Dreams with Sharp Teeth (2008) - full transcript

A documentary on speculative fiction writer and essayist Harlan Ellison.

- We're done
with Harlan unplugged.

This is Harlan plugged in now.

- This is
the real Harlan Ellison.

This has been a myth,

everything we've seen
in the edit room.

- Just shoot the fucking thing

so I can go back to my life.

- Yes or no. True or false.

Yes or no and you can
qualify them if you want.

- Okay.
- This will be not

used against you.

- Yeah, not in a court of law.

- No, no, We've
done that already.

- Okay.
- Okay, ready?

- Yeah.
- First one.

Mailed dead gopher to
a publishing house.

- Absolutely true.

And it went during the summer

and it went by
fourth-class mail.

- So you wanted to make
sure that it was there

and a little bloated by then.

- Cost them thousands
to fumigate.

- Attacked ABC executive,
breaking pelvis.

- True. Absolutely true.

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.

I went for him, climbed up
onto the conference table

in Erwin Allen's office.

There was a lot of
papers on the desk.

It was highly polished.

I slipped, very heroic of me,

and face first, went
into him like that

and caught him in the
throat with the fist.

He went over backwards
and hit the wall

and there was a
six-foot long model

or 18-foot long model of
the Sea View on the wall,

and it broke loose
from its moorings

and fell on him and
broke his pelvis.

- Threw fan down elevator shaft.

- Never!

Never, never happened.

Never happened!

- Barbra Streisand stole
his Night Club tapes.

- Yeah, yeah, yeah!

Bitch stole...



$21 worth of... - Gonef!

Gonef, hello, gorgeous,
I need the money.

Banged over 500 women,
boast about it in print.

- Not true.
- Okay, good.

- Over 700.

- We'll be right back.

- Drove dynamite truck.

- Yes.
- Okay.

- Actually nitro truck.

- Nitro truck, you...

- North Carolina.
- Wonderful.

That's always good.

Harlan, well, I want
my Jewish friend

to drive this down
that bumpy road.

- I mean, really, it was...

- And take Twitchy with you.

- And the only
reason I got the job

was because I was nonunion!

- That's it. We did it.

We did it. - Oh, God.


I wanna have your children.

- Oh, well, I've got
three, I'll send one over.

- At the close of our
program yesterday,

Tom held up this envelope
containing a piece of paper

and the words on it said,

"August afternoon, a
person walking along

"a rocky beach in Maine,

"picks up a pair of
broken sunglasses."

What happened next was at 9:45,

Harlan Ellison
climbed in the window

of a 5th Avenue bookstore.

Read Tom's words
for the first time,

as the crowds looked on,

and then began to write,

until finally five hours later,

The Night of Black
Glass was completed.

- I do it because I think,
particularly in this country,

people are so distanced
from literature,

the way it's taught in schools,

that they think that the
people who write are magicians

on a mountaintop somewhere.

And I think that's
one of the reasons

why there's so much
illiteracy in this country.

So by doing it in public,

I show people that
it's a job of work

like being a plumber
or an electrician.

I am told that my story,

Repent, Harlequin!
Said the Ticktockman,

is one of the 10 most
reprinted stories

in the English language.

Academics tell me this
and I have to listen

because there in
lies my posterity.

You see, long after I am dust,

they will still be reprinting

Repent, Harlequin!
Said the Ticktockman,

and so, here is a piece
from Repent, Harlequin.

"Get stuffed!" the
Harlequin replied, sneering.

"You've been late a
total of 63 years,

"five months, three weeks, two
days, 12 hours, 41 minutes,

"59 seconds, 0.063111

"You've used up everything
you can, and more.

"I'm going to turn you off."

"Scare someone else.

"I'd rather be dead than
live in a dumb world

"with a bogeyman like you!"

"It's my job."

"You're full of it.

"You're a tyrant!

"You have no right to
order people around

"and kill them if
they show up late!"

"You can't adjust.

"You can't fit in."

"Unstrap me, and I'll fit
my fist into your mouth!"

"You're a nonconformist!"

"That didn't used
to be a felony!"

"It is now.

"Live in the world around you."

"I hate it, the world around me.

"It's a terrible world!"

"Repent, Harlequin!"
said the Ticktockman.

"Get stuffed!"

- I remember being
in a public library,

sitting there with my book open

and tears coming down my eyes
at the end of this story.

- It's like having a spike
driven into your head.

- There's a real power to
the way he uses the language

and how he draws
pictures in your mind.

- I always saw him, sort of
in my head, in the writing,

he's a cocky guitar god.

- I saw Prince a
while ago playing

a show where he came on stage

and he was playing
a Jimmy Page riff

with one hand not looking.

I thought, that's Harlan.

- The words, there is an
attention to the words.

There is an attention to
the sound of the words.

You're reading them in
your head and they sing.

- The running line of
what could be sensed,

but not heard was
ominous, threatening,

sensuously compelling in ways

that spoke to the
skin and nerve-ends.

It was like the moment one
receives the biopsy report.

It was the feeble sound
an unwatered plant makes

in the instant before all
reserve moisture dries

from the taproot and the
green turns to brown.

It was like the sigh of anguish
from the victim of voodoo

at the instant the final pin
is jammed into the ju-ju doll

half a continent away.

It was like the cry of a mother

brought to see the
tiny, crushed form

lying beneath the blanket
on a busy intersection.

It was like
the kiss of a spider.

- You can't separate
the work and the man.

I felt, ever since
I first met Harlan,

that really what
Harlan is engaged on,

the art form that
Harlan is creating,

is this huge piece
of performance art
called Harlan Ellison.

- How do you
explain a hurricane?

I don't know how
to explain Harlan.

He is what he is.

- Everything about
him is quirky.

Every single thing
about him is quirky.

He doesn't do anything
straight ahead.

- He's got the combination
of borscht and Berkeley.

When you realize that he,
in the '60s and the '70s,

was as radical as it gets.

And if he was on Nixon's list,

I'd think of it as highlighted
as much as Nixon goes,

"Tell that prick I want
him and all his balls.

"Yeah, I want the little Jew."

- Harlan Ellison should
probably be read in schools.

They should probably
make you read it,

and you should be challenged

by material like that
when you're young.

- Harlan doesn't
have an off switch.

He doesn't have a censor button.

He is simply incapable of
sugarcoating it for you,

and I think this is one of the
things that makes him human.

It's one of the things
that makes him lovable.

It's one of the things that,
in a way, makes him tragic.

I think he wishes
it were otherwise.

- This is one of the hardest
jobs I've ever had to do.

Ted Sturgeon lived with me,

and they've been
publishing his stories,

in 12 volumes so far,

and they finally got around

to wanting me to write
the introduction.

Would you like to hear
first paragraph here?

We both smoked pipes,

but Ted tamped his bowl full
of a grape-flavored tobacco,

so sweetly and sickly redolent,
it could stun a police dog.

I was a little over 35 years old

when Sturgeon came
to live with me.

Herewith, the ninth
time I have started

to write this
recondite introduction

to Volume XI of the North
Atlantic books collected oeuvre

of the iconic H. Hunter
Theodore Waldo Sturgeon,

a great writer of our
time, in initial caps.

In preparation for this day,

one I have foolishly
hoped would never come,

and now it's here and
now I have dawdled

and postponed and evaded as
would the helot duck the knout.

Eight times before I sat down,

put my two typing
fingers on the keyboard

of the stout Olympia
manual office machine,

that Ted sometimes used,

and eight times I have written,

and eight times I said, ah,
fuck it, and torn out the paper.

Eight times.

Now nine.

And here's the flat
of it, friends,

and Ted would understand,

most of what I know about Ted
Sturgeon, I cannot tell you.

- Now, here is Harlan Ellison

and I've already outlined
your expansive credits.

- You got it wrong.

- I did?
- Yeah, it's not five Hugos,

it's six Hugos.

- I'm sorry.
- And you missed

the Mystery Writers of
America Edgar Allen Poe Award

and the fact that I'm
a credit to my race.

- Yes, you are human.

But I didn't say
that when you went

to Ohio State University,

you were there for
a year and a half

and some writing professor, or
somebody of that sort, said,

"You don't have any talent.

"Go and earn a living
in a respectable way."

You showed him, didn't you?

- Yeah, and I told him to go
perform hideous obscenities

upon himself, and then left.

And then I preceded to go to
New York, to this very city,

and sold a hundred stories the
first year full-time writing.

Up until recently,
I've sent him a copy

of every single thing
I've ever had published.

When I got listed in Who's Who,

I had a perma plaque,
sent that to him.

Photos of the awards...
- Are you a vengeful guy?

- Oh, yeah.
- Did you take delight

in sending that man that?

- Oh, yeah, I think
revenge is a very terrific,

good thing for everybody.

- One day I got home

and the light was flashing

on my telephone
answering machine,

and I pressed the
button and it's Harlan,

and the voice says,
"Gaiman, this is Ellison.

"You are dead.

"You are dead meat.

"I am going to kill you.

"I am gonna come to your house,

"I'm gonna rip out your trachea.

"I am going to nuke your house

"and then I'm gonna come and
I'm gonna sow salt on the place

"where the radioactive ruins
of your house have been.

"You are dead.

"You are so dead.

"Call me."


- Okay, let me
be very candid with you.

- Yes, you can.

- Aim that fucker elsewhere.

- I worry more about Harlan
busting a valve

in his violent reaction
to something bad or stupid

that somebody else did

than I worry about
the other person

ending up in the hospital.

- Get off the fucking phone

when your going through
an intersection!

You'll run people down,
you fucking pinhead!

- He doesn't go gently
into that good night,

as he will tell you, you know.

- Yeah, it's a horn!

You douche bag!

- He's done things that I
think he would stand by 100%.

I'm sure he's done
things that he would go,

"Oh, my god, what the
hell was I thinking?"

- Here we go.



Yippa, yippa!

- Harlan has the unique
position of being

sort of the St.
Paul of Christianity

he does not
necessarily believe in.

- The one question
I always get is,

"Where do you get your ideas?"

Now, Aristotle couldn't
answer that question.

Aeschylus couldn't
answer that question.

But when they ask me
that, I say, Schenectady.

And they look at me
and they go, "What?"

I say, yeah, Schenectady.

There's an idea
service in Schenectady.

I send them 25 bucks a week
and every week, like clockwork,

they send me a fresh
six-pack of ideas.

And believe me, believe me,

on the grave of my
mother and father,

who were terrific people,

there's always some
schmuck who comes up to me

afterwards and says,
"Could I have the address?"

- Got a call yesterday

from a little film company
down here in the valley.

And they're doing the
packaging for MGM on,

not MGM, for Warner Bros. on
Babylon 5, which I worked on.

And I did a very long, very
interesting on-camera interview

about the making of Babylon 5,

early on when Joe
Straczynski hired me,

and they wanna use it.

A young woman calls
me and she says,

"We'd like to use it on the DVD.

"Can that be arranged?"

I said, absolutely, all
you gotta do is pay me,

and she said, "What?"

I said, you gotta pay me.

She said, "Well, everybody else

"is just doing it for nothing."

I said, everybody else may
be an asshole, but I'm not.

I said, by what right
would you call me

and ask me to work for nothing?

Do you get a paycheck?

"Well, yes."

I says, does your
boss get a paycheck?

Do you pay the Telecine guy?

Do you pay the cameraman?

Do you pay the cutters?

Do you pay the teamsters

when they schlep your
stuff on the trucks?

Would you go to a gas station
and ask to give you free gas?

Would you go to the doctor
and have him take out

your spleen for nothing?

How dare you call me, want
me to work for nothing.

"Well, it would be
good publicity."

I said, lady, tell that to
someone a little older than you

who has just fallen
off the turnip truck.

There is no publicity
value in my essay,

my interview being on your DVD.

If you sell 2,000 of
them, it'll be great.

And what are people gonna say?

"Ooh, I really like the way
that guy gave that interview.

"I wonder if he's
ever written a book.

"Let me go and buy the,"
there's no publicity value.

The only value for me is if
you put money in my hand.

Cross my palm with silver,
you can use my essay.

You can use my interview.

And she says, "Well,
all right, thank you,"

and she hangs up.

I'll never hear from them.

They want everything
for nothing.

They wouldn't go for five
seconds without being paid,

and they'll bitch about how
much they're paid and want more.

I should do a freebie
for Warner Bros.?

What is Warner Bros.,
out with an eye patch

and a tin cup on the street?

Fuck no!

They always want the
writer to work for nothing.

And the problem is that
there's so goddamn many writers

who have no idea that
they're supposed to be paid

every time they do something,
they do it for nothing.

"Guh, guh, they're
gonna look at me.

"I'm gonna be noticed."

You tell me, are they any
less the media whore than I?

I think not.

Nobody's offered
to buy their soul.

I sell my soul, but
at the highest rates,
the highest rates.

I don't take a piss without
getting paid for it.

I get so angry about this

because you're undercut
by all the amateurs.

It's the amateurs who make it
tough for the professionals

'cause when you
act professional,

these people are so used
to getting it for nothing

and for mooching
and for being able

to pass off this bullshit.

They don't even send
you a copy of the DVD!

You have to call them
and say, where's the DVD?

"Well, it's been
out for six months.

"You could go to the
store and buy it."

You could go to the store
and buy it, motherfucker.

You go to the store and buy it.

You send me the goddamn DVD now

or I'm gonna come
down to your house

and I'm gonna burn
it to the ground.

How about that?

"Well, you don't have
to get mean about it."

Yeah, I do have to
get mean about it.

Six months since the
damn thing came out.

People say to me,
even Susan says to me,

"My God, does everything
make you angry?"

I say, yeah, everything
makes me angry.

And they say, "Well, you
should be a little mellow.

"Get a little mellow."

And I say, oh, really?

Gee, I had never
thought of that.

"Get a little mellow," woo.

What an epiphany.

Like I enjoy this?!

You think I enjoy getting
up angry every morning?

Going to bed angry every night?

To go through the day with
the veins standing out,

the bolts unscrewing
in my neck?!

Jesus Christ, I
would give anything

to be able to be as mellow
and cool as most people.

I'd be one of the
slaves, the walking dead,

but it would be a relief.

Give me six months as
a walking dead man,

I'll never say
anything angry again.

- Harlan,
Harlan, Harlan, Harlan,

Harlan, Harlan, Harlan, Harlan.

- Jesus, I can't
be at two places!

There's a fucking line of people

who want their
goddamn book signed

and they pout if
you don't sign them!

I had a guy, I swear to you,

I had a guy follow
me into a bathroom

to either ask me some stupid
question or to

and I turned around,
pissed on his shoe.

I said, oh, yes,
may I answer that?

And I just gave him a flash.

Look, part of the
job is signing.

It's an odious and thankless job

because, first of all,

why in the world would anyone
want an autograph in a book?

I know that signing the books

is for people who like,
they love my stuff.

Fine. I'm happy.

That's not the point.

They assume a manner

that is like talking to the cast

of Night of the Living Dead.

They don't hear a word you say,

and when you say
something jocular to them,

they treat you as if you're
the Delphic goddamn Oracle.

I am not, I'm a
little Jew from Ohio.

I don't know any answers.

I fake it.

And I sit there and I do it.

And I sit for an hour
and I sit two hours

and I sit for three hours.

And I will do it for everybody,
I will sign their books,

but then when it's three
hours, and they start pouting.

Please, Lord, kill me now.

I say, folks, I'm
a human being too.

I have to go have some dinner.

Dinner, folks.

Or I have to take a dump.

Folks, please.

And they all go...

- "Would you sign my dump?"

- Yeah, "sign my dump."

Y'all talk among yourselves
for a moment here.

I'm gonna go sign the asshole,
uh, the fellow's book.

- I think his love-hate
relationship with fandom

has to do with a feeling
that a lot of these people

who he identifies with
in a very, very real way,

don't fulfill their potential.

- Stop cringing,
I won't hit you.

Could you bend forward please?

- And they use fandom

and they use the institutions
that are created by fandom

to kind of hide out
from the real world,

where Harlan Ellison
has always taken pains

to engage the real world.

- Okay, are we happy?

- Yes, we are.
- We're square, okay.

The deranged traditions
of science-fiction fandom

are overwhelmingly attractive,

particularly to those
few boys and girls

who are outcasts of
their high school classes

because of wonky
thought processes, a
flair for the bizarre,

and physical appearance
that denies them

the treasures of
sorority membership

or a position on
the football team.

For the pimply, the short,
the weird, and intelligent,

for those to whom
sex is frightening

and to whom come odd dreams
in the middle of study hall,

the camaraderie of fandom is
a gleaming, beckoning Erewhon;

an extended family
of other wimps,

twinks, flakes, and oddballs.

- Over the 25 years that
I have represented him,

I've received phone calls that
sounded something like this.

It's Harlan.

I realize it's Yom Kippur,

but goddammit, I haven't
received my two copies

of the fourth printing
of the Mongolian edition

of Deathbird Stories!

Do you know a kick-ass
lawyer in Ulaanbaatar?

- Whenever you hear one of
George Gershwin's songs,

you know within three notes

that you are
listening to Gershwin.

It sounds like nobody
else, it can't be imitated,

and that is what Harlan
Ellison's stories are like.

- What's important is
not the personality.

What is important is the work.

Harlan is getting
the Grand Mastership,

not for the personality,
not for the journalism,

not even for editing work
that changed the face of SF.

He's getting it for the stories

and the stories will last

and the stories will be
read a long time from now,

and they're what make Harlan
Ellison our new Grand Master.

Thank you.

- And so it was,
strangely, strangely,

that I found myself standing
in the backyard of the house

I had lived in when I
was seven years old.

At 13 minutes till midnight

on no special magical
winter's night,

in a town that had held me

only till I was physically
able to run away.

In Ohio, in winter,

near midnight, certain
I could go back.

At 42, I had come to
that point in my life

toward which I'd struggled
since I'd been a child:

place of security,
importance, recognition.

The only one from this
town who had made it.

The ones who had had the
most promise in school

were now milkmen,
used car salesmen,

married to fat,
stupid dead women

who had, themselves, been girls

of exceeding promise
in high school.

They had been trapped in
this little Ohio town,

never to break free.

To die there, unknown.

I, I had broken free,

had done all the wonderful
things I'd said I would do.


Why should it all
depress me now?

When I was a kid, I was
beaten up every day.

Probably I was beaten up
because I had a big mouth.

I don't deny it.

But you still don't
deserve to have the crap

beaten out of you every day
just because you're a smart ass.

But in those days,
I was a little kid.

God, I think I'd a had a been

soaking drench wet
to weigh 50 pounds.

And it was a very
antisemitic town.

Painesville was about 30
miles northeast of Cleveland.

And they would wait for
me on the schoolyard.

They would pound me every day.

And when I was the same
size, I held my own okay.

But they kept growing,
I kept staying small,

and groups of them would
beat the crap out of me.

And when you've been
made an outsider,

you are always angry.

You respond to it in a
lot of different ways.

A lot of people get surly.

A lot of people get mean.

Some people turn
into serial killers.

I got so smart that I
could just kill them

with logic or their own mouths.

But there's a photograph
we've got upstairs here

of my third grade class.

And I'm the shortest
kid in the class.

I'm shorter than
the smallest girl.

And everybody else is
standing like a normal kid.

I'm standing there at the far
end on the left, like this,

with my hands on my hips
and I'm leaning forward.

And my lips are skinned back
like some feral creature

and I'm wearing my Captain
Midnight Secret Decoder badge

and there's a Band-Aid
on my forehead.

And way down at the
other end is Bill Brown.

And Bill Brown's got an even
bigger bandage on his face

'cause I had been in
a fistfight with him

earlier in the day.

This piece of film was found.

My mother had it.

When my mother died, she
gave it to her granddaughter,

to my niece Lisa, and
Lisa sent it to me.

These two pictures, that
come and go very quickly,

were our house at 89 Harmon
Drive in Painsville, Ohio.

That's where I spent
my earliest days.

And that's me on the corner,
standing on the corner.

This is my mom and me.

My mom and me at Niagara Falls.

I look to be about 10 years old.

Boy, what a pencil
neck geek I was.

Yes, thank you,
you little fucker.

And my mom and I are walking.

My dad's gotta be
taking the pictures.

My mom was just a wonderful
woman, put up with me.

That's my dad.

He looked just like Brian
Donlevy, the movie actor.

Look at that.

Look at that, was
he a handsome guy?

Boy, do I miss him.

Phony cigar in my mouth.

My dad smoked cigars.

This is me trying
to be a bigshot.

This is me and my mom.

Look, you can actually see, my
mom was about five feet one,

and you can see how small I was.

Look, it's my dad,
has his hand on me.

My father has his
hand on my shoulder.

Ah, he was a nifty guy.

This is the only shot
that I have of my dad.

The only pictures at all.

Jack Wheeldon, Teddy Beckwith,

they were the bullies to me.

I have no idea
what they were like

in the rest of their lives.

They may have been
terrific kids.

But they used to like
to beat me up regularly.

And one time, they caught
me on the playground...

My mind likes to say,
in the dead of winter

and a great deal of snow, but
I think it was in the fall.

It was cold, but it
wasn't that cold.

And they beat the
shit out of me.

And I was obviously not dead.

I was obviously not
seriously injured,

but I was bloody and
I was torn apart.

And my mother took me
upstairs to wash me off,

get me squared away,

and I tried to explain
to her what had happened.

And when you're that age,

you cannot explain to
an adult the irrational.

Everything has to have a
progression, an interior logic,

and there is no interior logic

to bullies picking on someone.

Why you?

Well, why, in fact, not me?

And my mother said,

and I remember this as
if it were yesterday,

my mother with a
washcloth in her hand

and me standing at the sink,

she said, "You must've said
something to get them angry."

It was an icicle just
jammed into my chest,

that my own mother...

And with cause.

It was not as if I was the
greatest kid in the world.

I was a troublemaker.

I was a brat.

I was a big mouth,
pain in the ass.

But that my own mother
would not understand...

At that moment, I had
what now, at age 72,

I understand was an enormous
epiphany, which is...

I really cannot support it.

I cannot bear it when
people laugh at me.

- My first vivid
memory of Harlan

is we were both members of the,

what was then called,
the Curtain Pullers,

the children's theater of
the Cleveland Playhouse.

And he was playing a
penguin on roller skates.

Harlan went through some
traumas in his very early life,

around the age of
12 when I first him.

And I think he's had
a defense mechanism

about that ever since.

If there's anything in
the world that upsets him,

it's people putting him down.

And I think he fights
that constantly.

I think he goes
overboard with it.

- It was all...

God, there doesn't...

Sometimes a cigar
is just a cigar!

You don't have to have a deep
rosebud every time.

I always wrote.

I taught myself to read when
I was a year or two old.

I read milk cartons.

I read the back of
Kellogg's Pep boxes.

I read anything that
fell into my hands.

There were bookcases in the
house, not many, but a couple,

and I remember reading
W. Somerset Maugham's

Or the British
Agent when I was very young.

I had a library card
before I was 10.

I always knew that I mattered.

When I was a little kid, I
remember the moment, absolutely.

I was standing on Harmon
Drive, front of our house,

89 Harmon Drive
and I looked around

and I said, the world is mine.

I have and do
anything I wanna do,

I had that thought,
because I was bright.

I was very, very smart.

I got straight A's.

And then I ran away again
and I hitchhiked all the way

to Canada to
Matawatchan, Ontario,

and I worked in a lumber camp.

Well, I came back from
that, did some more school,

hitchhiked down again,
went down to Galveston,

worked on tuna boats,
back and forth,

back and forth, back and forth.

By the time I was 15, 14, 15,

I was driving a dynamite truck
in Shelby, North Carolina,

on a construction job
up in the mountains.

All of these things have
shown up in my stories.

It all got filed away.

And all that time if I wasn't
writing, I was thinking about,

gee, I could write
this down like this.

I knew how to tell stories.

It was one of the
ways I got fed.

I picked up the writer's
true education on the road.

- I could only tell you
from personal experience

that several years ago,

when I was making up my
will, and my attorney said,

"Do you wanna be
buried in Cleveland?"

And I said, no, I've
already done that.

And I think Harlan
feels the same way.

- When I got thrown
outta college,

I went to New York and I
lived there for a while.

That's when I got
started writing.

Or selling, I've been
writing all of my life,

but that's when I
started selling.

And eking out an existence

in a 15-dollar a week room

and that's when you got paid
a penny a word for a story.

- No kidding.

- Oh, yeah, and I could
write a 3000-word story

in a night, in an evening.

And a take it in
the next day to,

say Ziff Davis's
Publishing Company,

and they would give you a chit,

and you'd go down
to the paymaster

and he'd give me 30 bucks,

and that was my
food for the week.

That's how I lived.

Here I am maybe 86
pounds dripping wet

and carrying an anvil.

And I'm in with the Rangers
in a barracks full of guys,

who were offered the opportunity
of either going in the army

or being thrown in prison
for the rest of their lives.

The only reason they
didn't kill me was,

we'd come back from a
20-mile march, full pack,

in those days we carried an M1.

None of this little pussy
AK-47 crap made of plastic.

We had an M1 which
weighed 900 pounds.

And the full pack.

And I never fell out.

I was a mean little dog.

I just wouldn't go down.

And we'd come back and
everybody would just fall

face forward on their bunk
with the pack still on.

I would take out, from
under my mattress,

a board that I
had secreted there

and take my typewriter
out of the wall locker

and I would go into the
head, into the toilet,

and take the furthest
toilet in the line

so nobody would hear me.

And I'd put the
board across my lap

and I would work on my novel.

After everybody was
exhausted and dead,

and I was still, and
that's how I did my book.

Well, they called me the author.

"Hey, author, hey, author."

And I've always been

pretty good at
figuring out systems

and how they work and
finding ways around them.

So now here's my here's the
parameters of my problem.

I'm small,

I'm surrounded by bullies,

I'm in a system that
has me in its thrall

from the moment I wake up

till the moment I go
to sleep at night,

and I've gotta protect
myself from being brutalized.

How do I do it?

Real simple.

Most of the people in the
barracks were illiterate,

and I volunteered to
write their letters home

to their girlfriends.

I became their Cyrano.

Anybody came near me
or if I got extra duty,

they would take it.

They would do it for me.

And she wrote, "To
Harlan Ellison,

"with admiration, envy,
and heartfelt wishes

"that I could be as
good a writer as he is.

"Dorothy Parker,
Hollywood, 1962."

You can think you're
a real hot stuff,

but, like they say in the
movie Hearts of the West,

"You're not a writer till a
writer says you're a writer."

I learned in the pulps,

and that means writing
and writing a lot.

50 years worth of writing,

sometimes I'm good,
sometimes I'm terrific,

sometimes I'm terrible, but
never intentionally terrible.

If I am, it's just I didn't know

how to do the job well enough.

But to keep going for 50
years is very, very tough.

I always say becoming
a writer is easy.

If you look at some of the
crap Judith Krantz writes

and Tom Clancy and
people like that,

things that live in Petri
dishes can become a writer.

The trick is not
becoming a writer,

the trick is staying a writer.

Day after story after
year after novel,

and just keeping going.

And learning as you
go and getting better,

not doing the same thing
over and over and over again.

- What do you
like to write about?

- I like to write
about those moments

when something strange,
peculiar, and untoward happens

to an average human being,

who in that moment discovers
something in him or herself

that makes them a
different kind of person.

- If someone were to

create a course offering at a
university or at a high school

around Harlan Ellison's fiction,

I think that they could
title such a course offering

something like Strategies
for Survival with Dignity.

- We all know that you
exaggerate a little bit.

Mentally, I say, okay,
well, it wasn't 30 people,

it was two, or whatever.

And then I'll talk to
someone who was there

and they'll say, "There
were 30 people there."

- When I go into
hyperbole on my stories,

I try not to stray
from the facts,

but if you alter the
angle of persistence,

it's funnier from this angle
than it is from this angle.

From this angle, I
got a parking ticket.

From this angle,

it's one of the great
tragedies of our time.

- Because Harlan is as
good a writer as he is,

he's open to a certain
amount of misinterpretation

from people from who are
not reading critically

and who are not paying
a lot of attention,

certainly not paying as
much attention to the work

as Harlan paid writing the work.

- Most writers I know run
that idiotic number about,

"Oh, I like having written,
but I don't like to write.

"It's hard work."

Well, fuck you, "hard work."

If you don't like, go
out and sail sailboats.

Of course it's hard work.

If it weren't hard work,
everybody would be doing it.

And the better you do it,
the harder the work is.

It's supposed to be hard.

Art is not supposed to be easy.

Building roads is
supposed to be easy.

Fielding crops is supposed
to made easier for people.

Art is supposed to be hard.

Art is supposed to be demanding.

That's the way I feel about it.

I got out here in '62 with
exactly 10 cents in my pocket.

It's one of those
great Horatio Alger

up from the streets
kind of stories.

And I knew maybe three
people in the whole town.

I came out with these horrible
visions of William Holden

lying face down in Gloria
Swanson's swimming pool

and I told everybody, I'll
be back in six months.

And I kept going
back to New York,

but as time went on, I began
to perceive the differences

between New York and LA,

and they were manifest.

Los Angeles is the cutting
edge of the culture,

despite the claims and
pretensions of San Francisco

and New York and
Boston and Washington.

It has all the verve
and dynamism that I
found in New York

when I went there in 1950.

Verve and dynamism
that New York has lost,

that Chicago wanted

and for which it substituted
brutality and angst,

that New Orleans is
afraid to let loose.

For me, for me,

LA is like a big, gauche baby
with a shotgun in its mouth.

It'll do anything.

And with more style,
with more fire,

with more Errol Flynn
go-to-hell vivacity

than any other city
I've ever experienced.

I love LA.

And it's become a big city now.

And it's just like
everywhere else in America,

it's in chaos.

But here I live on
the top of a mountain

with 200 acres of
watershed land behind me.

If you just look past me here,

that's the San
Bernardino mountains,

what we call the San Berdoos,

and that's the San
Fernando Valley,

and that's about 40
miles over there.

And I'll go to some place
like Coshocton, Ohio,

or East Wee Waa, Wisconsin,

and some smart ass will say,

"Now, how can you live in Los
Angeles with all that smog?!"

And I just kind of
giggle because I say,

I don't see any smog.

The only smog
there is down there

is down in the valley
killing Republicans.

I don't give a shit about that.

- What is great about taking
somebody to Harlan's house is

it's like going there for
the first time all over again

as you pull up outside

and it is the Lost
Inca Temple of Mars,

and it's like nothing
you've ever seen.

And then you go inside.

- Every time I go in the
house, I go, look at that.

I have an homage,
but an actual ripoff.

I have a small room and
then an incomplete hallway

up in my ranch and
a tower with a bell.

And I hired a hunched back
kid, oh, don't tell anybody.

"I work on the weekends.

"Mr. Williams said I'll
get a scholarship."

You will, Timmy.

You will.

When Harlan got me into the
idea of having these spaces,

crawl spaces filled
with this stuff that...

Well, maybe we'll just
bury Harlan in the house.

It'll be like Nefertiti and
we'll have to find some people.

I'm sorry, we have to
bury you with Harlan.

And these?

- These are my
extra typewriters.

Well, you gotta...

- This is like an
ammunition dump.

- Well, yeah, I use typewriters.

They're all Olympias.

And I have all my typewriter
ribbons in the refrigerator.

- So they won't deteriorate?

- Yeah, 'cause you
can't get typewriter ribbons.

- Aw, man.

- The fact that he's
had the time in there

to write even a couple of
stories that anybody read,

let alone amazing stories that
have changed people's lives,

let alone some of the best
television ever written,

let alone having
time to have had sex

with all those
women in the '70s.

Where does he get the energy?

- I have never known anybody
that could seduce a woman

as quickly as Harlan could.

It became a passion with him
and he was an expert at it.

- He saw more puss
than a litter box.

That was part of him
in the early days.

He was the one working the room.

- The 25th of March,
50,000 people walking

the red mud roads of
Alabama, singing, singing.

The outsiders come to
tell a crazed bigot

that the Civil
War was long dead,

that a house divided
was soon to topple,

that the stain of evil
that Alabama had become

would no longer be tolerated
in a United States.

The Freedom March on
Montgomery, Alabama.

A biased report.

And if you weren't marching
with us, go screw yourself.

I know the '60s were good
and I'll tell you why.

I know they were good.

In the '60s and
on into the '70s,

you would go to a college

and there was an
electrical charge.

There was a sense that people
were weighing and evaluating,

that they were taking
all the parts of society

that we have lived with
for over 200 years,

and they were sort of jostling
them and shaking them up

and seeing which ones would
fall through the cultural sieve,

and which ones had enough
weight and substance to stay.

I'm not saying that there
were not foolishness,

love beads, and
people streaking.

When an entire decade,

and we're talking about
a decade that runs

from about '61,
'62 to about '75,

so it's more than 10 years,

but that era, when
one talks about it

in terms of its dumbest parts

rather than its
most noble parts,

you know you were dealing
with a prejudiced,

with a closed, and with
a mean spirited mind.

And that's what
they invariably do.

They don't talk about
any of the things,

all of the emerging
African nations,

the Civil Rights Movement,
the Feminist Movement.

They see the worst parts
of all of these things

because they fear change.

These are the
reactionary elements

that have been in our society
since the very beginning.

We have been always a fiercely
anti-intellectual nation.

Fiercely anti-intellectual.

"If you're so smart,
why ain't you wealthy?"

Or "You can't fight city hall."

Or, "Who the hell do
you think you are?"

Or, "I'm entitled
to my opinion."

No, schmuck, you are not
entitled to your opinion.

You're entitled to
your informed opinion.

Without information,
it's just babble,

hot air, and farts in the wind.

So, the '60s was a period

in which a lot of
things were questioned.

They got smog in the
Aleutian Islands, man.

They got smog in
Anchorage, Alaska.

They got smog at the polar
ice caps, can you believe it?

Smog at the polar ice caps.

There's no place that
you can go hide anymore.

So, the days of thinking

that the Thames or
the English Channel

or the Rocky Mountains
was gonna keep you safe

from some ding-dong on the
other side, doesn't go anymore.

A nitwit in Hanoi
can blow us all

just as dead as a
nitwit in Washington.

College campuses are
very strange these days.

Mr. Nixon had his
way with this country

after the college unrest
of the '60s and '70s,

and you find a nice
quite hum there now.

A lot of drinking going on

and there's lot of trying
to get a piece of the pie,

meaning getting into big
business and getting money.

It's a replay of the
'50s in some ways.

- What happens when
you're at a college campus

and a kid stands up in the
back of the room and says,

"Oh, your just
trying to shock us

"when you say
something like that"?

- I usually call him
a dip and insult him

and invite him up to
duke it out on the stage.

All right, so we're at MIT.
- So, okay, we're at MIT,

we're in the question
and answer bit.

We've all done a little talk.

We're now at the
giant Q and A bit.

A kid comes up, I don't
even remember what he said,

but it was stupid.

And it was ignorant.

- Yeah.

- And you lost it with him

in a way that I would
never have lost it with him

or that Peter David
would never lost it.

And it was a question
directed at you.

- Yeah.
- And you lost it.

And the kid, but instead
of being upset or anything,

it was like the Bible.

It was strangely
biblical because the
kid basically said...

You gave him the "you are
ignorant, you know nothing" rant

and he basically
said, "Yes, master.

"I am ignorant."

- I'm concerned
that you seem to like

to offend or shock
people, which is okay,

but it seems that
you have wisdom

that you'd like to
share with most of us,

being dumb as posts, and...

- I get the
question, I get the question.

- With trying to be irreverent...

- I got the question.
- You see where I'm going.

- No, I see where you went,

and I can answer the
question perfectly.

Now, put the microphone
back in its stand

and I'll give you the answer.

- It would be my pleasure.

- Good.

Okay, first of all,

give me an honest straight
answer, for yourself.

Do you think you
are dumb as a post?

Shut the fuck up. I'm serious.

Do you think you're
dumb as a post?

- Yes.

- Why do you
think that of yourself?

The fact that you
asked the question

means you are not
dumb as a post.

- No matter what
his position was,

he knew what he felt and
what he wanted to say,

and he was gonna be damned
if he was gonna be run off

that stage by a bunch of
yahoos in this audience.

And that image
really struck with me

and really made an
impression on me

about what it meant
to write something,

to stand behind it,
to believe in it,

and to not care if you were
the only one in the room

that believed that you
still stood by the work.

- As Kafka said,
"Art is like a brick.

"It should be thrown
through a window.

"If it does not break the
ice that lives within you,

"why bother to do it?"

So, if I seem to you to
be offensive, so be it.

- When I was in ninth grade,

I had an English teacher
named Janet Goldstein.

And she saw something in me

and gave me a copy of
Ellison Wonderland,

and I think this
is the original.

And I remember reading it,
getting about half way through,

this really is the
first time I ever said,

this is what I wanna do.

And I've got this
autograph in here.

It says, "Josh, you've got
to pay attention to this:

"My name is Harlan Ellison.

"I wrote this book for you.

"I am up ahead in time, the
year 2006 in your future.

"I came back in time and
used my empath-O-meter

"to plant in teacher Janet's
mind, in your ninth grade,

"back in my past, 1979,
so she'll give it to you,

"and it's important
that you read it.

"See you soon.

"Your pal, Harlan."

And Harlan Ellison is the man
who made me wanna be a writer,

and, for me at least, the
question of why Harlan matters

is answered by that.

- Among you, and not
even introduced today,

probably because Marshal
didn't know he was here,

and that is not Marshal's fault,

is probably the best writer
of us all in the room.

The best writer of us all.

A writer named Dan Simmons.

Where are you Dan?

There's Dan Simmons.

If you have not read his
book, Song of Kali, K-A-L-I,

you are missing one of the
important books of our time.

It is the first novel
so blindingly brilliant

that it won the
World Fantasy Award.

First time a first
novel ever did.

- As you jump from genre
to genre, what's next?

- Thought I'd stay out
of genre for a while.

There's this genre
called best seller-dom,

I thought I'd give it a shot.

I research while I write and
serendipity would lead me

to new information all
through the writing.

- Oh, wow.

Thank you very much.

- Thanks for coming.

Excuse me, time
out just a minute.

I'll give this to you now.

I brought this...

I got up in the
middle of the night

before I left on tour...

Harlan's meeting with
me at a workshop,

a small workshop in Colorado,
became the stuff of legend,

but do you know about this?

It's a fairytale, but it's true.

Harlan Ellison told me
what I'd known for years,

but had lost the
nerve to believe.

He told me that I had no
choice but to continue writing,

whether anything was
ever published or not.

He told me that few
heard the music,

but those who did, had no
choice but to follow the piper.

He told me that if
I didn't get back

to the typewriter
and keep working,

that he would fly to Colorado
and rip my fucking nose off.

- I adore Dan Simmons.

But whenever he's
got a bad situation

with a producer or something,

he'll either come
to town and say,

"Okay, here's what
the situation is.

"Tell me what to do," or
"Tell me what you would do,"

which is mostly, he doesn't
want to know what he should do.

He just wants to
know what I would do.

And I said, well,
I'd get a garden hoe

and I'd bury it in the
motherfucker's head.

- What was different
about Dangerous Visions?

- Well, the stories were
written especially for the book,

and so by intent, the anthology
tried to go some places

that anthologies
had not gone before.

As much vehemence as is put
into restrictions on writers,

as much as they're
told don't curse,

don't write about unnatural sex,

don't offend the establishment,

by most of the commercial media,

that was the same vehemence

with which I told the
writers, get it on.

Really do it.

I really want you to write what
you've never written before.

I want you to just put
your stomach on paper.

It was the best fucking
anthology anybody had ever done

in the genre of
imaginative literature,

and has sold more copies
than any other anthology

from that time to this time,

prior to that time,
in between that time.

It's now in its 35th year and
people are still reading it,

and people are still
getting it in high schools

and taking it off the
shelves and reading it.

It made reputations,
and was important enough

that it became a
millstone around my neck,

because I was then pressed
into doing the sequel,

Again Dangerous Visions in '72.

And they bought so
many stories for that,

that I had to go
onto a third book,

which has never yet come out.

- I think that he could have
been and he still could be

a giant in American Literature

if he was able

to bring himself to sit down

and do a full-blown work.

- Nothing has hurt his writing.

It's as fresh and colorful

and insightful as
the very first story

that he ever published.

Career is a different matter.

- You're talking about
somebody who has managed,

at one point there was
a de facto organization

that called itself the
Enemies of Ellison.

Out to get Harlan.

You have to live a
certain kind of life

in order to generate
something like that.

- This is my desk and
this is where I work,

and I have iconic quotes
all over the place here

that mean a lot to me.

There is...

From Michelangelo,
"Trifles make perfection

"and perfection is no trifle."

From Rimbaud, "Genius is the
recovery of childhood at will."

And Eleanor Roosevelt,

"No one can make you feel
inferior without your consent."

Here is the quote that
I sort of work by.

It's from PJ Proby, the
rock singer, and it says,

"I am an artist, and should
be exempt from shit."

There's also, over here, a
Latin proverb which says,

"Sat ci sat bene," which means,

"It is done quickly enough
if it is done well,"

which is my response
to all editors

when they call me because
they have schedules.

Perfectly candid, I don't give
a shit about their schedules.

I work at the pace that
the work demands I work.

- I remember once
arriving in Los Angeles

and calling Harlan to let
him know that I was here

and him saying, "Just
come up to the house.

"Come up to the house now."

And I thought, oh, okay.

Came up to the house and
he came over to me, said,

"Look, this is," and he
introduced this editor to me.

And he said, "Now,
come in here with me."

And I came in, he
said, "She's come down.

"I told her I'd
finish this story

"and I haven't
actually finished it.

"I told her that
FedEx wasn't working,

"I had a problem with FedEx,

"and she's turned
up here to get it.

"Can you keep her talking
while I write it?"

- Sometimes when I
don't wanna work, I,

oh, gee, have to dust.

The desk is a little dusty.

And, God, I wonder if I
should transcribe this

from pencil to ink, yeah.

I'm absolutely a genius

at finding ways to avoid
doing the work I have to do.

- Without the writer,

most of what we
watch on television

would be no more exciting
than animated test patterns.

Few writers have written
for and about television

with more success
than Harlan Ellison.

Ellison enjoys an adversary
relationship with the medium.

- So CBS called me,

I guess it was about
six or eight weeks ago.

And they said, "We want
you to write a miniseries.


I will say that again slowly.


Now, I don't know, I can't
picture in mind $360,000.

When I think of it, all
I can see in my mind

is a big nickel, okay?

They call me and they say, "We
want you to do a miniseries,

"anything you wanna write,
anything you wanna write."

They wanted fantasy
or science-fiction,
something like that.

They said, "All
we require is that

"you use latest
state of the art."

I said, what?

They said, "Use latest
state of the art."

I said, well, I
use a typewriter.

Papyrus and quills are
so hard to come by.

They said, "No, no."

After we got through
this semantic jungle,

I found that what they
were talking about

was special effects,

that they had all kinds
of crazed special effects,

laser blasts and robots
and a lot of metal things,

and they wanted me to
put a lot of things

that made booms in space,
the vacuum of space,

where there is no sound.

And as long as I would do
that, they didn't give a damn.

They didn't give a
French fry in hell

what the story was about.

I could have had talking
mice, they didn't care.

And I said, put it in your
rear and get out of my face.

Just get back in the
wind and leave me alone.

- Television is a
lot of compromise,

especially running a how
over a course of a season.

It's about managing compromise
and picking battles.

I'm gonna fight for this
and I'll let that go.

And I don't know if
that's in Harlan's makeup.

I think he fights
all the battles

'cause I think he thinks all
the battles are worth fighting.

Sure, you could
compromise on that,

but then it's gonna suck.

- Through all the
legends of ancient peoples,

Assyrian, Babylonian,
Sumerian, Semitic,

runs the saga of
the eternal man.

- It's funny because
I can't remember...

I have to really strain to
think about what happened

on the last episode of Heroes

or what my agent's
daughter's name is,

but I can remember
where I was sitting

and what the TV looked like

when I first saw Demon
with a Glass Hand.

- I was born 10 days ago.

A full grown man
born 10 days ago.

And they tracked me down
and tried to kill me.


Who are you?

I ran.

Then the hand, my hand,
told me what to do.

- 70 billion Earth men.

All of them went onto the wire
and the wire went into you.

They programmed you to
think you were a human

with a surgically attached
computer for a hand.

But you are a robot trapped.

You are the guardian
of the human race.

- Still, to this day,
when you meet someone

and you talk about old
TV shows or something

and you get into
the Outer Limits,

when that episode comes up,

there's this look people get
in their eyes when they talk.

"Oh, ever see the one with
Robert Culp and the hand.

"Remember the hand
and the fingers?"

- So, I write this
Star Trek episode,

which, I am told by
only the wisest heads,

is the all-time best Star
Trek segment ever written.

It was called City on
the Edge of Forever.

And it was mucked about
by a lot of people,

including Roddenberry,

and they put a much inferior
version of it on the air.

This is a scene in
which Kirk and Spock...

These two guys walk
into the time portal,

they come out on the other side

and they see a lot rocks and
the rocks have runes on them.


Unfortunately, the person
who did the set design

didn't know what
the word runes meant

and he thought it meant ruins.

So, instead of having
large, obelisk,

Stonehenge-like stones,

pilasters if you will, with
runes on them, archaic glyphs,

they had old broken stones.

And you're supposed
to be able to see

this city up on the crest.

That was the city on
the edge of Forever.


And this is the way I
described it in my script.

There's a panning
shot, like this,

from Kirk's immediate right,
around the bowl of the plateau.

The gray sky, you
can see the gray sky,

past the rock prominences.

Light and an eerie mist

that gives the entire
area an ethereal look.

There are niches
in the rock walls,

boulders of the same
bright substance

here and there,
on a higher peak.

But still, quite far off, the
city, this magnificent city

glittering like a
hashish eater's dream.

And as the camera pans around,

we see, for the first time,
the Guardians of Forever.

The shot continues a beat

and then the camera
zooms in on them

who, for just that beat,

they had looked almost like
part of the stone walls.

Then they come away and you see

they are men as the
camera closes on them.

And Kirk says with
wonder, "Who are you?"

And the first Guardian answers

with a voice of power,
incalculable power,

"We are the Guardians
of Forever."

And Kirk says, "You
live in that city?"

And the Guardian says,

"Since before your sun
burned hot in space.

"Before your race was born."

And Spock says, "This
place is dead, empty.

"Why do you stay?"

And the First Guardian says,

"Only on this world

"do the million pulse-flows
of time and space merge.

"Only here do the flux
lines of Forever meet.

"Only here can exist
the gateway to the past

"where the Time Vortex
of the Ancients can work.

"Only here."

And Spock, very
scientific, says,

"Can you give us
a demonstration?

"Is that possible?"

And the Guardian's
answer is oddly tinged

with weariness and yet pleasure.

And he says,

"Time is weary for the craftsman

"who cannot
demonstrate his craft."

- Can I feel your goiter?

- Yeah, feel my goiter.

Go ahead.

- Oh, that's vile.

- Isn't that vile?
- That's vile.

- Major disgusting.

- This is just a
disgusting place to work.

- I dropped a piece of
sausage on the floor.

I feel like a schmuck.

- Ew.

Ew, does that feel good?

You like that? You like that?

- Palping my podge.

I write a very
explanatory visual script.

I am not a believer in
writing master scenes

and leaving everything
up to everybody else.

When they hire me to write
a movie or a TV show,

I write what I see.

I run the movie in my
head and I describe it.

The camera shots, the
music, everything.

I spent a page and a
half, in this script,

describing what the
main saloon looks like,

and I described it in detail.

I described the plants.

I described the furniture.

I said, this is a ship
filled with crap furniture

that came from thrift shops,

and the clothes everybody wears

are from all periods
of American history,

all the way back to the
'30s for God's sakes.

And I'm looking at the character

that appears in the scene
that I'm doing today,

and I had very
specifically said,

this is a 13, 14,
15-year-old cheerleader.

This is a little girl.

Little slim, gymnast girl.

And the only thing about it
is she's very, very pretty,

except she's only got one eye,

this one gigantic eye in
the middle of her head.

And I looked at the design that
the costume designer had up

and it was some kind of
weird flowing schmata,

which is a Yiddish
word meaning schmata.


- I think it's Yiddish
for not a cheerleader outfit.

- Not a cheerleader outfit.

I said, this is not
a cheerleader outfit.

She said, "Well I thought,"
and I do not want to hear that.

At that moment, my
creative instincts

override common civility,
and I said to her,

no, no, no, you don't think,

you give me what I ask
for because I'm God!

I knew my film career was over
the night I saw The Oscar.

I practically wept.

- Hollywood's
biggest star, The Oscar.

- You're gonna be a very
important man in this town.

I scratch your back,
you scratch mine.

- And as I saw this film on
which I had worked for a year,

I said, this is the end
of my feature film career.

And I got one or two more jobs

because the film was
just opening and I
was the hot writer.

My 15 minutes went like that

and I never regained it.

I never went back
to feature films.

- Listen, Buster, when
somebody dates me,

they better know that I
require a lot of attention.

- That oughta get
you some attention.

- Did you know from the
rushes that The Oscar

was gonna be what it was?
- I never saw the rushes.

Never saw the rushes.

They would not let me
see one moment of it.

I wrote the film for Steve
McQueen and Peter Falk,

both of whom were just beginning
on the rise in their career

and I knew how great they were.

And they cast Stephen
Boyd and Tony Bennett

in his only acting role.

And he's a nice man, but the
poor soul, he cannot act.

He hasn't got this
much acting ability.

He's a great performer,
he's a great singer,

not that much acting ability.

- What happened to me?!

When did I die?!

When did I get
buried inside you?!

- It gets a half a star.

A half a fucking star.

And it's always in the hundred
worst movies or 50 worst.

Wouldn't matter if they
did the 20 worst movies,

it would be one of them.

Many of you have grown up
in a time when you think

that just because
you want something,

you're entitled to
fucking have it!

No, folks.

It's called paying for it.

That's how people live.

- No, it isn't just information.

It's like the old thing of
it's very special information

put out by a very special person
and it should be protected.

And he should be
compensated in some way,

at least, even in the
simplest way of all,

being acknowledged, saying,
yeah, he wrote this.

- You want your music?

Buy your music!

Go and buy it!

You want my books?

Put your hand down,
I'm on a roll.

You don't wanna get
in front of me now.

Really, you don't wanna
get in front of me now.

It's like walking in the
front of a McCormick thresher,

Sonny Jim.

Well, the ground
rules for me now

make it almost impossible
for me to be hired.

I ain't gonna go
through it anymore.

I'm just not gonna
go through it.

Producers, studios, production
companies, no matter...

They probably don't
beat their children,

they wouldn't think
of running over a dog,

they treat writers like chattel

and we're absolutely dispensable

once they have gotten
what they want out of us,

which is a script.

Until they get the script,

man, they just are
the most sycophantic

brown nosers you've ever seen.

Once they get those
pages in their hands,

you could be hit by a Peterbilt

and they wouldn't give a fuck.

And then they feel it's theirs,

they can do whatever they want.

And here comes a
director, a year later,

and says, "Well,
I see it this way

"and I see this and I see that."

Fuck you!

You wanna get your vision?

You write the goddamn script.

Where were you when
the page was blank?

- Yeah, it's like a
skin graft on a leper.

He's always there trying
to bring quality, you know?

He's always been about that.

When he wrote The Glass Teat,

it was a great criticism
of the death of television

and the transformation
of television

into a medium versus media,

something that can transform

versus something
that just to conform.

- There are people who would
sit and watch them drag books

out of libraries and burn
them in piles in the streets,

they would stand and watch
old ladies mugged to death

by street gangs and they
would not lift a finger,

but if you were to take
their TV away from them,

they would be on the
steps of city hall

with pitchforks and pump
shotguns in five minutes.

That is because nobody likes

their dope taken away from them.

And that's what
TV is, it's dope.

We went up to
Fresno last weekend.

We stopped in a couple
of roadside places,

and all of them
had the TV set on.

Nobody watching!

But the goddamn TV set going.

And when you say, "Would you
mind turning off the TV?"

They say, "Why?"

'Cause it's making noise
and it's disturbing me,

and there's no one
else in the restaurant

and I'm your customer.

Can you handle that?

And they look at you as
if you have just said

their grandmother was butt
fucked by Adolf Hitler.

They simply feel imposed upon

if you remove that giant
tit from their mouth.

Well, people are stupid

because they've got the
handmaiden of television.

Television is not like movies.

Television is not like books.

Television is not like
anything but television.

It gives you everything.

I think it's ironic
that you probably,

whoever ever sees this will
be seeing it on a TV screen.

I doubt that they'll be seeing
it on a big movie screen.

And maybe it'll be a cassette,

but they'll be watching
it on a TV screen.

It gives you that.

It's not like radio.

Radio is wonderful.

Radio, you create it in your
mind, and you can see it.

You can make it just as
colorful and as smart

and as opulent as
you wish it to be.

On television, that's it.

That's what you get, and
that's the whole thing.

This means you don't
have to work for it.

You can sit there like the
couch potato, and that's it.

You gotta have a good
thumb and that's about it.

That's one reason
people are stupid.

They just are not
using their brains.

You don't use a
muscle, it atrophies.

Susan, my wife, and I,

one night we were
going somewhere.

We were channel surfing.

We were going somewhere,
I don't know where it was,

and we wound up, for some
inexplicable reason, we paused,

I don't know why, we paused

and were watching
The Weakest Link.

Now, if this is, in
fact, turned into a film,

and 20 years from now,
someone's looking at it,

they'll say, "What
was The Weakest Link?"

Weakest Link is
a television show

in which they have people who
are brought in as contestants.

I think they are
tested on their DNA.

And if their intellectual
level falls below seven

or that of an ocelo sponge
mop, they become a contestant.

If you actually know anything,

you cannot possibly win a
dime on this goddamn show

because you are
surrounded by people

who have the intellectual
level of a marmoset.

So, one of the people who was,

she weathered the first
couple of rounds, I guess.

And here she was standing there,

and she was a very well
turned out young woman,

about 25, I would say.

And the question that was
asked of her was this:

What S,

letter S, what S who was a star

of Lawrence of Arabia
wrote a long a running,

award-winning bridge column?

Well, okay, it's not
a terribly obscure

piece of information.

I know some of you know it.

I know you know it.

But even if you don't know
that it was Omar Sharif,

her answer was Naomi Campbell.

Now, this is wrong
in so many ways

that Susan and I sat there

with a hypertension buzz
running through our head,

as if we had stuck our
hand into a generator.

A, there's no S
in Naomi Campbell.

B, or two, whichever
I started with,

Naomi Campbell wasn't even born

when Lawrence of
Arabia was made.

Three, Naomi Campbell
is a supermodel

who can barely write her name.

She may be the nicest
person in the world.

She wouldn't bite the
head off a chicken.

But Naomi Campbell
has never written

a column or anything else.

And this answer was so
stupid, was so wrong,

was so illiterate,
so culturally devoid

of any resonance at all
that around this house,

it now became the answer
to every question.

What was the name of the
ship that struck an iceberg

in the North Atlantic and sank?

The Naomi Campbell.

Who was it who
discovered radium?

Naomi Campbell.

Name the third president
of the United States.

Naomi Campbell.

Naomi Campbell is now the
answer in our household.

Whenever we wanna sound like

an absolute gibbering orangutan,
we use Naomi Campbell.

Hey, Sue!



- Yeah?!

- Would you bring the hat
and the glasses, please?!

- Okay, okay.

- Thank you, Susan!

Stay with me. Come on over here.

Over here, never get within,
never get outside, like that.

You strange woman, you.

- Well, let's get a closeup
of that udder of yours.

- Oh my.
- Let's get a copy

of the happy loving couple now.

- Hey.

- There we are.

Stop that, I got a better idea.

Put your arm around her.

Act like you love him.

- No!

- There you go.

- Kiss?

- It's my wife.

It is my wife, this
is my honey over here.

In every human
being there is only

so large a supply of love.

It's like the limbs of a
starfish, to some extent:

if you chew off a
chunk, it'll grow back.

But if you chew off too
much, the starfish dies.

Valerie B chewed
off a chunk of love

from my dwindling reserve,

a reserve already nibbled by
Charlotte and Lori and Sherri

and Cindy and others
down through the years.

There's still enough to make

a saleable appearance
of a whole creature,

but nobody gets
gnawed on that way

without becoming a little dead.

So, if Cupid, that perverted
little motherfucker,

decides his lightning
ought to strike

this gnarly tree trunk again,

whomever or whatever gets me,

is going to get a handy second,

damaged goods,

something a little dead
and a little crippled.

Having learned that,

all I can advise is
an impossible stance
for all of you:

utter openness and
reasonable caution.

Don't close yourself off,

but jeezus, be careful
of monsters with teeth.

I just hope you'll know
what they look like

when they come
clanking after you.

The package is so pretty,

one can only urge you
to remember Pandora.

Be careful which boxes
you open, troops.

- What's the
most embarrassing
thing Harlan has done

in front of you or to you?

Oh, sorry. - Okay.

He threw me out of
the house naked once.

- She makes his demons go away.

They are an incredible couple
and she keeps up with him,

and she takes no shit from him,

and I've watched her
take no shit from him.

And they work.

- And I happened to be naked.

All my stories end
up with me naked.

- Those are the best.

- She's the gift.

She is his...

It's more than you could say

behind every great
man is a great behind,

and she does have
a beautiful ass,

and I know Harlan knows that.

But you just see her
and she's a light.

She is the light to his dark.

- He threw me out of the house.

I was completely naked, locked...

- Front door or backdoor?

- Front door, of course.
- Oh.

- Oh, is...
- Oh, all the neighbors

right there.
- And it's one of those

where you're out naked...
- Daylight?

- Daylight.
- You know those stained glass

windows on either
side of our door?

- Yeah.

- So we're wrestling around

and I said, ah, fuck this,
and I just put her outside.

And she was naked.

This is the height of
decorum, this woman.

We're talking here,
someone who just,

and she's banging on
the door, and screaming,

"Let me in, let me in!"

And I'm saying...
- Wait, you forget.

We live on a quiet street.

It's at that moment
that a herd of people

came marching down the hill.
- Oh, my god!

- Yeah.

Most of whom were
Jehovah's Witnesses.

- Did they offer you a
copy of Watchtower or Awake?

Have you heard the word

of God that day?

- Oh, I heard the
word of god that day.

- I don't know if you
sit down and discuss that

when you get married, "we're
going to behave this way,"

or if it just evolves,

but I think the short version
is that Harlan and Susan

know each other and
they get each other,

and more than almost
anybody I've ever seen,

and it's amazing to watch.

It's inspiring.

It gives me faith
in the human heart.

- To Nick without strings.

- Awesome.

- No, no, no, no, no.

Awesome would be Grand Canyon.

- Oh, okay.

- Awesome is the greater
Magellanic Cloud.

A cheese quesadilla and my
signature are not awesome.

Would you use the word properly?

Your mother brought
you up right.

You went to college.
- Yes, all right.

- You're an intellectual, you
read a book a week, or more.

- So, sufficient?

- Sufficient, adequate, mundane.

- The only time I ever
heard him not talk,

not answer a question,

was down in Florida
and there was a panel,

and they asked four
big writers on stage:

How will posterity treat you?

And do you think about it a lot?

And he just passed,
he didn't answer.

And then later, in private,

he said that he thinks
about it constantly.

He's interested about
what his legacy,

his literary legacy will be.

And I think the
very serious writers

feel that way, and he does.

He just doesn't talk about it.

So I think his work will last.

But we never know, do we?

Otherwise, we'd all be
in the literature section

of this bookstore.

- I remember Steve
McQueen saying to me,

we were sitting out on
the patio of his house

up in the high
desert, long time ago,

of course it was a long time ago

'cause he's been dead
a number of years,

and Steve said, "I have
this recurring dream

"where I'm wakened
in the dead of night

"by this pounding on the door.

"And when I go downstairs,
there's a guy standing there,

"and he said, 'It
was all a mistake.

"'You weren't supposed
to get any of this,

"'not the wife, not the
house, not the career,

"'not the cars, not the
motorcycle, none of it.

"'It belongs to
the guy next door.

"'And we've come to take
it all away from you.'"

And I've heard this
from other writers.

But when you're a writer,
you work for what you get.

You actually, you...

Foot pounds of energy are
expended to produce each story.

So, you should by
rights, like a farmer,

feel proud of that
field of corn.

Or like a bricklayer,
you should feel proud

of that well-laid
line of bricks.

But, for some reason,

I suppose because we
feel that the talent

is only something that
we carry around with us,

that it hag rides us,

we as human beings, however
many I include in this group,

are simply not worthy
of the approbation.

- Action!

- Why are you talking tuchus?

Why are you talking tuchus?

What are you a pervert?

This is a child we
are talking about.

I don't know why...

- Yeah, so what?
- Not to mention,

you're an ugly man as well.

- Well, I don't know,
but I can still do it.

- Yeah!
- Yeah, yeah.

- Work with that.
- Ken Kramer

and Mr. Harlan Ellison!

- Yes, okay!

- Oy!
- Oy!

- Oy.
- Oy vey!

- Oy vey!

Can I go home now, mother?

- Well played.

- They'll cut us out.

We'll be cut out.

There's a fundamentalist
minister, marvelous,
marvelous guy,

who is doing this huge, for
his doctorate in theology,

on me and on my fiction.

And he says that I
"have an atheist message

"of righteousness that
fundamentalist Christians

"should not be ignoring, but
then I say the same thing."

The story of mine
that was picked

for the best American
short stories is called

The Man Who Rowed
Christopher Columbus Ashore.

And it's my atheist tract,

and its says the universe is
neither malign nor benign.

It doesn't even know we're here.

See, first of all,
I've got to tell you.

I was raised a Jew.

I am an atheist.

I'm not an agnostic, not one
of those wusses that says,

"Well, maybe," you know?

If there were a god, by
now, she'd have hit me

with a bolt of lightning
in the ass, long since.

So I am an atheist.

I'm a card carrying,
fully bound,

right out there atheist, okay?


And I know most of you are too,

but you don't want to cop to it

because you're afraid
everybody else's gonna say,

"Don't you believe in
the Second Coming?"

I don't even believe in
first fucking coming.

I find nothing more
ridiculous and annoying

than some guy who
runs a hundred yards,

runs a kick off back 105
yards from the end zone

and drops to his
knees and thanks God.

Well, that's foolish.

God didn't do it, he did it,

because if God did that for him,

you mean God was
against the other team?

God is that mean-spirited

that he has nothing better
to do on a Sunday afternoon

than beat the crap out of a
bunch of poor football players?

I don't perceive of the
universe being run by

that kind of a god.

I go with Mark Twain.

One of the great quotes
of my life is Mark Twain,

when I discovered, it's
from Letters from the Earth.

And I first read it I
said, oh, thank heavens,

there was somebody who
thought the way I think.

Osama bin Laden and his
crew of degenerate thugs

and Jerry Falwell
and his coterie of
sicko, pervo, freakos,

with Pat playing the
gabby hey sidekick,

all worship the same god.

Not the gentle succoring Jesus

and not the kindly warm-hearted
Allah but some third entity,

some horrid and astigmatic
sulfur-breathing deity

who batons on
hatred and loathing

and the spreading of
elitist snake oil,

promising 73 virgins
at the pearly gates,

if only you will waste your
lives in pointless denigration

of everyone Pat and
Osama and Jerry point to

as enemies of the
all-powerful God.

The universe doesn't
know we're here.

It just doesn't know.

Einstein says God does not
shoot craps with the universe,

or does not play dice
with the universe.

Yeah, it does.

Yeah, it does.

It's random.

The universe will
one day give you

the lottery for $16 million.

The next day, colon cancer.

Universe doesn't know,
universe doesn't care.

Universe is just
boogieing on along,

having its own self a good time.

There is no rhyme,
there's no reason.

There are laws, restrictions,
rules, Darwinism,

astrophysics, all of these
things are part of the way

the machinery runs,
and it's a machine.

"Well, who created the machine?"

I don't give a fuck who
created the machine.

I'll never know, you'll never
know, no one will ever know.

If Saint Thomas Aquinas
couldn't figure it out,

I sure as hell am
not gonna be able to,

and neither are any
of these pot-licking,

little stump ministers
who always have the answer

'cause they get
messages from God.

I don't mind people
getting messages from God,

sending messages to God.

What I mind is when
God answers them.

These kind of people we usually
put away in a funny house,

but these guys say, "No, no."

"I have a personal
relationship with God,"

I love that phrase.

"Do you have a personal
relationship with God?"

Yeah, God comes over on
Sunday morning, we have bagel,

lox, cream cheese, we go
bowling on Friday nights.

God and I, we're very close.

I think it is presumptuous.

I think it's presumptuous,
I think it is silly,

because it makes you believe

that you are less
than what you can be.

As long as you can blame
everything on some unseen deity,

you don't ever have
to responsible for
your own behavior,

and I think that
is the ultimate,

the ultimate mark of humanity.

We were given,

in our toolbox,

tools to build, ethics, courage,

kindness, friendship,
ratiocination, the
ability to think,

to work problems out
logically, dreams, imagination,

things that make us
wanna go to the stars,

we wanna make our selves better,

and a quiver of arrows
which are mean-spiritedness

and greed and irresponsibility

and the refusal to
take responsibility

for anything you
do, and coarseness.

And these things
they're like rocks.

Instead of using
the tools to build,

we pick up these rocks
of greed and stupidity,

and throw them at each other.

And I suppose, in some ways,

that's a very
Christian attitude.

I suppose, in some ways,

it's a very
Judeo-Christian attitude.

But I have very little sympathy
for those who do bad things.

I don't care if your mommy
locked you in the basement.

Stop doing it.

We know people by their acts.

We know people by their deeds.

And no matter how well
coiffed their hair is,

if they're spouting evil

and if they're turning
brother against sister,

and man against man,
and woman against man,

I think that they
deserve to be...

Well, I'm a mild
person actually.

I think we should
probably just hang them up

on the top half of a Dutch door

and beat them across the belly
with an aluminum ball bat

till their piss runs red.

- Every single, what's the
word that I am looking for?

Every single blank has
to be a confrontation.

- Because that's what life is.

It is a confrontation.

That is what life
is composed of,

an endless series
of confrontations

with the society
in which one lives,

with one's fellow man and
woman, and with one's self.

That is what life is all about.

That's why you can never get
rid of violence on television

because life is, to a greater
or lesser degree, violent.

And the intensity of
the confrontation,

the revelations of
the human condition

that come out of
those confrontations

is what makes enlightening
drama, makes art, for us.

We must learn from what we read.

We can't keep getting
our brains massaged.

We have to have
the confrontation

so that when they come
to us in real life,

we have some well of
information to go to.

Did you wanna do
some commercials?

Going past you, motherfucker.

Somebody asked me
the other day, said,

"Where do you see
yourself in 20 years?"

I said, dead.

And they said, "Oh, ha, ha,
ha, ha, ha, you're kidding."

And I said, when you're 72,
you don't kid about death.

Death, death is right there.

It's sort of hovering
near your shoulder

like a salivating fanboy
at a Star Trek convention.

It's just out of eyeshot
but you know it's there.

- It's a given, within
Harlan's worldview,

that life is not easy.

It's also a given that

that's part of the reason
why life is worth living.

- I got this good life.

I got great friends.

Great friends who
are important people.

That's always nice.

It's always nice, yeah.

It's always nice to
know important people.

I'm gonna sell the big easy
chair in the living room,

and I'm going to say,
this is the chair,

and some of you who've
sat in this chair

have been Robert Heinlein,

Maurice Chevalier,
the Rolling Stones,

and all the people
who've been in this house

who have sat in that chair.

And I'm gonna auction it off,

and then I'm gonna
buy a new chair.

- You have to accept

that you have
somebody who is partly

one of the greatest writers
of the 20th century,

and partly an alternately impish

and furious 11-year-old boy

or possibly nine-year-old boy

or possibly a five-year-old boy.

And it's all part
of the same thing.

And, at the same
time, a cranky old Jew

who does not just enjoy
his cranky old Jew-dom,

he revels in it.

He is building this
cranky old Jew-dom

like some people
live in castles.

He lives in cranky
old Jew world.

And that's true, too,
but it's also shtick.

- I live in paradise.

I got a sensational wife.

I got a great house.

I do the work I like to do.

I'm not entitled to beef.

I'm not entitled to complain.

I do, because like all old Jews,

we only know three
things in this life:

We know guilt, we
know Chinese food,

and we know the location
of every pain in our body

and we will tell you
about it endlessly.

Is this the last thing
I'm gonna have to record?

I'm out after this.

Okay, well, I'm just a
hard pill to swallow.

And I'm great for dinner,
great stories, very funny,

but if you had to
live with me 24/7,

you'd put a gun either in
your mouth or my mouth.

And I think that's the
way it is with anybody

who lives their life exactly
as they wish to see it.

I think it was Hunter
Thompson who wrote,

"He knew the dead end loneliness

"of a person who
makes his own life."

I've always done that.

I've always been my own person,

and I'm responsible for
what I turn out to be.

So, if anybody watches
this movie and they say,

"God, what a mook."

Yeah, I can't argue on it, so.

But it's not true,

I never threw anybody
down an elevator shaft.

Whenever I lecture at a
college, and I do a lot of that,

invariably, there will be one
pinhead out in the audience

who feels that my credentials
are not sufficient

for me to be ranting and raving

about whatever it is I am
raving and/or ranting about.

And he doesn't really know

or she doesn't really know
what my background is.

And they'll say to me, "Why
aren't you out protesting?"

and no, the fact that I'm 72
years old has no bearing on it.

They'll say, "Why aren't
you out doing blah, blah,"

or "Blah, blah," or, "Sucking
up them bullets," and all.

And then my answer for
years was, I've done it,

and then you realize you
must not defend yourself.

And here's what I offer to you

as my way of getting around it.

First, you slump over like
this, like a little old man.

And then you say, here is
the wisdom of my people

to answer your question.

An old man walks
out of the shtetl

on a path along
beside the river,

and as he comes
around the curve,

he sees lying in the
middle of the road, an ant,

a little ant, and he's
lying on his back like this

with the arms and the
legs in the air going,

"Hachlama, hachlama, hachlama."

And he looks down at this
creature and says to the ant,

"What are you doing?"

And the ant says, "I have it
on the very best of authority,

"the sky is gonna fall."

And the old man looks
at the ant and he says,

"And this is what you
think you're gonna do

"to avert this catastrophe?

"You're gonna lie there and go?"

And the ant looks up and says,

as I say to you, young
person in the audience

who has questioned
me, the ant says,

"I do what I can do."

Why does everyone
look so confused?

- Cut.