June 30, 2018

"He said that he lost his job with the Walt Disney Company — on the first day — when he stood up in its commissary (with company executives watching) and..."

"... described how he wanted to make an animated pornographic film starring Mickey and Minnie Mouse."

Just one sentence in the NYT obituary for Harlan Ellison.

The headline calls him a "science fiction writer" even though it contains the quote from him, "Call me a science fiction writer... I’ll come to your house and I’ll nail your pet’s head to a coffee table. I’ll hit you so hard your ancestors will die."

I had a tag for Harlan Ellison. It was because of one post (written in 2013):
"We need more harlequins, fewer ticktockmen."

Said Icepick in last night's thread about Boston banning drinking games in bars. He began:
I recently read "The Scouring of the Shire" chapter from Return of the King. It was disturbing how much the Shire under (ultimately) Saruman's direction sounded like modern America. The country is being run by over-officious jerks, and the American people are putting up with it. Land of the free no more....
And then:
We need more harlequins, fewer ticktockmen.
A link goes to the Harlan Ellison story "Repent Harlequin!' Said The Ticktockman." 

Icepick advises:
Professor, I believe you need some more tags. One for over-officiousness, and perhaps tags for harlequins (see Swartz, for example) and for ticktockmen (anything with Bloomberg).
Ellison begins his story with a quote from Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience":
The mass of men serve the state thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies. They are the standing army, and the militia, jailors, constables, posse comitatus, etc. In most cases there is no free exercise whatever of the judgment or of the moral sense; but they put themselves on a level with wood and earth and stones; and wooden men can perhaps be manufactured that will serve the purposes as well. Such command no more respect than men of straw or a lump of dirt. They have the same sort of worth only as horses and dogs. Yet such as these even are commonly esteemed good citizens. Others as most legislators, politicians, lawyers, ministers, and office-holders serve the state chiefly with their heads; and, as they rarely make any moral distinctions, they are as likely to serve the Devil, without intending it, as God. A very few, as heroes, patriots, martyrs, reformers in the great sense, and men, serve the state with their consciences also, and so necessarily resist it for the most part; and they are commonly treated as enemies by it.
Ellison introduces that quote with: "There are always those who ask, what is it all about? For those who need to ask, for those who need points sharply made, who need to know 'where it's at,' this...."

That story was published in 1965, when the phrase "where it's at" was quite the thing

ADDED: I just bought "Masterpieces: The Best Science Fiction of the 20th Century," which contains "Repent Harlequin!"


John Lynch said...

I have no mouth, but I must mourn.

traditionalguy said...

Sorry to see him go: "A great non-stop talker with a cultural wharehouse for a mind."

rhhardin said...

We need a mob action against ticktock women.

Virgil Hilts said...

I was a huge HE fan. I remember HE once described bedding some airhead fan (he was into the groupie aspect of SciFi) and the next morning pretending to read to her a news story about an iceberg being towed across the ocean to provide fresh water. She believed him. He then went into a rant about gullibility - had something like this actually happened it would be akin to the moon launch; everyone would be talking about it, how could his groupie be so naive.
Was not his nicest piece, but reminded of it because 50 years later there are a bunch of stories about (potentially) towing icebergs. http://www.newsweek.com/iceberg-move-expert-climate-change-dubai-uae-south-pole-antarctica-610623 Wish he had lived to see it actually happen.

FIDO said...

The rumor I heard was that he didn't just 'describe' wanting to make a Mickey/Minnie porn film, he actually stood up and started doing the actions 'Oh Minnie! Shake that tail!' or some such nonsense, to the great amusement of the masses, but not so much from the executives, who, it seems, still have trouble with cartoonists putting a few frames of porn in their films (see Who Framed Roger Rabbit?)

So it wasn't being a 'free thinker', it was being a buffoon, a malcontent and a person essentially demanding he be fired.

Essentially, he was a creative asshole and any 'limits' put upon creative assholes turns them up to eleven on that Assholery.

Let's just say that he would not have been a good marital match for Ms. Althouse, who has her own 'ticktock'.

Roughcoat said...

I had a personal dispute with Harlan, back in the day. I gave one of his books a less than favorable review and he decided to take me to task for it, and to do so up close and personal, like. He came out the worst for it. But I found the incident amusing and harbor no bad feelings toward him, apart from the fact that I found him to be kind of a blowhard and a dope.

Virgil Hilts said...

The Disney M/M porn film would have been a good set up for the classic joke about Mickey explaining to the judge why he wanted to get a divorce. "So, if I understand from your filing Mr. Mouse, you want to divorce your wife Minnie because you think she's crazy?..." "No, no, no! I said I want to get a divorce because she's fucking Goofy!"

traditionalguy said...

Imagine Ellison with a Twitter account. Nevermind, we already have one of those.

matism said...

I would merely note that Annapolis is a start on the road to removing those who are destroying the nation. What's not to like? They got exactly what they have been calling to be done to the Deplorables.

mockturtle said...

Whatever happened to Icepick? He was my favorite commenter [on another blog] of all time.

mockturtle said...

Virgil, that's always been one of my favorite jokes.

Phil 3:14 said...

It would be refreshing to see an obituary where in interviewing a close friend/associate we find a quote such as this:

“He was enormously talented; he worked fiercely at his craft. But you know deep down inside, beneath that facade of wit and words

He was a real asshole”

Douglas said...

My favorite HE story was "A Boy and His Dog." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Boy_and_His_Dog. Seems more apt than ever.

mikee said...

The forward to Deathbird Stories, "Oblations at Alien Altars," has influenced at least Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman in writing entire novels of their own.

And the rest of the stories inside are worth reading, too.

Original Mike said...

Inconstant Moon (Larry Niven)!

I was looking at the table of contents of Althouse’s new book and ran across that title. I read the stroy years ago, and have recently been trying to remember the title and author.

BTW, Amazon’s “Look Inside” will only show PART of the table of contents. How stupid is that?

rcocean said...

I couldn't read much of his SF. I thought it was mediocre. Plus he was egomaniac, and his "subversive" attitude was really just a liberal disliking anything Conservative.

But Ellison's claim to fame, was writing "City on the Edge of Forever" for Star Trek.

He attacked the Star Trek Producers (Rodenberry) for years, because they had the nerve to change his original script. He even published a book with the original script and a big analysis about how his script was better and a classic.

Except, when you read Ellison's script, you can see it unfilmable and the revised script is funnier and better.

rcocean said...

Ellison was part of that 50s/60s Dead white male SF that seems passe now.

Asimov, Ellison, Dick, Bradbury, etc.

Jay Elink said...

"The mass of men serve the state thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies. They are the standing army, and the militia, jailors, constables, posse comitatus, etc."


Just think of the tens of millions of men conscripted into armies over the centuries to fight and perhaps die for their country, whether as aggressors or defenders.

That's what *I* think when women start mewling about the right to control their own bodies.

Not many men have ever had that right.

Unknown said...

I saw him years ago at the Russell House student union. He gave a very entertaining and free ranging performance touching on his career, local issues (Maurice Bessinger was in the news locally for good barbecue and bad politics), Hollywood and his latest work. He gave a reading of "Paladin Of The Last Hour" that was electric.

His reputation for fiction was, I think, deserved but the high-points were spotty, and it's hard to say if his persona helped him or hindered him there.

Asimov used to have a regular gig writing the introductions to stories in the anthologies that gathered the short fiction Hugo winners. In the introduction to one of Ellison's stories, he wrote something to the effect: So recently Robert Silverberg introduced me to this young guy as 'The Next Harlan Ellison', so I said, "My God, let's kill him now!" (He could do this because there was some truth to it, but he was good enough friends with Ellision to make him the roman-a-clef hero of Murder At The ABA).

George M. Spencer said...

To follow up on rcocean above, Ellison's script for "City on the Edge of Forever" had half the crew of the Enterprise addicted to some hideous space drug. As if. No way that would ever have been shown on TV in the 1960s, nor did it make sense in the context of the program. I'll bet 90 percent of what was broadcast was written by others, and he was given the writing credit out of pity.

Unknown said...

To folowup the followup, the original script has now been released as a graphic novel, so it's as close to the unfilmed filmed version as you are going to get:

via Althouse portal

Darrell said...

I gave some money to get A Boy and his Dog made. He didn't have all the funding, and, as a fan of science fiction, I thought it was time to put up or shut up. A Chicago FM DJ was helping HE crowdsource the film. The first time I ever heard of something like that.

Unknown said...

Oh, a couple of additional thoughts on "City On The Edge of Forever":

It gave an interesting problem to James Blish, who had been hired to make short stories of all the "Star Trek" episodes for a continuing series of anthologies from Pocket Books. Blish was a (nearly) top tier SF author who was very well aware that Ellison had been making noise about the butchery of his script, but who nonetheless had been contracted to novelize the scripts as filmed. As I recall he had a longish introduction to that story that tried to thread that needle..

Also, it's fun to contract how eager Larry Niven was to have one of his stories filmed, happily rewriting a Puppeteer as a Vulcan and dropping his Kizinti and Slavers into the Star Trek universe wholesale..

pacwest said...

I always found Ellison's stuff unreadable. Most of it seemed to rely on shock value. I always understood from what I read about him that he was an unfiltered asshole. He and and some of his contemporaries were the death knell of the golden age of SF to my mind.

Douglas said...

Would you rather spend a lazy afternoon reading Harlan Ellison or Margaret Atwood? Sitting on the edge of your chair or falling asleep?

JorgXMcKie said...

I always found his work spotty. Some of it was excellent, quite a lot I found to be dreck. In person he was too frequently a giant asshole. And if Conservatism had been becoming ascendant from the 60s on I have no doubt he'd have been as far Right as he was far Left in real life. His "rebelliousness" was mostly of the safe sort it seemed to me. He savaged people who didn't deserve it for what appeared to be personal, egotistical reasons cloaked as political.

He's one of the reasons I want to know as little as possible about my favorite authors.

However, may he Rest in Peace, and thanks for the good stuff.

chuck said...

(he was into the groupie aspect of SciFi)

Yes, I've heard that, about Harlan and some other old timer lefties. There was a time when the left was all about free sex, wonder how that is faring in these days of #metoorampage.

Data Schlepper said...

Harlan Ellison was responsible for my discovering William F. Buckley Jr.
In The Glass Teat, his collection of essays on television, he was so contemptuous of Buckley that he made me curious.
National Review was available at my public library. I found that i liked Buckley on politics and culture much more than I liked Ellison.
Oddly enough I felt guilty that I wasn't as committed as Ellison to his Movement. But I got over it.

Tom Grey said...

I can hardly remember Stop Harlequin!, said the TickTockMan, tho that's the first title I recalled when I heard of HE's death.

The story I very much remember is:
I have no mouth and I must scream.

A very good AI - torture tale. For me, his most memorable.

Griff said...

I enjoyed Ellison's schtick when I was younger. The fact he did write some amazing stories ("No Mouth..." natch, but check out his under-rated and underseen "Hitler Painted Roses") made it easier to overlook how much dreck he churned out (see also Theodore Sturgeon's harsh law "90% of everything is shit," which Ellison's prodigious output confirms). But as I got old, and I happened to reread some of the stuff, it was really obvious that most of his "Harlan the Outlaw schtick" was self-aggrandizing bullshit. He was the guy who practically invented humblebrag...even stories about him helping people out focused a whole lot on Harlan.

Regardless, he wrote some slammin' stuff.

rcocean said...

i'll bet 90 percent of what was broadcast was written by others, and he was given the writing credit out of pity."

Most of the humor, was written by Coon, who died before Star Trek made its come back in the 70s, so he's been forgotten.

I am endeavoring, ma'am, to construct a mnemonic memory circuit using stone knives and bearskins.

the unfortunate accident he had as a child. He caught his head in a mechanical... rice picker... but, fortunately, there was an American missionary living close by who was actually a, uh, skilled, uh, plastic surgeon in civilian life...

All written by Coon.

rcocean said...

To folowup the followup, the original script has now been released as a graphic novel, so it's as close to the unfilmed filmed version as you are going to get:

Yep. Ellison also had a scene where Spock/Kirk are on a rooftop at night - keeping Edith Keeler's apartment - and her - under surveillance.

Kirk and Spock as "peepers" - honest to God!

Rick Lee said...

I'll always remember Ellison mainly as a great talk show guest in the 70s.

Micha Elyi said...

Back in the day when SF conventions were fun and blessedly SJW free, there was a vendor selling a T-shirt that read "I survived a ride in the elevator with Harlan Ellison".

Lindsay Peet said...

I recall Ellison's telling one of the best origin stories of all time. Lester del Rey, Ellison and L Ron Hubbard were talking, and Hubbard was bemoaning how little money he earned, despite typing on butcher paper (so changing pages didn't slow him down).
Del Rey, the story goes,said he had been a childhood preacher, and done quite well at it. "Why don't you start a religion?" Lester asked.
And the rest, as they say, is history

Skyler the Weird said...

He's gone to that City on the Edge of Forever.

Steven said...

Now maybe The Last Dangerous Visions can get published, with the major roadblock out of the way.

Pianoman said...

I had an English teacher in college who said of Ellison: "He's a f*cking little sh*t, but he's brilliant."

Robert Cook said...

"I'll bet 90 percent of what was broadcast was written by others, and he was given the writing credit out of pity."

There is no pity in Hollywood.

Nate Whilk said...

Standard warning: Very NSFW and offensive stuff at the link given below. Yes, it's blatantly obvious, but you never know.

If anyone wants to read Ellison's account of getting fired by Disney, it's the third section here: http://www.harlanellison.com/iwrite/mostimp.htm

The other two sections are just as outrageous.

Robert Cook said...

"Would you rather spend a lazy afternoon reading Harlan Ellison or Margaret Atwood? Sitting on the edge of your chair or falling asleep?"

I've read both of them and have enjoyed both of them.

I've only read the first two of Atwood's ORYX AND CRAKE trilogy, with the third book on my shelf to be read. They are very good fiction, and very good science fiction. As far as I can say, she is a good and imaginative writer.

I was a fan of Ellison's in my youth, with a stack of his books on my bookshelf. I have also seen him speak at several SF cons, and was present the Phoenix Worldcon when he sat in a plastic tent in the hotel lobby writing a short story while attending fans observed. (This was a stunt he did several times in several places.) He posted his daily pages on the inside of the plastic tent to be read, and the story was later published. (I don't recall the story's name.)

Harlan was enormously entertaining as a writer and as a speaker. I don't know how much of his writing will last as "art," but perhaps more of it than I think. Yes, he was an asshole, which even his close friends have occasionally admitted publicly.

truth speaker said...

Of his stories I read, NONE, NOT ONE held up to the second reading.

What seemed so innovative and daring the first time was boring and trite the second.

Can't say the same about most Heinlein and Niven or even Ayn Rand, for that matter.

Plus this: in his public persona he was a shitty human being, raging about people long dead and issues long settled. He was drag in his interviews and appeared to have serious mental health and personality issues.

ZZMike said...

I was at a symposium way back when; Harlan was one of the speakers. During the Q&A, there was a question, and he went on for about 10 minutes answering it. When he'd finished, one of the other panelists said, "Ask him a question, you get a pageant!".