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Harlan Ellison

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Harlan Ellison
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Harlan Ellison

Birth name: Harlan Jay Ellison
Gender: Male
Date of birth: 27 May 1934
Place of birth: Cleveland, Ohio
Roles: Writer

Harlan Jay Ellison (born 27 May 1934; age 80) is the extremely prolific American author credited with writing "The City on the Edge of Forever", arguably the most famous episode of Star Trek: The Original Series. Although he has written much that would be called science fiction, he disdains the use of that term. He is considered one of the giants of the field by both fans and professionals and has won dozens of awards. He has written prose fiction and nonfiction, screenplays, episodic television and a computer game based on his own short story "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream".

Ellison occasionally wrote under the pseudonym "Cordwainer Bird", a nom de plume comparable to the venerable "Alan Smithee" used in films; Ellison uses the Bird alias to signal works he feels have been impossibly compromised by others. The pseudonym "Cordwainer Bird" (sometimes spelled Cord Wainer Bird) was first used by Ellison in the late 1950s for works of softcore pornographic fiction. Later, he used the alias on four television episodes he wrote but disowned due to rewrites and once in place of his credit as creator of the series The Starlost. "Cordwainer" comes from Ellison's admiration for science fiction writer Cordwainer Smith; "Bird" is from the dismissive euphemism "for the birds," as well as "flipping the bird," the extension of the middle finger in the direction of someone or something that displeases.

Television work

In addition to his one story for Star Trek, Ellison has contributed stories and teleplays to many other television series. He wrote two 1964 episodes of ABC's anthology series The Outer Limits, "Soldier" (featuring Michael Ansara and Tim O'Connor and directed by Gerd Oswald) and "Demon With a Glass Hand" (co-starring Rex Holman, Arlene Martel, and Abraham Sofaer and directed by Byron Haskin).

He also wrote four episodes of the ABC crime drama Burke's Law, two episodes of the adventure series The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and single episodes of such shows as Cimarron Strip ("Knife in the Darkness", which featured Patrick Horgan, George Murdock, Ron Soble, and Grace Lee Whitney, Logan's Run ("The Crypt", featuring Liam Sullivan), and Tales from the Darkside.

James Caan played Ellison's alter ego in a 1964 episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour entitled "Memo From Purgatory", written by Ellison, based on his own autobiographical book Memos From Purgatory. That episode also starred Walter Koenig and was directed by Joseph Pevney. Later, Ellison and veteran Star Trek writer D.C. Fontana both contributed to the story of the 1973 Ghost Story episode "Earth, Air, Fire and Water", which was directed by Alexander Singer and featured Brooke Bundy and Scott Marlowe.

Ellison has written several more television episodes under his pseudonym "Condwainer Bird" (or "Cord Wainer Bird"), including the 1964 Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea episode "The Price of Doom", which was directed by James Goldstone and guest-starred Steve Ihnat, Jill Ireland, and David Opatoshu. He also used the pseudonym for the pilot episode of the short-lived science fiction series The Starlost, which he created. As such, the series carried the credit "Created by Cordwainer Bird."

Ellison served as a creative consultant on the 1980s revival of The Twilight Zone during its first season (1985-86), since his short stories were used as source material for three episodes (including one he adapted himself, "Paladin of the Lost Hour"). He also wrote two original segments for the series, including "Crazy as a Soup Sandwich", which was directed by Paul Lynch.

From 1993 through 1998, Ellison was a conceptual consultant on the science fiction series Babylon 5 for all five of its seasons, in addition to contributing two original stories. Julie Caitlin Brown, Andreas Katsulas, Bill Mumy, and Patricia Tallman were among those who made regular appearances on this series. Ellison was also a conceptual consultant on the four Babylon 5 TV movies which aired in 1998 and 1999.

Most recently, Ellison wrote the teleplay for the Masters of Science Fiction production of "The Discarded", based on his own short story. This production was directed by Jonathan Frakes.

Controversies

Ellison does not suffer fools at all, much less gladly, and feuds have arisen over his mistreatment (perceived and real) at the hands of those for whom he has worked. The most famous of these is probably his feud with Gene Roddenberry, who Ellison believed ruined the story that became "The City on the Edge of Forever". Roddenberry added insult to injury by refusing to change the screen credit to "Cordwainer Bird". On top of that refusal, Roddenberry claimed credit for saving the story for years.

Ellison also claimed that the top-grossing science fiction film, The Terminator, was derivative of two of his teleplays, "Demon With a Glass Hand" and "Soldier", both produced as episodes of the 1963 television series, The Outer Limits. A lawsuit resulted in the appearance of a title card reading "Acknowledgment to the works of Harlan Ellison" at the head of the end credits for The Terminator.

In 1979, Ellison wrote an introduction for a series of American reprints of Doctor Who novelizations, in which he said:

"Star Wars is adolescent nonsense; Close Encounters is obscurantist drivel; Star Trek can turn your brains to purée of bat guano; and the greatest science fiction series of all time is Doctor Who! And I'll take you all on, one-by-one or all in a bunch to back it up!"
–Harlan Ellison. "Introducing Doctor Who", published in Doctor Who and the Day of the Daleks and nine other Doctor Who novelizations. Los Angeles: Pinnacle Books, 1979.

In the same introduction, Ellison said that Star Trek "sententiously purports to be deep and intellectual when it is, in fact, superficial and self-conscious twaddle."

2009 Star Trek lawsuit

In March 2009, Ellison filed a lawsuit against Paramount Pictures, CBS, and Simon & Schuster for what he claims are unpaid residuals owed to him for the use of elements from "The City on the Edge of Forever". Ellison claims that the companies have refused to disclose sales figures on items derived from his work, which include the Crucible trilogy of novels, Christmas ornaments, and any DVD sets containing his episode. Ellison's representative stated that the author "wants every penny of his long ago agreed-upon share of the revenue from Paramount's relentless Trek exploitations." The case has been filed in the Central District of California and is awaiting a hearing date.[1]

In spite of his rocky relationship with the franchise, in November 2009, Ellison offered to write the next installment of Trek, stating, "If anyone out there thinks this melding has legs, let Abrams or anyone else with the chops to get in touch with me directly," Ellison said. "I am without full-time film-agent representation, by choice, at the moment; so if the job presents itself, I will work for pay." [2]

Awards and honors

Ellison has won numerous awards for his work, including eight and a half Hugo Awards, five Bram Stoker Awards (including the Lifetime Achievement Award in 1996), three Nebula Awards, and two Edgar Awards. One of his Hugo Awards was for "The City of the Edge of Forever", which won as "Best Dramatic Presentation" in 1968.

His "half-Hugo" was given to him when the film A Boy and His Dog won Best Dramatic Presentation in 1976. The Hugo was given to the film's producers, but Ellison complained that, as the writer of the story on which L.Q. Jones' screenplay was based, he deserved to share in the award. With no extra Hugo statuette available, he was given the base of a Hugo, which he calls his "half-Hugo". Ellison was also nominated for a Nebula Award for A Boy and His Dog.

Ellison is the only author in Hollywood to win the Writers Guild of America Award for Most Outstanding Teleplay four times. One of these wins was for "The City on the Edge of Forever". He had previously earned the award for his Outer Limits script "Demon With a Glass Hand". These mark the only two times the award was won during the 1960s by a writer for a predominantly science-fiction television series. Star Trek writers Barry Trivers and John D.F. Black also won the award during the decade, both for their work on other series.

Ellison won the WGA Award two more times during his career: for his original 1973 "Phoenix Without Ashes" script for The Starlost and for his 1986 teleplay "Paladin of the Lost Hour" for the revival of The Twilight Zone. His four wins tie him with Howard Rodman for the most in WGA history.

In addition, Ellison was awarded the Silver Pen for Journalism by International PEN, the first Living Legend Award by the International Horror Guild, and the Bradbury Award by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. He also won the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal's "Distinguished Skeptic Award", in recognition of his contributions to science and critical thinking.

Further reading

  • "Harlan Ellison, Part One" Lee Goldberg, Starlog, issue 100, November 1985, pp. 58-60, 93
  • "Harlan Ellison, Part Two" Lee Goldberg, Starlog, issue 101, December 1985, pp. 34-36

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