Monday, August 28, 2006

My Night With Harlan Ellison, Part II

Part I

Copyright © 2006 Laurie D. T. Mann

Please read my blog entries at my Web site:

I wound up directing Harlan and Susan Ellison to the far side of the stage. They were a little more out-of-the-way than they should have been. From here on out, Harlan was alternately snippy and not so snippy (I don't want to accuse him of being apologetic, because he never went that far, but...maybe it was apologetic for him!). At first he seemed upset with his seat (just past the Hugo nomination area), but then he said everything was fine. Then he went to complain to people he knew in the audience about his seats...

I stopped back and checked in with Kathryn, the backstage crew and the presenters. They were discussing how to keep Harlan onstage after presenting the Short Story Hugo. It turned out, he was getting a special committee award. "Um, I just got them seated off to one I ought to do it."

That meant, I had to be a Hugo escourt without having gone through Hugo escourt training. "I should be OK; I know I have to hold the Hugo and stand on the black X. And if Harlan tries to leave the stage before Connie gives him his award, I can always tackle him."

Kathryn and Randy Smith said that would be fine, so I got the job. I went back to my seat out front.

When Harlan was off chatting with people in the audience, I spoke to his wife Susan briefly. Susan had been a movie reviewer in the early '80s, so I told her how much I'd enjoyed her reviews. She was very gracious.

The Hugo Ceremony went off without any major hitches. Robert Silverberg and the official MC Connie Willis bantered appropriately. We cheered like sportsfans at the Super Bowl for David Hartwell who won his overdue Hugo. We cheered for the very elegant Betty Ballantine who was resplendant in a gold gown and who won a special committee award. Connie kept the ceremony moving and everything was going very well.

Just before the Best Related Book presentation, I had to get Harlan backstage to get ready for his presentation. Once we got to the side of the stage, he stopped.

"Everyone's entering from the other side," I explained.

"I don't want to, I'll just come from here."

I ran around to the other side of the stage and alerted the backstage crew to expect Harlan's entrance from the far side of the stage. They handed me a Hugo, and once the Best Related Book presentation was done, I followed Connie onstage and planted myself firmly on the X.

Connie announced Harlan as the Best Short Story Hugo presenter.

People applauded.

Nothing happened. He was no longer offstage, he was nowhere to be found.

Connie asked for him again, and we heard a very loud "NO!" from the far side of the arena. Connie successfully ad-libbed him onstage.

I'm standing onstage, holding a Hugo, knowing I don't look a thing like Vanna White (though we both are the same age). I'm standing well behind both Harlan and Connie, and I really don't remember their banter too well. I kept thinking 'Shit, I've got to get Harlan to stay onstage...and maybe I will need to tackle him.'

Since I was standing behind Harlan and Connie, I could hear what they were saying, but I couldn't see what, if anything, was going on between them.

Eventually, Harlan gave a nice speech about the importance of short stories. He read the nominees, and said, "Come on up here, Dave!" Dave Levine leapt up onstage, did not lose his top hat, and hugged Harlan.

Laurie Mann, Harlan Ellison and Dave Levine, Photo by Keith Stokes

Photo by Keith Stokes

As Dave was talking, Harlan started to exit the stage, but I caught up with him and said, "Please wait, Connie wants to talk to you."

For the very first time that night, Harlan did what I asked. *WHEW!*

Connie returned and gave Harlan the other special committee award. He made a short speech in which he said he expected L.A.Con IV would be his last convention. We exited the stage without further incident. Harlan returned to Susan, I returned to my seat, then Harlan and Susan left the arena.

After the Hugo Ceremony, various people came up to me and asked "Did Harlan grope you?"

I shrugged it off. "I'm a fat woman; I don't think Harlan gropes fat women." But I had no idea why people were asking me that.

What I didn't know until the next day was that Harlan groped Connie when they were standing together by the podium. Not only that, it was captured by the cameras, so everyone in the arena saw it. Connie, class act that she was, didn't miss a beat, continued with the ceremony like an adult. Connie kept the focus of the ceremony on honoring the winners, and not drawing more attention to Harlan's behavior.

After L.A.Con, Harlan first "apologized" for the grope, and then later denied that he had groped Connie in the first place. Harlan overlooked facts (so like the Bush administration) when they did not conform to his version of reality. Like a few hundred people saw the grope as it happened. And a few dozen cameras captured it. Like this one.

While I've read a fair amount of Connie's fiction, I'd never read The Doomsday Book until the plane trip around Worldcon. It is a fabulous book. The chapters covering the decimation of the medieval village are brilliant, meticulously researched, and moved me to tears. Connie is a much better role model for writers than Harlan Ellison.

Sunday, I learned of one screw-up I made during the Hugo ceremony. Like I said, I didn't go to "Hugo escourt training" because I didn't expect to be a Hugo escourt. So when I held the Hugo up onstage, I held it up to best show-off the Hugo - facing forward. I'd complete forgotten that the Hugo winner's name was engraved on a plate in front of the Hugo! Dave Levine told me later that, as a result, everyone kept staring at the Hugo while I was holding it, trying to see if they could read the winner's name before it was announced.

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