Harlan Ellison, passionate writer, dies at 84

Title card to “The City on the Edge of Forever, the first-season Star Trek episode written by Harlan Ellison

Harlan Ellison, a writer who was passionate about his work and was willing to fight for it, has died at 84, according to an obituary published by Variety.

Ellison was normally described as a science fiction writer. That was understandable. His output of science fiction was large and took the form of television stories, novels and short stories.

Ellison’s production included the Star Trek episode The City on the Edge of Forever.

In the episode, Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock must travel back in time to Earth in the Great Depression and fix history. In doing so, Kirk has to let a woman he’s fall in love with (Joan Collins) die.

Ellison also penned episodes of the original Outer Limits series, including Demon With a Glass Hand starring Robert Culp. Culp’s Trent has no memory but must fight off attacks from mysterious enemies from the future.

However, Ellison could easily tackle other genres.

Cyborgs menace Solo and Illya in The Sort of Do It Yourself Dreadful Affair, written by Harlan Ellison

He penned two episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. They were highlights of the show’s third season, where humor overwhelmed the proceedings. One of episodes, The Sort of Do It Yourself Dreadful Affair, added science fiction with cyborgs as part of the plot. The special effects were lacking (even by 1966 standards) but Ellison’s script was funny where it was supposed to be (not always the case with U.N.C.L.E.’s third season).

The writer also tackled the western series Cimarron Strip. Ellison’s twist was that Jack the Ripper, on the run from his murder spree in London, was stalking victims in 1888 Oklahoma. Making the episode even more memorable was a score by Bernard Herrmann.

Ellison also wrote essays about television. The books The Glass Teat and The Other Glass Teat collected such essays. The author was brutally honest and critical of U.S. television.

The writer was known for advocating strongly for his work, fighting (verbally) against changes by producers and story editors. The City on the Edge of Forever was revised so it wouldn’t bust Star Trek’s budget. Ellison was not happy.

When Ellison was really displeased, he took his name off the writing credit and substituted Cord Wainer Bird or Cordwainer Bird.

According to a review in The New York Review of Science Fiction concerning a book about Ellison’s career, the fighting got physical on one occasion. Ellison got into a fight with ABC executive Adrian Samish over a script for Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.

The book, A Lit Fuse: The Provocative Life of Harlan Ellison, says as a result of the fight, a model of the Seaview submarine dropped onto Samish. The executive suffered a broken pelvis.

It was a story Ellison told himself, though the review raises some questions. “How did Harlan avoid an arrest for assault or at least a whopping big lawsuit, or did ABC just hush it all up and pay Samish’s medical costs? How did Harlan ever find work in the TV industry after that?”

If the story is true, the answer probably is Ellison’s enormous talent. On social media, there were tributes to Ellison. Here’s one from Jon Burlingame, an author and academic about film and television music:

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UPDATE (June 29): Harlan Ellison also did some uncredited rewrites of other U.N.C.L.E. episodes. The one I’ve always seen identified is The Virtue Affair in Season Two.

Anyway, according to movie industry professional Robert Short, who also runs an U.N.C.L.E. page on Facebook, Ellison also designed a special bow used by Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum) in The Virtue Affair.

Here Illya demonstrates his prowess with the bow while a villain played by Frank Marth looks on.

UNCLE Illya bow Virtue Affair

 

 

Noble failure: The Richard Boone Show

Logo for The Richard Boone Show

On occasion, television shows attempt to punch above their weight. They may not succeed, but they deserve a salute for the effort.

That applies to The Richard Boone Show, which ran for one season (1963-64).

Boone (1917-1981) was at his height of popularity in the early 1960s.

He had starred for six seasons as Paladin in Have Gun — Will Travel. With the end of that popular Western, Boone pretty much could write his own ticket.

The actor was not a typical star. He had quirky tastes. What he wanted to do was the television equivalent of a theater company performing different plays each week.

Boone had a receptive audience in Mark Goodson and Bill Todman. The duo supervised popular game and panel shows such as What’s My Line?, Beat the Clock and To Tell the Truth. But they also wanted to break out of the genre.

In that regard, the Goodson-Todman track record was mixed. They produced a Philip Marlowe series that lasted one season. They also produced The Rebel, a Western series that ran for two series today best remembered for a Johnny Cash title song.

Goodson-Todman was determined to turn The Richard Boone Show into a prestige series.

As producer, Goodson and Todman hired Buck Houghton, the producer of the first three seasons of The Twilight Zone. Clifford Odets was brought on as story supervisor, to line up scripts for the new anthology show. Odets, unfortunately, died in August 1963 during production of the series.

For the “company of players,” the regulars included the likes of Harry Morgan, Robert Blake, Jeanette Nolan, Ford Rainey, Lloyd Bocher, Laura Devon, Warren Stevens and other familiar faces on early 1960s television.

Many of the episodes starred Boone, but not all. When Boone wasn’t the lead player, he would portray a secondary character. Meanwhile, the cast had plenty of opportunities to display their acting abilities.

In many ways, the “company of players” was like an actual theater company with the actors playing around with makeup, include bald caps, fake mustaches, putty noses, wigs and such.

In terms of music, the production team hired Henry Mancini to come up with a theme while episodes were scored by composers such as Bernard Herrmann, Fred Steiner and Lalo Schifrin.

Today, in the 21st century, it’s easy to image an undertaking like The Richard Boone Show being televised on Netfilix or Hulu as an original series (depending on the headliner). But, during the 1963-64 series, the series ran for a year before disappearing.

In a commercial sense, the show was a failure. Artistically, it was a noble failure. What follows is the unusual opening and end titles of the show.

 

Jon Burlingame starts a YouTube channel

Film and television music expert Jon Burlingame has started a YouTube channel called Reel Music. First up: a look at Burlingame’s picks for top 10 spy movie scores.

Burlingame has written books on television composers and James Bond music. In the initial video, launched on Aug. 11, his selections comprise a number of different composers.

Burlingame’s list is presented in chronological order and doesn’t attempt to rank the 10 selections. It begins with Bernard Herrmann’s score for 1959’s North by Northwest and ends with John Powell’s score for 2002’s The Bourne Identity.

Along the way, there are two John Barry scores (Goldfinger and The Ipcress File), three Bond films (including one not made by Eon Productions) as well as efforts by Lalo Schifrin, Quincy Jones and Dave Grusin.

You can take a look for yourself. While individual viewers might quibble with selections or argue for others, there’s no dispute that Burlingame knows the music territory.

Note: the image below shows posters for Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie. Neither shows up on the list, but they present a “news peg” in journalism-speak.