Saturday, March 27, 2004


essay by William S. Kowinski

"If you should write a fable for little fishes, you would make them speak like great whales." Goldsmith to Johnson, as quoted by Herman Melville in Moby Dick

"The high point of my experience with Star Trek was the making of '>Star Trek IV," Leonard Nimoy told me, in a telephone conversation last summer [2004]. " There was not a single shot fired that had any impact in the story. A girl slapped a guy---that was the violence in the film." He laughed. "There was a harpoon shot at a whale and it didn't hit its mark, it was blocked by a starship...It was an entirely different kind of sensibility. That to me was my Star Trek statement."

Leonard Nimoy was born on March 26, 1931, in Boston, just four days after William Shatner's birth in Montreal. Growing up during the Depression in a Jewish family living in a largely Italian neighborhood, he began acting in local theatres when he was eight years old, and committed himself to an acting career over the strenuous objections of his parents when he was 17. Both of his parents had employed subterfuge and risked their lives to escape from Russia (his father stole through the darkness across the Polish border, his mother hid in a hay wagon) but they didn't want their American son to rely on make-believe. They wanted him to become an educated professional with an assured future.

In fact, Leonard Nimoy didn't make a living entirely by acting until he was 35, and a regular on Star Trek. Though he'd gotten his first low-budget movie lead in 1951, his subsequent acting jobs never lasted more than two weeks. His name on his dressing room door would be written in chalk, he recalled. He often did other work to support his young family, including driving a cab in the Los Angeles neighborhood where he now lives. (This and other information comes from his "Mind Meld" DVD conversation with William Shatner, and Nimoy's books and various published interviews. I'll quote again later from our brief on-the-record conversation.)

The theatre had been a refuge in his youth. "I was screwed up," he told an interviewer, shortly before the release of Star Trek IV. "Lost. The only place, the only thing that seemed to be giving me any sense of satisfaction were these plays. I should have been living in the theatre. I felt so totally right there."

But the Star Trek series did not end the insecurity. His name was permanently affixed to his door, but the studio denied his simplest requests (for a telephone, a fan to cool the room) if they weren't explicitly designated in his contract. And the series itself almost didn't make it to a second year, then was set to be cancelled after the second season, and saved for one more year on a much reduced budget.

In his 1975 book,'> I Am Not Spock, he wrote about his anger and alienation, though much less so in his 1995 book, '>I Am Spock. In "Mind Meld," he seldom used the word "anger" until prompted by Shatner. But his conflicts with Paramount, with Star Trek and for awhile even with fans continued. Eventually he agreed to reprise Spock in the first Star Trek movie, and was initially even more reluctant to appear in the second.

But as subsequent events proved, his difficulties weren't with Star Trek itself or the Spock character. Though playing Spock caused some problems by requiring him to suppress emotion, it also helped him to come to terms with his alienation and anger. Developing Spock as not only rational and conscious, but the essence of a civilized gentleman---one of many elements he created for the character---helped transform his whole life.

Success also helped. Star Trek became a major cultural and financial force, and Nimoy was essential to it. When he directed Star Trek III, the studio and producer Harve Bennett kept a close eye on his work. But when that film was a great critical, fan and financial success, Nimoy was in position to come into his own, and he was ready.

"I moved into a new and rather grand suite of offices on the Paramount lot," he wrote. "I had good tables in the studio dining room, a terrific parking spot, and a spring in my step." He was told to make Star Trek IV his movie: his vision of Star Trek. But this was also a personal and artistic opportunity for completion. In his book he likened it to the Vulcan ordeal preceding Kolinar, the ultimate achievement. "When done, one is in unity, at home in oneself...An attempt at integration."

essay continues after photos. Thanks to Trek Connection and The Warp Core for photos.

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