Harlan Ellison died yesterday (6/27/18). A Boy and his Dog, I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, The Twilight Zone, Star Trek! We met in 2000 when he became the host of an NPR series of science fiction radio dramas. Of all things ill-considered...
On the first day of recording, he picked up a 1930s Orphan Annie mug, an advertising premium for Ovaltine oatmeal. There was a lot of old junk lying around that studio. "You know I collect this stuff."
I gave him the mug and we became pals.
After the first bunch of episodes we both won Ray Awards for the show. Handed over by Ray Bradbury hisself! I couldn't afford the big deal dinner so Harlan accepted the award for me.
Harlan had a reputation for being cantankerous. He and the series producer were always bickering, and if a bicker really got going good, one or the other or both would walk out, and I would end up directing the actors as best as I could manage. That's how I got to direct Robin Williams, kind of.
I was alone in the control room, after a massive museum-quality bicker resulted in both my two bosses leaving in huffs, busy negotiating over the phone with a snippy manager-type over the size and ripeness of the bananas for Robin's organic fruit plate, which was in the contract! All the while knowing there actually was no contract! when I heard a footstep and turned to see a hairy little guy in bib overalls: Robin Williams, standing over me. He mouthed the words "Hang up!" and we got the session started. I soon gave up trying to direct and just listened to Robin do what he did best, nonstop jokes and ad libs, occasionally allowing a token appearance of lines from the actual script.
After the series ended, every couple of months Harlan would call: "Let's go get cheese steak sandwiches, kiddo." (Somehow Harlan had gotten the impression I was from Philadelphia.) But I had heard he'd just had quadruple bypass surgery, and it really didn't seem advisable. So I demurred.
And he lasted another 18 years. Good on you, Harlan.