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"Me and Harlan" - Trina Robbins

ME AND HARLAN

Trina Robbins

I first met Harlan Ellison at a science fiction convention in New York in the 1950s. He approached me and asked me how tall I was. Satisfied that I was shorter than he, he asked me out. I was 16, he was 21.

Harlan lived down the hall from Bob Silverberg, whom he was in awe of, because Bob was already a much-published writer. Harlan himself had just sold his first book, “Rumble,” later reprinted with the classier title, “Web of the City,” in which Harlan claimed to have run with a teen gang using the name “Cheech Beldone.” He swore it was all true. I didn’t believe him.

We didn’t last a year, and I moved on to a handsome but terrible boyfriend who liked to make anti-Semitic remarks, and when I objected, would say he was just joking. But Harlan had become part of my karass. The word karass comes from Kurt Vonnegut’s book, “Cat’s Cradle.” It refers to a group of people who are somehow linked together for some reason, so that they keep showing up in each other’s lives. Fast forward to the early 1960s; I’m married and living in Los Angeles, and Harlan moves to L.A. to write for Star Trek, and we resume our friendship, adding my then husband, Paul, whom Harlan likes, to the karass.

In 1963, Paul went with Harlan to march for Civil rights in Selma, Alabama. I stayed home because we could only afford airfare for one, and Paul, being a man, was “more important” (It was 1963!). Harlan wrote it up for Playboy and Paul wrote it up for the underground newspaper, The L A Free Press.

Harlan was doing well, writing science fiction, movie and TV scripts, and articles for top-of-the-line magazines. When the Rolling Stones came to L.A. in 1964, he interviewed Bill Wyman for Playboy, and brought us along with him. Because of Harlan, I also got to meet Edie Adams, the very funny wife, then widow, of the incredibly funny Ernie Kovacs.

In 1966, Harlan wrote the screenplay for a movie which even he admitted was possibly the worst movie ever made, “The Oscar,” and in it was a supporting character named Trina, played by Edie Adams. Harlan said he based the character on me. Edie wanted to meet me, so that she could better understand the character she was playing, so Paul and I met her for lunch at the studio. Edie was smart, funny, gracious and beautiful, but when I saw the movie, she wasn’t the least bit like me.

That same year, Paul and I split up, and I moved back to New York. It was a no-fault separation, but even though Paul and I remained friends, Harlan somehow felt he had to take sides, and of course he took the side of the man (it was 1966!) and told everybody that I was an evil vampire who had broken Paul’s heart.

After that, Harlan and I would run into each other at conventions, and although his negative feelings about me cooled down, he liked to tease me by calling me by my maiden name, since he was the only friend left who had actually known me before I was married. I think maybe he was hoping to get my goat, but it didn’t bother me (I have been called far worse than my maiden name!) and I was always pleasant in return

Harlan could be a true friend, too. When “Women and the Comics,” my first history of women cartoonists, which I co-wrote with Catherine yronwode, was published, a certain cartoonist sent angry letters to all the comic industry magazines and newspapers, calling me names like elitist and careerist, because I had left out the names of some women whom he had published in his magazines. Truth told, I had forgotten about them because they didn’t really draw comics, but just single panel cartoons. But Harlan phoned to offer me his support, saying that the cartoonist was just jealous. He phoned me again when Ted Sturgeon, who had been friends with both of us, died.

The last time I spoke with Harlan was when I phoned him, hoping he would blurb my memoir, “Last Girl Standing.” He told me he was very ill, too ill to write anything for me. Once again, I didn’t believe him; I thought it was just an excuse so he wouldn’t have to write anything for me.

I’m sorry, Harlan, I shoulda believed you.

 


Sabrina Herman
Sabrina Herman

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