Harry Harrison

On this date in 1925, author and editor Harry Max Harrison (né Henry Maxwell Dempsey) was born in Stamford, Conn. His mother was a Russian born in Latvia and his father, of Irish descent, was born in New York state. Growing up in New York City, Harrison spent a lot of time alone, excelling in science at school and devouring science fiction books.

At age 13 he was one of the founding members of the Queens chapter of the Science Fiction League. After high school he joined the U.S. Army Air Corps, where high marks on technical aptitude tests secured him training in computers. Discharged in 1946, Harrison enrolled in the Cartoonists and Illustrators School in New York City, where he met many artists who gained prominence in the comic book industry.

Harrison became an exemplary comic book artist himself, designing hundreds of  pages of comics and covers over the next few years, including “Worlds Beyond: A Magazine of Science Fiction Fantasy.”

As the “Red Scare” in the 1950s advanced, comic books became a political target, blamed for “corrupting America’s youth.” The comic book boom came to an end, forcing artists like Harrison to take up other trades. Harrison stuck with his childhood love and started writing science fiction. He was one of the main writers of the Flash Gordon comic strip in the 1950s and 1960s. One of his novels, Make Room! Make Room! (1966), was the basis of the sci-fi classic film “Soylent Green” (1973).

Some of his other prominent books (there are dozens) include The Stainless Steel Rat (1961), Bill, the Galactic Hero (1965), The Technicolor Time Machine (1967) and A Rebel in Time (1983). An entry titled “Atheist” linked to his website details how Harrison’s short story “The Streets of Ashkelon” (1962) remained unpublished for over a year because the hero was an atheist who tried to protect the inhabitants of an alien world from the influence of a Christian missionary: “The story was regarded as being too offensive for a Christian readership.”

He married Evelyn Harrison in 1950, divorcing in 1951. He married dress designer and ballet dancer Joan Merkler in 1954. They had two children, Todd and Moira, and were married until her death in 2002. He died in 2012 at age 87 in his apartment in Brighton, England. (D. 2012)

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