Happy birthday Harlan Ellison!

Harlan Ellison in 1986
Harlan Ellison in 1986

Harlan Jay Ellison (photo ©Pip R. Lagenta) was born on May 27, 1934 in Cleveland, Ohio, USA.

Harlan Ellison started working when he was still very young, to live when he ran away from home. In 1951 he started attending Ohio State University but after about 18 months he was expelled. Ellison stated that he struck a professor who had denigrated his skills as a writer and for the next 20 years he sent him a copy of all the stories he published. Those are examples of a character that is far from easy which has become one of the reasons for his notoriety.

Harlan Ellison had started publishing stories of various genres in 1949, on the “Cleveland News” and then on “EC Comics”. In 1954, he decided to write stories about youth gangs and joined one of them. In 1955 he moved to New York to become a writer and his publications of short stories, mostly science fiction, and articles became regular.

In 1956, Harlan Ellison married Charlotte Stein. Their marriage lasted for about four years.

In 1958, Harlan Ellison published the first of his few novels, “Rumble”, later known as “Web of the City”, written during the military service. The novel tells the story of a boy who is part of a youth gang.

After his military service, Harlan Ellison started writing stories of various genres, including erotic ones. At that time, he started to occasionally use the pseudonym Cordwainer Bird, a tribute to the writer Cordwainer Smith, when he was in disagreement with the way his work was modified.

In 1960, Harlan Ellison married Billie Joyce Sanders. Their marriage lasted for about three years.

In 1962, Harlan Ellison moved to California, where he started working as a television screewriter. This activity soon became one of his main ones and Ellison wrote scripts for several TV shows, science fiction but also crime and thrillers, from “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour” to “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”.

The episodes written by Harlan Ellison “Demon with a Glass Hand” and ” Soldier” for the original “The Outer Limits” series already contained some elements that were used many years later in the movie “Terminator”. Ellison sued the production company and the distributor and obtained an out of court settlement to be mentioned in the movie’s credits.

Harlan Ellison wrote the script of the episode “The City on the Edge of Forever” of the original “Star Trek” series. The show creator Gene Roddenberry heavily revised the screenplay and won the Hugo Award for best dramatic presentation. The original version still won the Writers Guild Award.

In subsequent years, Harlan Ellison also kept on publishing science fiction stories, including some of his best ones whose titles already show anger towards a decaying civilization and the inability to express it. They are “The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World” (1965) and “I Have No Mouth , and I must Scream” (1967), two of his short stories winners of the Hugo Award.

In 1967, Harlan Ellison was the editor of the famous anthology “Dangerous Visions”, which represents a sharp break with a tradition of a sugarcoated science fiction. The stories contained in it address issues that were very strong for this genre such as sex but also pacifism and atheism.

In 1972, Harlan Ellison was the editor of “Again Dangerous Visions”, a second anthology which is the ideal sequel to the first one from the point of view of the issues addressed. A third book was planned, “The Last Dangerous Visions” but it was never published.

In 1976, Harlan Ellison married Lori Horowitz. He was 41 years old while she was 19. The marriage lasted only eight months.

Harlan Ellison worked as a creative consultant for the version of the ’80s of “The Twilight Zone” and later for “Babylon 5“. In some TV shows he occasionally did some voiceover and has been a reviewer not only of television programs but also movies. Many reviews and other articles on television written for the “Los Angeles Free Press” were collected in “The Glass Teat: Essays of Opinion on Television” and in “The Other Glass Teat”.

Over the years, Harlan Ellison has also recorded several audiobooks, not only of his stories but also those of other writers.

In 1986, Harlan Ellison married Susan Toth. He seems to have found at least some stability with her as their marriage is still lasting.

In the course of his career, Harlan Ellison has won several times the Hugo, Nebula and Locus awards, the most important in the field of science fiction. He has won more than once other major awards of other genres such as the Bram Stoker Award and Edgar Allan Poe Award and others for his screenplays, demonstrating his versatility. In 1990, he received the Silver Pen for Journalism by the International PEN association for his commitment to artistic freedom and his battle against censorship.

In recent years, Harlan Ellison has reduced his activities a lot, even if sometimes he’s still involved in some dispute or some lawsuit. Although no longer a boy, his character doesn’t seem to have particularly softened with the years.

Harlan Ellison wrote short stories and screenplays of various genres but has been particularly influential in the field of science fiction. He’s an exceptional author under various points of view, for example because he wrote just a few novels definitely preferring short fiction. Both as a literature writer and a screewriter he’s an important part of science fiction history.


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