Harlan Ellison was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on May 27, 1934, the son of Serita (née Rosenthal) and Louis Laverne Ellison, a dentist and jeweler. His Jewish family subsequently moved to Painesville, Ohio, but returned to Cleveland in 1949, following his father's death. He frequently ran away from home, taking an array of odd jobs—including, by age 18, "tuna fisherman off the coast of Galveston, itinerant crop-picker down in New Orleans, hired gun for a wealthy neurotic, nitroglycerine truck driver in North Carolina, short order cook, cab driver, lithographer, book salesman, floorwalker in a department store, door-to-door brush salesman, and as a youngster, an actor in several productions at the Cleveland Play House".
Ellison attended Ohio State University for 18 months (1951–53) before being expelled. He has said that the expulsion was a result of his hitting a professor who had denigrated his writing ability, and that over the next 40-odd years he had sent that professor a copy of every story he published.
During the early 1950s he sold a story to EC Comics. Ellison moved to New York City in 1955 to pursue a writing career, primarily in science fiction. Over the next two years, he published more than 100 short stories and articles. He married Charlotte Stein in 1956 but they divorced four years later. He said of the marriage, "four years of hell as sustained as the whine of a generator."
In 1954, Ellison decided to write about youth gangs. To research the issue, he joined a street gang in the Red Hook, Brooklyn, New York area, under the name "Phil 'Cheech' Beldone". His subsequent writings on the subject include the novel, Web of the City/Rumble, and the collection, The Deadly Streets, and also comprise part of his memoir, Memos from Purgatory.
Ellison was drafted into the United States Army, serving from 1957 to 1959. In 1960, he returned to New York, living at 95 Christopher Street in Greenwich Village. Moving to Chicago, Ellison wrote for William Hamling's Rogue magazine. As a book editor at Hamling's Regency Books, Hamling published novels and anthologies by writers such as B. Traven, Kurt Vonnegut, Robert Bloch and Philip José Farmer, Clarence Cooper Jr and Ellison.
In the late 1950s, Ellison wrote a number of erotic stories, such as "God Bless the Ugly Virgin" and "Tramp", which were later reprinted in Los Angeles-based girlie magazines. That was his first use of the pseudonym Cordwainer Bird. He used the name in July and August 1957, in two journals, each of which had accepted two of his stories. In each journal, one story was published under the name Harlan Ellison, and the other under Cordwainer Bird.
Ellison moved to California in 1962, and subsequently began to sell his writing to Hollywood. He wrote the screenplay for The Oscar, starring Stephen Boyd and Elke Sommer. Ellison also sold scripts to many television shows: The Flying Nun, Burke's Law, Route 66, The Outer Limits, Star Trek, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Cimarron Strip and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.
During the late 1960s, Ellison wrote a column about television for the Los Angeles Free Press. Titled "The Glass Teat", the column addressed political and social issues and their portrayal on television at the time. The columns were gathered into two collections, The Glass Teat and The Other Glass Teat.
He was a participant in the 1965 March from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, led by Martin Luther King, Jr.
Ellison continued to publish short fiction and nonfiction pieces in various publications, including some of his best known stories. "'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman" (1965) is a celebration of civil disobedience against repressive authority. "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream" (1967) is an allegory of Hell, where five humans are tormented by an all-knowing computer throughout eternity. The story was the basis of a 1995 computer game, with Ellison participating in the game's design and providing the voice of the god-computer AM. "A Boy and His Dog" examines the nature of friendship and love in a violent, post-apocalyptic world. It was made into the 1975 film of the same name, starring Don Johnson.
He also edited the influential science fiction anthology Dangerous Visions (1967), which collected stories commissioned by Ellison, accompanied by his commentary-laden biographical sketches of the authors. He challenged the authors to write stories at the edge of the genre. Many of the stories went beyond the traditional boundaries of science fiction pioneered by respected old school editors such as John W. Campbell, Jr. As an editor, Ellison was influenced and inspired by experimentation in the popular literature of the time, such as the beats. A sequel, Again, Dangerous Visions, was published in 1972. A third volume, The Last Dangerous Visions, has been repeatedly postponed.
Ellison served as creative consultant to the science fiction TV series The Twilight Zone (1980s version) and Babylon 5. As a member of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), he has voice-over credits for shows including The Pirates of Dark Water, Mother Goose and Grimm, Space Cases, Phantom 2040, and Babylon 5?, as well as making an onscreen appearance in the Babylon 5 episode "The Face of the Enemy".
Ellison has commented on a great many movies and television programs (see The Glass Teat and The Other Glass Teat for television criticism and commentary; see Harlan Ellison's Watching for movie criticism and commentary), both negatively and positively.
He does all his writing on a manual Olympia typewriter, and has a substantial distaste for personal computers and most of the Internet.
For two years, beginning in 1986, Ellison took over as host of the Friday-night radio program, Hour 25 on Pacifica Radio station KPFK-FM, Los Angeles, after the death of Mike Hodel, the show's founder and original host. Ellison had been a frequent and favorite guest on the long-running program. In one episode, he brought in his typewriter and proceeded to write a new short story live on the air (he titled the story "Hitler Painted Roses"). Hour 25 also served as the inspiration for his story, "The Hour That Stretches".
Ellison's 1992 short story "The Man Who Rowed Christopher Columbus Ashore" was selected for inclusion in the 1993 edition of The Best American Short Stories.
Ellison has provided vocal narration to numerous audiobooks, both of his own writing and others. Ellison has helped narrate books by authors such as Orson Scott Card, Arthur C. Clarke, Jack Williamson and Terry Pratchett.
Ellison lives in Los Angeles, California with Susan, his fifth wife. In 1994, he suffered a heart attack and was hospitalized for quadruple coronary artery bypass surgery.
He had his own name trademarked in 2005, registered by The Kilimanjaro Corporation, which Ellison owns, and under which all his work is copyrighted.
Ellison recently voiced himself as a character on the show Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated, in the H. P. Lovecraft-inspired episode "The Shrieking Madness".
Harlan Ellison has repeatedly criticized how Star Trek creator and producer Gene Roddenberry (and others) rewrote his original script for the 1967 episode "The City on the Edge of Forever?". Ellison's original work included a subplot involving drug dealing aboard the Enterprise, and other elements that Roddenberry rejected.
Ellison's original script was eventually reprinted in the 1976 collection Six Science Fiction Plays?, edited by Roger Elwood?. In 1995 White Wolf Publishing released Harlan Ellison's The City on the Edge of Forever?, a book that included the original script, several story treatments, and a long introductory essay by Ellison explaining his position on what he called a "fatally inept treatment". Both versions won prestigious awards.
Robots And Foundation
Shortly after the release of Star Wars? (1977), Ben Roberts contacted Ellison to develop a script? based on Isaac Asimov's I, Robot? short story collection for Warner Brothers. In a meeting with studio head Robert Shapiro, Ellison concluded that Shapiro was commenting on the script without having read it, and accused him of having the "intellectual capacity of an artichoke". Shortly afterwards, Ellison was dropped from the project. Without Ellison, the film came to a dead end, because subsequent scripts were unsatisfactory to potential directors. After a change in studio heads, Warner allowed Ellison's script to be serialized in Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine and published in book form. The 2004 film I, Robot?, starring Will Smith, has no connection to Ellison's script.
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