Childhood & Early Life
Harlan Ellison was born to Serita Ellison, a housewife and Louis Ellison, a dentist-turned-jewelry salesman in Cleveland, Ohio.
Harlan’s family moved to Painesville, Ohio, where he faced severe discrimination for being a Jew and was an outcast. His family returned to Cleveland after his father died.
During his eventful childhood and adolescence, Ellison often ran away from home and took up unusual jobs such as tuna fisherman, travelling crop-picker, bodyguard, truck driver, cook, lithographer, book salesman etc.
He also acted in several plays at the ‘Cleveland Play House’, a local theatre company in Cleveland. Ellison was an avid reader of science-fiction and fantasy and wrote for the Cleveland science-fiction society’s amateur magazine, ‘Science-Fantasy Bulletin’.
In 1949, he got his two stories published in the local newspaper ‘Cleveland News’ and after a few years sold a story to ‘EC Comics’.
From 1951 to 1953, Ellison attended Ohio State University for 18 months before being ousted from the University, for hitting his creative-writing professor who had criticized his work.
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In 1955, Ellison moved to New York City to pursue a career as a writer, particularly in the genre of science-fiction. He published more than 100 articles and short stories in the next couple of years.
Soon after reaching New York, Ellison wanted to write about youth gangs and as a part of his research, joined one such gang incognito in the Red Hook area of Brooklyn. The gang was called ‘The Barons’ and Harlan acted as the gang’s war counsellor for 10 weeks.
This experience was used in Ellison’s novel ‘Web of the City/Rumble’, the collection ‘The Deadly Streets’ and ‘Memos from Purgatory’, a part of his memoir.
From 1957 to 1959, Ellison served in the US Army, returning to New York afterwards. During this time, he wrote a lot of erotic stories, such as ‘God Bless the Ugly Virgin’ and ‘Tramp’, which were later reprinted in magazines.
In 1959, he moved to Chicago and worked as the editor of the ‘Rogue Magazine’. Later, he was involved in the formation of ‘Regency Books’, subsequently becoming a book editor. He edited works by prominent authors such as B. Traven, Kurt Vonnegut, Robert Bloch and Philip Jos� Farmer etc.
In 1962, he moved to California and started his tryst with Hollywood. He wrote screenplays for the film, ‘The Oscar’ and many TV shows such as ‘The Flying Nun’, ‘Burke's Law’, ‘Route 66’, ‘The Outer Limits’, ‘Star Trek’, ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’, ‘Cimarron Strip’ and ‘The Alfred Hitchcock Hour’.
During the late 1960s, he wrote a column called ‘The Glass Teat’ for the ‘Los Angeles Free Press’. The column dealt with political and social issues presented on television.
He was recruited as a writer for the famous ‘Walt Disney Studios’. On his first day, he was joking about the concept of making a pornographic movie featuring Disney characters which was overheard by CEO ‘Roy O. Disney’, leading to his termination the same day.
Ellison kept publishing short works in different publications. ‘’Repent, Harlequin!” Said the Ticktockman’, ‘I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream’ and ‘A Boy and his Dog’ are among his best-known short stories.
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He edited the ‘Dangerous Visions’, a science-fiction short story collection, also providing biographies of the authors in the book.
He was the ‘Creative Consultant’ for TV shows ‘The Twilight Zone’ and ‘Babylon 5’. He also did commentary on many films and TV shows.
In 1986, Ellison started hosting the radio show ‘Hour 25’ on ‘Pacifica Radio’ in Los Angeles. Harlan had formerly been a recurrent and popular guest at the show. Drawing from this experience as the host, he wrote a short story called ‘The Hour That Stretches’
In the 1990s, he did commentary for the program ‘Sci-Fi Buzz’ broadcast on the ‘Sci-Fi Channel’. He also lent his voice in audiobooks written by both himself and other authors.
In 2012-2013, Ellison voiced for his own character in ‘Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated’, ‘The Shrieking Madness’ and ‘Come Undone’. He again lent his voice to his own character in one episode of the TV show ‘The Simpsons’.
Harlan Ellison has written many of the greatest short stories in the genre of science-fiction. Among his most famous stories are '”Repent, Harlequin!”' Said the Ticktockman’, a satire that celebrates civil disobedience against authority and ‘I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream’ a post-apocalyptic adventure story.
Ellison edited ‘Dangerous Visions’, the revolutionary collection of science-fiction stories and is praised extensively for encouraging the authors to go against the pre-existing conventions of science-fiction writing.
Harlan Ellison’s screenplay for Star Trek’s episode ‘The City on the Edge of Forever’ is widely regarded as the best episode of all 79 in the series for which he earned wide appreciation.
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Awards & Achievements
In 1966, Ellison won a ‘Hugo Award’ in the ‘Best Short Fiction’ category for his satirical short story ‘”Repent, Harlequin!” Said the Ticktockman’.
In 1968, he won a ‘Hugo Award again’ for his short story ‘I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream’ in the category ‘Best Short Story’.
In 1969, he won a ‘Nebula Award’ for his work ‘A Boy and His Dog’ in the ‘Best Novella’ category.
In 1974, Ellison was awarded the ‘Edgar Allan Poe Award’ in the category ‘Best Short Story’ for his short story ‘The Whimper of Whipped Dogs’.
In 1977, he won a ‘Nebula Award’ again in the category ‘Best Short Story’ for his ‘Jeffty is Five’, which chronicles the life of a boy ‘Jeffty’ who never grows beyond the age of 5.
In 1987, he was awarded a ‘Bram Stoker Award’ in the category ‘Best Collection’ for his compilation, ‘The Essential Ellison’.
Personal Life & Legacy
He has used several pseudonyms throughout his writing career, the most popular one being ‘Cordwainer Bird’. Ellison uses this particular pen name when his work has been modified without his approval.
Harlan Ellison has been married five times, and currently resides with his wife ‘Susan Toth’. Two of his marriages ended in divorce. Ellison does not have any children from any of his marriages.
Ellison has been a great advocate of civil rights. In 1965, he participated in the ‘Bloody Sunday March’ from Selma to Montgomery, a protest march supporting the ‘American civil rights movement’, led by ‘Martin Luther King, Jr.’.
Ellison has been embroiled in controversies throughout his career, which arise from his crude and argumentative temperament. Some of these issues include defamation lawsuits, copyright suits, personal feuds and boycotting any work which does not provide him with creative freedom.