Harlan Ellison Needs You: October 21, 2022

If you’ve been with us more than a few times here at Grailrunner, you know we have the highest respect and admiration for the works of speculative fiction writer, Harlan Ellison. If you feel the same way, or if you just appreciate when someone out there is trying very hard to do the right thing and facing mighty headwinds in doing so, then read on please.

You might have heard of J. Michael Straczynski. I came across him during his run on Amazing Spider Man, which was fantastic. It was only later I came to realize he was also the engine behind and the showrunner for Babylon 5. Apart from his own world-shaking contributions, he was also a dear friend of Ellison, dating back to a trembling phone call Straczynski made as a young writer when he was struggling to sell his own work (“Stop writing crap!” was Harlan’s advice, by the way).

It saddens me terribly that Ellison’s home, called The Lost Aztec Temple Of Mars and nestled high in the hills above Sherman Oaks in Los Angeles sits withering and aging with its vast treasures and wonders molding away in drawers and cabinets unseen. Ellison did a series of Youtube videos years ago where he’d occasionally walk through is home and show off his collections, introducing SyFy movies or whatever he was doing. I’d have loved to walk with him through there and hear the ridiculous adventures he had gathering those things.

A museum! Please!

So J. Michael Straczynski agrees and has been (thankfully!) tasked (by Harlan, who passed away in 2018) with converting the house into a museum open to the public. It’s more effort than you’d think, and I wanted to draw your attention to an auction that’s been made necessary to push the work along.

Heritage’s Harlan Ellison Auction, Original Art From Some of the Author’s Most Famous Works and the World’s Most (In)famous ‘Star Trek’ Photo

Proceeds from the all-star October event will help turn the writer’s Los Angeles home into a ‘memorial library’

Follow this link to the auction press release. Any work of art sold in this auction will be replaced with an exact replica, according to Straczynski. And the house needs work to make the conversion. This sadly needs to happen, and they need help making it so.

Recently on Facebook, buried in some comments somewhere, I came across Straczynski explaining himself when some troll accused him of squandering Ellison’s treasures for money. I’m going to reproduce his response in full below, so hopefully we can all understand how important it is that he get help doing this to preserve Ellison’s legacy.

Excerpted from a response on ‘Hang With JMS’, the words of J. Michael Straczynski:

“When I approached the folks at Heritage Auctions (who were friends of Harlan) about doing this auction (about which more in a moment), my requirement was that any auctioned art that was visible to the eye in any room had to be replaced with a high-quality, high-resolution replica indistinguishable from the original, in the same original frame. Everything had to look exactly the same after the auction as it did before. This is being done. No matter how familiar you may be with the house, you will not notice any difference.

As to the auction itself: the goal, again, is to transform the house into the Harlan and Susan Ellison Memorial Library. Doing that means (and meant) taking steps to ensure that the house is safe and in proper shape. But there were/are significant problems with the house, which H&S had kind of let slide over the years. Leaks in Harlan’s and Susan’s offices. The heating and aircon systems had to be replaced (a necessity for later tours and academic work, and Sharon continues to work there in the present). Brand new security systems had to be installed because the prior systems had simply been ripped out to make way for work. Since the house is empty most of the time, window and door frames had to be discreetly reinforced and made intruder-proof without doing anything noticeable from inside. The outside perimeter wall was collapsing, and the ground beneath it had to be reinforced to prevent it all from sliding down the hillside.

All of that takes money, and I covered all of it out of pocket with some help from the Ellison tier on Patreon, while we fought the banks for access to the Ellison accounts, which in the end came to only about 200K.

Still ahead of us: making the house safe for visitors (discreet hand-rails on the stairs up to Harlan’s office, for instance, where he and other guests often tripped and fell), landscaping to create an outdoor space for lectures and other events, fixing the exterior of the roof which does not have a to-code surface, just the black tarry like top and flat boards to walk on to keep from going through the roof; it has already started to go soft in places and could eventually collapse (especially given the weight of the Keep, which also needs some repairs).

Restoring the Lost Aztec Temple of Mars just by itself will cost at least $100K, and that figure could double depending on what damage we find on the other side, between the outer and inner walls. Then there are a ton of other maintenance repairs that need to be done.

And all that’s just for the house itself so it can pass muster with the state and local codes for a library like this, and we can’t go for a historic/cultural preservation certificate until we can show them what the final version will look like so they know what they’re preserving. It doesn’t include any of the subsequent steps we will be taking down the road.

Such as: hiring an archivist (we may be able to get one a bit less expensive by going through a university) to catalog and digitize all of Harlan’s papers and correspondence for easy reference both on-premises and online (the manuscripts are already pretty much all done). Replacing the living room carpet and storing the furniture so we can turn it into a display room for Harlan’s manuscripts, art pieces for rotating themed viewings, rare books and other material, and a display for the urns containing Harlan and Susan’s ashes.

I want to wake up the house by installing very small, discreet wireless speakers in various rooms that will, in one room, have him reading his work; in another, speaking at a convention or a party, so the house feels alive; and from upstairs, the sound of typing. Videos (without audio, projected from tiny, invisibly placed projectors rather than installing monitors that would change the look of the room) showing Harlan and Susan will play in the bedroom and the wall leading up to the living room. You will feel his presence, his art and his work on a visceral level, as if he’s just stepped into the other room for a moment.

Finally, there are plans to create scholarships in Harlan and Susan’s name for up-and-coming writers graduating high school.

All of this takes money. Even without all the repair issues mentioned above, those we’ve consulted with who have turned the estates of other writers, artists or politicians into libraries have insisted that you need at least $1M in hand to start the process; double that would be better.

(And please don’t throw Kickstarter at me, I’ve investigated and it’s not viable because nobody can get anything in return, and it wouldn’t provide even a fraction of what’s needed. Everybody always says “Oh, go Kickstarter” which is another way of saying “let somebody else do this” without understanding the limitations.)

So it’s very simple: either we auction a very small part of what’s there, replacing it indistinguishably so the look of the house doesn’t change…or none of this can happen, and Harlan’s wishes are not met.

Pick one.” -J. Michael Straczynski

There it is, guys. Go check out the auction. Go if you can. Get involved. Donate if this matters to you. I appreciate your time on this.

Till next time,

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