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.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

My Night With Harlan Ellison, Part I

Copyright © 2006 Laurie D. T. Mann

Please read my blog entries at my Web site:

If you were at the Hugo Ceremonies at L.A.Con IV, you might have noticed a woman in a blue dress standing behind Harlan Ellison when he was making a presentation during the awards. That was me. Through a weird set of circumstances, I wound up trying to "wrangle Harlan" for the Hugos. It was a weird evening indeed, for a number of reasons.

The Short Term Background: I would love to run the Hugo Ceremony some day, so I volunteered to be Kathryn Daugherty's assistant for the L.A.Con IV Hugo Ceremony. I spent most of Saturday afternoon talking with nominees and designated acceptors, making sure they understood the lay of the stage, what the podium was like, and how to exit. This turned out to be the fun part of the job.

Arena Photo During Rehearsal by John Scalzi

Photo by John Scalzi

I knew the job during the ceremony was to do anything Kathryn wanted me to do. Most of that was not too taxing - checking the seating arrangements, running little errands, nothing particularly difficult. Why, I even had enough time to get my picture taken with Kathryn and Ruth Sachter (Hugo Administrator John Lorentz's wife and a very old friend of mine):

Kathryn Daugherty, Laurie Mann, Ruth Sachter at the L.A.Con IV Hugo Ceremony

Photo probably by Jim Mann

Financial Aside: Yeah, I know I've complained about being "house poor" of late, so how did I get such a great dress? It was on sale for $36.

I'm not overly "star struck" by people I meet at cons. I've known many of the nominees and Hugo ceremony participants for a long time, as I've helped to run cons for 30 years. Heck, Dave Kyle has slept in my house, I've been getting Dave Levine and Kate Yule's Bento since the early days. I've been on panels with Connie Willis. I was on GEnie with C.Doctorow before he was famous. I've followed the wonderful world of John Scalzi in his blog. But, I was more than a little tired by the Saturday of Worldcon, and the Hugo Ceremony tends to make me very hyper.

So Kathryn told me to help get the Hugo nominees out of the pre-reception and into the audience. Most people got moving without much encouragement. But one presenter who wasn't budging was Harlan Ellison, who was busy eating reception snacks. With more than a little trepedation, I told Harlan it was time to go out to the arena.

"Can I take my food with me?"

"" (and when was the last time you saw people bring food into the Hugo ceremony?)

"What are you, demented?" (or words to that effect; I was not quite shaking in my sandals, and once a writer whose works you've adored refers to you as "demented," you tend to lose track of the exact sequence of words...)

The Long-Term Background: I'm well aware of Harlan's temper. While I don't think he ever saw my name badge, I'd been the indirect recipient of Harlan's ire several times in the past.

The Even-Longer-Term Background: When I started to read SF in 1973, I was 16 and completely fell in love with the writing of many SF writers but especially the writing of Harlan Ellison. When I started to write SF, I wanted to write with the kind of emotional wallop that he did. I loved Harlan's writing so much that when I met Anne McCaffrey at Boskone 12 in 1975, I told her I wanted to be the next Harlan Ellison.

She rolled her eyes at me, and I didn't exactly understand why at the time.

I met Harlan in 1976 at an Ohio college convention that was so badly managed it earned the nickname of "4th Disaster Con" by Saturday. Harlan was very pleasant, and even signed my copy of Rockabilly, a book I'd been warned that Harlan would rip up when someone handed it to him. Instead, he signed it, looked at the cover and laughed. The back cover had a photo of an extremely young Harlan Ellison in a trenchcoat with a cigarette dangling from his lips.

A few years later, I attended a reading Harlan gave in Pittsburgh. For the first time, I was a little disappointed in his writing. His stories were still good, but not great. Harlan irritated me further by harassing a female college student who was his minder from the stage. She was so embarrassed by him that she left the hall.

I reviewed Harlan's readings for a tiny (about 60-copy count) fanzine, giving an honest assessment. The editor called me a few months later to say that Harlan had called him and chewed him out over the phone over my review.


Now, Harlan never did call me to chew me out. I'm not sure how I would have reacted, but I never had to find out then.

I saw Harlan at Noreascon II in Boston in 1980. He gave a very entertaining, Harlanesque talk and was generally quite pleasant all weekend. That was the weekend he bought the famous Barclay Shaw carved desk. I think it was also the weekend he met his future wife, Susan. I shared an elevator with him and I guess he'd completely forgotten that I'd once mightily offended him. Either that or he didn't see my name badge. Either that or maybe he viewed bothering pregnant women as "off limits."

I didn't see Harlan much in the '80s or '90s. He was on the West Coast and I was on the East. But, in the mid '90s, my husband Jim edited Rediscovery of Man: The Complete Short Fiction of Cordwainer Smith. The Paul Linebarger estate was a strong supporter of the project, and wanted all of Smith's short works to be included. Including a piece Harlan had bought over twenty years previously for the still-unpublished The Last Dangerous Visions. We heard Harlan was very angry about people who were publishing anything intended for The Last Dangerous Visions. Legally, however, NESFA Press had the consent of the estate, which was all that mattered.

At some point in the '90s, Harlan was a guest at Readercon, and apparently it turned into a long rant against NESFA Press for daring the publish this story.


So, back to the present.

All the other Hugo nominees and presenters were heading for the auditorium, and Harlan seemed pissed at me for trying to get him to follow directions. I don't deal really well with angry people, particularly ones who I had to try to be nice to. I stepped back for a minute and took a deep breath.

I tried to be diplomatic. "We need to get all the presenters and nominees to the floor."

"You're being awfully twitchy," Harlan said. "I'm taking this with me."

Unwilling to fight with him, I just nodded and said, "Follow me."

So Harlan and Susan were near the end of a big line of people. I managed to jump around some of them, trying to find good seats for Harlan and Susan. As a presenter, Harlan needed to be either in a front row seat or on an aisle. And most of these seats were already gone.

Part II

Thursday, August 17, 2006

On Being an Unemployed Movie Geek, Day 1

Copyright © 2006 Laurie D. T. Mann

Please read my blog entries at my Web site:

There are many disadvantages to being unemployed. Some monetary constraints and general boredom to name two.

But there are some advantages. I did an awful lot of our house-hunting/house-buying/moving legwork. I finshed writing my novel. In early July, I got to be an unpaid production assistant for the day during a local documentary shoot, A Tale of Two Cities. I've been working with David Brody on the William Tenn documentary. And, today, I tried out for Who Wants to be a Millionaire.

The show asked all potential contestents to take two different trivia tests - the regular test, and the movie-trivia test for a week of movie-related shows that Netflix is sponsoring this fall. Over 230 people take the tests at a time (there were easily over 1,000 test-takers in line in Pittsburgh today). About 40 people pass the tests at each session.

I passed BOTH TESTS!

So I got to talk to an assistant producer for about a minute about what I love about movies.

This doesn't mean I'll get on the show. Maybe too many middle-aged white women passed both tests this year. Who knows. But after flunking the Jeopardy test twice, I'm psyched to have passed both Millionaire tests!

Since I got out of the test around lunch time, I wandered over to Bar Louie where I ran into some folks from the contestent line having lunch. I asked if I could join them, they said sure, so we had a very pleasant hour chatting on the patio.

So, tomorrow I'm doing something else I've always wanted to do - I'm going to the casting call for a movie. They are wisely shooting Michael Chabon's first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, in Pittsburgh this fall. I'm trying out to be an extra. There is a tiny part I would be perfect for if only I was a little younger - they're looking for a fat female to play a bookstore employee. Unfortunately, she needs to be about 30, and I'm now way old for that part.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Computer Woes, Confluence, Lots of Company

Copyright © 2006 Laurie D. T. Mann

Please read my blog entries at my Web site:

That's why I haven't been blogging lately.

If you've E-mailed me recently and you haven't heard back - please E-mail me again. I had a computer failure followed by some weird security/mail server problems which means I've lost some E-mails and some responses I did actually send were apparently eaten by a hypervigilant security program.

I think the E-mail is back to normal.

Confluence went generally well. *WHEW!*

It was lots of fun to have company - from Connecticut, England, Florida and New Zealand. I'll try to post some photos soon.

I have some off-line stuff to do today and need to finish that before I can start to share some photos from the summer.