December 12, 2018

Writer Harlan Ellison, 84

Prolific and award-winning speculative fiction author Harlan Ellison, who wrote short stories, novels and criticism, and who contributed to notable TV series including “Star Trek,” “The Outer Limits” and “Babylon 5,” died June 27 at his Sherman Oaks home. He was 84.

His wife, Susan Ellison, told The New York Times she did not know the cause of his death. He had a stroke in 2014 and coronary bypass surgery after a heart attack in the 1990s.

In a career that spanned more than 60 years, Ellison wrote 1,700 short stories, at least 100 books and dozens of TV scripts and screenplays, including “A Boy and His Dog,” set in a post-apocalyptic American wasteland, and “The City on the Edge of Forever,” considered one of the best episodes of the original “Star Trek” TV series, in which the characters Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock go back in time to correct Earth’s history.

The episode won the Hugo Award for best dramatic presentation and the Writers Guild of America Award for best episodic drama on television. But Ellison, who had a reputation for being cantankerous and litigious, complained bitterly about how the teleplay had been rewritten. In 2009, he filed a lawsuit against CBS Paramount TV for merchandising royalties he claimed he was owed from the episode; he and the studio later settled.

The movie “A Boy and His Dog” (1975), based on Ellison’s novella, follows a teenager named Vic (played by Don Johnson) and his telepathic dog, and features a shocking ending.

Ellison was part of the new wave of science fiction that emerged in the 1960s and ’70s. Called a “professional curmudgeon” by one reporter, Ellison once began a Sci-Fi Channel (now SyFy) interview by insisting he be called “a writer.” “Call me a science fiction writer and … I’ll hit you so hard your grandmother will bleed.” 

He is said to have sent a dead gopher to a publisher and attacked an ABC executive, breaking his pelvis, the Times reported.

The fast-talking Ellison was a recurring guest on talk shows hosted by Merv Griffin and Tom Snyder, spewing unbridled opinions on elitism, violence and Scientology.

Ellison was born on May 27, 1934, in Cleveland to Louis Ellison, a dentist and jeweler, and Serita (Rosenthal) Ellison, who worked in a thrift store. Growing up —  partly in Painesville, Ohio, about 30 miles outside Cleveland — he was bullied in school, largely for being Jewish, the Times said.

Ellison attended Ohio State University but left after two years. At one point, he punched an English professor who had told him that he didn’t see any writing talent in him. Thereafter, Ellison sent copies of his published stories to the professor, according to the Times.

He moved to Southern California in 1962, where he got a job at Walt Disney Studios — for one day. Ellison was promptly fired after Roy Disney overheard him joking about making a pornographic movie featuring Disney characters, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

He wrote an episode of the TV series “The Outer Limits” titled “The Soldier” that aired in 1964 and was adapted from one of his short stories, about a soldier hurdled back in time 1,800 years. Ellison later sued the production company of James Cameron’s “The Terminator,” a 1984 film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger about an android sent back in time to kill the mother of the future leader of the human resistance movement. The suit was settled for an undisclosed amount, and the end of the home video version of the film includes an acknowledgement of Ellison’s works.

Ellison, who also wrote under the pseudonym Cordwainer Bird, wrote for the TV shows “Tales From the Darkside,” “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” and “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.” He wrote for and was the creative consultant for the science fiction series “Babylon 5” (1994–98). 

He was among the most influential post-World War II science fiction writers, Rob Latham, a former professor of English at UC Riverside, told the Los Angeles Times. 

Ellison won four Writers Guild of America Awards, eight Hugo Awards, four Nebula Awards, five Bram Stoker Awards, two Edgar Awards, and, in 2006, the Grand Master Award for lifetime achievement from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

Ellison was married five times and had no children.