Harlan Ellison auction includes the world's most (in)famous "Star Trek" photo

Heritage Auction's upcoming auction of Harlan Ellison's estate contains a wealth of memorabilia, including a photo of young Harlan flanked by Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner in full character costume. Nimoy inscribed the photo with, "Harlan, Love you & your great credits," and Shatner wrote, "Who's the kid in the middle."

Heritage says the photo is "sure to be one of the most fought-over, sought-after items in Heritage's history."

Ellison wrote the script for what many consider the best Star Trek episode, "The City of the Edge of Forever."

From Heritage Auctions:

Upon Harlan Ellison's death in June 2018 at the age of 84, The New York Times described him as "a furiously prolific and cantankerous writer whose science fiction and fantasy stories reflected a personality so intense that they often read as if he were punching his manual typewriter keys with his fists." The tagline for the 2008 documentary about Ellison, Dreams with Sharp Teeth, described him as "Genius. Monster. Legend."

Ellison – author of classics, collector of awards, reviewer of films and comics and television shows, maker of trouble – did nothing to disabuse fans and followers of his reputation. In the introduction to the first episode of his short-form Harlan Ellison's Watching, made in the mid-1990s for the Sci-Fi Channel, he said that if you call him a writer of science fiction, "I'll come to your house, and I'll nail your pet's head to a coffee table. I'll hit you so hard your ancestors will die. I'll hit you so hard your grandmother will bleed. I'm a writer. There's no adjective in front of it. I'm just a writer."

Ellison was many things, but he was hardly just a writer, just as Frank Sinatra wasn't just a singer or Albert Einstein wasn't just a guy who was good at math. He counted among his thousands of short stories, teleplays (for The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone, among others), screenplays, books, essays, reviews and comic-book stories some of the most enlightening, terrifying, and thrilling speculative fiction ever written. Speculative because he hated "science fiction."

He searched for food and sex in a post-World War IV wasteland with "A Boy and His Dog" beginning in 1969. He allowed a living computer to torture the last five humans on earth in 1967's "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream." And he made Captain James T. Kirk choose between the woman he loved and the future of humanity in the best of all Star Trek episodes, "The City on the Edge of Forever," whose filmed version he famously loathed. Which doesn't even begin to touch upon his varied and vast bibliography stuffed with masterworks and their influence upon generations of writers who followed in his footsteps and fist punches.

"Who was Harlan Ellison, really?" says Babylon 5 creator and renowned comic-book writer J. Michael Straczynski, a longtime friend and collaborator of Ellison's and executor of the author's estate. "He was an artist. He was blunt. He was ruthlessly honest. He was charitable. He would give you the shirt off his back if you needed it. Fiercely loyal to his friends, often to his detriment. Supportive of the arts and his fellow writers. An unabashed liberal and a proponent for free speech, free press, women's rights and civil rights. Pugnacious. A fighter when challenged, because that's what it is to come from the streets, but the rest of the time: the most easygoing, gentlest, kindest soul I have ever known."

On October 21, Heritage Auctions will proudly present the Harlan Ellison Comics & Comic Art Signature® Auction, which features more than 100 books and works of original art from Ellison's vast collection spanning his life and career. They include among their ranks pieces by revered artists that adorned some of his best-known works, including Ed Emshwiller's cover art for Ellison's 1960 Ace paperback The Man With Nine LivesLeo and Diane Dillon's dust-jacket painting for 1975's acclaimed short-story collection Deathbird Stories: A Pantheon of Modern Gods and Frank Miller's wraparound cover art for the award-winning 1993 novella Mefisto in Onyx.

Among the Golden Age comics and the WatchmenSpectre and Wolverine originals and other newsstand familiars he adored is pulp legend Virgil Finlay's illustration for Ellison's 1957 short story "Wanted in Surgery," which ran in the August 1957 issue of the sci-fi magazine IfTom Sutton's near-complete story "The Discarded" from 1978's The Illustrated Harlan Ellison is also featured.

The legendary Jim Steranko shows up with his 1969 Amazing Stories artwork for Ellison's short story "Dogfight on 101," also known as "Along the Scenic Route." Steranko finished this piece when the surrealist was redefining and reinvigorating Captain America and Nick Fury at Marvel.

Vic and Blood, that wandering concupiscent boy and his hungry telepathic dog from the hellscape future, also appear in this auction, as rendered by the heavy-metalist of all illustrators, Richard Corben. The artist's original quadriptych cover for the compendium Vic and Blood: The Continuing Adventures of a Boy and His Dog ranks among this event's centerpieces.

"Ellison was among the most respected authors of any genre in the 20th century, so it's no surprise that the top artists in the field worked with him to help tell some of his most impactful stories," says Heritage Auctions Vice President Todd Hignite. "These pieces from Ellison's collection help tell the story of the best science fiction and fantasy writing and illustration of the postwar era."

Proceeds from the sale will benefit the Harlan and Susan Ellison Foundation, a nonprofit created by Straczynski. The foundation is working to turn the late couple's Los Angeles home into what Straczynski calls "a place dedicated to writing, creativity, art and music."

It will be a "memorial library," he says, "full of books (50,000 by actual count), art (the pieces in the Heritage auction represent only a small portion of what's there), comics, amazing architecture (complete with a tower, hidden rooms, gargoyles and the Lost Aztec Temple of Mars)." Straczynski says it will serve "fans of Harlan's work, sure, but also lovers of art and books and architecture, as well as academics who will be able to study his manuscripts and decades of correspondences with some of the most famous writers in and out of the science fiction genre."

In Dreams With Sharp Teeth, no less than Sandman creator Neil Gaiman calls Ellison "one of the greatest writers of the 20th century." It was a sentiment echoed upon Ellison's death by Stephen King, who tweeted, "There was no one quite like him in American letters, and never will be. Angry, funny, eloquent, hugely talented. If there's an afterlife, Harlan is already kicking ass and taking down names." Even The Saturday Evening Post eulogized Ellison, wondering at the beginning of its obituary: "How do you memorialize genius?"

"I genuinely would never have become a writer were it not for Harlan's example, as a writer and a man, and the way he spoke of his work in his essays," says Straczynski. The executor of Ellison's estate is known to a generation of comic-book readers for his six-year run on The Amazing Spider-Man and as the author of the Superman: Earth One series.

"Harlan helped instill a sense of fierce professionalism and love of the form not just in me, but God only knows how many other writers out there who cite his influence. For me, that incurred a debt of honor, and as I got to know Harlan, I made it clear that I was there to repay that debt, that I was his knight-errant. Point me at what needs doing, and I'll get it done."

Ellison is perhaps best known to many as the writer of "The City on the Edge of Forever," or at least several iterations of the teleplay that became Star Trek's most beloved entry. His disdain for the final version, in which Kirk and Mr. Spock follow Dr. McCoy to 1930 New York through the portal of the Guardians of Forever to stop him from saving do-gooder Edith Keeler, was legendary. But it became part of the permanent record in the mid-1990s, when Ellison published a collection of teleplays that told the story he originally intended. His introductory essay and the following chapters were as blunt as a wrecking ball.

The cover of the 1996 paperback, featuring a grinning Leonard Nimoy and a handsy William Shatner sandwiching the short firebrand from Ohio who once famously infuriated Frank Sinatra, bears what has to be one of the most ironic and iconic photos of all time. The photo, taken on the Star Trek set, is signed by both stars: "Who's the kid in the middle," wrote Shatner; added Nimoy, "Harlan, Love you & your great credits." That photo, too, is in the auction; it's sure to be one of the most fought-over, sought-after items in Heritage's history.

"When it comes to signed photos in Star Trek lore, this has to be at the zenith," says Brian Chanes, senior director in Heritage's Hollywood and Entertainment category. "There's a lot of amazing and important art in this auction that either has a direct connection to Harlan and his work or was near and dear to his heart, but this photo is a Holy Grail."

And it would no doubt hearten Ellison to know its sale will go toward funding scholarships for new writers coming out of high school, helping those charitable causes he supported, or bringing to life the house he and his late wife Susan left behind in Los Angeles. Straczynski, who offers countless tales about his friend's kindness, says this auction's proceeds will help keep Harlan more than just a memory.

In the house, he says, "there will be projected video displays of Harlan and Susan in various rooms, and seminars on his work and his place in literature. We are also arranging for his back catalog of books to be republished and plan to host launch parties at the house for critics and others in the press. Harlan deserves a special place in American letters, and his home, the Harlan and Susan Memorial Library, deserves a special place in the geography of Los Angeles. The funds raised through this auction will be crucial to accomplishing those goals."