Submitted for your consideration: the case of one man, by the name of Bill, who has accepted a role on a new TV show little knowing he is about to become extremely famous. He is about to step onto the path of becoming a cultural icon; he stands unknowing at the beginning of something that will endure and be loved for (at least) 47 years.
Join me on a journey through a dimension of space and time, of light and shadow, of science and superstition. Let us descend to the pit of man’s fears and ascend to the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination.
Up ahead, the signpost — Your next stop: The Star Trek Zone!
There was a TV show, Lost in Space, that pre-dated Star Trek by a year (it ran from 1965 to 1968). It was, in many regards, a silly show—certainly an Irwin Allen production (the exploding consoles are always a dead giveaway). I may have been only 10, but I had a big crush on Judy (Marta Kristen, my first actress crush)!
More to the point, it was a serious science fiction TV show, not some goofy comedy. The only real entries in that category to date were episodes from The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. And some fairly cheesy SF movies. Even as a kid I knew that the flame from a rocket taking off shouldn’t bend around the base and point upwards!
But what they lacked in visual effects they often made up for in sheer storytelling ability. That’s something that’s often lost these days. Films (and some TV shows) are all “eye candy” and no substance. (I wonder sometimes, will we ever get bored with all that computer-generated destruction and death?)
So along comes a science fiction TV show that was truly serious and that had a point to make (very much like those old Twilight Zone and Outer Limits stories). Sure, it could be humorous sometimes (not always intentionally so), and on occasion they even descended into camp or pure silliness, but even then there was usually a point behind it all.
I loved Captain Kirk and Spock and Bones and Scotty (who, as the tech guy, was a man after my own heart). [To be totally honest, I found McCoy a little hard to take sometimes, but he was the counterbalance to Spock.]
And, of course, I loved William Shatner. (Or, as my dad, who could never seem to remember his name correctly said, “William Shantner.” (And, yes, I mention it because it was a little bit of a sore point. One more historical minor demon exorcised through the medium of blogging.))
The man was one of my childhood heroes! There was a time when I could watch any random two minutes of any Star Trek episode, and know immediately which one. I bought Star Trek souvenirs (still got my IDIC symbol) and built (well, glued together) the plastic model of the Enterprise, complete with tiny lights in the bridge and nacelle caps!
And then the statue begins to crack; verdigris starts to grow.
It starts not long after the show’s run from 1966 to 1969 with an interview in which Shatner proclaims that Kirk was ‘just another acting job’ that didn’t mean much to him. Dude! WTF! It meant the world to me! How could you (dot, dot, dot)!
Then you start to hear how much the cast hated him for stealing scenes and lines. You learn that James Doohan (Scotty) wouldn’t even talk to the man anymore. You hear about the “tell all” books written by George Takei (Sulu) and Nichelle Nichols (Uhura), but never have the urge to buy them (on some level, it doesn’t matter; what matters is the work).
On some level it does matter. As with all feet of clay moments, you begin to hate the person behind it for fooling you, for tricking you, for making you believe. (Love transmutes to hate so easily, because they are both such strong emotions. The true opposite of love is indifference.)
And then the circle closes.
You read that he seems to have grown up and to have realized how and who he was back then.
In particular, you read the Captain’s Epilogue with its story about the Nichelle Nichols interview…
Then, as the afternoon shadows began growing long, I thanked Nichelle for all her help, closed up my tape recorder and started packing my notes. “Wait a minute,” she told me, “I’m not finished yet. I have to tell you why I despise you.” My gut response was to laugh, but the look on Nichelle’s face proved she wasn’t kidding. I quickly wiped the grin off my face, and not a bit dumbfounded, I clumsily pulled the shrink-wrap off another cassette, popped it into the machine and hit “RECORD.”
The interview resumes, and Shatner apparently gets a real glimpse of how others really felt about him. It seems to have been a turning point of sorts; he may have been at the right time in his life to have heard it.
I admired him so much for that turn-around, for resuming the interview and for being willing to hear what Nichols had to say. The book to me, has an air of contriteness and apology. He seemed to be asking for forgiveness.
Willingly granted, dude! Willingly granted!
And if I’m being a sucker, well, so be it.
One can almost wonder if his incarnations since Kirk, as the delightful clown, are in some way atonements for his past. Gone is the dashing leading man, replaced by the court jester (and he is good at it, isn’t he).
As with Leonard Nimoy, who first published I Am Not Spock before he came to his senses and published I Am Spock, Shatner seems comfortable in his role as a cultural icon. And the writing finger has moved on. There have been four Captains since (two of them on the Enterprise, and they’re really the only two I take seriously). There’s even a new “Kirk” in town (a seriously inferior Kirk to my eye).
Did you know Shatner is a dedicated Quarter Horse man? He raises them, and he’s into that trick riding stuff, horses turning in tight circles or trotting along and then coming to a screeching halt. There was an extra DVD in one of the TOS seasons that was all about his horses and riding tricks. Really fun!
It was then I realized what I’d been seeing in that moment during Generations (aka Star Trek VII). There is a scene where Captain Picard, who’s just gotten trapped in the Nexus, finds Captain Kirk, who’s been there a while. Picard convinces Kirk to leave the dreamworld and accompany him back to save the galaxy (again).
The moment involves the two of them on horseback. The scene has them stopped for a brief bit of dialog. (Picard trying to convince Kirk to leave the artificial dreamworld.) During that scene, Kirk’s horse — with no apparent input from its rider — walks around Picard and horse and ends up back where he started. Then it sidles up to Picard so they’re side by side. All with no obvious control of the horse!
I’m no horseman, but even I was really impressed by the scene when I saw it!
Now I know two things which explain that I was seeing something special: Those were Shatner’s horses, and that subtle, non-visible control of your horse is a part of that trick riding stuff. (A gal at work owns and rides horses in similar competitions, so I learned a bit about it from her—it’s pretty neat stuff!)
So while he may no longer be exactly a childhood hero, William Shatner has gone full circle in my heart. Loved, then not-loved, and now loved again.
Maybe I’m just a sucker for redemption stories!