So there I am, walking the floor of a major science-fiction convention in a New York City hotel, circa 1980. Back in the day, comic books and artwork and merchandise were always part of any con. I was the editor in chief of Starlog magazine and a guest of the convention.
Harlan Ellison was in the city then, probably staying with Norman Spinrad, or at least using Spinra’d’s Greenwich Village apartment. (Norman may have been in Europe at the time.) Harlan had a monthly column in Starlog, and we had become friendly colleagues, on the way to becoming actual friends.
So Harlan and I are walking across the main convention floor looking at comics, licensed toys and other merch, sci-fi memorabilia, etc. Harlan was hunting for a specific Star Wars action figure. One company had put out a couple dozen of them at high quality. Harlan was always an inveterate collector, and one with discerning taste. So we’re looking at dealers’ tables for whichever one he needed. Couldn’t find it.
But at the back end of the room was a major dealer, with three tables worth of SW stuff. And yes—he had the specific series Harlan was collecting. And even better, he had the very one Harlan needed. BUT, it was not on the tabletop. So he looked in the boxes beneath his table. Not there. He realized it had to be in his room, upstairs. He asked if he could have his assistant watch the booth while he ran upstairs for the action figure: would Harlan mind waiting? Harlan did not mind; he was delighted to have found a dealer who had what he was after.
So were’ standing at the guy’s table, chatting and waiting for him to return. A couple of fans walked by, slowed down as they approached us, began looking at the table, and just stayed there. This was a slow process, but about ten minutes later, we looked up to see a semi-circle of fans around us, about a dozen deep. I was a bit uncomfortable; Harlan was used to it.
We ignored them and continued talking. Then, one brave fan stepped forward from the group, and politely as he could, interrupted us. I took a step back, certain he would thrust out some book of Harlan’s for an autograph. And he did thrust something out, but it was a magazine. In fact, it was the latest copy of Starlog, and he was interested in my autograph. I was surprised and a bit embarrassed. I asked if the young man recognized the person I was speaking with. He did not. I was dumbfounded . . . and sure that Harlan would take his head off for interrupting us. Or for wearing the color red, or whatever. (Harlan used to be famous for going off on pros and fans alike.)
But Harlan took two steps back, made a “by-your-leave” gesture with his hand, and provided a pen for me to sign with. When I finished signing, it was like a dam broke, as at least a dozen of the other fans who’d been watching came forward waving stuff for autographs—Starlog stuff, for me to sign. Fortunately, the dealer arrived back at the table a couple of minutes later. Harlan bought his action figure, I signed a couple more mags, and off we went.
I began to apologize to Harlan for the rudeness and ignorance of the Starlog fans, and then saw he was trying hard not to laugh. He had enjoyed the whole scenario, happy not to be the one chased after, just this one time.