Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, March 7, 2014


Harlan Ellison's The City on the Edge of Forever:  The Original Teleplay That Became the Classic Star Trek Episode by Harlan Ellison (expanded edition, 1996)

More years ago than I like to remember, back in the Dark Ages when we would go to science fiction  conventions, we would always hear at least half a dozen stories about Harlan Ellison, the enfant terrible of the science fiction world.  Ellison is now 79, which is kind of old for an enfant terrible, but the reputation still follows him, in part because of a long-running feud he once had with Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry -- a feud that stemmed from Ellison's screenplay of "The City on the Edge of Forever," an episode that many feel was the finest that program ever produced.

Let's get a couple of things straight from the get-go.  Ellison is not, and has never been, an enfant terrible.  Nor has he ever been a mean-spirited, childish brat.  What Ellison is -- and always has been -- is an honest and highly principled man.  Yes, he is prone to anger-- but never without cause.  At times he has been a hack and a hustler, but he is also the solid professional we all hoped we could be.  Ellison  is a man who knows his own self-worth and the value of his writing.

Ellison is not a man you want to be pissed at you.  He can be pissed at you if you are duplicitous or meretricious; if you are false-faced; or if you spread falsehoods about his professionalism.  For years, Gene Roddenberry had been spreading lies about Ellison's relationship with Star Trek and with this script in particular.

This book is Ellison's response thirty years after the fact.  (Actually, Ellison first responded in a Roger Elwood anthology, Six Science Fiction Plays, in 1976 with the original script for the episode -- the one that won the Writer's Guild award for best dramatic-episode teleplay of the 1967-68 season.
In 1995, a small-press edition of this book was published; a year later, White Wolf published this expanded version.

So what was all the hoopla about?  If you don't already know, I suggest you read this book.

And what's in the book?  Ellison's 75-page introduction, for one; Ellison's introductions are always worthwhile and this one is a doozy.  Then there's Ellison's original treatment, dated 21 March 1966, and his second (revised) treatment, dated 13 May 1966.  The core of the book is the original teleplay, dated 3 June 1966, followed by the prologue and act one of the second revised draft of the teleplay, dated 1 December 1966.  There are also interesting afterwards by eight people closely associated with Star Trek:  ST novelist Peter David, ST scripter and executive D. C. Fontana, ST scripter and writer David Gerrold, ST:TNG executive Melinda Snodgrass, and ST actors DeForest Kelley, Walter Koenig, Leonard Nimoy, and George Takei.

Read this is you are interested in Ellison, Star Trek, how Hollywood works,  or if you just like to read a great story.


  1. Great post Jerry - I love Ellison's work and this is a terrific read, with some amazing footnotes!

  2. THE CITY ON THE EDGE OF FOREVER is my favorite STAR TREK episode. Harlan Ellison wrote some great scripts!

  3. Well, I suppose it depends on your point of view, Jerry. I was in those same dark ages and certainly at the time he was considered both on, the infant terrible of the science fiction world and an angry young man. He was a ranter at a time when most SF authors tried their level headed best not to rock the boat in hopes of giving science fiction a good name, or at least to not give it a bad name. Sales depended upon it.

    Ellison mellowed out with time, but that spat with Roddenberry was never fully explained to the public at the time, at least to my liking. I must admit Ellison was never on my well-liked SF author list, in spite of his hugely popular Dangerous Visions. This book, however does intrigue me. Not that the episode of ST was a favorite of mine, but because of the background it provides.

  4. I am also with Richard in that the episode never seemed to me as great as it is touted to be. Good, yes, but there are episodes far better than it. This book though seems fascinating because of that interesting afterwards that you mention. Thanks for the post.

  5. Well, Neer, part of the reason it arguably isn't the best episode of the series is in the dumbing down Roddenberry demanded for the shooting script. Ah, well. I only wish Robert Bloch had written as extensively (even in his autobiography) of his experiences with H'wood.