that we chatted mostly about the deficiencies of Star Trek, and the adaptation of his “City on the Edge of Forever” script for its award-winning episode. He let me in on some of the differences between what he had written and what ended up onscreen. I know we also talked about Dangerous Visions and its sequel, as well as on the Last Dangerous Visions volume, whose drafts he said were “in a box under my bed” back in his Sherman Oaks, CA home. (As longtime HE fans know, that volume never did see print, and he stopped promising it after a decade or so.)

I also know that I left that discussion (to go in and watch him perform on stage, with all the bravado and cynicism he was so famous for) knowing I had just glimpsed a bit of the insides of a very complicated and creative genius. He was not just cordial but downright friendly once we got past the opening words, and he inspired me to keep scrambling at it, but not to lose sight of the larger purpose of writing and communication in general. I also made a point of buying a copy of the original “City” script, which one of the vendors (I sure hope with his full permission, and that he got a piece of it) had on sale.

It was a few years later when we next crossed paths. Harlan came to Boston, to do a speech at MIT and to do a stint in the front window of a local bookshop. Avenue Victor Hugo Books, owned and operated by longtime libertarian Vincent McCaffrey, was to have him sitting in their front window on Newbury Street, tapping away on that manual typewriter he stuck with way past the computer age, and crafting a brand-new story. Vince was a friend, and was most willing to let me stand there and watch Harlan create. I might have mentioned our previous meeting, but I don't recall now if I did or not; I also don't remember whether Harlan even remembered it.

I can't verify this now, but I believe the story he was working on those couple of days turned out to be “Django,” which has lived on as one of his cult-favorites. And that second evening I attended his speech at MIT, and was as always delighted by his combination of worldly wisdom, cynicism about society and politics, and clever words. I also that day got to see and hear him read “Shatterday” and of course went immediately to the bookstand and bought a copy of the story-collection with its title. Not long after, I purchased a copy of the LP vinyl, with him reading both “Shatterday” and “Repent, Harlequin, said the Ticktockman.”

Why I no longer possess either that record or the “City” script is both sad and for another day.
Harlan, may wherever your indomitable spirit has taken you now (no way it just dies off), may it be the heaven you swore did not exist!

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