Celebrating Harlan Ellison

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Here's a photo that not even Harlan has seen of himself. I took it at a World Science Fiction Convention, either in Detroit (September 4-7, 1959) or in Pittsburgh (September 3-5, 1960); I'd thought for years that it was the former, but my current guess is the latter. In any case, I was sitting a couple of rows back at a panel in which the entertainment consisted simply of (left to right) Isaac Asimov, Randy Garrett, and Harlan exchanging banter until the panel was over. You can probably tell that the movie screen behind the panelists did not enhance the shot, and Harlan's response to my flashbulb came down to the fact that it was (especially with the screen) blinding and knock it off, already. Which I did, but, hey, otherwise there'd have been no photo of what was a delightful entertainment. Just saying.

My point? Wups, sorry. I was wallowing in memories of the days when WorldCons were small enough that folks like me (age 16 or 17, depending on which con it was) could just pull up a chair and enjoy listening to the casual wit of such folks as these three. And it was the first photo I ever took of Harlan.

Mind you, I'd met Harlan at the 1955 WorldCon in Cleveland, when I was 12. Mom (Betsy Curtis) was a science-fiction writer and had contributed to Harlan's Dimensions fanzine, and, at that convention, I hung around and eavesdropped on all the conversations - at least one of which was between Harlan and her. The last time I visited Harlan and Susan, we simultaneously realized that that meant that our friendship had been one of the longest either Harlan or I had had.

And now MadCon 2010 is gearing up for an Ellison celebration September 24-26 - and, again, people will be able to hang out and savor the wit and share anecdotes and such. Now, mind you, convention organizers are warning as follows on the home page, "due to ill health it is very likely that he will not be able to travel to Madison for MadCon. However, Harlan is determined that ... he will still be appearing at MadCon telephonically for his talks on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday." There's more on the site; do check it out. But that won't keep the rest of us from sharing enough anecdotes to keep him blushing, even at long distance.

So I hope you'll join me (and such other folks as Sophie Aldred (from Doctor Who), writers Gene Wolfe, Peter David, Pat Rothfuss ... Heck with it. Check the website. (See? I didn't even mention John Krewson of The Onion.) Where was I?

Oh, yes. Celebrating Harlan. Well, the thing about Harlan that many people just don't quite get is that Harlan cares. Sounds like a book title or a charity drive - Sorry about that. But the point is that you and I may (for example) like Keebler's oyster crackers as they used to be served as accompaniment to some airline meals. But Harlan loved Keebler's oyster crackers as they used (etc.) - and he followed it up by trying the variety in stores and didn't love them as much - and he followed that up by contacting Keebler's elves. Long story short: He obtained a case of individual airline packets of Keebler's oyster crackers and slowly doled them out over the ensuing months - to his friends, as well as himself. Because he cared.

Which is more adrenaline than some folks can handle. (Pause to thank Heaven that he found another unique human being in Susan, because she's the only person on Earth who could handle living with a person who just cares so much about everything.)

But Harlan not only cares about everything, he acts on those cares. He spreads the word,just as he distributed those oyster crackers. In 1962, for example, he sent Don and Maggie Thompson an essay for their fledgling fanzine just because he cared. Sample: "But today the gross desire to capture everyone by broadening the [comics-reading customer] base so shamefully that no one gets full measure for his money has allowed such patently ludicrous creatures as Batwoman, Lois Lane, Lana Lang, Lori Lemaris, Aqualad, Mon-el, Bizarro, Streaky, Supergirl, Krypto (which is phonetically the Russian word for a 'fellow traveler' and thus, by the let's-not-offend-anybody policy of plotting today, highly suspect), Super-monkey and (so help me God) Super-horse." See? He even cares about comic books.

Next time (if the creek doesn't rise and flood the carrot patch) I'll tell you about the time Harlan revealed his devotion to a certain prime-time show. And about the door to his study. And ... but maybe you know all that already. Hey, folks, this coming weekend is going to be full of Harlan anecdotes. Come join us. And in the meantime, take a look at any of his stories. (Did I tell you about his singing in Kismet? Or the time he appeared on Cleveland's interview show with Dorothy Fuldheim when she derailed the discussion following his mentioning he'd once driven an ice-cream truck? Surely, you've heard about his sending a dead animal ...) Stay tuned.



Maggie Thompson September 19, 2010 at 8:26 PM  

And remind me to tell you of the night Harlan, Susan, Joe Straczynski, Kathryn Drennan, and I dined at a restaurant that featured a strolling magician.

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