Born on March 31st, 1931, Leonard Nimoy passed away last year at the age of 83. Nimoy grew up in Boston, and like his Star Trek partner William Shatner, he began acting at age 8 (the two men were also born only four days apart!). Small productions as a High School student and during a summer course at Boston College led him to Hollywood in 1949 to seek work as an actor. It took him two years to land small parts, and his first leading role came in 1952 with Kid Monk Baroni. Foreshadowing his most famous role in the 1960s, Nimoy played a sympathetic alien in the 1952 Republic cliffhanger serial, Zombies of the Stratosphere (a cult classic!). He appeared in small roles on a number of TV shows throughout the late 1950s and early 1960s, including Dragnet, M Squad, Sea Hunt, Bonanza, The Untouchables, Wagon Train, Rawhide, The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, and Combat!. His credits in the spy genre included The Man From U.N.C.L.E. "The Project Strigas Affair" (1964) costarring William Shatner, Get Smart "The Dead Spy Scrawls" (1966), and a long run playing an operative named Paris (replacing Martin Landau's Roland Hand) in Mission: Impossible (1969-1971). Images: Nimoy in Mission: Impossible. Continues below.
Leonard Nimoy was cast as the half-Vulcan science officer, Mr. Spock, on Star Trekin 1966. Show creator, Gene Roddenberry, once called Spock the conscience of Star Trek. Nimoy's ability to bring dignity and earnestness to the role served Roddenberry's vision to tackle racial and political issues within the Sci-Fi framework. The pilot episode saw a multi-species bridge crew (and a female first officer, played by Roddenberry's wife, Majel Barrett!). The show was picked up, but not after some alterations. Russian and Japanese bridge crew members now joined Mr. Spock, but Barrett was relegated to the role of a nurse (boo!). Although the series was not as enlightened as Roddenberry had hoped as far as woman's liberation was concerned, it did highlight the first African-American female in a major role (communications officer on the bridge) and the first inter-racial kiss on US prime-time TV. Star Trek also dealt with Cold War-era tensions, as the Federation struggled to expand its community in the face of hostile alien races. And the thrill of the USS Enterprise and its mission "to explore strange new worlds and seek out new civilizations" captured the passion and curiosity (and patriotism) fueled by the very-real Space Race that was going on between the two world powers. But it was Spock's steady logic and faith in science that was the pivotal ingredient that draw in audience empathy and loyalty. Nimoy apparently enjoyed playing underdogs and he spoke positively about how Spock afforded him both an outsider to portray on-screen, as well as the wider popularity and success he needed to support his family. Star Trek became an integral part of Nimoy's career, with appearances as Mr. Spock throughout the original series, the animated series, Star Trek The Next Generation, and the original-cast feature films (he directed two of the best!). He was also the only original series member to appear in the new Star Trek Franchise by J.J. Abrams (Majel Barrett's voice continued to be used as the Starfleet computer up through the the first Abrams film). Nimoy's final Spock roles were that of "Spock Prime", his original character now offering wisdom as mentor to a younger, alternate timeline Spock. Nimoy brought serious dedication to Mr. Spock throughout the years, and he drew on some of his experiences as the son of Ukrainian Jewish immigrants to create the role. According to his first autobiography, I Am Not Spock, the famous Vulcan hand-sign was inspired by a gesture of blessing made by the Kohanim and stood as symbol for Almighty God (and Shalom).
Leonard Nimoy developed an interest in Photography at the age of 13. It was a passion he would eventually return to later in life. I have taught Photography in private schools for over twenty years, mostly on the east coast, and I used to pass by Nimoy's rep, R. Michelson Galleries, in Northampton, Massachusetts. Nimoy's approach to his work was quite interesting. Rather than relying on the hunt for images out in the world, he considered himself to be a conceptual photographer. Driven by cohesive ideas, he worked on a number of series projects that mainly originated as studio constructions. One of the most memorable series was called The Full Body Project, which focussed on nude studies of plus-size women. It was fantastic to see an artist, who frequently chose nudes as his venue, to celebrate the beauty and dignity of people who are otherwise neglected in a society obsessed with body-type. In the intimate discussion film with William Shatner, Mind Meld (2001), Nimoy spoke of finding great serenity as an elderly man. As the two old friends talked in Nimoy's garden, the actor said that his days were now dedicated to serenity, creative work, and to giving back to the community as a patron of the arts and through charity His final "tweet" before his death last month was, "A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP (Live Long and Prosper)." Learn More: New York Times obituary, Mr. Spock the Photographer. Image below: Michelson Galleries/Seth Kaye Photography. Essential Nimoy as actor and/or director: The Man From U.N.C.L.E. "The Project Strigas Affair" (1964), Star Trek (1966-1969), Mission: Impossible (1969-1971), The Wrath of Khan (1982), The Search For Spock (1984), The Voyage Home(1986), The Transformers: The Movie (1986), 3 Men and a Baby (1987), Star Trek The Next Generation "Unification" (1991), Mind Meld (2001).
Born on March 22nd, 1931, William Shatner made his way up through stage and radio in Montreal (starting at age 8), eventually joining the Canadian National Repertory Theatre. He toured Canada performing Shakespeare and spent three years at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. It was there, during his stint as understudy to Christopher Plummer, that he famously took the stage without rehearsal with great success. Early stage and screen gigs led to larger roles, including appearances in Alfred Hitchcock Presents and in The Brothers Karamazov with Yul Brynner. He returned to Broadway in 1959 for The World of Suzie Wong in the role of Lomax. Good reviews spawned more offers and Shatner's marathon career really picked up with roles in Thriller, The Outer Limits, Burke's Law, The Fugitive, Dr. Kildare, Route 66, and many others. Writer Richard Matheson once said: "He so often gets a bad rap for overacting, but I just don’t see that. When I lived in Brooklyn before moving to California, I used to go out of my way to watch Bill perform on TV in New York in the early part of his career. And he was fascinating to watch...very theatrical. Great actors, in my estimation, are actors as opposed to reactors. Too many of today’s “stars” are reactors. They can’t really act themselves so they let other character actors around them do the acting and then they react to that performance." Image: from the movie Incubus (1966) shot in Esperanto (It's like seeing Shatner in a spooky Bergman film!). More below.
One of William Shatner's early cult-classic roles was "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet", a 1963 episode of The Twilight Zone written by Richard Matheson and directed by Richard Donner (Wanted Dead or Alive, The Rifleman, Have Gun Will Travel, The Man From UNCLE, Get Smart, The Wild Wild West, Superman, Superman II, Ladyhawke, The Goonies, Lethal Weapon). Perhaps Spy Vibers will know this period of the actor's resume best for his 1964 appearance with Leonard Nimoy in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. "The Project Strigas Affair" (image below). He returned to the spy genre to appear in Mission: Impossible "Encore" (1971) and "Cocaine" (1972). Story continues.
Shatner and Nimoy were reunited in 1966 to lead a new science fiction series called Star Trek, a groundbreaking show that lasted only three years- but became a 50+ year cultural phenomenon. Star Trek has continued to weave in and out of the actor's life, from feature films and an animated series to a number of recent (and great!) documentaries. These various docs (see my list below) reveal Shatner as an exuberant, driven, and ever-inspired creator. He seems to fill his life with acting, writing, producing, recording, and doing charity work. In the intimate discussion film Mind Meld, he told his life-long friend and collaborator, Leonard Nimoy, that he feels he still hasn't done enough and that he is constantly driven to work and to experience life. With no sign of slowing down in his later years, he once said, "I find age such a foreign concept. I have to be reminded. I still have the extraordinary feeling of adventure, striking out into unknown fields." At 84, he continues to keep his calendar booked with creative projects. He recently announced a new book (he has written many!) about entrepreneurship. Given Bill's beginnings, I'd like to see him return to Shakespeare in an older role. Other notable credits include: Incubus (1966), The Hound of the Baskervilles (1972), Mission: Impossible (1971, 1972), T.J. Hooker (1982-1986), 3rd Rock from the Sun (1999-2000), The Practice (2004), and Boston Legal (2004-2008). See Spy Vibe's Essential Bill Shatner list below.
Learn more about William Shatner with Spy Vibe's Essential Bill. DOCS: Mind Meld (2001), The Captains (2001), William Shatner Biography (1998), At Home in the Universe (1997). EPISODES: Alfred Hitchcock Presents "The Glass Eye" (1957), Twilight Zone "Nick of Time" (1960) and "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" (1963), The Man From U.N.C.L.E. "The Project Strigas Affair" (1964), Star Trek (1966-1969) Where No Man Has Gone Before", "Space Seed", "The City on the Edge of Forever", "Mirror Mirror", "The Empath." FILM: Incubus (1966), Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), Star Trek: The Voyage Home (1986), Star Trek Generations (1994). Honorable Mention: Check out the 1961 film, The Explosive Generation, to see Shatner portray an English teacher who gets in trouble when he broaches the theme of sex in class (cheesy at times, but a good time-capsule on the era. Watch for the mic boom in upper frame!). Below: Old friends (Shatner and Nimoy). Leonard Nimoy passed away recently at the age of 83. Related posts: Designer Gene Winfield, Dressed For Space, Shakespeare Spies, Shakespeare Spies: Diana Rigg.