Notable People I Have Met ~ Part Ten



Harlan Ellison ~ author & screenwriter



During my journalism studies at Cal State Long Beach, professor Larry Meyer arranged for several of his students to interview Harlan Ellison for the college magazine. It was the early eighties, 1981 or 1982 I believe. During our frenetic interview with this manic personality, Ellison felt the need to explain that his psychiatrist said he had a “distended ego,” but that it was not a serious problem.

Good to know.

If I remember correctly, he lived somewhere near the Hollywood area in a large house packed with books and LPs. He had semicircular, ceiling-high bookshelves stuffed with books, accessed by a sliding library ladder. In another room was a room-length shelf overflowing with hundreds of LPs.

No mere mortal would live long enough to read all those books or listen to all those albums, but they were necessary companions for this very intense man and his very intense mind.

Interviewing Ellison was like drinking from a fire hose. He spoke with a kind of rapid-fire energy that intimidated the other students. But I was older, a returning college student on the path of a new career, so I had a little more resilience, a little more courage. And courage was required. When I prefaced a question by saying “As a science fiction writer. . . .” he exploded into a near rage about how he had written in many genres and how he hated being branded as a science fiction writer, even though he’d written stories for “The Outer Limits” and "Star Trek" television shows in the 1960s and the 1980s revival of “The Twilight Zone” and won numerous science fiction awards.

Ellison’s Wikipedia page calls him a writer of speculative fiction.

{Click Here For Harlan Ellison's Wikipedia Page}

The student photographer was shooting so constantly during the interview that when Ellison excused himself for a bathroom break, I advised the eager young man to back off a bit, as I could tell it was irritating Ellison. But the intrepid student photographer was undaunted and did not heed my advice. When Ellison returned, the student resumed his rapid-fire photographing and Ellison erupted: “If you don’t put that thing down I’m going to shove it right up your ass.”

Clearly a man who could only be pushed so far.

Ellison was angry about the state of American politics, especially about Watergate and former President Richard Nixon who resigned from office in 1974 under threat of impeachment. President Gerald Ford had unjustly spared Nixon from criminal prosecution, according to Ellison, by issuing him a pardon. Ellison said Nixon should have been made to stand face to face with the American people who would each slap him in the face as they walked by.


Our interview with Ellison was during the time when the first video game consoles became widely available. Ellison was not a fan of the new technology. He objected to the games that could not be won, games in which the player could only advance toward inevitable defeat as each level became increasingly harder to complete. He believed those types of games were programming young people to expect defeat in the real world.


This prescient writer, who so often explored the future in so many of his stories, viewed the coming technological age with considerable apprehension. Like other iconic writers of science fiction and other genres, Ellison sounded a warning that so many in this age of smartphone addiction still refuse to hear.


~ by Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved

The Music Of Sound





S ome people are more visual, some more audial. For me, it was always sound that penetrated my senses deeper than anything else.


I love sound, all kinds of sounds. Like young people everywhere, I found emotional refuge in music while I was growing up. Music was a drug that restored the chemical imbalances in my brain. I loved sound so much I even became a musician for a few years.

So many of the sounds in everyday life sound like music to me, even voices, and that caused problems in elementary school. I was never very good at math, but I had the added challenge of a math teacher with a Swedish accent, Mr. Westman. Every word he spoke sounded like a note. His sentences collected into melodies. His classroom lectures were sonatas some days, jazz improvisations other days.

Then, every once in a while my name poked through the melodic line: “Russell! What is the answer?” I didn’t even know the question. And even when he repeated the question, all I could hear was the music of his voice. I shook my head to signal my complete confusion, accompanied by the laughter of my far more attentive classmates.

Near the end of the school year Mr. Westman asked me to meet with him at one of the outdoor wooden lunch tables. “Russell, I’ll be giving you a grade of D on your report card,” he gravely intoned. “I want you to know that this is a gift.” All I could think to say was, “Thanks!”

One of my earliest memories is of the record player at my grandparent’s house next door. It was so tall I had to stand on a chair to turn it on. It was a 78 rpm record player on the top of a large mahogany cabinet that also had a small, black-and-white television and a radio. I managed to turn it on to play the record already on the turntable. The booming sound of the music was magic.

One afternoon I was listening once again to the old scratchy recording of the song,  “New San Antonio Rose,” by Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. My grandfather was from Texas and the record was one of his favorites. Suddenly the sound slowed down and I thought some kind of monster was emerging from the music. It sounded like the voice of some awful demon accompanied by a train wreck. It was incredibly frightening. That was the day I learned what electricity was, and what could happen if its magic flow was briefly interrupted, for the demon and the train wreck quickly disappeared, and like a movie run backwards, the music reassembled itself and rose again from the darkness of some terrible underworld.
Moon in all your splendor knows only my heart,
Call back my Rose, Rose of San Antone,
Lips so sweet and tender like petals fallin' apart,
Speak once again of my love, my own.
That was the day my grandfather taught me something about electricity.




~ by Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved

Under The Bed




















I remember seeing a white, colonial-style building fronted with columns
    on the day I was left at the orphanage.

At least this memory was always in my mind, but knowing how insatiably curious I’ve always been about my biological parents, my biological circumstances, I knew that I may simply have been filling in the blanks of the great mystery that was my first two years of life. After all, I have absolutely no memory of the mother I'd lived with more than a year.

One day in my early twenties I returned to the Children's Home Society, the first time since being left for adoption. I'd phoned a social worker who agreed to meet with me, to tell me some basic “non-identifying” information about my parents. As I approached the address, the building came into view. It looked exactly as I’d remembered: A white building, colonial style, columns and all.

I don’t remember the foster family I lived with for the next six months and I don’t remember being taken to the home of my new parents. Many years later, my grandmother told me that for the first few months, every time the doorbell rang, I’d run and hide under my bed. It took me a long time to shake that fear, and even now I still get the urge once in a while to hide under the bed.



~ by Russ Allison Loar
~ Painting by Erin Payne
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Notable People I Have Known ~ Part Three




Sherwood Rowland ~ Nobel Prize Winning Scientist

I first interviewed UC Irvine chemistry professor Sherwood Rowland in 1987 when I was a reporter for the Irvine World News, the first of many subsequent interviews. It was during the time of the Montreal Protocol On Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer, a worldwide effort to limit and eventually ban the industry-wide production and use of Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). 

Rowland, with postdoctoral research assistant Mario Melina, discovered that CFCs were destroying the earth’s protective ozone layer, a conclusion that was heavily criticized during the early years of his findings.

When I first interviewed him in his campus laboratory, he told me that global warming was the most imminent threat to the planet. To my surprise, he said that in addition to the man-made chemicals that were warming the planet were gas emissions from cattle—cow belching!

He was very generous with his time during that first interview, despite the fact that I was just a small-time reporter for the local newspaper. He even showed me his ice core samples.

Rowland and Melina were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1995.


~ to be continued


~ by Russ Allison Loar
~ Photo by Rick Loomis\Los Angeles Times
© All Rights Reserved