A Visit to Ellison Wonderland

By Frank Fradella

Harlan Ellison slugged me.

Wait. Let me start at the beginning.

My friend Robert LeRose was, to the best of my knowledge, the foremost authority on the works and life of one Harlan Ellison. In fact, the level of devotion he displayed was often quite frightening. Oh, not just for Harlan's work Robert was one of those Rain Man type people who would say, "Oh, that story? Yes, I remember that story. As a matter of fact, I read that story for the first time while standing in line at the drug store on August 23, 1971. I picked it up because the cover of the magazine said that there was an offer for free Sea Monkeys inside. Ah, yes it was a hundred degrees outside, good swimming weather, but I was still wearing my purple cordoroys. The checkout girl's name was Mabel. She said she had a boyfriend. What did you want to know about that story?"

The scariest thing was that he could do it with anything. Ask him the first time he had Trident gum, he'll give you an answer you wouldn't believe.

But suffice it to say that Robert's knowledge of Mr. Ellison's credits were impressive. I thought he was going to have a massive coronary when I told him that I'd never heard of him. Now, now don't gasp in horror. You'd be utterly amazed to learn how many people are *still* the way I was. Maybe you're even one of them. And so for you, I'll give you a short list of Harlan Ellison's accomplishments. (I'm afraid that to provide a comprehensive list of his writing credits would require more webspace than I've got to work with...)

Harlan Ellison has won more awards than any other living fantasist. The Silver Pen from P.E.N. for journalism in defense of the First Amendment. Two Edgars of the Mystery Writers of America. Eight and a half Hugos, three Nebulas, the Bram Stoker award for horror, the British Fantasy Award; the Georges Méliés film award twice, the Milford Award for Lifetime Achievement in Editing, the Jupiter Award twice. And he is the only writer ever to win the Writers Guild of America Most Outstanding Teleplay award FOUR times for solo work. He is the author of 45 books, more than 1200 stories, essays, articles and newspaper columns. As a TV critic, his two *Glass Teat* books are taught in hundreds of university media classes. Isaac Asimov calls him "the best damned writer in the world."


You should be. I know I was when Robert opened the first page of *Angry Candy* and read to me what I just reprinted for you. (For all I know, he's won a ton more awards since then...) Okay. I know what you're thinking. "If he's so darned special, how come I've never heard of him?"

Answer: You have. You just don't know it yet.

For example he wrote two episodes of the Outer Limits in the way back which that they later combined and turned into a cute little film called The Terminator. Don't believe me? Pop your copy of the film into your VCR and check the end credits. So there. (By the way, the two episodes were "The Soldier" and "Demon With A Glass Hand.") He also did a neat episode of Star Trek (original series) called "City on the Edge of Forever." If you're a Trekkie like me, I don't have to say anything else. If you're not, rent it from Blockbuster or your favorite video store and bring the Kleenex®.

Back to Robert

After I got the same little lecture I just gave you, I went home and looked through a few back issues of Twilight Zone Magazine. I knew I'd seen his name before if I could just remember where I could've sworn it was around here somewhere

And then I found it.

I was right. It was an old issue of TZ. (I wish I still had it I'd love to tell you what issue number it was!) And there was Harlan's name right on the cover. And I re-read the article that he had written called "The Deadly Nackles Affair" about how a loaf of bread doesn't cost thirteen cents anymore and why he left his job as Executive Story Consultant on the CBS television show The New Twilight Zone. It also included the most excellent script that he had written for the show, which lead to the split.

And all of a sudden he was real. And I wanted to meet him. Which, as luck would have it, was the very thing that had sparked the conversation with my friend Robert in the first place. You see he was going to appearing at a local sci-fi convention. I was going to get my chance.

And so, armed with 40 bucks and my newfound knowledge of a really cool writer, I went to the convention with my friends Robert and Carol. I bought two things inside the first hour and they wiped out my bankroll completely. The first is (ahem) unimportant. The second was a book by Harlan called All The Lies That Are My Life.

We were waiting, books in hand, in a room where Harlan was scheduled to appear. We were fortunate enough to spot him just as he was walking through the door. We made a beeline for him and were among the very first to assault him.

I presented my book and asked for an autograph. Robert was actually salivating.

While he began to sign my book, I told him that there were two questions that I'd like to ask him.

"One," he said.

"I want to bring back The Twilight Zone," I said.

"Forget it," he said, rather bluntly. "America is not ready for an anthology show. Can you name me one show on TV right now that is an anthology show?" He didn't really wait for me to respond, he just plowed on over me. "You can't do it. You know why? Because there isn't one. People want shows that have the same characters week after week. They don't want to invest their energy or time to people they've never seen before and will never see again. Shows like that require people to think. People don't want to have to work that hard for their entertainment."

I'll be honest with you. The first thought that went through my head was "Geez, he's a curmudgeonly old bastard but he's got a point." And to this day, I have yet to find anything that provides a decent argument for the defense.

No, your honor. The prosecution is absolutely right. The defense gives up.

"Two," he said.

"I'd like to become a writer," I said.

"Don't do it," he said immediately. Point blank. Straight from the hip and right between the eyes. "You'll starve. You will spend your life in misery."

And I turned to my friend Carol and, convinced that he was joking, I smiled a smile that said, "Isn't he cute?" He didn't stay cute long.

I turned back to him and he slugged me where I stood.

All right, all right in all honesty, he slapped me. Not slugged. But the fact remains that in my first five minutes with a complete stranger he physically struck me. And then it got interesting.

He grabbed my shoulders and said, "I'm not joking around, you dumb sonuvabitch! I've been doing this for 40 years! For 40 years I haven't eaten! Listen to what I'm tellin' ya! I'm saying this for your own good. I don't enjoy this. But you will be happier in the long run.

"Get yourself a trade. Become a plumber. Or a carpenter. Or anything else that makes you a useful part of society. Make sure you can put bread on the table. Because you'll starve in this business. And if you happen to be one of those people who write because they *must* then my heart breaks for you!"

And with that, he handed me back my book and turned to the rest of the crowd. And what a crowd it was, too. There were easily 100 people around us already. And they had all seen me get slugged by Harlan Ellison. I pushed my way through the crowd and headed for the door, cursing that dream-dashing, face-slapping, American-insulting bastard behind me.

I stepped out into the hall to discover that I had groupies of my own.

"Wow, man," one said, "that was, like, totally cool! He actually slapped you!"

"Yeah," I snapped, "Really cool. Excuse me."

"How did it feel?" another asked. I turned and smacked him on the cheek.

"A lot like that," I said.

"Yeah," they said, nonplussed, "but, like what else?!"

I stopped and told him straight, "I felt like slugging him back." And then I left. That was Day One of the convention. There were two more days to go. I knew there was going to be a re-match. I, for one, was going to be ready.

I returned to the convention the next day without Robert. I did, however, have three things in my possession that were of utmost value to me. The first was a book. The second was a message. The third was my friend, Carol. She was my witness.

We caught Harlan coming out of a lecture surrounded by a throng of fans. He had barely gotten out the door of the lecture hall when they cornered him against a wall. They were hungry and they weren't leaving without their autographs! They had schedules to keep! They had just five minutes before they had to molest Peter David as he came out of Room #222!

I pushed my way through the crowd until I was at the forefront of the semi-circle that had him caged in. I held my book low at first and slowly started to raise it. Harlan made eye contact with me once or twice and I thought I saw some spark of recognition. Perhaps that was just my ego, though I have no idea how many others he beat the crap out of after I left.

I kept my eyes locked on him and continued to slowly raise my book in front of me. Finally, the book was blocking most of my face and only my eyes were peering over the top. And Harlan stopped. He read the title of the book.

The Complete Guide To Plumbing.

And he let loose a roar of laughter and came to me, wrapped his arms around me and gave me a great, big hug. I laughed with him and asked if he would be so kind as to sign *this* book for me. He agreed readily.

I still remember that inscription: "To Frank, Read and learn! Your friend, Harlan Ellison"

"Mr. Ellison," I said, delivering the message that Robert had given me, "yesterday, you met a friend of mine named Robert. He has a typewriter that he'd like to donate to you. It's an Olympia Manual Portable typewriter."

"They don't make those anymore!" he said excitedly.

"I know."

"And those are the only kind of typewriters that I use!"

"I know that, too." Robert made sure that I had been well briefed. "So if you like, I can give you my home number or address and you can contact me at your convenience"

"No, no, no," he said as he reached over to someone's notebook and tore off a sheet of paper. "Here's my home phone number. I should be home by Tuesday. Give me a call and we'll set it up."

"Uh sure," I replied. Ever the quick-witted one, I. Master of snappy patter. My dear friend Carol snapped a photo of us and he went on his way. But not before he signed my copy of The Deadly Nackles Affair.

I went home happy. Stunned, but happy.

Tuesday came and it was with sheer and utter disbelief that I dialed the number for Harlan Ellison's house. Harlan answered himself.

I began as a stuttering moron, babbling about things like how his flight was and how he enjoyed the convention.

His flight was terrible, but the convention was fine, as I recall. He had hurt his back and was about to get into to a bath to ease the pain a bit. How did I enjoy the convention?

And just like that we talked. Like people. I'm pleased to report that Harlan Ellsion is very nice people.

"Listen," he said towards the end of our conversation, "you've been so helpful through all of this, is there anything that I can do for you?"

"Actually, there is," I said hopefully. "My friend Robert the one whose typewriter I'm sending you is your biggest fan. He's got everything you've ever written"

"Impossible," Harlan said, "nobody has *everything* I've ever written."

"Well, I bet he comes close!"

"Tell you what I'll send him something that I'm sure he's never seen before, okay?"

"Oh, that would be fantastic! But I actually had something else in mind if I were to give you his phone number, would you give him a call at home? It would probably be the biggest thing that's happened to him since I don't know birth!"

"Done." My jaw hit the floor. "But what about you? Isn't there something that I can do for you?"

"Well," I said sheepishly, "I've been looking for some of your books but most of them are out of print"

"Say no more. I'll send you a couple of first editions, okay?"

We hammered out the details of addresses and such, and I gave him Robert's phone number and we said good-bye.

Robert spoke of nothing else for the next few weeks. After all, Harlan Ellison had called him at home. He beamed very brightly about that and I never got tired of watching it.

Several weeks later, I received a most unexpected phone call. Harlan Ellison phoned to ask me a question. You see, he had already sent off Robert's stories but he couldn't remember what he had promised to send me. I almost didn't have the heart to tell him. But I did and he sent them.

The greatest surprise came when I opened that package and found that he had written a short personal thank you note on Twilight Zone stationary. He had remembered.

That was years ago now. And since then, I have found Harlan Ellison everywhere I looked. I saw a TZ episode called "Shatterday" which was written by Harlan, directed by Clive Barker and starred Bruce Willis. I found an old Daredevil comic book that he had penned. I distinctly remember reading "Paladin of the Lost Hour" on my lunch break one day and crying in the car before I could go back to work.

I still can't read the introduction to Angry Candy without bawling.

I have found his works in a hundred different places, from college classes to comic book stores. And I've found it across a variety of mediums. You know that movie with Don Johnson A Boy and His Dog? That was his.

And me?

Sadly, I have only my memories of those times with Harlan to prove they happened at all. Those treasured books and magazines were lost, as were the pictures of he and I together. Even his advice has fallen by the wayside in the end, I became a writer.

But don't worry, Mr. Ellison. I still work as a graphice designer to pay the bills. After all a loaf of bread doesn't cost thirteen cents anymore.