Remembering Harlan Ellison, 1934-2018
StarTrek.com is saddened to report the passing of Sci-Fi and Star Trek legend Harlan Ellison. Ellison, who turned 84 just last month, died this morning, June 28, at his home in California, according to his wife, Susan. Ellison wrote countless books, novellas, short stories, scripts, think pieces and more, and he won every imaginable genre writing prize, including multiple Bram Stoker Awards, Hugo Awards, and Writers Guild of America Awards. His most-significant Star Trek contribution was, of course, his teleplay for the TOS episode, “The City on the Edge of Forever.”
Ellison and Star Trek went together like hellfire and holy water. Though he was an icon, an author whose name belongs on a Sci-Fi Mount Rushmore alongside Asimov, Bradbury, Heinlein, Clarke, Le Guin and Dick, he knew he’d one day go to his grave as the man who wrote “The City on the Edge of Forever.” Only, Ellison didn’t quite write the episode. Sure, it was his idea and he tapped out a couple of drafts of it, but several other Trek figures – including Gene Roddenberry, Gene Coon and D.C. Fontana – rewrote it to that point that Ellison requested that his name be removed from the credits and replaced with a pseudonym: Cordwainer Bird. His request was denied. The whole scenario had been a sore point, as well as a blessing and a curse, for decades.
Back in 2012, StarTrek.com ran into Ellison at Walter Koenig’s Star Ceremony and asked Ellison if he might consider an interview. Ellison said he’d think about it, and we chose not to push our luck. Then, surprisingly, the phone rang. Ellison himself offered to do an interview… if we’d arrange for him to get a copy of his hysterical and potty-mouthed roast speech from the Koenig festivities. We made it happen and then decided to wait to talk to Ellison until the release of his then-latest book, 7 Against Chaos, a graphic novel which he collaborated on with Paul Chadwick and Ken Steacy. Sure enough, Ellison held up his end of the deal, spending the better part of a half-hour charming, cursing and curmudgeon-ing his way through a wide-ranging interview.
Asked if he’d made peace with his eternal Trek connection, Ellison, replied, “Yeah, well, I did once I wrote my book about “The City on the Edge of Forever” (The City on the Edge of Forever: The Original Teleplay that Became the Classic Star Trek Episode).” Likewise, given that “The City on the Edge of Forever” is widely considered Trek’s finest hour and since the episode may have been the gateway to Ellison’s other works for thousands and thousands of people around the world, he conceded that it was a good thing to have on his resume and that he was ultimately glad that he did not manage to get his Cordwainer Bird pseudonym in the episode’s credits, as he’d originally demanded. “Sure, I’m pleased,” he said in 2012. “Look, I have done everything I can do within human bounds to make the distinction between what aired and what I wrote. I did the book and people know the difference. So, having created the Guardian and having created that episode is a high-water mark that I can be when I’m good.”
Considering his love-hate relationship with Star Trek, fans were shocked when, in 2014, Ellison appeared as a guest at Star Trek Las Vegas. He made the super-rare appearance in order to support IDW Publishing’s event comic book series, Harlan Ellison’s The City on the Edge of Forever, which was adapted by Scott Tipton and David Tipton and realized Ellison’s full vision of the teleplay. During one of his stage sessions that weekend, in the main room, Ellison and old friend Walter Koenig arrived boogying to “Back in the U.S.S.R.” They lived just a couple of miles from each other and were dear friends for five decades, which was easy to see as they interacted on the stage that day. Ellison also delighted fans by signing autographs in the dealers’ room.
Ellison long dealt with ill health and suffered a stroke in October of 2014. Still, there was no quit in him, ever. Going back to that StarTrek.com interview from 2012, he promised, “I will continue doing this until the road comes to an end and my feet go over the edge of the abyss and I go into whatever niche in posterity they have for me. I made it into the Encyclopedia Britannica, right between Ralph Ellison and Ellis Island. That’s pretty good for a poor little Jew from Long Island.”