Harlan Ellison's Watching...

Harlan Ellisonr Back in the '30s and '40s probably the most popular, popular writer was a man named Clarence Budington Kelland. How may of you out there know...?

OK, I see your hand, and the rest of you looking perplexed.

Clarence Budington Kelland did books. Movies were based on his stories. There wasn't practically an issue of the Saturday Evening Post or Collier's at the time that didn't have a story by Clarence Buddington Kellen in it. Today, you can't find a book by Clarence Buddinton Kellen in the library. If I was to go out on the street and ask 200 people, not one of them would remember the name Clarence Budington Kelland. So here am I, a writer, 61 years old, I've been writing for 40 years, I've won a lot of awards, you know, I'm on television, and I come shoot off my mouth for you, you know, on this show. And I wonder will anyone remember that I was here? Ten minutes after I'm down the hole - will anyone still be reading?

Well, we live in a time in which cultural illiteracy is at its peak. People aren't reading anymore. They're watching this tube. They're doing some movies. They're spending endless hours playing video games and getting their brains fried by what they call the infobahn, which is one of the great hypes of the world. There's no such thing there. And books. Books are being read, but they're paying six figures to, ah, Faye Resnick to talk about her relationship to Nicole Simpson. And it brings a writer to wonder: Is there really any future? Is there any point to it?

I don't know. I don't have the answer. All I can do is give you anecdotes. I'll give you a real interesting anecdote. I got a publisher who is bringing out 31 of my books next year, early next year. And I'm having dinner with him in Chicago, I was at the American Book Sellers Association Convention and we went out to have dinner. And in the middle of dinner I'm talking about a cover idea that I had for my comic book, Harlan Ellison's Dream Corridor, and I said it's this great idea: you got a guy who's climbing Mt. Everest, you know, climbing back to Shangri-La. And, and the wind is whipping the snow in a curtain off to the left. And it's like Ronald Colman climbing back to Shangri-La. And as he looks toward the summit he sees McDonald's arches.

Now, I thought that was very funny. And in fact, here's a xerox of the cover that Kent Bash actually did. But I suddenly realized as I was talking to them that they were looking at me as if I fallen off the moon. I said, "Ronald Colman? - you know, Lost Horizon, the movie? The black and white movie? Hello -Hello? Ellison to Earth". They didn't know. they didn't know anything about Lost Horizon. They didn't know Ronald Colman. They didn't know Shangri-La. It's impossible, almost impossible, to write anything today that an audience today knows anything about if the audience is under 20. They just don't give a damn. they don't know and they don't care. And it turns into a kind of situation where even the most famous stuff becomes no price.

Let me show you something really ugly: Publisher's Weekly. This is the journal of the book publishing world, comes out every week. This one is June 5. See that cover? It says Lassie Come Home. Lassie Come Home, the book, Lassie Come Home? And underneath are these two names, Rosemary Wells and Susan Jeffers. And I look at this and say, "what the hell is that?" The book was written by Eric Knight who wrote The Flying Yorkshireman. Eric Knight, very famous. This is one of the most famous books in the world. It was written in 19... I don't know, 38 something like that. Nineteen, yeah, 1938. Well, what they've done is they're not reprinting Lassie Come Home, they're doing a picture a book. A picture book. They took Eric Knight's work, and they boil it down and they have to make it "idiot" for a new audience.

Clarence Budington Kelland, for all his fame, is gone - as if he never existed. Flensed from the mind of the reading public. They don't even remember Chaucer. We're lucky if they remember Mark Twain.

If Clarence Budington Kelland couldn't make it, how the hell am I going to make it?

From Sci-Fi Buzz, episode 134

Publishing Rights to 'Harlan Ellison's Watching' copyright 1996 the Killimanjaro Corporation.