Tuesday, March 1, 2016

All Our Yesterdays: William Shatner's 'Leonard'

Most of the time I don't bother with the personal lives of celebrities. One, it's not my business, and two, 95 percent of the time it's presented in the most sensational manner possible. Still, I'm like anyone else in that I'm curious about certain people. As a Trekkie, I'm particularly interested in the Trek stars. I own Nichelle Nichols' autobiography Beyond Uhura and William Shatner's Star Trek Memories, as well as other books that provide details about the cast of the original Star Trek series along with the series itself.

Shatner's new book Leonard, co-authored with David Fisher, is different from most biographies in that the perspective of the author is not only integral to the understanding of the subject, in this case, it is essential. Leonard Nimoy - Mr. Spock to Shatner's Captain Kirk on TV and film for over twenty years - wrote two autobiographies of his own, and they have their own unique, specific insights, but reading about the same man from the perspective of one of the tiny handful of people who knew him intimately, written after the man's death, is a bittersweet experience bordering on the cathartic for Trekkies who have lived most, if not all their lives, revering Nimoy and what he represented.

Shatner goes deep into Nimoy's family history, comparing and contrasting it with his own: both born into Jewish culture during the Depression, drawn to the theater and forced to reconcile that love with their disapproving parents. We discover the first time Nimoy saw the arcane Jewish hand gesture that he would one day adopt for Spock's character, and we see how Nimoy's Jewishness, over time, became a vital part of his identity and a source of great creative inspiration.

Shatner talks about Nimoy's long years as, by Nimoy's own admission, a character actor before Trek, and as he did in his documentary The Captains, Shatner makes the harsh reality of being an everyday working actor clear: the long hours, the need to take work wherever one can find it and make it one's own, the uncertain future - Nimoy went through many long years in obscurity, playing bad guys, ethnic characters, etc., but always looking for that little bit of truth to the characters he played that he could exploit, no matter how small. 

It was a trait that would serve him well when he had to fight for the integrity of Spock's character, and Shatner covers the Trek years with this in mind. He also opens up about his own feelings of jealousy toward Nimoy when Mr. Spock became at least as popular, if not more so, than Captain Kirk. The two men had more of a business relationship than a friendship in the beginning; it wasn't until after Trek was cancelled and they started doing convention after convention together that they started to enjoy each other's company and to learn more about each other.


Shatner writes about the beginnings of Nimoy's problems with addiction and his subsequent divorce, and contrasts it with his own unsuccessful marriages, especially his third, in which he married a woman he knew was an alcoholic. Toughest part of the book to get through for sure. Both men bounce back from these setbacks with new loves, but what we see emerge is how the ties that bound the two of them grew ever tighter as a result of these personal crises.

The rest of the book deals with Nimoy's wide-ranging interests in and out of acting, as well as his final days. Shatner marvels at the fact that he and Nimoy became as close as they did when by Shatner's admission, he has had few close friends in his life. He mostly attributes this to the nature of the industry he works in, where you can become "close" to someone while working on a TV show for years, promise to stay in touch after it ends, and then never see each other again. Trek was different because of the fandom that kept it alive long after its initial demise, and then provided an opportunity for Shatner and Nimoy to continue seeing each other, through conventions.

Leonard is a very emotional examination of not just a rare life, but a rare friendship. I don't think anyone who reads it will look at either Shatner nor Nimoy quite the same way again.

(I bought Leonard for myself; this is not a review copy.)

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A long life, and a prosperous one

2 comments:

  1. It is one of those life mysteries how these two lives touched each other, but touched so many others as well.

    Laurel and Hardy were a compatible working team, but didn't become friends until the years of their touring after the movies decided they weren't wanted any more. Bing and Bob became close in later life. Like former presidents, there is no one else who shares exactly what they shared.

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  2. That's interesting. As I read LEONARD, this was one aspect of their relationship that I found interesting because it's kinda like, oh, the fandom was what kept Shatner & Nimoy together, but I didn't realize there were precedents. Hard to imagine L&H weren't close while they made their movies.

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