Friday, June 17, 2016

The man behind the Vulcan

kw: book reviews, nonfiction, biographies, actors, acting, television series, space, space aliens

My family and I all loved Star Trek when it was first aired in 1966-69. By mid-1967, my mother would get dinner prepared in time for us to rush into the den and watch the show while eating on TV trays. It was her favorite TV series, as it was for most of us. Over the years of reruns, we re-viewed many of our favorite episodes. But none of us became an overt "trekkie", going to conventions or wearing costumes.

At times I have read articles about the cast and how they got along. The main thread was often how arrogant and generally unliked William Shatner was, and how beloved was Leonard Nimoy. Apparently, the only cast member to hold on to his dislike was "Scotty" James Doohan. Maybe; that could also be hyped. But it became apparent as co-appearances and co-interviews worked their way into the press that a real friendship developed between Shatner and Nimoy.

Now William Shatner, with David Fisher, has written a posthumous biography of Leonard Nimoy, Leonard: My Fifty-Year Friendship With a Remarkable Man. Let's see: 2015 (the year Nimoy passed away) minus 50 is 1965, the year that they began work on the promotional first episodes of Star Trek (they'd appeared in an episode of The Man From Uncle in 1964). As Shatner tell it, though, they were both accustomed to "show friendships" that last for the run of a series, and then end amid promises of eternal fealty. A real friendship was kindled once they were thrown together by the unexpected popularity of the Star Trek franchise in reruns, the conventions, and cemented while making the first movie in 1979.

It is apparent from Shatner's own telling of many stories, and his take on things he admits remembering differently from others, that the charge of arrogance is true, but he was not, is not, self-blind, and has a bit of a list of re-do's he wishes he could perform. However it happened, a real and even close friendship developed between the two men. They had similar backgrounds, were of the same age, and had worked equally hard to perfect their acting skills and develop a career. To get roles that some might call "lead and supporting", but were really co-leading parts, they had to be very accomplished actors by the time they were chosen for the Star Trek series.

With his somewhat brooding appearance and solemn manner (though not as solemn as Spock), before Star Trek Nimoy played the heavy or the villain about 2/3 of the time. Spock was not, as some suppose, his first "positive" role. As any actor will tell you, the villain's part is usually the most interesting, so he had developed a wide range of skills before he first put on the pointy ears to become a half-human First Officer on the Enterprise.

Without the book, it would be hard to gather all the elements of Leonard Nimoy's life, to see how remarkable he really was. As hard as he worked at acting, he also explored poetry and professional photography, and took time (but, he admits not as much as he'd like) to raise a family. The financial cushion of success and his "star power" after 1979 enabled him to finally "major in family". He no longer felt obligated to take every acting job that came his way. Like any other task he set himself, he worked conscientiously to heal the relationships with his children, who'd felt neglected and had drawn away. Perhaps this is why my favorite image of Spock is this stock image from the 2009 remake of the Star Trek movie, in which "Spock Prime" lends advice to his younger self. He has passed on, but while he was with us, he did indeed live long, and he prospered.

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