Harlan Answers the Questions of You Pinheads on the Internet
I field a lot of questions for the man. Believe me, it's an
education in and of itself.
Don't get on the Internet, there's absolutely nothing
at all useful on there. - Harlan Ellison, to a class of creative writing
Usually Harlan provides the answers to the questions I can't handle and
I post them on Usenet and on the news page of his web site. Recently
HE discovered I could suck faxes into my computer and run a character-recognition
program to turn them into text. I had a brief and confusing conversation
with J. Michael Straczynski, who was trying to help Harlan e-mail me
some of those answers, and we finally hit upon the fax idea, which was
a beautiful solution as far as Harlan (who had been fighting the keyboard
on JMS's laptop for an hour or so) was concerned.
So Harlan typed and typed and faxed and faxed, and I spent a merry time
with an OCR program which was ill-equipped to handle the output from
HE's Olympia manual typewriter. It beat the hell out of typing all
this stuff in by hand, as I've done in the past.
Now that I've got all these responses, and published a few on Usenet, and
sent a few back in e-mail to them what asked in the first place, I find
that perhaps there is value in turning this little Q&A into a regular
thing, and giving it some legitimacy in the form of a column. And what
the hey, there's this convention thing going on, so let's slap the
first installment up there as an exclusive!
HE did not object to this notion, although he did not like the idea of
my re-using the title of his previous question/advice column, Ask
Unca Harlan, due to some bad blood that column caused between him
and a friend. He suggested the title at the top of this page, albeit
facetiously, and in my usual fashion I appropriated it anyway.
So, without further ado, here's goes:
HARLAN RESPONDS TO RICK WYATT'S MOST RECENT FAX QUERIES:
(this first part came via e-mail from Harlan, typed lovingly on
J. Michael Straczynski's laptop and sent from JMS's AOL account - Ed.)
Rick tells me there is a bit of an academic discussion in progress on
Usenet...the subject of which is: "Does an Author have the right--or SHOULD
an Author have the right--to destroy any or all of his/her unfinished work
after his/her death?"
The basis of this contretremps, I'm told, is that word has leaked out that
I've instructed Susan and my assistant, immediately on the striking of my
passing...or as soon thereafter as conveniently possible...she is to destroy
all of my unfinished stories, burn and stir the ashes of any manuscripts in
progress, do the same to any novels-in-progress, flense all notes and
snippets, tear out all the pages of my working notebooks and in-progress
files and, in short, make it impossible for anyone to ghost-write,
collaborate-to-completion, or "finish" anything incomplete at the moment of
I won't even deign to dignify the offensive and arrogant presumption of some
amateur, tyro, boneheaded theorist divorced from Reality who has the
temerity, the naivete, the outright ignorant gall to say an Author DOESN'T
have the absolute and final say-so over his/her creations!
Anyone who takes that position is probably a smug academic creep who thinks
he/she should be the commandant of posterity for an Author's work...that he
or she KNOWS what's best for an Author and for that measure of the future of
Litrachure consigned to that specific Author...or it's the selfish whining of
a fan-boy or -girl who presumes to misunderstand that the Author gives what
he/she chooses and that's ALL that you, or he/she, gets. Nothing more, not
one jot, tittle, or snippet.
I am determined that--in the event anyone gives a damn about me or my work
after I've gone down the hole--that there will be no publication of, say,
BLOOD'S A ROVER by Harlan Ellison and Frederik Pohl, or Harlan Ellison and
Robert Silverberg, or Harlan Ellison and David Drake...or whoever that
season's "completer" might be.
They've dredged up the rotting literary bones of virtually everyone from
Charles Dickens ("The Mystery of Edwin Drood" ) to Edgar Allan Poe ("The
Lighthouse") to Margaret Mitchell and Michael Shaara (and no, I allow no
slack just because Mike's son has done the "prequel" to THE KILLER
ANGELS)...and I understand that they've now found the
three-quarters-completed manuscript of a sequel to A CANTICLE FOR LIEBOWITZ
which was in progress when Walter M. Miller, Jr. died...and someone is
Now, I suppose someone who enjoys reading, who loves Miller's work, or Robert
E . Howard's work, or even--on a warm day--Harlan Ellison's work, presumes to
believe s/he is justified in assuaging his/her selfish need to have a moment
more's enjoyment by championing the "right" of some parvenu ghoul of a
literary grave-robber to misappropriate the efforts of a dead man or woman,
for the self-gratification of a faceless, nameless audience. I tell you this
from the heart: whoever it might be stoking that position on Usenet...you are
wrong. You are smartass, and insolent, and offensive; you are wrongheaded,
and lack even the vaguest understanding of the proprietary and primary
interest of literary creations by the Author; you are selfish, and mingy, and
have the soul of either a ribbon clerk, or a poltroon. You ought to be a
high school corrections officer, or some narrow-eyed public official who
spends all day stamping DENIED on applications for something-or-other. You
are just simply, finally, full of rhino-turds, and I urge you to shut the
f--- up and NEVER EVER AGAIN venture a moronic opinion such as this, in
public or in private, lest a Real Writer overhear, and pound you into
I trust I have made myself abundantly clear on this subject. Let us move on.
yr. pal, Harlan
(the rest of this installment came via fax - any mistakes are most
likely due to OCR mishap and my failure to properly proof the resultant
mess - Ed.)
20 August 1996
Typed by hand on this imperial Olympia.
This is Harlan speaking for himself sans electronic intermediary.
HARLAN'S INTELLIGENCE OR LACK THEREOF:
Rick advises we that yet another cosmos-shattering topic on
Usenet is my "intelligence." He wasn't more specific than that
save to mention that he and the ever-gorgeous Lawrence Watt-Evans
maintain I'm as smart as anyone they know, despite my frequent
protestations to the Contrary. So, not being privy to the mass
conversation, I have no idea what form the polemic has taken.
Is it suggested that I lack intelligence? Or that I lack
intelligence in specific areas? Or that I am less intelligent
than some others named in the Chat? Or that I demonstrate an
unusual degree of intelligence? Damned if I know which is what,
but I'll fuel the imbroglio with some actual true stuff, what
your doctor would call data." (Kids, don't try this at home.)
When I was at East High in Cleveland, back in 1952, I was
subjected to a battery of IQ tests, alleged to be as "up to the
moment" as was known in those pre-cybernetic days. For why?
Because, in that year I won a National Scholastic Writing award
in the Regional competition. I won in the short story division.
So, because I would soon be applying for college, and because
the East High administration labored under the delusion that I
might be proper fodder for Yale or Harvard or somesuch Valhalla
for the Goyim, they made me take a bunch of IQ tests.
(An aside. When my Dad died in 1949, and my mother and I
tore up roots and moved back to Cleveland from Painesville, where
I'd spent my pre-teen years and my post-adolescence, it was at
the near-poverty level that we subsisted, I had to work. My
mother worked in the B'nai B'rith thrift shop. We lived in a
not-ratty-but-also-not-too-elegant "residential hotel" called
the Sovereign, on 105th Street, down near Superior and St. Clair,
where the streetcar treaks ran out to 5 Points and my Uncle
Moe's dental office. But that's another story, for another
time Remind we to tell you, some day.
(The point of all this is that I was not going to any
goddam Yale or Harvard. I was a poor Jewish kid, and my marks
had gone all to hell with the death of my Dad and the ensuing
cloud that fell over my rambunctious nature. I was destined
for only one college, if any at all: Ohio State. Because I was
a resident of the state I could attend OSU without having to pay
tuition. everything else, I worked to pay for, or my poor Mom had
to scrimp and save to pay for. I don't want to give the false
impresssion that I was some sort of 100 Neediest Cases student, or
that my existence was something Horatio Alger would write about--
nor even something Dickens would write about -- nor even Frank Norris
would write about--but it WAS tough sledding, as we used to say
in those pre-cybernetic days.)
So they gave me all the tests. Now, it's more than forty
years since that memory was current activity, so you'll forgive
we if I can't be more specific than this:
If I recall correctly, I took the Stanford-Binet test, the
Wechsler-Bellevue test, the Minnesota Multiphasic, something or
other with the name Princeton in it, and maybe another one, not
recoverable to memory this close to Closing Time. You'll have
to trust as on that bit of minutiae.
Apparently, I scored very high.
(Disclaimer: yeah, yeah, I know...I know...IQ tests only
tell you how well you score on IQ tests, and very little else.
I have no problem with that old homily...nor do I make any vast
and grandiose claims for my intelligence. I am reporting, as
best I recall, the outcome of testing in 1952. Take it or
I remember the figure 215 on one of those tests. I've been
told such a number is unlikely, if not impossible; and I won't
press the recollection. I may be misremembering entirely. But
this much I do remember: ay mother was ecstatic. The word genius
was bandied. I went "duh" and burbled on about my business.
All this is in aid of the deponent stating as follovs: I
know I'm not a dummy, and I know I'm frightfully quick and clever
most of the time. Mathematics are beyond me, for any number of
reasons I need not go into here, but philosophy and geology and
logic and english are like mother's milk. I am not a speed
reader, but what I read I retain. I have one skill that I take
inordinate, some might say overweening, pride in: I am a killer
at spatial relationships, You need a sofa moved out through
a narrow aperture, call me. I can take one look and tell you
precisely which way to turn and loft it. This is probably why,
apart from my love of fine art, I have a stylish sense of design
for my books. I've worked with many artists -- and loads more
since starting Dream Corridor -- and this design sense slops over
into my sereenplay writing. I write very directorial scripts
(which pisses off the auteurs who call themselves Directors)
and I employ this perception of space and form to everything
in my life. I make great improbable linkages, that become odd
stories -- alligators in NYC sewers/ the lost Roanoke colony / the
anguish of abortion / the Labyrinth--and we get my story "Croatoan."
I like to think that I think creatively and originally.
If that's intelligence, then I've got my share. If the
acid test is something else, well, you'd have to run me through
the gauntlet to make an evaluation. Either way, deponent states
as follows: I make no claims for my brilliance, real or mythic.
I do the best I can. Often, I make the sort of silly mistake
in thinking that a bumpkin would make; and I'm embarrassed.
I know a hundred people right off the bat, without thinking on
it too hard, who outthink me in every way. Nader, Naismith,
Tom Disch, Gloria Allred, Joanna Ross, Vonda, my own wife Susan...
The list is cornucopial. On the other hand, there are men
and women who are touted to me as being Hot Picks in the intellect
sweepstakes and when I actually meet them, when we're not "on"
and performing for hoi polloi, I discover many of them ain't as
sharp as I an. That keeps me going.
So, with that said, I urge y'all to come to some sort of
consensus opinion of my level of smart (and ignore the fact that
I've been asked to lecture to Mensa chapters from time to time)
and get the word back to we, as to where I list in the Great
Roster. I sure as hell hope it's somewhere north of Gregory
Feeler, who writes and speaks as if he thought he fell straight
down from Olympus, and whose fecal matter don't stink.
HARLAN ANSWERS SPECIFIC QUESTIONS FROM THE NETARATI
[name deleted on request]'s offer of an audiocassette of Teddy's monologues
is warmly received. (For those the don't know, "Teddy" is my
friend, Brother Theodore. The greatest monologist, raconteur, and
verbal conjuror The World Has Ever Known.) I am intrigued by the
use of the plural in the phrase "frow the '60s LPs." I already
have--and have played many many times--the Coral LP (CRL 757322)
CORAL RECORDS PRESENTS THEODORE IN STEREO containing Teddy'
astonishing presentation of Clark Ashton Smith's "The Willow
Landscape" and the nearly-25 minute-long monologue "Quadrupediam."
But I've never encountered any other recordings. So if you've
got' em, [name deleted on request], whip them upon me! With my deep thanks.
Thanks, also, to our friend Philip Cairns, who offers me the
Gerald Kersh books, but--happy happy Joy Joy--I have all the
titles Philip offered. The only Kersh titles I need for a most
complete collection are the following:
JEWS WITHOUT JEHOVAH (Wishart, 1934)
I GOT REFERENCES (Michael Joseph, 1939 / Heinemann, 1947)
SELECTED STORIES (Staples Sc Staples Modern Reading Lib' 2, 1945)
THE BATTLE OF THE SINGING HEN (Everybody's Books, 1944)
MORE THAN ONCE UPON A TIME (Heinemann, 1964)
MEN WITHOUT BONES (Heinemann, 1955) (Not the 1962 American--different
contents -- paperback of that title from Paperback Library)
BROCK (Heinemann, 1969)
JEWS WITHOUT JEHOVAH, by the way, is almost impoasible to
come by. It was self-published by Kersh in England in 1954, his
first book. Apparently, he thinly-disguised the characters of
three of his uncles, and a cousin, in the narrative, and they
promptly filed libel suits against him; so only fifty copies of
the novel were sold before it was withdrawn from sale and pulped.
It has never been reissued, You can well imagine how badly I'd
care to have a copy of this rarest Kersh of them all. (For those
Who Came In Late, who wonder what the brouhaha is all about...
Gerald Kersh, the Demon Prince of Literature, is my favorite
author. When people ask, "Who is your favorite author?" I answer,
Gerald Kersh. Followed by Frederic Prokosch. Followed by Donald
Westlake. Followed by Cecilia Holland. And on. And on.
"Someone asks about Helen Gallaghan (sic), She of the '30s."
Someone doesn't mean "Helen Gallaghan," Someone means HELEN
GAHAGAN DOUGLAS, who acted under her maiden aame Helen Gahagan.
This was a remarkable, memorable woman, born in 1900, and died
in 1980. (The "Douglas" cane from her husband, the fine actor
Melvyn Douglas, whom many of you will remember as Paul Newman's
father in Hud. The New Republic called her "the most courageous
fighter for liberalism in Congress" but it was her race against
the scumbag Richard Nixon for a Senate seat -- to this day known
as the "dirtiest race for office in the history of the state of
California"--that most distinguishes her. The only movie she
ever appeared in -- she was a Broadway star -- was the first version
of H. Rider Haggard's She in 1935, co-starring Randolph Scott.
It was a fantastic flick . I saw it first in, oh, I guess, 1940,
on its first re-release. I never forgot it. And recently, when
it became available on cassette, I bought it and ran it...and it
remains a killer. Gahagan was remarkable. Makes Ursula Andress
look like just what she is: a dreadful actress. I'll include a
brief bio of Helen Gahagan Douglas from Richard Lamparski's
WHATEVER BECAME OF...? Volume 1 (Crown, 1967) (Copyright 1967
by Richard Lamparski). This is a super series of books--I have
them in my library, volumes 1 through 11--plus 5 Bantam volumes -- and I
cannot recommend them highly enough. They are filled
with "the stories of what has happened to famous personalities of yesteryear" from
Beverly Aadland to Zorita. If Rick can scope it into the system from
the crummy Canon copy I'm sending via fax/modem he can run it
with these comments. But remember, it's way out of date.
Lamparski wrote this update in 1967, thirteen years before
Helen Gahagan Douglas passed away, and almost thirty years
before today. (Ed. Note - the pictures and copy will
be included at the end of the article.)
Someone asked if "Croatoan" was based on a dream I'd had.
No, I don't think so, if I recall correctly. Might have been,
though. Weird sort of story, ain't it? But one of my best,
technically. I pulled off a thing in that story that was an
epiphany for me. Learned one of the most important secrets of
writing fantasy in the process of writing that one. Remind me,
and one day I'll tell you about it. But not now. And not
next week. And not this year. But later, much later. Don't
A visitor to Ellison Webderland asked about a magical herbal
thingie that Susan found to quell the nightmare torments of
shingles that assailed me last year when I was up in San Francisco
writing "Keyboard" in the window of Booksmith on Haight Street.
(I had no idea how painful, how debilitating, and how life-threateningly
dangerous could be something so ludicrously named
"shingles.") But I assure you it was ghastly, and I'd've surely
suffered increased anguish had Susan not gone to an herbal shop
in the Height, and come back with two panaceas that I recommend
for "intolerable itching." The first is Alpha Ecsema, a
homeopathic alleviant that comes in tablet form; and the second
is another over-the-counter remedy, SssstingStop, a natural
homeopathic soothing gel for itching, insect bites and stings,
fever blisters, cold sores, and like that. They work great!
"If you could pick, which story wonld yon most like to see be
made into a movie?" Well, if you're asking what story of all
the possible stories, at the top os my list would be Robert
Cornier's unbelievably brilliant fantasy novel, FADE. Followed
by Donald Westlake's TRUST ME ON THIS. Followed by Eugene Sue's
THE WANDERING JEW. Followed by Bob Sheckley's DIMENSION OF
MIRACLES and Alfy Bester's THE STARS MY DESTINATION and Mark
Twain's PUDD'NHEAD WILSON and something like a Merchant-Ivory
production of Sinclair Lewis's MAIN STREET.
If you're asking which of my stories I'd want to see as a
film, my answer is simple: the two I'm working on right now...
MEFISTO IN ONYX (which Miramax and Samuel L. Jackson have bought)
...and "Killing Bernstein," for which I wrote the script years
ago, and which I've been beating my ass off trying to get an
intelligent producer or studio to pick up for ten years.
Some of you think Rick's latest rant in Webderland
"does me a disservice, blackens my name, and gives people
with mental illness a bad name." I am told this.
Here is my reply.
You're absolutely right. Wyatt is a no-good, pusilanimous,
retch-inducing mountebank, and his writings deserve to be sent
directly to the House Un-American Activities Committee, with
copies to Newt Gingrich, Phyllis Shitfly, er, Schlaffly, and
Jerry Falwell. I am deeply embarrassed by what he has written,
and I suggest the man be horsewhipped, driven from the county
on a rail, and his name be struck from the rolls of Veterans of
Foreign Wars Never mind that he lost a leg at the Chosen
Reservoir. He has put himself forever beyond the pale with
this latest execrable screed. I'm only glad that we have
Watchmen and Watchwomen keeping a close eye on such perfidy.
As for the nuts in looneybins exactly what "bad name" is
it that they're supposed to be getting? Republicans?
Creationists? Skinheads? Reactionaries? Pedophiles? Terrorists?
I just adore this phony umbrage crap slathered on by
self-appointed viewers-with-alarm. "Bad name" indeed!
So until we meet again, I urge yon to stay outta the line of
yr. pal, Harlan
HELEN GAHAGAN DOUGLAS
Few personalities have had as varied a public life as this lady, becoming a
success in politics long before entertainers were being taken seriously by the
voting public. She began life as the daughter of a wealthy conservative
Republican family and became a staunch New Dealer. On Broadway and in
Europe she starred as both a singer and an acress. Some of her legitimate
stage work was Manhattan (1922), her first, Trelawney of the
Wells (1926), Tonight or Never (1930), and
The Cat and the Fiddle (1932).
Although she appeared in only one film, the 1935 production of She, it
became a science-fiction classic and had to be withdrawn from release so
that it would not compete with a recent remake.
When she moved to Los Angeles in the thirties Helen became interested
in social work. in 1939 she was involved with the New Deal as part of an
advisory group for the Works Progress Administration and the National
Her political career as an elected official started in 1945 when she began
serving as the Congresswoman from a working-class district in Los Angeles. She
was the "Democrat's answer to Clare Boothe Luce" in the House of
Representatives in the 79th to 81st Congresses. Much to the distress of the press
there was no battle of the beauties when they served in the House together.
Even when Mrs. Douglas was named to the Best Dressed Women list, an
honor Mrs. Luce had enjoyed many times, no cattiness developed. Recently
Mrs. Douglas remarked, "I didn't feel at all competitive. She was always
better dressed than I was." The two ladies had a mutual respect
for each other which has lasted through the years.
In 1950 Mrs. Douglas ran for the Senate of the United States from California
on the Democratic ticket against a young Congressman fresh from triumph
in the Alger Hiss inquiry. The contest is still remembered as one
of the dirtiest ever waged in that state because of her opponent's insinuations
and tactics. The winner by a wide margin was the future Vice-President
Richard M. Nixon.
About her feelings concerning Mr. Nixon now that so many years have passed,
she said: "I really feel sorry for him. The election was at the time
of the Korean War. The Democrats were on the defensive. I really think he
probably would have won anyway."
Helen Gahagan Douglas lives in a large apartment overlooking the Hudson
River in New York City with her husband, Melvyn Douglas, whome she
married in 1932. they are proud grandparents. She is still popular as
a lecturer on humanitarian causes and a fund raiser for the Democratic party.
Although she doesn't rule out a return to the theatre she seems much more
interested in assisting local candidates. Her last Broadway appearances
were First Lady (1952) and Family Reunion (1954).
For all the time that has passed since she entered public life Helen feels
that her ideas have changed very little: "I'm afraid that you can still put me
down as a liberal. I can see, however, that there is often more than one
answer to a problem--not always but often. And I am constantly surprised
to find out how really conservative the so-called liberals are that I meet.
And the conservatives, I'm please to find, they are often not nearly so Right
as I've been led to believe."
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