The Night I Called Harlan Ellison

I don’t know if I made a mistake or not, but since I was going to write some words about it, while watching Dreams With Sharp Teeth, the movie about Harlan Ellison, I stopped to think about it. The movie itself that is, while it was still running in front of my face.

By the end of it, my suspicions had been confirmed.

It’s not a biography nor a documentary nor a retrospective nor a day in his life.

It’s like the subject itself: an assemblage of different bits that become something remarkable and memorable and just unforgettable.

Much like Harlan Ellison’s writing too.

I’d finally read Spider Kiss in the past year. But I understood only after the film that it would have been better if Harlan had read it to me. I couldn’t pick up on his cadences. He read a passage from it — a passage I recalled reading and thinking about at the time — and was shocked that I didn’t really get it until the words came out of his mouth. The emotion he imbued the words with were lacking in my own mind.

There was one point in the movie when my eyes welled up and I would have gone flat out into a bawl if he had gone on longer. He read a passage from his short story, One Life, Furnished in Early Poverty.

That was the story that made me pick up the phone and call Harlan Ellison.

It was sometime in the 1980s and CBS had producer Philip DeGuere revive The Twilight Zone. It was done as a one hour series, with two or more stories per episode. One of them was an adaptation by Alan Brennert (who, dammit, needs to write more novels!) of Harlan Ellison’s One Life, Furnished in Early Poverty. It was a stunning piece of work. It was one of the finest things I’d seen on TV. And, dammit, I wanted Harlan Ellison to know it too. So I called him.

He was pleased to hear it and praised Brennert’s work too. I didn’t go on to bother him beyond telling him what I thought and thanking him.

So when he did a passage from that story — and, god, again the impact of his words from his mouth — I was flashing back to that night when I overcame all sanity and phoned my first writing god. It’s a story that I think most writers would read and come away from shaken, wondering how Ellison had managed to get into their head.

What they have done in this movie is something extraordinary. They’ve encapsulated the man and his legend into a compact, fast-moving, touching, dramatic and, yes, funny!, film that I hope will cause anyone coming across it in years to come (on TV, or DVD, or online) to want to read his work. Whether that work is one of his startling short stories or one of his inveighing essays, either will do, for both are reflections of the man himself. As he himself is fond of saying, quoting Walt Whitman, “I am large, I contain multitudes.” And he does.

Find out when Dreams With Sharp Teeth will be in your area. You must see it. I’d been waiting since March 2007 for it, and only found out it was playing near me by accident. Don’t count on a lucky coincidence for you to see it.

Oh, and that night I called Harlan Ellison? A few years before that, he had called me.

But that’s not a story worth telling.


I must butt in: I clapped at the dead gopher story. (I hope there was a publisher in the audience!) That episode was still very fresh in that house’s mind. I know because they published me. And I brought up the story as an example of what needed to be done to them! Who knew I picked the house that actually had gotten it?! The fuckers still hadn’t learned a thing!

Here’s one of the things that makes Harlan Ellison my first writing god. I’ve run it before, but it needs repeating.

Harlan Ellison — Pay the Writer

Ellison Webderland — the official Harlan Ellison website

And since people always like some proof, here are two pics taken with the Philips crapcam, which has gotten even worse for aiming!

Film Forum marquee (barely!)

An “Up Yours, DMCA!” photo from the last shot of the movie
(Yes, it’s the only one I tried to take. Reminder: it’s a crapcam!)

Explore posts in the same categories: Movie (theatre), TV, Video - Online, Writers - Living, Writing

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