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Harlan Ellison (27 May 193428 June 2018; age 84) was an American author, producer, and writer credited with writing the Star Trek: The Original Series first season episode "The City on the Edge of Forever" (something which is the subject of controversy). In addition to television work, Ellison wrote prose fiction and nonfiction, screenplays, and computer games.

Ellison died in his sleep. [1]

Television work[]

In addition to his one story for Star Trek, Ellison contributed stories and teleplays to many other television series. He wrote two 1964 episodes of ABC's anthology series The Outer Limits, "Soldier" (featuring Michael Ansara and Tim O'Connor and directed by Gerd Oswald) and "Demon With a Glass Hand" (co-starring Rex Holman, Arlene Martel, and Abraham Sofaer and directed by Byron Haskin).

He also wrote four episodes of the ABC crime drama Burke's Law, two episodes of the adventure series The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and single episodes of such shows as Cimarron Strip ("Knife in the Darkness", which featured Patrick Horgan, George Murdock, Ron Soble, and Grace Lee Whitney), Logan's Run ("The Crypt", featuring Liam Sullivan), and Tales from the Darkside.

James Caan played Ellison's alter ego in a 1964 episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour entitled "Memo From Purgatory", written by Ellison, based on his own autobiographical book Memos From Purgatory. That episode also starred Walter Koenig and was directed by Joseph Pevney. Later, Ellison and veteran Star Trek writer D.C. Fontana both contributed to the story of the 1973 Ghost Story episode "Earth, Air, Fire and Water", which was directed by Alexander Singer and featured Brooke Bundy and Scott Marlowe.

Ellison wrote several more television episodes under his pseudonym "Cordwainer Bird", including the 1964 Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea episode "The Price of Doom", which was directed by James Goldstone and guest-starred Steve Ihnat, Jill Ireland, and David Opatoshu. He also used the pseudonym for the pilot episode of the short-lived science fiction series The Starlost, which he created. As such, the series carried the credit "Created by Cordwainer Bird."

Ellison served as a creative consultant on the 1980s revival of The Twilight Zone during its first season (1985-86), since his short stories were used as source material for three episodes (including one he adapted himself, "Paladin of the Lost Hour"). He also wrote two original segments for the series, including "Crazy as a Soup Sandwich", which was directed by Paul Lynch.

From 1993 through 1998, Ellison was a conceptual consultant on Babylon 5 for all five of its seasons, in addition to contributing two original stories with one cameo, and two voice appearances. Walter Koenig, Caitlin Brown, Andreas Katsulas, Bill Mumy, and Patricia Tallman were among those who made regular appearances on this series. Ellison also held that position on the four Babylon 5 TV movies which aired in 1998 and 1999.

In 1999, "The Human Operators", a short story by Ellison and A.E. van Vogt was adapted by Naren Shankar as an episode of The Outer Limits revival series, starring Malcolm McDowell and narrated by Kevin Conway.

In 2007, Ellison wrote the teleplay for the Masters of Science Fiction production of "The Discarded", based on his own short story. This production was directed by Jonathan Frakes.


Ellison had a strong personality, and seemed to be rarely afraid of voicing his opinion when he felt it was necessary. Famously, Robert Bloch (author of Psycho) said he was "the only living organism I know whose natural habitat is hot water," [2] and this applies to his relationship with Star Trek as well. He was strongly disdainful of being described as a science fiction writer, along with its shortening to "sci-fi", and once walked out of an interview for being referred to as such. [3]

Ellison occasionally wrote under the pseudonym "Cordwainer Bird" (sometimes spelled Cord Wainer Bird) to signal works he felt to have been impossibly compromised by others. The pseudonym was first used by Ellison in the late 1950s for works of soft-core pornographic fiction. Later, he used the alias on four television episodes he wrote but disowned due to rewrites and once in place of his credit as creator of the series The Starlost. "Cordwainer" comes from Ellison's admiration for science fiction writer Cordwainer Smith; "Bird" is from the dismissive euphemism "for the birds," as well as "flipping the bird."

Ellison was involved in a number of feuds during his career, over his mistreatment (whether perceived or real) at the hands of those for whom he worked. In particular was his feud with Gene Roddenberry, who Ellison believed ruined the story that became "The City on the Edge of Forever", and then refused to change the screen credit to the "Cordwainer Bird" pseudonym. On top of that refusal, Roddenberry claimed credit for saving the story for years. Ellison outlined his side of the story in his book The City on the Edge of Forever, which reproduced his original teleplay. He later licensed the original teleplay to IDW Publishing, who also held the general Star Trek license, resulting in the Star Trek: Harlan Ellison's The City on the Edge of Forever miniseries.

Ellison also claimed that the science fiction film, The Terminator, was derivative of "Demon With a Glass Hand" and "Soldier". A lawsuit resulted in the appearance of a title card reading "Acknowledgment to the works of Harlan Ellison" at the head of the end credits for The Terminator.

In 1979, Ellison wrote an introduction for a series of American reprints of Doctor Who novelizations, in which he said:

Star Wars is adolescent nonsense; Close Encounters is obscurantist drivel; Star Trek can turn your brains to purée of bat guano; and the greatest science fiction series of all time is Doctor Who! And I'll take you all on, one-by-one or all in a bunch to back it up!"
–Harlan Ellison. "Introducing Doctor Who", published in Doctor Who and the Day of the Daleks and nine other Doctor Who novelizations. Los Angeles: Pinnacle Books, 1979.

In the same introduction, Ellison said that Star Trek "sententiously purports to be deep and intellectual when it is, in fact, superficial and self-conscious twaddle."

Ellison was also highly critical of Battlestar Galactica creator Glen A. Larson calling him "Glen Larceny" for his alleged plagiarism from Star Trek. ([4]; "Glen A. Larson does Star Wars!": Empire Magazine, No. 261)

2009 Star Trek lawsuit[]

In March 2009, Ellison filed a lawsuit against Paramount Pictures, CBS, and Simon & Schuster for what he claimed to be unpaid residuals owed to him for the use of elements from "The City on the Edge of Forever". Ellison claimed that the companies had refused to disclose sales figures on items derived from his work, including the Crucible trilogy of novels, Christmas ornaments, and DVD sets containing his episode. Ellison's representative stated that the author "want[ed] every penny of his long ago agreed-upon share of the revenue from Paramount's relentless Trek exploitations." [5] However, in October of that year, it was reported by Variety that a settlement had been reached. [6]

In spite of his rocky relationship with the franchise, in November 2009, Ellison offered to write the next installment of Trek, stating, "If anyone out there thinks this melding has legs, let Abrams or anyone else with the chops to get in touch with me directly," Ellison said. "I am without full-time film-agent representation, by choice, at the moment; so if the job presents itself, I will work for pay." [7]

Awards and honors[]

Ellison won numerous awards for his work, including eight and a half Hugo Awards, five Bram Stoker Awards (including the Lifetime Achievement Award in 1996), three Nebula Awards, and two Edgar Awards. One of his Hugo Awards was for "The City of the Edge of Forever", which won as "Best Dramatic Presentation" in 1968.

His "half-Hugo" was given to him when the film A Boy and His Dog won Best Dramatic Presentation in 1976. The Hugo was given to the film's producers, but Ellison complained that, as the writer of the story on which the screenplay was based, he deserved to share in the award. With no extra Hugo statuette available, he was given the base of a Hugo, which he called his "half-Hugo". Ellison was also nominated for a Nebula Award for A Boy and His Dog.

Ellison was the only author in Hollywood to win the Writers Guild of America Award for Most Outstanding Teleplay four times. One of these wins was for "The City on the Edge of Forever". He had previously earned the award for his Outer Limits script "Demon With a Glass Hand". These mark the only two times the award was won during the 1960s by a writer for a predominantly science-fiction television series. Star Trek writers Barry Trivers and John D.F. Black also won the award during the decade, both for their work on other series.

Ellison won the WGA Award two more times during his career: for his original 1973 "Phoenix Without Ashes" script for The Starlost and for his 1986 teleplay "Paladin of the Lost Hour" for the revival of The Twilight Zone. His four wins tie him with Howard Rodman for the most in WGA history.

In addition, Ellison was awarded the Silver Pen for Journalism by International PEN, the first Living Legend Award by the International Horror Guild, and the Bradbury Award by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. He also won the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal's "Distinguished Skeptic Award", in recognition of his contributions to science and critical thinking.

Further reading[]

  • "Harlan Ellison, Part One" Lee Goldberg, Starlog, issue 100, November 1985, pp. 58-60, 93
  • "Harlan Ellison, Part Two" Lee Goldberg, Starlog, issue 101, December 1985, pp. 34-36

External links[]