Captain Shatner

Shatner0Submitted 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!

When Star Trek first aired back in 1966 I was 11 years old.  I’d already discovered science fiction books at the library and had chewed my way through Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein and others.

Judy Robinson, sis and mom

Judy, Judy, Judy!

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?)

Star Trek (TOS)

“To boldly go…”

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.]

Shatner in Twilight Zone

Um,… stewardess?

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)!

Shatner and Nimoy

Not the first time the actors worked with each other!

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.)

Star Trek MemoriesAnd then the circle closes.

You read Star Trek Memories, written by the man himself (well, muchly, anyway) about those times. And later, there is Star Trek Movie Memories, which takes the tale into the movie era.

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.

Shatner and UNCLE

Bill and the men from U.N.C.L.E. (or possibly with Harry Rule and a young Dr. Ducky Mallard).

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).

Not SpockAs 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!

Kirk and PicardIt 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!

Shatner and horseI’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!

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

18 responses to “Captain Shatner

  • dianasschwenk

    I loved star trek and had a wicked crush on Spock and later on Picard and then Reiker and then oh what was that klingon’s name??

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Worf? I can relate… there were some Klingon females I found dangerously attractive! (But you want to talk major character crushes, for me it’s Doctor Beverly Crusher!) Spock would have been frustrating (remember poor nurse Chapel?). Picard and Riker… you have good taste. If you had said Wesley Crusher, I would have wondered about you (my cousin had a thing for Penny instead of Judy, so you never know)! 😀

      Worf had a Klingon-Human lady friend, K’Ehleyr, who gets killed later in the series leaving him a son. I had a thing for her and the actress who played her, Suzie Plakson. K’Ehleyr and Suzie seemed to have very similar personalities; one just had bumps on her forehead.

      • dianasschwenk

        Worf! That’s right! I was so jealous of Deanna when she and him were getting it on. Speaking of that empath Deanna, you never had a thing for her?

        You’re right, I may have had to kill Spock later on but I was just a kid then and he seemed so calm and logical and unafraid. I thought he could keep me safe! 😉

      • Wyrd Smythe

        It’s weird, because physically Marina Sirtis hit nearly all the right notes. But I never bought her as the professional, trained ship’s councilor she was supposed to be… to me she seemed more the “bimbo on the bridge” and apparently character, personality and inner being are more important to me as physical looks. (Who knew! :))

        Besides, I only had eyes for Dr. Crusher. (Well, actually, there was K’Ehleyr, and I kinda had a thing for Ensign Ro Laren. Women that can kick ass rate pretty big in my book (which is why I so enjoy those Resident Evil movies with Milla Jovovich).)

        Sorry, Doc! Guess I got a wandering eye! 😀

      • dianasschwenk

        You’re drawn to intelligence!

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Yeah,… more than that, to excellence and capability. Also to beauty — I’m human — but it’s just one aspect among many, and not the most important.

      • dianasschwenk

        hey when you click you click and everything else goes out the window!

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Very true! (Just wish I had found someone where the clicking kept on clicking!)

      • dianasschwenk

        Yeah, I can relate to that!

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Funny how hard that part of life can be, sometimes, eh?

      • dianasschwenk

        more funny – weird, than funny – haha. I’m pretty sure I’m the problem LOL!

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Yeah, same here… I’m pretty sure you’re the problem! 😀

        Seriously, I do know what you mean. Funny-weird in a “I’m not laughing” kind of way. I go back over my life and wonder how the hell I ended up here like this. Is it all on me; did I make that many wrong choices along the way? Is it luck; did I just never find someone who was a right match? Did I never want it badly enough?? Probably some combination, but I do wonder how I got it so wrong, sometimes! (Or did I get it right and I just have to learn to embrace it?)

        Baseball and beer (and pizza) sounds so much simpler! 😕

      • dianasschwenk

        LOL You’re funny in a ha ha way! Thanks for my afternoon chuckle!

  • rarasaur

    Marta Kristen was totally worthy of actress crushing–she was gorgeous and probably still is.

    I also agree with you on Shatner’s redemption story… even in the last few years, he’s come such a long way in understanding the impact he had, and the missteps he made. He’s human, alas, but that doesn’t stop him from being a hero still.

    What else? Yes, I also agree that the new Kirk is less than. I had no idea about Shatner and the horses. McCoy bugged me, though I’m not sure why.. I figured that was the point of him. I love Scotty and I’ve never understood anyone who said they didn’t.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      The weird thing is that my cousin (who’s almost exactly my age) had a thing for Penny. Even at the time I thought that was strange, but then he and I turned out a bit differently considering our fathers were brothers. As very small children we were once given a big bucket of coins to play with so we’d stay out of the adults’ hair. He, already knowing the value of money, took all the dimes, while I took all the nickels because they looked cooler. He figured he one-upped me, but I’d still take the nickels and for the same reason.

      McCoy could be… impractical (and very illogical)! I probably tended to agree with Spock’s view on things more than McCoy’s (which likely says as much about me as it does them). I was very aware of the constant background lesson of TOS… neither McCoy nor Spock were complete. The lesson is repeated time and again that logic and emotion are necessary in important decisions (and sometimes you lean strongly one way or the other). Even the all-good and all-evil Kirks were both ineffective. It takes a fully integrated mind willing to consider all possibilities and options.

      Not a bad background message for a 1960s TV show!

  • reocochran

    I agree that Lost in Space was goofy but believe it or not, the words, “Warning, Will Robinson…warning!” go off in my brain more times than you would wish to know. Maybe it is because I am named Robin? Anyway, I loved William Shatner, liked “Star Trek” and always watched it, don’t have the series memorized though! I enjoyed this post immensely. Take it easy, Wyrd Smythe

    • Wyrd Smythe

      That robot waving its arms and doing its thing are a canonical symbol from our youth. Who from our generation isn’t familiar with those famous urgent warnings! Becoming a part of the collective conscious is a pretty impressive feat for such a goofy TV show.

      (It cracked me up that you did that post about Matheson while this was in my writing pipeline. I looked over my shoulder to see if you’d planted spy cameras!)

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