Harlan Ellison Responds

At the Harlan Ellison message board, Ellison has posted the following (which he gives permission to disseminate):

Would you believe that, having left the Hugo ceremonies immediately after my part in it, while it was still in progress … and having left the hall entirely … yet having been around later that night for Kieth Kato’s traditional chili party … and having taken off next morning for return home … and not having the internet facility to open “journalfen” (or whatever it is), I was unaware of any problem proceeding from my intendedly-childlike grabbing of Connie Willis’s left breast, as she was exhorting me to behave.

Nonetheless, despite my only becoming aware of this brouhaha right this moment (12 noon LA time, Tuesday the 29th), three days after the digital spasm that seems to be in uproar …YOU ARE ABSOLUTELY RIGHT!!!

iT IS UNCONSCIONABLE FOR A MAN TO GRAB A WOMAN’S BREAST WITHOUT HER EXPLICIT PERMISSION. To do otherwise is to go ‘way over the line in terms of invasion of someone’s personal space. It is crude behavior at best, and actionable behavior at worst. When George W> Bush massaged the back of the neck of that female foreign dignitary, we were all justly appalled. For me to grab Connie’s breast is in excusable, indefensible, gauche, and properly offensive to any observers or those who heard of it later.

I agree wholeheartedly.

I’ve called Connie. Haven’t heard back from her yet. Maybe I never will.

So. What now, folks? It’s not as if I haven’t been a politically incorrect creature in the past. But apparently, Lynne, my 72 years of indefensible, gauche (yet for the most part classy), horrifying, jaw-dropping, sophomoric, sometimes imbecile behavior hasn’t–till now–reached your level of outrage.

I’m glad, at last, to have transcended your expectations. I stand naked and defenseless before your absolutely correct chiding.

With genuine thanks for the post, and celestial affection, I remain, puckishly,

Yr. pal, Harlan

P.S. You have my permission to repost this reply anywhere you choose, on journalfen, at SFWA, on every blog in the universe, and even as graffiti on the Great Wall of China.

* * *

There are several things wrong with this.

1. The notion that grabbing Willis’s breast was “childlike” and thus excusable. From all reports (and unfortunately, what we have now is mostly circumstantial), Willis in no way asked Ellison to grab her breast, nor chided him to do so.

2. If what Ellison did was somehow “right” (to his eye) in this context, why not expatiate at length about it? This is particularly uncharacteristic for Ellison, as he’s known to keep obsessive records about damn near everything to prove that he’s right.

3. The utter hypocrisy in Ellison failing to state how exactly he obtained Willis’s explicit permission while on stage (if he did indeed so), while similarly complaining about how other men are not entitled to do so.

4. The wholesale inability to say “I’m sorry” or “I apologize.”

5. The sanctimonious notion that he can get away with this and that this is the product of “a politically incorrect creature” rather than a boorish pig.

Do you think that Ellison had Nixon’s Checkers speech in mind? After all, Nixon likewise found his hand caught in the cookie jar, likewise shifted the terms of the argument away from personal culpability, and likewise couldn’t find it within him to say “I’m sorry” or “I apologize.”

UPDATE: Video and screenshot.


  1. You’re reading that sentence wrong. It’s describing something he did WHILE she was exhorting him to behave PROPERLY, not something he did IN THE MANNER OF WHICH she was exhorting him to behave.

    Doesn’t make his apology any less self-serving, but at least let’s stick to the ways in which he’s actually a screw-up.

  2. Don’t forget, though, Harlan followed this up with four subsequent posts on the same message board, with a much less serious tone…

  3. I’m just about to post a thing on the sexist scientist James Watson, pondering how much sexism I’m willing to take, how much charm can undo it.

    This kerfuffle may show one kind of line…


  4. Um…. what he said was that what he did was INTENDED, at the time, as something child-like, and he was unaware, once again AT THE TIME, that it was wrong.

    He then found out that other people had done his thinking for him and realized it was quite wrong. AND HE AGREED. He stated that what he did – grab a woman’s breast without permission – was WRONG.

    You, and other fen, deserve no apology from Harlan. He has admitted he was wrong. It is Connie he called to apologize. And that apology is none of your business.

    I find it hard to believe that you think that Harlan doesn’t feel like utter shit if he truly upset Connie, as I’m sure that was not his intent.

  5. Salome: Let’s get this perfectly straight. Harlan did this in front of a crowd. As such, he owes an “apology” to them too. This was a public spectacle. And his failure to say “I’m sorry” to anyone speaks volumes.

  6. DrMabuse-

    I wasn’t there. I don’t want an apology. But in re-reading, I think the post contains one. Just because it doesn’t say “I”m sorry. I apologize.” does not mean it ISN’T an apology either. He is, after all, a writer, who can find far more interesting and elaborate ways to say he was wrong. And he did. What do you think “For me to grab Connie’s breast is in excusable, indefensible, gauche, and properly offensive to any observers or those who heard of it later.” means? (Yes, I know he is attributing the statement to those who posted about being enraged by his actions, but he follows by agreeing wholeheartedly with the statement.)

    From this statement of Harlan’s, I can tell he is properly ashamed and probably beating himself even more than any of you could over showing himself in actions contrary to everything he’s fought for in the cause of feminism over the years. It was a failure in judgement, and he admits it. We should all be so willing to admit our mistakes as soon as they come to our attention.


  7. I’m sorry, I don’t buy the “interesting and elaborate”: on the contrary, summoning up all my charitability, I ‘ve decided it’s a sincere expression of shame or regret that’s amazingly badly-written, a sign of serious deterioration on HJE’s part.

    The bigger problem –how to make SFF a less sexist place and one where such actions are either inconceivable or met with immediate and universal condemnation– still needs addressing. I’m glad to see people continuing to discuss the issue.

  8. Retraction: I’ve just read the comments to Greg Frost’s lj entry, which Ed links below, and lost all my aforesaid charitability: Harlan obviously doesn’t get what he did/is doing wrong and is completely effed-up.

  9. Response number two, also from harlanellison.com—

    Would you be slightly less self-righteous and chiding if I told you there was

    NO grab…

    there was

    NO grope…

    there was

    NO fondle…

    there was the slightest touch. A shtick, a gag between friends, absolutely NO sexual content.

    Would you, and the ten thousand maggots who have blown this up into a cause celebre, be even the least bit abashed to know that I apologized WAY BEYOND what the “crime” required, on the off chance that I HAD offended? Let me ask you, Mark:

    1) Were you there?
    2) Did you see it?
    3) Are you standing on your soapbox to chide me via 3rd/4th-hand reportage by OTHERS who weren’t there?
    4) Do you also buy the infinite number of other internet brouhahas that turned out to be misreported?

    Here it is, Mark; and for any others who fit the shoe:

    In the words of that great American philosopher, Tony Isabella,
    “Hell hath no fury like that of the uninvolved.”

    Does not anyone READ WHAT I WROTE within fifteen minutes of learning of this? Does not anyone wonder why, if it was such a piggish thing I did, as one of those jerkwad blogs calls it, Connie Willis hasn’t, after twenty-five years of “friendship,” not returned my call on Monday … or responded to the Fedex packet of my posting here on Monday, which Fedex advises me she received at 2:20 pm on Tuesday?

    Can the voluble and charismatic Connie not even pick up a phone to tell the man whose work she “admires deeply” that he has gone a bridge too far? Is she so wracked by the Awfulness of it that she is incapable of saying to his face, you went too far? No one EVER asked her to “bell the cat.” She decided that was her role toward me, long ago. And I’ve put up with it for years.

    How about it, Mark: after playing straight man to Connie’s very frequently demeaning public jackanapery toward me — including treating me with considerable disrespect at the Grand Master Awards Weekend, where she put a chair down in front of her lectern as Master of Ceremonies, and made me sit there like a naughty child throughout her long “roast” of my life and career — for more than 25 years, without once complaining, whaddays think, Mark, am I even a leetle bit entitled to think that Connie likes to play, and geez ain’t it sad that as long as SHE sets the rules for play, and I’m the village idiot, she’s cool … but gawd forbid I change the rules and play MY way for a change … whaddaya think, Mark, my friend, am I within the parameters of brutish pigginess to suggest if she WAS offended, then I apologize … even if you and a garbage-scowload of asinine pathetic internet wanks get up on their “affront” and tell me how to behave?

    I’ve sat here for four days, quietly, having done as much forelock-tugging and kneeling as I feel — as I — I — not you — not fan pinheads in far places who jumped and bayed and went after me in a second — but I –who is responsible for my behavior — as I feel is proper. And for four days I’ve waited for Deeply Outraged and Debased Connie Willis — an avowed friend and admirer of my work for more than a quarter century –to get up off her political correctness and take her pal off the gibbet.

    I spent more hours traveling this benighted country, for eight years, state after state after state, lecturing in defense of women’s rights and passage of the ERA than any of you have spent mouthing your sophomoric remonstrances.

    As the Great American Philosopher Tony Isabella has said, “Hell hath no fury like that of the uninvolved.”

    My last word on this clusterfuck. If Willis wants in, she knows where you all are. She knows where I am.All the rest is silence.

    Harlan Ellison

    P.S. Including Mark’s post that precedes this one, I URGE YOU all to post this everywhichwhere, and let the poison drip where it will. Gloves come off now, onlookers.

  10. I wonder when a video of this incident is going to wind up on YouTube? That may be the only way we’ll ever determine EXACTLY what happened on that fateful day.

    In his initial statement Ellison wrote that what he did was “intendly-childlike grabbing.” Also, “IT IS UNCONSCIONABLE FOR A MAN TO GRAB A WOMAN’S BREAST WITHOUT HER EXPLICIT PERMISSION.” Lastly, “For me to grab Connie’s breast is inexcusable … ”

    In his second response Ellison wrote, “NO grab … NO grope … NO fondle … ” Also, “there was the slightest touch.” Finally, “How about it Mark: after playing straight man to Connie’s very frequently demeaning jackanapery toward me … ”

    So which is it? A “grab” or “the slightest touch”? Obviously there’s a difference. One thing about which there is no doubt is Ellison’s keen sense of resentment toward Willis. My guess is that he felt it was time to even the score and so he did it in a way that left him looking the fool.

  11. 1. Harlan Ellison is a whiny asshole – correction – talented whiny asshole.
    2. You people need to get a fucking life. This should qualify as Letterman’s Time-wasters #11-20…..

  12. it’s harlan ellison. he probably woke up that morning and said. “i’m going to manipulate thousands of people on the internet”.

    and he did.

  13. Harlan Ellison does screw up now and then. He is still the master of short fiction in any genre. So, let us not blow the matter in question completely out of it’s actual proportions. What we think of him, means little to him; he is aware of his short comings and owns up to them in his own way. Let the matter rest in piece.

  14. There is nothing threatening or abusive about a
    72 year old man touching anybody anywhere.
    If Mr. Ellison still desires to grab a woman’s breast
    …..well, bless his heart. Also: Harlan Ellison is an ass
    but he is also one of America’s greatest writers. Does
    that mean the rules for him are different? Yeah, actually
    it does. You don’t like it? Tough.

  15. I like all the Ubermensch-believers like who think that aristocratic privelege exists and is unassailable. Yup, be a Great Artist and you can do anything to anybody and the servile souls like Tim and Mark and Mike will insist that you’re entitled to it.

    Of course, you don’t actually have to *be* a great artist to have the Ubermensch-worshipping aristocratophiles kissing your ass and insisting that everyone else do it, too– Harlan Ellison was an overrated – and viciously sexist – hack back in 1967.

    Some assholes grow up and become decent human beings. Some hacks grow up and become decent artists.

    And some – felicitous third! – do neither.

  16. ok, and you will all probably flame me for this, and i dont really give two shits, however, Harlan Ellison, is Harlan Ellison. He’s known for doing things that piss off/shock people. That is just how he is. I just watched the video, and it seems that Connie took his actions in which they were meant, which is to say, he was acting the fool and having a bit of fun. For Crissakes people! He’s in his friggin seventies! I mean come on! How can any of you take his shit seriously when its obvious by the whole “aww shucks” pose after taht he was just playin around. Go ahead and read into it, like the whole lot of you seem to be doing, but come on! He even apologized saying HE went too far! Now -THAT- is something, because, I dont think I have EVER heard of Mr. Ellison apologizing. Thank you for your time.
    -The Rockabilly Kid

  17. Ray Palmer, undeserving target of Harlan Ellison’s meanness for many years, in laughing somewhere.

    Ellison has largely made himself a pseudo-celebrity by his outrageous actions. He intentionally recruited fans to harass Palmer at SCIFI Conventions in the 60s and 70s, intentionally distorted and took out of context what the man said, and did everything he could to ruin him. Palmer, of course, was the one-time editor of Amazing Stories who started the whole “Shaver Mystery” rolling. In addition to being a legendary force in early scifi and fantasy publishing, he was a kind-hearted gent who loved the fans and also committed the Harlan-ordained ‘sin’ of having an interest in exploring the paranormal, UFOs, and other strange phenomena.

    Yep, Palmer is laughing somewhere, and given Ellison’s history, it’s probably a lot more pleasant somewhere than Harlan will end up.


  18. Forgot to mention–In one harassing incident, Harlan’s stooges caused Palmer, already elderly and crippled, to fall and hurt himself when he was cornered in an elevator at a convention.

    Despicable, but everyone pretends not to remember, and kisses his ass.


  19. It never ceases to amaze me how certain people will go long lengths sucking this prick’s balls…

  20. Bottom line: Harlan Ellison is a mean-spirited, immature, and worthless excuse for a human being who has a far-overblown image of his own talent and importance, and who will do the world a major favor by dying a slow, painful death to match the slow pain he has caused so many others during his sorry excuse for a life.

  21. Ellison’s an overrated jagoff, no doubt about it. But he wrote two fine Outger Limits scripts: Soldier and Demon with a Glass Hand.

  22. Wow, Harlan Ellison may have been an a-hole, but all these white knights being offended on behalf of others and demanding an apology to THEM are even worse a-holes. Let’s talk about Biden’s failure to own up for decades of worse behavior.

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