Star Trek

Happy Birthday, Bill

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As my Loyal Readers will recall, I have made a point the last few years of observing the birthdays of two men whose work on a 1960s television series has had an enormous impact on my life, namely the actors William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy. By some cosmic coincidence, they were born within days of each other, which has always seemed weirdly appropriate given the way their legacies became intertwined with each other’s. But this time, of course, something is different.

Five years ago, I wrote the following:

Strange to think that they’re so close to the same age, and even stranger to think of how advanced that age is getting to be.

 

This is a morbid notion, but I find myself wondering how long one will outlast the other when time inevitably catches up to them. They’ve spent so much of their lives seemingly in parallel. When one of them finally passes away, will the survivor go on for years more, or will they be like a long-married couple who die within days of one another, unable to continue without their beloved?

I still wonder about that. And I wonder as well if Bill Shatner, the older of the two by four days, is thinking about Leonard tonight. Shatner has a pretty bad reputation for being a self-centered douchebag — consider the bile that was spilled over his inability to attend Nimoy’s funeral — but I can’t help but think that this, his 84th birthday, has been a somber one for him. If I could, I’d buy him a drink. And I would be honored to raise a glass with him…

To absent friends.

To life going on.

May you have many more happy returns, Bill.

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Shiva Concluded

As I understand it — which I admit is probably not very well — the Jewish tradition of “sitting shiva” requires the family of a deceased person to formally grieve for a period of seven days following the burial, during which time friends visit to express condolences, offer support, and share stories and memories of the deceased. If you didn’t know, the late Leonard Nimoy was a Jew, and thinking back over last week’s outpouring of reminiscences and good feelings for him, I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that it was as if the entire Internet was observing shiva. I’ve been very impressed and moved by the volume of good will directed toward this man, and frankly, I’m proud to have played a small part in a pretty huge and amazing thing, this online display of shiva. I only hope that Leonard’s actual family was aware of what was going on, and that the stories and love of Leonard’s “fan family” helped ease their pain at his loss.

I’d like to share a few links to things that caught my attention last week, things I found especially interesting, moving, funny, or just plain cool:

  • Nimoy was a strong supporter of feminism, which he expressed through actions rather than mere words. The online magazine Bustle summarized four of his best moments in the fight for gender equality here.
  • As a photographer, Nimoy made waves in 2007 with his “Full Body Project,” a  collection of photos celebrating the beauty and dignity of, to be blunt, fat women. Here’s a personal account of what the collection meant to one woman in particular. There’s an accompanying gallery of selections from the collection; be warned, it’s NSFW, as they say. Nudity ahead.
  • I’m not a gamer — I haven’t had any interest to speak of in video games since Mortal Kombat changed the arcade-gaming paradigm in the early ’90s, and I’ve never set a virtual foot inside an MMPORG — but I thought the tributes for Leonard (as well as other deceased cast members, and of course Gene Roddenberry) built into the Star Trek Online environment last week sounded pretty neat.
  • Leonard’s passing got novelist Dayton Ward thinking about what it was like to watch Star Trek in the olden days, when technology wasn’t as, shall we say, reliable as it is today. His blog post reminded me of my own childhood experiences with an old hand-me-down black-and-white portable TV, the one with the rabbit ears and the busted vertical hold. Kids today really have no idea what it was like back in the Dark Ages.
  • Speaking of ancient video technology, Dangerous Minds dredged up a mind-boggling artifact from 1981, a 11-minute clip of Leonard conversing with, um, well, a glowing rock about the then-cutting-edge “laser video disc” system from Magnavox. This one really must be seen to be believed:

(Incidentally, I have to say that, while I am hugely annoyed by the current-day disdain for mustaches and the overused and frankly offensive suggestion that they denote their wearers as porn stars and child molesters, I’m really glad Nimoy didn’t sport this look for long. It didn’t suit him at all.)

  • The nostalgia site Plaid Stallions had a fun post celebrating the ads and products that featured Mr. Spock’s visage in the early ’70s. I had a lot of these items myself when I was a wee Trekkie. Ah, who am I kidding? I still have them all, tucked away in a box in the fabulous Bennion Archives, a.k.a., my basement.
  • All this fun stuff aside, we need to remember that Leonard Nimoy was a real human being, a husband, a father, and a grandfather. I was moved by the tribute People hosted by the folks who are going to miss him most.
  • And lastly, the oddly controversial sitcom The Big Bang Theory, which either laughs with or at the fans who revered Nimoy, depending on your point of view (guess which camp I fall into), concluded last week’s show with a classy and heartfelt vanity card that I thought summed up so much of what I was feeling:

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And with that, our observances are now concluded. Shalom. And, of course, LLAP.

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Can You Beam Me Up Now?

I have a confession: I hate talking on cell phones. Cordless handsets for landlines, too. Sure, it’s convenient to walk around the house while you’re talking to someone, but at least back in the days when we were tethered to the kitchen wall by a 20-foot length of curly vinyl cord, we rarely had static or random noise in the line, and calls never just “dropped out” because you walked through some Poltergeist-ian “dead spot.” (I live in an old house, and plaster-and-lathe walls are murder on reception.)

That’s why I can’t help but roll my eyes when some Damn Kid™ starts acting all superior and sniffing at how outdated the original Star Trek looks because the communicators used by Kirk and Spock aren’t as “sophisticated” as our modern-day smartphones. Um, kids, do you really think your iPhone has enough range to contact a spaceship in orbit? And have you ever seen a communicator fail to make or maintain contact with the guy on the other end (assuming some mysterious god-like entity wasn’t interfering with their operation, of course)?

The following illustrates my point quite handily, by showing what Star Trek would be like if communicators functioned as well (i.e., as unreliably) as our cell phones:

(Sensitive Loyal Readers be warned: there’s an F-bomb. But it’s funny.)

And yes, I know the video is riffing on The Next Generation and its “combadge” technology instead of the original series’ classic handheld communicators. Even so…

Via Boing Boing, of course.

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In Memoriam: Leonard Nimoy

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“A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP”

— Leonard Nimoy’s final Twitter post, February 23, 2015

It isn’t often that I find myself at a loss for words, but yesterday’s news that Leonard Nimoy had died left me floundering. What do you say about the loss of a man you never met in person but who nevertheless felt like a member of your own family?

I do not remember a time when I had never seen Star Trek. That’s the plain truth. My mother has told me she and I started watching the show together when it went into syndication in the early ’70s. She wasn’t a science-fiction fan, particularly, it was just part of the afternoon block of old sitcoms, westerns, and spy shows that provided background noise while she did the housework, and I was a captive toddler audience playing on the living room rug in front of our old console TV, the one that I once fell against and split my scalp open. Why Star Trek sank its hooks so deeply into me instead of Gunsmoke or Mission Impossible is anybody’s guess, but it did. One of my earliest memories is talking to a little girl in my kindergarten class about a dream I’d had involving her and Mr. Spock, Nimoy’s signature character from that show. (You could tell a girl something like that in kindergarten without fear that she’d crush your soul with derisive laughter and then make you persona non grata with the rest of the class; such repercussions didn’t become a risk until somewhat later… fifth grade, in my experience.)

Many of my fellow travelers shared their memories on social media yesterday and they were all telling the same basic story, about how they felt like outsiders growing up, and in the half-human, half-alien Spock, they found a character to identify with, a role model who could guide them through the tricky business of finding yourself when you just don’t quite fit in. I understand why they were drawn to him, but I never identified with Spock in that way myself. Oh, I had plenty of moments when I felt like an alien among my peers. I think every kid does, even the ones who don’t prefer comic books and sci-fi paperbacks to football and dirt bikes. But I always gravitated toward Captain Kirk as my inspiration and role model. Spock was… well, if Kirk was the man I wanted to be, Spock was the friend I wanted to have. When I think of the character, that’s the first thing that comes to my mind: not his struggles to suppress, then to understand and finally to accept his human half… not his logical thinking or his trademark pointy ears or his Vulcan neck pinch, but all the times he and Kirk expressed their friendship, their fierce loyalty — their love — for one another.

In the classic episode “The City on the Edge of Forever,” Kirk and Spock are displaced in time, and a 20th century woman named Edith Keeler — played by the luscious Joan Collins — tries to figure out where these two strange men ought to be. She can’t imagine at all where Kirk belongs, but Spock, she says, she sees always at Kirk’s side. In Star Trek: The Motion Picture, after a disastrous attempt to telepathically mindmeld with the super-intelligence called V’Ger, Spock takes Kirk’s hand and tells him that “this simple feeling” — i.e., friendship — “is beyond V’Ger’s understanding.” And of course the most famous line Spock ever uttered, from his death scene in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan: “I have been and always shall be your friend.” (Man, I remember writing that in a lot of high school yearbooks and feeling like I was so deep and clever.) Watching that scene on YouTube yesterday morning just about ripped my heart out of my chest, and I’m not ashamed to admit I shed a few tears sitting in my cubicle on the 13th floor of a skyscraper in the heart of downtown Salt Lake City, a long way away from that living room rug in front of the TV in a little farmtown in the early 1970s. Because yesterday it felt like he was saying those words to me. Spock… Leonard… my friend… from the time I was a very small boy… saying goodbye.

There was much more to Leonard Nimoy than just Spock, of course. He appeared in many other classic television shows, from Perry Mason and The Twilight Zone to Mission: Impossible. He hosted In Search Of…, which more or less established the template still followed by countless overly credulous “documentary” shows about the unexplained. On stage, he played Sherlock Holmes and Vincent Van Gogh, and Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. He was downright creepy in the 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the rare example of a remake that’s just as effective — arguably better, in fact — than the original. And only last week, I watched him in an fun little curiosity called Baffled!, a failed TV pilot that had a lot of interesting ideas behind it but just didn’t quite come together. As a director, he scored a tremendous non-Star Trek hit with the 1987 ensemble-comedy film Three Men and a Baby. He wrote poetry. He was an accomplished photographer. And he recorded music, even though he himself admitted he wasn’t much of a singer. (Talented singer or not, his 1967 novelty tune “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins” is bizarrely charming, unlike much of William Shatner’s musical output, which is just bizarre.) But of course it’s Spock that he will forever be associated with, a character that has so thoroughly penetrated popular culture that he’s known even to people who’ve never seen a single frame of the television series or movies he comes from.

Like his other Star Trek costars, most notably Shatner, Nimoy has at times expressed ambivalence about that silly old television show being his legacy. In the ’70s, he wrote a memoir with the somewhat-petulant title I Am Not Spock. And if you delve into the production history of the Star Trek movies, there was always a question of whether he would consent to appear, at least in the earlier ones. At one point, Spock was not included in the script for Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and the original plan around the character’s death in The Wrath of Khan was for him to stay dead. (Honestly, I’ve often thought that would’ve been a more courageous and creatively interesting path for the series to take, and possibly a healthier path for the franchise as a whole… but of course that argument is academic at this point, after three decades, four more original-cast movies, and appearances by Nimoy-as-Spock in both The Next Generation and the JJ Abrams reboot films.)  But eventually Nimoy came to embrace his Vulcan alter ego, to the point that he penned a second memoir in the 1990s and called it I Am Spock, a nod to his earlier book as well as a direct refutation of its title. And he adopted a charming, sly, and self-deprecating sense of humor about the whole thing, which was nicely displayed in an Audi commercial he filmed a year or so back with Zachary Quinto, the young actor who plays Spock in the reboot films.

I’ve been fortunate enough over the past few decades, and especially since the Salt Lake Comic Cons began in 2013, to meet quite a few of the actors I grew up watching. I’ve found it genuinely fulfilling to shake their hands and tell them how much their work has meant to me, whether I’m talking to Adrian Paul from Highlander: The Series or Erin Gray from Buck Rogers or Bruce Campbell of Evil Dead fame or Danny Glover from… well, all kinds of things. But my experience of meeting people associated with the original Star Trek has been on a whole different plane from the others, and almost shockingly moving for me. Of the seven main cast members, I’ve met four: Shatner, Nichelle Nichols (Uhura), the late James Doohan (Scotty), and the irrepressible George Takei (Sulu). Sadly, I never got the chance to meet DeForest Kelley, a.k.a. Dr. “Bones” McCoy, who died in 1999. And I didn’t get to meet Leonard either, although I kinda-sorta came close. He was invited to the last Salt Lake Comic Con, in September of last year. He couldn’t come in person due to his declining health, but he did arrange to appear via Skype in a panel discussion… which Anne and I did not attend because the timing conflicted with something else at the con that we’d spent considerable money on and so were committed to doing. I did, however, buy one of the limited number of autographed photos that Leonard had sent on ahead to the convention organizers. While a cynical part of me notes that there’s no way to be sure he actually signed the photo or touched it in any way, I choose to believe in its legitimacy… and I am glad to have at least that much of him. Because I knew six months ago that it was the closest I was ever going to get to him.

Nimoy maintained an active online presence through Twitter, interacting with fans and signing every post “LLAP,” an acronym for his Spockian catchphrase, “Live long and prosper.” In recent years, he took to calling himself “Grandpa” and offering to be an honorary grandfather for anyone who cared to take him up on it. For the record, I never did… at least not formally. (I wish I had.) But when I read of his death, I felt as if I really had lost a grandfather. To be honest, I think I felt more grief yesterday than I did when I lost my real grandfathers, neither of whom I was close with. But Leonard… ah, Leonard I felt like I gotten to know, and I liked him. It’s not the loss of “Spock” I’ve been mourning. It’s the kind, good-humored old Jewish man with the quick smile and the big laugh and the unmistakable voice, the lively wit and strong sense of social justice, the celebrity who seemed genuinely concerned for his fans when he urged them to learn from his example and stay away from cigarettes…

At Spock’s funeral in Star Trek II, his friend Admiral Kirk says, “of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most… human.” And although my fellow fanboys have already turned it into a cliche to use this line in reference to Leonard Nimoy, I can’t think of anything better to sum up this actor, this icon, this man whom I really wish I’d been lucky enough to meet.

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Occupational Hazards

So I’m at work just now, reading along in a case study about some technological solution to a problem I don’t really have, when I run across this phrase:

Sensors can also alert transporters…

And it took me a second to process that the rest of the sentence has nothing to do with Star Trek. Seriously.

I tell you, it’s tough sometimes for a nerd. And for the record, yes, I did hear those words in the unique cadence of Leonard Nimoy. Sen-sores.

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Leonard’s Turn

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I can’t let this long and hectic day end without attending to one final duty, albeit a pleasurable one, and that’s wishing the unsurpassable Leonard Nimoy a very happy 83rd birthday. (He is unsurpassed, in my opinion, despite a new generation thinking his signature character — the logical Mr. Spock — now belongs to a kid named Zachary Quinto. Despite all the fuss people have made of Quinto’s performance as in the Abrams-Trek movies, I can’t see that he’s doing anything more than an impression of Nimoy’s Spock. And Chevy Chase did that much in that old SNL sketch some 40 years ago!)

Sadly, Leonard is not quite as hale and hearty as his castmate, Bill Shatner. “Grandpa,” as Nimoy has taken to calling himself on Twitter, has lately been seen in public toting around an oxygen tank, the consequence of a lifetime of smoking. It saddens me to think of time and unhealthy choices catching up with my childhood heroes, and I sincerely hope he’s not in too much discomfort…

(I also hope there’s a chance he might show up at the Salt Lake Comic Con FanX convention next month, as I suspect I may be running out of chances to meet him…)

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Is It That Time Again? Already?

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It’s become kind of a silly little tradition — admittedly observed somewhat sporadically — for me to honor the birthdays of two of the greatest pop-cultural icons of my generation who, by a strange coincidence, were born within days of one another. I’m referring of course to the actors William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, best known even after all these years as Captain James T. Kirk and Mr. Spock on the original Star Trek series… shipmates, colleagues, and, most of all, friends, as these men apparently are in real life as well.

Shatner preceded Nimoy into the world by just a few days, and today he is 83 years old. Eighty-three! So stop whatever you’re doing, pour yourself a cordial glass of Saurian brandy (the captain’s real favorite, before somebody dreamed up that silly Romulan ale stuff for the movies!), and raise a toast to the One True Kirk…

Happy birthday, Bill!

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All Right, Now You’re Overacting…

You want to know why fans of the original Star Trek such as myself love William Shatner so much? It’s because of stuff like this:

This has been making the rounds today and I found myself laughing as hard on the sixth viewing as the first. You don’t see Patrick Stewart doing this sort of thing. I’m just sayin’.

(Actually, from what I know about him, Stewart probably would do a good-natured, self-deprecating advertisement like this. It’s just that his show — Star Trek: The Next Generation, for my non-Trekkie Loyal Readers — never produced a scene as iconic — or, admittedly, as corny to modern eyes — as the legendary Kirk vs. Gorn confrontation from the original-series episode “Arena.” Which, incidentally, is one of my favorites, despite the obvious shortcomings. Great message and, in context, surprisingly tense storytelling.)

But you know what’s really cool about Shatner doing this ad? Besides his willingness to poke fun at his age, I mean? The game he’s shilling for isn’t even based on his version of Trek. The characters and scenery are obviously modeled on the Abrams reboot. And unlike his costar Leonard Nimoy, Shatner didn’t even have a cameo in the reboot flick. (It probably says something about Abrams-Trek that an ad for a tie-in game is trying to cash in on the good will fans have toward the original Star Trek, rather than using actors or scenes from the rebooted series. Or am I just being churlish?)

Finally, speaking of Shatner’s age, does he look great for a man of 82 or what? We should all age so gracefully…

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Surely… the Best of Times

Coming hot on the heels of his co-star and partner-in-nerdy-fame William Shatner’s eighty-second birthday, Leonard Nimoy hits 82 himself today. To celebrate, here’s a photo of him with a little kitty:

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In the Shatner entry the other day, I said something about the influence he and Nimoy have exerted on me over the years. Here’s another example for you: some of the technical material I’ve been proofreading at work lately uses the word “sensor” fairly liberally. Every time I see that word in the copy, I don’t hear it in my mind the way most people say it, i.e., “sens-er.” Instead, I hear it in Nimoy’s voice, with his somewhat idiosyncratic way of saying the word in countless episodes of Star Trek, “sens-orrrrr.” I find that amusing. So happy birthday, Leonard… thanks for the pronunciation!

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O Captain, My Captain

It’s become a rather silly tradition here on Simple Tricks to honor the improbably proximate birthdays of William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, a.k.a. Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock from the original Star Trek series.

No, wait… scratch that. It’s really not all that silly to honor these men, at least not to me. These two actors — whom the common wisdom holds aren’t even especially good actors, although I, of course, disagree — exerted a profound influence over my developing brain during my early childhood. I think I can say with a high degree of confidence that their science-fictional alter-egos were my very first childhood heroes, along with Lee Majors’ Six Million Dollar Man, Bugs Bunny, and Ernie from Sesame Street. I simply cannot recall a time when I’d never seen Star Trek. My mother has told me she used to watch the syndicated daily re-runs every afternoon while she did the housework, when I was but a toddler. One of my earliest memories is of talking to a little girl in my kindergarten class about a dream I’d had involving Spock. (That girl’s name was Annette, and I still see her around town once in a while… I wonder if she remembers that conversation as clearly as I do, or at all?) Another is of the way the circular patterns in our 1950s-vintage kitchen linoleum reminded me of transporter pads, and how I used to stand on them and “beam” myself to other places in the house or yard. (This was accomplished by standing still for a time while making a buzzing sound, then running like mad to wherever I was going, reassuming the same pose, and buzzing a little more until I “materialized.” Yeah, I was a weird kid. I’m sure my parents loved it.) I could go on with specific memories that range up through high school, college, and well into my adulthood, but you get the idea. Star Trek — the One True Star Trek, as I’ve begun to think of it in the dark years since the 2009 reboot movie added “lens flare” to the popular vocabulary — has always been a very big deal in my life. And Shatner and Nimoy, in a very real sense, are Star Trek, even today after umpteen spin-offs, movies, and a completely new cast.

Plus it just amuses me that these two guys, who are forever connected in the pop-cultural memory bank because of their signature roles, are also same age, within a couple days anyhow. The captain always leads, of course. Today is William Shatner’s 82nd birthday. Nimoy will achieve that same landmark on Tuesday.

I recently had the pleasure of seeing his one-man stage show, Shatner’s World: We Just Live in It, and it is my greatest wish to possess half this man’s vitality in another 40 years…

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Happy birthday, Bill!

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