Off Topic => Ten Forward => Topic started by: TheJudge on March 05, 2005, 12:29:32 am

Title: Ron Moore on Harlan Ellison and being a Whore (or Not)
Post by: TheJudge on March 05, 2005, 12:29:32 am
Thank you, Harlan Ellison
There are people you do thank and people you should, and it occurs to me that now is a good time to finally move a man who had a great influence on my life out of the later category and into the former. That man is Harlan Ellison, one of the greatest speculative fiction writers this country has ever produced and a legitimate legend in his own time. Ironically, it’s not his writing which influenced me, his stories nor his style, although I was an avid reader of his work, notably “Chasing the Nightmare” “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” “Harlan Ellison’s Watching” and “The Glass Teat.” In truth, the man influenced me in two encounter which seemed trivial at the time, but which turned out to have been pivotal moments in my life as a writer.

As readers of this blog know by now, I was a born and bred Trek fan growing up in the mid 1970’s, watching the show in strip syndication and always on the lookout for the odd piece of merchandising that might find its way into my neighborhood bookstore. But growing up in a small town in central California, I’d never had the opportunity to come anywhere near that legendary gathering of geekdom – the convention. So it wasn’t until I was a freshman at Cornell in 1983, that I had my first chance to pay for the privilege of sitting in a badly lit auditorium and listen to panel discussions on the feasibility of interstellar travel and marvel at just how many people had the time and resources to construct their very own Gorn costumes, complete with universal translator at the college in Stony Brook, New York.

I do remember wandering a dealer room for the first time, pondering the cost of a fan-produced Phaser II, and seeing a screening of “The Dead Zone” but what really stuck with me, what ultimately had a far greater impact on me than anything else was when Harlan Ellison took the stage and began to read a piece he’d just written to the gathered. The piece was about a recent incident in the nation’s capitol which had garnered coast to coast live coverage in that period of embryonic cable overkill. A man had driven a van which he claimed was filled with explosives to the base of the Washington Monument and threatened to blow it up unless there was an end to the nuclear arms race. Police snipers ultimately shot and killed him and discovered that he had no explosives.

Harlan’s piece that day in Stony Brook condemned not the disturbed man in the van, but the actions of the police who killed him and more broadly condemned us all for focusing more on his empty threat of blowing up a piece of stone than to the very real threat of nuclear holocaust he wanted to end.

It was not a popular sentiment. Fans, heretofore fawning and sycophantic to Harlan’s every word and bon mot, began to boo and hiss, some even yelling obscenities at the stage. To be sure, I shared the feelings of most in the audience. I felt that the police had acted in a mostly responsible way, that they had no way of knowing whether or not there were really explosives in the van and that his death was regrettable, but ultimately of his own making. But what struck me that day was not the political sentiment Harlan expressed, but his willingness to say something in public that was unpopular, to challenge the assumptions of his most devoted followers and his blunt refusal to back down in the face of their outrage. He gave not an inch, refusing to bow to the rising tide of anger in the audience and continued to read his essay in full knowledge of the fact that it was probably going to cost him more than one book sale at the dealer table later that day.

I remember being confused, angered, and somewhat disappointed by what one of my literary heroes had stood up and said. “How could he think that?” I said to myself and shook my head at what seemed like an inverted moral stance. I never read the piece itself, and to this day I have only the vaguest memory of him reading it out loud, but what struck me then and what sticks with me to this very day is the image of a writer standing on principle in the face of overwhelming disapproval. Harlan had made a career, admittedly, of being the skunk at the party, of saying things he knew would piss people off, but never for the easy shock value. He had an opinion and he wasn’t afraid to state it, regardless of the consequences to his book sales or how it made him look in polite society. I can still picture him standing on that stage and shouting against the ocean rearing up against him and it still challenges me to be the kind of writer willing to say the thing that no one else wants to hear.

The man had guts.

The second encounter occurred years many years later after I had become an established writer and had been invited to participate on a panel at the Museum of Television and Radio in Beverly Hills along with several much bigger names, including J. Michael Straczynski and… Harlan Ellison. It was the first time I’d met the man and in all honesty, I was too embarrassed to say very much, to him lest I start to gush, so satisfied myself with a simple “Hello, I love your work” and then we went into the panel.

Now, this panel occurred at a very particular moment in my career. I was working on “Roswell” as an executive producer, but I was deep into preproduction on the ill-fated pilot I’d written for a series based on Anne McCaffrey’s “Dragonriders of Pern” books. It had been a difficult and unhappy development process, but we were only five days away from the first day of principal photography. A major problem had arisen, however. The network had commissioned another writer to rewrite my draft over my objections and in my opinion, had eviscerated everything that I loved about the project. I didn’t want to shoot that draft and they did. As I drove into the parking lot of the Museum I learned via a cell phone call from my agent that a critical conference call with the network was scheduled to take place the next morning which would determine the fate of the entire project, and when I took my seat on the panel I was frankly distracted by the thought that my very first pilot, my very fist shot at running my own series was in serious jeopardy of coming to ruin right before my very eyes unless I “played ball” as they like to say.

The panel discussion was fun and interesting and after a while I forget my Pern problems and simply enjoyed being on the same stage with some legendary figures of the genre. At the end, the final question was put to all of us was “Do you have any advice for young writers starting out?” It’s a familiar question, and to be honest, I have a stock response, (which I will someday bore readers of this blog with when I really need material) and I gave it in my usual inimitable fashion, congratulating myself on having held my own throughout the night.

But when the question came around to Harlan, he leaned forward into the microphone, and with all the passion and ferocity I remembered so well from that convention stage in Stony Brook he said:

“Don’t be a whore!”

The world quite literally spun around me under the hot lights and it felt as though the Universe was conveying a message directly to me. It was so simple. “Don’t be a whore!” Don’t write crap because they pay you well. Don’t put your name on something that you know will suck. Don’t sacrifice whatever integrity you have as a writer for a check.

The next day, during the infamous conference call, there came the point my agent had warned me would come, when I either played ball and went with the script I knew in my heart was terrible or my beloved pilot was going to die, and when that moment came, Harlan’s words rang in my ears like the church bells above Quasimodo’s head.

“Don’t be a whore!”

I wasn’t. The project died. And I have been grateful to Harlan Ellison ever since.

I do not have the mastery of the English language Harlan does, I do not have his brilliance or his gift for story-telling, but I’d like to think that I’ve been inspired by the fire that burns so brightly in his soul and that it’s given me at least some of the courage I was lucky enough to see in person on two separate stages.

So thank you, Harlan. Thank you for being one of the most influential men in my life and thank you for giving me something to aspire to.

I have to admire both Harlan Ellison and Ron Moore on this one...and I have to wonder what's going on behind the scenes and if this was a very direct message to the powers that be for BSG.
Title: Re: Ron Moore on Harlan Ellison and being a Whore (or Not)
Post by: TheJudge on March 05, 2005, 12:33:40 am
Also just found this...


Listen to Ron Moore's commentary while watching the episode.  Frackin COOL!