Leonard: My Fifty-Year Friendship With A Remarkable Man
By William Shatner With David Fisher
Thomas Dunne Books / St. Martin’s Press
Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner shared a deep friendship that started when they were young actors who worked together on The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
They cemented their bond with each other when they worked together on the classic series Star Trek, with Shatner as Captain Kirk and Nimoy as Spock.
That friendship continued through the rest of their lives, until Nimoy died on February 27, 2015. Shatner and Nimoy saw each other through personal and professional highs and lows.
In this book, Shatner tells the story of a man who was his friend for 50 years, and recounts anecdotes and untold stories from their lives on and off the set.
The book also serves as a biography of Nimoy, as he looks at his Jewish upbringing, and goes into what roles he had in the theater, what television was like in the 1950s, Nimoy’s later work directing movies like Three Men and a Baby, and of course, plenty of behind-the-scenes stories from Star Trek.
“I think about Leonard. I miss him. Even when we weren’t in close touch, he was always in my life,” writes Shatner. “And when I think about Leonard and all the adventures we had together, I remember his own lust for life; I remember his desire to explore and experience life in all its infinite wonders. I think of his spiritual side, in which he never stopped searching for answers he knew he would never find. I think of his generosity and commitment to fight for equal justice for everyone. I think of his never-ending passion for the arts and his quest to nurture creativity in young people. And I think of him standing in front of me, his palm held high, his fingers separated in the Vulcan salute, smiling knowingly.
“Fifty years is a lifetime that passes in an instant. I can close my eyes and see him, young and handsome, tall and taciturn. He’s there, in my mind; his light step, his sardonic humor, his passion for his work. I hear his voice in all its richness, infused with an endless curiosity, and the sounds of his unhappiness as well as his laughter.
“I look back and the reflection I see is my own life. The young actor that I was,hard of body, sound of mind, excited about the possibilities. Fifty years ago, no one, no one could have envisioned what was about to happen to us: This miracle that is Star Trek and a friendship that grew from it and lasted almost half a century. The fact that my contribution to Star Trek is done carried with it a great sadness, but that is nothing compared to the devastation of Leonard’s death before we could resolve the fraying ropes of our friendship. I am filled with sadness at the realization it will never be put together.”
Shatner on the differences with how he and Nimoy approached acting:
“I didn’t take acting classes. not that I didn’t recognize their value, but I learned by doing; Leonard studied his craft. I actually think Leonard’s acting ability often was underrated, primarily because he made it look so easy. Spock, for example, seemed to be easy to imitate – but it took great skill to create that blatant dispassion.
“An actor’s knowledge of his character started with the script. Leonard always was in awe of the written word,and when he himself wrote, he brought the same diligence and respect to the page as he did to his performance. The script should provide clues to the actor about who his or her character is, what process this person is going through, and how he or she responds. An actor also had to understand the purpose of each scene, “the spine of the scene” he called it, what knowledge is supposed to be conveyed to audience through the action and dialogue in each scene.”
On what Leonard Nimoy did with the role of Spock:
“Spock continued to evolve as Leonard explored all the possibilities of the character. It was a considerably more complex task than usual because there were no recognizable hallmarks. This was a brand-new character in American culture; he was carving out the path. There was no traditional right or wrong; the audience would tell him what was true. So Leonard took great care to protect Spock. ‘Characters have to depend on the kindness of actors,’ he once explained. ‘I felt particularly that way with Spock because I think Spock could easily become cartoonish or silly. Liberties could be taken, and I had to prevent that.’
“Bringing Spock to life probably was the most difficult role of his career. And he admitted to having some concern that he wouldn’t be taken seriously as an actor. At first, he was worried that the whole show was a foolish enterprise, and he would be known forever for wearing devilish ears and playing an alien on a spaceship. He was right about that, and in less competent hands, it could have become a very campy show and been embarrassing for all of us.
“But that never happened, and certainly part of the reason was that we all approached it seriously. We knew our audience would take the show only as seriously as we did. To get to the core Spock, as he once explained to an interviewer, ‘I went through the process of gradually internalizing more and more and more. There were times that I had to remind myself of that because that wasn’t my nature. On the contrary, my training as an actor was to use my emotions, to use gesture, to use color in my speech, to use tonalities to be interesting. And to be passionate, I always enjoyed playing passionate characters, so this was quite a shift for me. It wasn’t me at all. It became me.'”
Shatner on Nimoy’s early career on television:
“As a character actor, Leonard played an amazing array of characters, although his specialty was being the heavy, the bad guy. While some Ziv shows would not use actors more than once, other shows were far more relaxed about it. He did eight episodes of Lloyd Bridges’s Sea Hunt, for example, playing everything from a revolutionary student to an explosives thief. In one episode, he would have a mustache; in another, he’d take off the mustache and wear a hat. He did a variety of accents, whatever it took to earn a paycheck. Most Ziv shows paid $80 a day and were shot in two days; Sea Hunt was one of their most successful shows, so it had a larger budget – they paid $100 a day and shot in two and a half days, so if they needed a Spaniard with a mustache and glasses, Leonard said, ‘Si, senor,’ pasted on the mustache, and wore glasses. During the next few years, Leonard appeared in many of the most successful series on television, working with some of our best actors – and gaining a reputation in the business as a go-to bad guy.”
Shatner on actors’ friendships and how his bond with Nimoy was different:
“Long after Star Trek, I did Boston Legal with James Spader. My God, I love James Spader. We cared for each other, we respected each other, and I learned from James Spader the value of facing a problem rather than burying it and hoping it goes away. The characters we played were so close I suggested we marry, so as my senility took control, he would have legal authority to take care of me. Off the set, we weren’t quite that close, but certainly I consider him a very good friend. If I called him and asked the wildest favor, I have no doubt he would respond. When the series ended, we knew we would be friends forever. And with very few exceptions, we have never spoken since.
“Actors’ friendships are like that. They tend to be deep and temporary. During the closing party, we hold each other firmly, intimately; man, woman, and child, we’ve been through the wars together. I love you. I’ll never forget you. You’re my friend forever. But within a few days, if you’re lucky, you get another job, and your life is filled with all new and equally wonderful people, and you never see each other again. Every series, every movie or play I’ve done, they were all my good friends, and I never saw them again.
“But with Leonard, it was different. What should have happened was that after three years of making a mildly successful series and gaining a great deal of respect and good feeling toward each other, after our last day on the set, we each should have gone in whatever direction our careers took us. But this was a unique situation; there never has been anything comparable. Rather than being forgotten in television history, after going into syndication, Star Trek grew to become one of the most popular programs in history. It became part of the American dialogue. Leonard and I made five movies together; he directed two of them, and I directed one. We attended several conventions a year and otherwise made appearances and even commercials. While circumstances should have taken us to different places, the unprecedented success of Star Trek continually brought us together.”