Columns > Published on October 14th, 2011

Cavalcade Of Literary Jerks: Part 2

Original Shakespeare portrait via Wikipedia Commons, public domain
All author photos via Wikipedia Commons, public domain

Aaaaaaand we're back. If you're just joining us, we are counting down the top 10 jerk authors of all time. You can bring yourself up to speed HERE with jerks six through ten. As for the rest of you, I know you're champing at the bit, so without further ado: bring on the jerks!


5. Harlan Ellison

Harlan Ellison is one of the most influential and revered science fiction writers of all time. He's also an opinionated blowhard and doesn't care who he offends. Even his close friend, the brilliant Isaac Asimov, had to agree—the man has "no sense of tact whatsoever."

In 1969 he referred to the Texas A&M Core of Cadets as "America's next generation of Nazis." To their faces. He butt heads with Gene Roddenberry because the Star Trek creator wouldn't let him include a subplot about drugs in the classic episode, "The City on the Edge of Forever." He fought (unsuccessfully) to have his name taken off the finished product, calling it "fatally inept". He then sued CBS for residuals over 40 years later. He holds the work of some 150 writers hostage for an anthology that was to be published in 1973 (The Last Dangerous Visions), and has threatened to sue those who try to publish their stories elsewhere. In the 80s he allegedly assaulted writer Charles Platt, which he would often boast about publicly. In 2006, he groped the breast of award winning novelist Connie Willis at a Hugo Awards ceremony and played it off as childlike humor. That same year, he sued comic publisher Fantagraphics for defamation.

Did I mention he likes to sue? (He's probably suing me over this article as we speak.) Everyone knows the litigation happy Ellison sued James Cameron for ripping him off when The Terminator came out, but not as many people know he has initiated legal action against over 240 people who have distributed his work on the internet. Daddy just wants to get paid, is that so wrong? Not in and of itself. Ellison isn't a jerk for wanting to be compensated for his work, he's a jerk for making this video. I especially like the part where he threatens to burn someone's house down because he didn't get a promo dvd.

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mj5IV23g-fE]

THIS JUST IN: Ellison is at it again!

Copyright curmudgeon Harlan Ellison sues to halt release of New Regency's In Time.

4. L Ron Hubbard

You all know and hate him as the father of Scientology, the world's most pre-eminent money making scam this side of Catholicism. But did you know, according to a website I have neither the time nor the inclination to debunk, he was also a misogynistic sociopath with a history of psychiatric instability?

Let's run down the list, shall we?

The man was a chronic liar. He claimed to be a nuclear physicist, even though he only took one related class, in which he received an F. He also told numerous lies regarding his military service over the years, and even tried to defraud the US government out of veteran benefits. During the McCarthy era, in what may be the earliest known example of Scientology's Fair Game practice, Hubbard wrote letters to the FBI falsely accusing ex-church members and business rivals of beings communists.

If he sounds mentally unstable, it's because he was. In his early 30s, the man responsible for Tom Cruise's views on psychiatry was twice diagnosed as being a paranoid schizophrenic. He was also found to be taking psychiatric medication when he died. Now who's being glib, huh Tom?

In fact, Hubbard had a long history of drug use. In 1967, he wrote to his wife, "I'm drinking a lot of rum and popping pinks and grays." There is speculation that this led to his myriad of sexual problems, including impotence and (ironically) chronic masturbation. He was a serial adulterer who was paranoid about disease, and took to self medication with sulfathiazole after contracting gonorrhea from a prostitute. He also partook in black magic masturbation rituals in an attempt to summon the Book of Revelation's Whore of Babylon. True story.

He could also be exceedingly cruel. Instead of granting his second wife a divorce, because, according to court documents, it would "hurt his reputation," he told the woman she should kill herself if she really loved him. He then subjected her to what was described as "systematic torture," including "beatings and strangulations and scientific torture experiments."

Oh yeah, he also wrote what are considered some of the worst science fiction novels known to man.

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CnQNkCL_Rw4]

3. Ayn Rand

Best known for her pseudo-philosophical novels and the invention of a religious non-religion called Objectivism, Ayn Rand has seen a resurgence in popularity in recent years, especially amongst the lemmings of the far right. Despite her staunch atheism, Teabaggers have embraced her message of egoism over altruism, elevating Atlas Shrugged to the status of a second Bible. As with science, they choose to selectively ignore salient facts, overlooking what a horrible person the woman was.

For one thing, Rand turned out to be a huge hypocrite. After railing against "parasites" and "moochers" all her life, she broke down and took advantage of social security and Medicare in her old age. This was in 1974, after the lifelong smoker developed lung cancer and required surgery. Personally, I think she should have been denied. Because not only was she a lifelong smoker, sucking down two packs a day, but she considered the Surgeon General's warning about the hazards of smoking to be a leftist conspiracy. In fact, she loved smoking so much, she made it mandatory amongst her friends in an attempt to sate her extreme capnolagnia.

She also based the protagonist of her first, unfinished novel on serial killer William Edward Hickman. Hickman kidnapped and dismembered a 12 year old girl, only to realize he couldn't ransom her dead. So he slapped some makeup on her, propped her torso in the front seat of his car, and then drove to meet her father. Rand praised the man's detachment, saying she admired him because "Other people do not exist for him, and he does not see why they should [...] He has the true, innate psychology of a Superman."

She may also have wrecked our economy. Alan Greenspan used to hang out with Rand back in the day, and has gone on record as saying her ideas about laissez-faire economics were a "stabilizing force" in his life. Nuff said. 

2. Jim Goad

The appropriately named Goad might not be the most well known author on this list, but proportionally, he could be the most notorious. In the early 90s, he and his wife Debbie published a little zine called ANSWER Me!, whose fourth installment, "The Rape Issue," sparked an obscenity trial. What was so offensive about this underground rag that it incited booksellers to arson and a malicious District Attorney to wage war against two lowly newsstand owners? "A series of richly detailed and generally approving articles about rape" according to one review. In fact, the issue was considered so offensive, that serial killer Richard Ramirez was quoted as saying it went too far. (Ok, Goad might have made that one up.) The satirical purpose, according to Goad, was to alienate fans of the zine who "gave a hearty chug-a-lugging thumbs-up to serial murder and suicide but insisted RAPE IS NEVER FUNNY." Sounds good in theory, but I guess the execution left a little something to be desired.

But you can't keep a good Goad down. The man would go on to write The Redneck Manifesto, a treatise in defense of the white underclass, which prompted accusations of racism almost across the board. Even so, vilification of Goad didn't reach it's apex until 1998, when the man got into a physical altercation with a woman he was having an affair with while his wife died of ovarian cancer. The woman teamed up with Goad's wife, who alleged years of abuse, and together they initiated a literal full court press. Goad copped a plea and went to jail for a measly 2 1/2 years. While on the inside, he wrote Shit Magnet, an unflinchingly honest and dangerously articulate memoir defending his actions and sexual politics.

Against all odds, he is currently married to his second wife, and continues to make a living as a writer.

1. Norman Mailer

The Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Naked and the Dead and The Executioner's Song has never been afraid to let his jerk flag fly. The cantankerous wordsmith once compared reading Tom Wolfe's A Man In Full to having sex with a 300 lb woman, saying, "Once she gets on top, it's over. Fall in love or be asphyxiated." He also called Japanese journalist Michiko Kakutani a "one-woman kamikaze" who hates white, male authors. When Gore Vidal called his book, The Prisoner of Sex, "three days of menstrual flow," Mailer retaliated by head-butting the word-mincer on the set of The Dick Cavett Show. When the two got on air, Mailer accused Vidal of ruining Jack Kerouac by sleeping with him. Some 6 years later, apparently still angry, Mailer punched Vidal in the face at a cocktail party. He also allegedly sat on Truman Capote.*

Then there are the controversial comments Mailer made regarding 9-11. These quotes originated in the Idiocy Watch column of The New Republic, a page which seems to have disappeared from the internet, but have been reproduced throughout.

The WTC was not just an architectural monstrosity, but also terrible for people who didn't work there, for it said to all those people: 'If you can't work up here, boy, you're out of it.' That's why I'm sure that if those towers had been destroyed without loss of life a lot of people would have cheered. Everything wrong with America led to the point where the country built that tower of Babel, which consequently had to be destroyed.

And then came the next shock. We had to realize that the people that did this were brilliant. It showed that the ego we could hold up until September 10 was inadequate.

Americans can't admit that you need courage to do such a thing. For that might be misunderstood. The key thing is that we in America are convinced that it was blind, mad fanatics who didn't know what they were doing. But what if those perpetrators were right and we were not? We have long ago lost the capability to take a calm look at the enormity of our enemy's position.

But it takes more than a sharp tongue and a hard noggin to be crowned the #1 Literary Jerk of all time. So what is it that puts Macho Man Mailer at the top of the heap? Let's ask the author's second wife, Adele Morales.

Mailer and Adele had what you would call a storybook tempestuous relationship. The man showed his love in strange ways—like punching her in the stomach while she was six months pregnant. He also coerced her into having group sex with his bros (possibly while she was six months pregnant). But the icing on this abusive cake is when he stabbed her in the chest at a dinner party, nearly puncturing her heart. When one of their guests came to her aid, Mailer told the man to "let the bitch die," which she almost did. The only reason he didn't go to jail is because she refused to press charges. It boggles the mind that four more women chose to marry the man knowing how "stabby" he was.

[video:http://youtu.be/C8m9vDRe8fw]

*Although referenced in numerous articles online, I could not find verification of this anecdote. Maybe it has been confused with the time Gore Vidal insulted Truman Capote by saying he almost sat on him at a party.


Well, that's our list. Who'd a thought—mostly men. The ladies got off easy. Is it because statistically there are more male writers, so the ratio of jerk to gentleman is greater? Or is it like Kurt Vonnegut said, "Men are jerks. Women are psychotic"? (*Ducks rotten fruit.)

To the comments!

About the author

Joshua Chaplinsky is the Managing Editor of LitReactor. He is the author of The Paradox Twins (CLASH Books), the story collection Whispers in the Ear of A Dreaming Ape, and the parody Kanye West—Reanimator. His short fiction has been published by Vice, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Thuglit, Severed Press, Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing, Broken River Books, and more. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @jaceycockrobin. More info at joshuachaplinsky.com and unravelingtheparadox.com.


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