Chris Walsh (chris_walsh) wrote,
Chris Walsh

Not enough words about Harlan.

Thoughts from the now-late Harlan Ellison, born 1934, died 2018, because I quote him a lot:

"On occasion I've been rented, but I've never been bought."

"You are not entitled to your opinion. You are only entitled to your informed opinion."

"Pay the writer! ...I don't take a piss without getting paid."

"The Ice Pirates is so ludicrous it ought to be enshrined in the Academy of Dumb Stuff with such other sterling
freaks of nature as the Lima bean, poison ivy, the Edsel and the singing of Billy Idol... [The film has] all the grace
and charm of a heavy object falling down stairs."

Harlan Ellison is one of my idols. He was astonishing. He was often maddening. (His words: "It has rightly been said of me that anything that gets in my way gets a Harlan-shaped hole through it.") He was talented and relentless. He did everything: he performed stand-up comedy, he ghost-wrote for Lenny Bruce, he sang on Broadway, he would write brand-new stories in the windows of bookstores with no pre-planning and inspired only by a writing prompt a guest had given. (He did this once in San Francisco with his friend Robin Williams. Williams, knowing Harlan was annoyed by puns, gave him the prompt "Computer Vampyre, or: The Byte That Bites." Harlan based his story "Keyboard" on that.) He knew seemingly everybody. He fought, sometimes with fists (when he was young and dealing with anti-Semitic bullies in Painesville, Ohio) and sometimes with lawsuits or the threat of lawsuits.

He was bold and a smartass. When he briefly went to college, a professor who disliked him told him he had no writing talent and would never have a writing career. Harlan sent that professor, for decades after, a copy of every single book he published. Harlan once wrote a piece called "The Man Who Was Heavily Into Revenge." You are not surprised.

I'm lucky enough to have met him twice: in 1995 at a speaking appearance in a Chatsworth, CA community college, and in 1997 at a Powell's Books reading, where he read his affecting short story "Paladin of the Lost Hour." (He wrote "Paladin" first as a short story, then as a script for the compelling mid-80s TV revival of The Twilight Zone. He was understandably deeply proud of it. It is a story about responsibility, and the difficulties — and, you hope, eventually, the rewards — of it.) It has always been weird to me to know that I wasn't many degrees of separation from Harlan: friends and acquaintances of mine were friends and colleagues of his.

And for literally decades, I've quoted him a lot. His movie review book Harlan Ellison's Watching was his first book I bought — I'd borrowed and read short story collections earlier — was one of my guiding guides when I did weekly reviews at the newspaper. I relate his anecdotes — his blunt first words to his future friend and colleague J. Michael Straczynski, his getting fired from Disney(!) for joking about making a Disney porno(!!), him dealing with a producer who instead of listening to Harlan's critiques about how to do a TV show better tried to hook Harlan up with an attractive actress to distract him into shutting up — with relish. I try to write with relish. There is no way I can imitate Harlan Ellison, but I so admire his ferocity.

I'll be very honest. Immortality is both crap and impossible, but I kind of figured that if anyone could actually live forever, it'd be Harlan.

"For a brief time I was here; and for a brief time I mattered."
Tags: harlan

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