Saturday, February 28, 2015


Star Trek has become a fixture of the American mythos. I suppose Star Trek is to the American pop cultural lexicon what Homer was to the Greeks. A source of so many illustrations and catchphrases. Far more than Star Wars or Lord of the Rings

The Western is the only rival in that regard. But Star Trek is far more of a one-man vision than the Western genre. Mind you, Roddenberry was a limited storyteller. He himself ran out of material early on. Others had to pick up where he left off. 

I'm old enough to have seen the premier broadcast. I wasn't really into Westerns as a kid. I watched episodes of Bonanza, The Big Valley, and the Rifleman, but that was basically filler. They weren't my favorite shows. I don't think I ever saw Gunsmoke

The only Western I really liked was The Wild Wild West, because of the retro science fiction elements and the rapport between Robert Conrad and Ross Martin. 

I was more into shows like Star Trek, Time Tunnel, The Invades, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Green Hornet, the Prisoner, and the Avengers

As a teenager I once made the mistake of reading a book by a Trekkie. I just wanted more background about Star Trek. But I got more than I bargained for. Reading it I was suddenly and temporarily inducted into the world of Trekkies. I thought to myself, "These people take it really seriously. It's unhealthy!"

The author, a woman (forget her name) would compare Kirk/Shatner with Spock/Nimoy. Some viewers, she said, bonded with Kirk while others bonded with Nimoy.

Can't say I bonded with either character. 

I thought McCoy/Kelley was the most likable actor/character. But he was underutilized. Scotty/Doohan was another underutilized actor/character. I liked Sarek/Lenard as well. 

It's interesting that Shatner, Nimoy, and Lenard are all Jewish. 

I think Spock caught on in large part because his character dovetailed with the Sixties. The counterculture. 

Nimoy had to cope with the dilemma of typecasting. Would you rather play one memorable character or play dozens of forgettable characters? 

I do remember him in some other roles. He was good in Brave New World. Good in a remark of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I remember him in A Woman Called Golda, although he was eclipsed by Ingrid Bergman. 

But, of course, Spock was his signature role. Technically, Shatner was the star and the lead character, but he was quickly overshadowed by Nimoy. 

Shatner was, himself, a replacement for Jeff Hunter. Although he's hardly a great actor, Shatner does have starpower. Had the dominating stage presence that Hunter lacked. I think the series would have bombed if they kept Hunter.

I think Nimoy was convincing, in part, because he had an unusual face. A good face for a humanoid alien. He used to have a great speaking voice, but that became very frayed over time.

As he himself said, he modeled the character's isolation on the Wandering Jew motif. The consummate outsider and observer.

There are people who become very attached to certain TV characters. But I can never forget that it's fiction. It's not the world I have to live in. It's not my present, and–more importantly–it's not my future.

Nimoy enjoys the immortality that the world can confer. But the immortality which a dying world confers is ephemeral and delusive. 

I'm not emotionally invested in the life and death of actors. They are strangers. There's an illusory sense of familiarity that comes from watching them. And if we were introduced to them at a certain age, there's an element of nostalgia. But I don't have a personal connection with celebrities. That's make-believe fellowship.

Nimoy's death is just another reminder of my own mortality. I was just a kid when I saw it for the first time. Now I'm 20+ years older than the actors were at the time. And they are dying off. 


  1. Nimoy was a great choice for the voiceover on the TV show "In Search Of..." What a creepy show that was.

  2. I haven't actually watched Trek consistently in decades but my own pet theory is that cinema is so glutted with stories extolling eros that the depiction of a friendship between Spock and Kirk and McCoy has ended up taking on more pop mythological significance than it might otherwise have by dint of a failure of popular imagination to make friendship the focus of a story in film. Unfortunately thanks to the "slash fic" subgenre, even that depiction of male friendship has been collapsed into erotica.

    It's also interesting that despite the explicitly secularist and humanist cast of Star Trek the most memorable moment in the franchise was Spock laying down his life to save his friend. The emotional poignancy is in some sense borrowed because wouldn't it have been "logical" for Spock to have traded Kirk to Khan in exchange for saving the lives of everyone else?

    Mark Hamill had a dilemma of typecasting after Star Wars and he came to dislike the association with the franchise for a time. He managed to get a new career when he landed the Joker in Batman: the animated series. For actors whose faces aren't quite fit for camera work and particular in a post-Simpsons era, animation voice-over work can give actors open to the genre to keep doing work when Hollywood typecasting conventions would otherwise put them out to pasture. Considering how image-obsessive Hollywood can be this could be a good thing for actresses. It's not uncommon for a woman with husky enough of a voice to play boys' roles in cartoons and bring an emotional range a child actor frequently won't have.

    1. TOS was more sympathetic to Christianity: "Bread and Circuses" has a Christian plot. Likewise, "The Empath" has two Bible quotes:


This was one of the few episodes to quote the Bible, specifically Psalm 95, verse 4: "In His hands are the deep places of the Earth. The heights of the mountains are His also", and the Gospel of Matthew, 13:45-46: "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it."


By contrast, "Who Watches the Watchers," from TNG, is militantly atheistic. Quite a change in 20 years.


VOY initially flirted with New Age Native American spirituality, but that didn't develop.

    2. I think there are two or three other contributing factors to the power of that death scene:


i) From what I've read (in one of the Nimoy obituaries, as I recall), it was their intention to kill off the Spock character. Nimoy was tired of the character, and that gave him a graceful exit. A noble death. So there was an intentional finality to the scene. Plus the shock value of killing off a major character. That's rare.

It's the fan base who demanded that he be restored to life. And it took some coaxing to make a reluctant Nimoy reprise the part.


ii) Shatner and Nimoy were friends offscreen as well as onscreen. So it isn't just acting. They really did like each other (from what I've read).


iii) There's also the genuine camaraderie of actors who've repeatedly worked together. To see them slip back into familiar roles. The instant rapport. The reflexes still intact.

  3. Interesting you should mention westerns near the start of this piece. Roddenberry imagined ST as "Wagon Train to the stars." Final frontier and all that.

  4. I was more into shows like Star Trek, Time Tunnel, The Invades, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Green Hornet, the Prisoner, and the Avengers.

    Me too! Especially Star Trek, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, the Prisoner (what a mysterious show - it left me wanting more and feeling like I could never figure it out), and the Avengers ( Miss Emma Peel !!)

    My favorite Star Trek character was Scotty. I was sad when James Dohan passed away a few years ago. McCoy /DeForest Kelly was a great actor and the interplay with him and Spock was always entertaining.

    It is sad to see that Leornard Nimoy passed away. He was also on Mission Impossible for either one or two seasons. It was weird to see him back then in the 60s without his Vulcan ears.

    One of the funniest Star Trek episodes was the one about "going back to Eden" and Dr. Severenson the mad cult leader - the 60's music and "flower child" and peace and "make love not war" themes were all there. When the one guy named Adam ate the poisonious fruit, Spock said, "His name was Adam", as they looked at the pear with a bite taken out of it.

    Indeed, as these child-hood TV stars, and other movie stars are dying, it reminds us of our own mortality and frailness and I feel old now and my body is feeling it more and more all the time.

    "Lord, teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom" - Psalm 90

    1. Here's a classic scene with Scotty:

    2. Yes, that is a great one.

      Here is another one of my favorites of Scotty, from 26:44 mark to 27:52

  5. "Nimoy had to cope with the dilemma of typecasting. Would you rather play one memorable character or play dozens of forgettable characters?"

    If it pays the bills and doesn't aggravate some sense of personal artistic development, I'd say landing an iconic role can be a good thing. Adam West comes to mind, who still makes money spoofing his famously kitschy version of Batman.

  6. And another classic scene of Scotty and Kirk

  7. And another classic of Scotty at 45:48 to the end. End scene of The Trouble with Tribbles

  8. As long as we're posting links to video clips, here are a couple of oft forgotten moments from TOS I've uploaded in the past:

    One on the Constitution:

    One on "Son Worship":

    1. Sorry for the errant paste there.

  9. Jim,
    Yes, those are great scenes also.

  10. I knew that Leonard Nimoy was Jewish, but I had no idea that William Shattner was also Jewish. Interesting!