Harlan Jay Ellison

  • Born May 27, 1934, Cleveland, Ohio, U.S
  • Died June 27, 2018, Los Angeles, California),American writer of short stories, novels, essays, and television and film scripts
    Though he eschewed genre categorization himself, his work was most frequently labeled science fiction.


Though he eschewed genre categorization himself, his work was most frequently labeled science fiction.

Ellison’s reputation as an important science-fiction writer rests on such short stories as “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman” (1965), “A Boy and His Dog” (1969; film 1975), and several others, including those in his collections I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream (1967) and The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World (1969). In his sui generis fictions, Ellison erected alternate (and often bizarre) worlds populated by characters that ranged from telepathic canines to malignant artificial intelligence entities. Ellison’s preoccupation with morality was much in evidence in those tales, despite their bleakly humorous speculations about the consequences of technological advancement and human hubris. As an editor he published several important anthologies. For each of the stories he commissioned for Dangerous Visions (1967) and Again, Dangerous Visions (1972), he added a personal introductory essay that reveals as much about himself as it does about the work in question.

Ellison’s disputatious personality was legendary among science-fiction aficionados. He was as caustic and pugnacious in person as he was on the page-a confrontation with Frank Sinatra is recorded in the famed Esquire profile “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold”; he settled out of court over allegations that James Cameron had plagiarized elements of his work in writing the screenplay for The Terminator (1984); and he once sent a dead gopher to a publisher who violated a clause in his contract. He frequently mocked his own fractious tendencies and misanthropic attitudes, indicating a more-humanist worldview than his ornery disposition might initially have suggested. His flamboyance was on full display in the documentary Dreams with Sharp Teeth, released in 2008 after more than 25 years of filming.

Ellison served as Creative Consultant on the revival of the CBS-TV series The Twilight Zone until late November of 1985, at which time he resigned (to considerable media attention) due to network censorship of a script dealing with racism that he had written and was in the process of directing. From 1993 until 1998 and the end of the series, Ellison also served as Conceptual Consultant on the popular syndicated hit series Babylon 5. Recently, Ellison adapted his short story “The Face of Helene Bournouw” for a Showtime cable series.

Mr. Ellison worked as a consultant and host for the radio series 2000X a series of 26 one-hour dramatized radio adaptations of famous SF stories for The Hollywood Theater of the Ear. The series was broadcast on National Public Radio (NPR) in 2000 & 2001. Ellison’s classic story “Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman” was included as part of this significant series, starring Robin Williams, with the author in the role of Narrator. Harlan Ellison was awarded the Ray Bradbury Award For Drama Series: For Program Host & Creative Consultant: NPR Presentation of 2000X.

Author Harlan Ellison was born in Cleveland, Ohio, to Serita (Rosenthal) and Louis Laverne Ellison. He had an older sister, Beverly. Harlan was married five times. He lived in Sherman Oaks at “Ellison Wonderland”. He had the same address and phone number for decades, was a non-smoker and non-drinker, and had never used drugs.

He always remained a topic of one scandal or another over the years. He was once hired as a writer by a notable production house, Walt Disney Studios. However, his misbehavior and offensive jokes had him fired on the very first day of job. In 1960’s he published stories in both fiction and non-fiction genre. He advocated rebellion and civil disobedience under oppressive rule in his story, “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman“. In the story set in a post-apocalyptic world he examines the dynamics of love and friendship in a story, titled “A Boy and His Dog“. The story later adapted into a film featuring Don Johnson, in 1975.

After serving in the US Army, Ellison moved to Chicago in 1959 as editor of Rogue Magazine, where later he was also involved in the creation of Regency Books. By 1962 he was in Los Angeles, where he remained. During this time, while continuing to write for many markets, he was beginning to establish a maverick reputation within sf, though his first sf books – The Man with Nine Lives (fix up 1960 dos) and A Touch of Infinity (coll 1960 dos) – display an uneasy conformity to the constraints of late-1950s magazine sf. Ellison Wonderland (coll 1962; vt Earthman, Go Home 1964; with new introduction and slightly differing contents, title restored rev 1974; rev 1984; rev 2015) is likewise uneasy, containing stories whose conventional premises are shaken apart by the violent rhetoric of their telling. Ellison was still very much feeling his way; of major sf writers, he was among the earliest to find his voice – raw thrusts of emotion rattle even the most “commercial” of his early stories – but among the slowest to find forms and markets through which to contain and project it.

In 1993 Ellison received the World Fantasy Award for lifetime achievement, and further such career honours followed, some for Horror: the 1995 International Horror Guild “Living Legend”, the 1996 Bram Stoker Award, the 2000 World Horror Grandmaster from the World Horror Convention, and the 2006 SFWA Grand Master Award. Two further recognitions followed in 2011: the Eaton Award for life achievement and in June 2011 his induction into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame, an event which he was too ill to attend. His final Nebula award came in the same year, a tied win for “How Interesting: A Tiny Man” (February 2010 Realms of Fantasy).

Ellison increasingly engaged his large energies as a writer in creating parable after parable – only some of them couched in anything like a conventional sf idiom – that illuminated the late years of the twentieth century, sometimes luridly, always with a genuine and redeeming pain. For all the scattershot rawness of his wilder work, at the end of the day – as All the Lies that Are My Life (1980) and Mefisto in Onyx (1993) tormentedly expose – Ellison was a representative speaker of the things that count. Though he always tended to protest too much, and to insert himself too glaringly into his works, he was ultimately a central witness to the pain of the world.

O celebrate the golden anniversary of Harlan Ellison’s half a century of storytelling, Morpheus International, publishers of THE ESSENTIAL ELLISON: A 35-YEAR RETROSPECTIVE, commissioned the book’s primary editor, award-winning Australian writer and critic Terry Dowling, to expand Ellison’s three-and-a-half decade collection into a 50-year retrospective. Mr. Dowling went through fifteen years of new stories and essays to pick what he thought were the most representative to be included in this 1000+ page collection. Along with THE ESSENTIAL ELLISON: A 50-YEAR RETROSPECTIVE (Morpheus International), Mr. Ellison’s first Young Adult collection, TROUBLEMAKERS: STORIES BY HARLAN ELLISON, is currently available in bookstores.

And as Tom Snyder said on the CBS Late, Late Show: “An amazing talent; meeting him is an incredible experience.”

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