Every story you've heard about him is true, even the ones that aren't -- and some of those are truer than the ones that are.
. . .
I met him in person at Filmation Studios back in 1978, but before then we had encountered each other on the pages of Dick Geis’ Science Fiction Review.
Let me backtrack and explain.
Harlan would approve.
. . .
I’ve posted elsewhere about the unique blend of circumstances that got me involved in science fiction fandom in the late 1960s: Family constantly moving, friends only an address change away, etc., etc., and of course, etc.
What teenage Buzzy boy did not know at the time -- or let’s say, teenage Buzzy boy had a dim intellectual knowledge, but not the full breadth and depth needed at the time to fully appreciate it -- was that Geis’ SFR was ground zero for the epic new wave / old thing feud that was raging in sci-fi circles at the time.
But the glorious thing about sci-fi fandom is that age and experience are no bar to entry, that all ages are welcome, and that even though I wasn’t 100% appreciative of what was going on around me, I was there, at least as a heckler in the cheap seats, as a massive sea change swept through science fiction as a genre.
I had written some reviews for Dick Geis and one of them caught Harlan’s attention, and in a letter to SFR he said something nice about my opinion.
There are two times in my life when I was surprised and delighted to have a living legend spontaneously address me.
The second time was when Stan Lee called me by name in the halls of Marvel Studios.
The first was when Harlan Ellison said he agreed with something I wrote.
. . .
Gerry Boudreaux was a comics writer out of Rhode Island who did Harlan a solid by tipping him to James Warren’s attempted ripoff of “A Boy And His Dog” in 1984 / 1994 magazine.
Warren blackballed Harlan and Gerry, of course, and while Harlan didn’t need Warren’s money, Gerry did so Harlan asked around and the next thing you knew, Gerry was slaving away in the animation pits at Filmation Studios.
Filmation producer Lou Scheimer was trying to float a movie to be called 7 Worlds, 7 Warriors and Gerry returned Harlan’s favor by securing a meeting between him and Lou over the project.
Before the meeting with Lou, Harlan swung through the Filmation writers’ offices -- the writers’ block, as we called it -- to say hi to Gerry.
Gerry introduced us. Harlan recognized my name. We chitted, we chatted, then he went off to see Lou.
Nothing ever came of 7 Worlds, 7 Warriors (on the other hand, nothing came of Filmation’s proposed Snow White And The 7 Jerry Lewises either, so don’t cry for me, Argentina) but like two eccentric asteroids, Harlan and my orbits kept intersecting at odd times and odd places after that.
. . .
If anybody is hagiography proof, it’s Harlan.
He wouldn’t put up with that bullshit while he was alive.
Right now, in the immediate shock and aftermath of his death -- not an unexpected demise, but certainly an undesired one – people are remembering all the golden moments.
And lordie, there are a lot of golden moments with Harlan.
A lot of brass, too.
And some tin.
We’ll get to the agonizing reappraisal stage for Harlan soon enough, and it will be good that we do, but for right now, let a season of mourning pass.
The cold, cold light will come soon enough.
. . .
We had a schtick going at parties and cons. He would recognize me, tell whomever he was holding court with what a fine writer I was, and I’d pull out my wallet and hand him a dollar.
He never turned it down.
. . .
He went from enfant terrible to angry young man to monstre sacré without ever passing through éminence grise.
That was one helluva trick, Harlan. Bravo.
He was angry. He was angry a lot and about much and very often.
But he knew he was angry, and he tried to focus his anger on injustices -- and not just those aimed at him.
“Do you think I want to be this way?” he asked more than once, and there’s one answer you can give to that when you’re sitting face to face over a cup of coffee, and another you give when you’re writing in memoriam about one of the greatest writers who ever lived and a valued friend.
So, no, he didn’t want to be like that, but if he was going to be like that, he was going to wield that anger in a righteous manner.
He wasn’t always right, but when he was wrong, he was usually wrong for the right reasons.
. . .
Orbits arc out elliptically, never circular, never wholly predictable.
Gravity pulls us in strange directions, and sometimes I’d be encountering Harlan on an almost monthly basis, others times only once a year.
We stayed in touch…vaguely…indirectly…but we’d wave as our orbits shot past.
He got sick. He got tired.
He wouldn’t stop, couldn’t stop, but he couldn’t keep going, not at that pace.
We lost mutual friends, we commiserated.
He and Susan seemed to be happy, and I hope they were.
So many of my writer friends aren’t.
I'm glad he survived his last hospital stay a couple of years ago and that I got to talk to him both while he was in the hospital and later one last time at the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society.
To most people, if they recognize his name at all, he’s “that guy that wrote that Star Trek episode."
To me, personally, he was a great guy and a friend I cherished.
© Buzz Dixon