The two most common elements in the
universe are hydrogen and stupidity.”
~ Harlan Ellison
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.
Harlan had adapted his story "Repent, Harlequin!" Said the Ticktockman for the show and recruited his old friend to play the hero, Everett Marm.
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.