Born on this day in 1931, Leonard Nimoy passed away in 2015 at the age of 83. The actor grew up in Boston, and like his Star Trek partner and life-long friend 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.
Leonard Nimoy was cast as the half-Vulcan science officer, Mr. Spock, on Star Trek in 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).
Growing up in Boston, 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, Spy Vibe's William Shatner at 84. 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).