In the annals of pop culture, William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy made history as the iconic Star Trek characters Captain James T. Kirk and Mr. Spock. The original “Star Trek” franchise series was filmed for only three years, from 1966 to 1969, aboard the Starship Enterprise, but the cult hit never left them — or the legions of Trekkies dedicated to syndicated reruns, subsequent Star Trek films and their ubiquitous sci-fi conventions.
Last month, on the occasion of Nimoy’s first yahrzeit since he died at the age of 83 from lung disease, Shatner chronicled their shared five decades in a new memoir, “Leonard: My Fifty-Year Friendship with a Remarkable Man.”
When asked if he misses Nimoy, Shatner tells The Times of Israel, “Terribly. We laughed a lot. We made each other laugh, off stage, on stage… We were in each other’s company a lot over the years because of the nature of the work and he was very funny.”
Shatner and Nimoy first met on the set of the TV show “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” in 1964, when they were cast in roles on opposite sides of the Iron Curtain. Shatner says the many memorable moments he shared with Nimoy blend together in a series of a depth of understanding.
“We had a great deal in common, our backgrounds, our age, our experiences in being actors, and certainly in our lives,” he says. “We had so many things that occurred that were part of the fabric of our friendship, the fabric of life. We shared very much.”
Shatner, like Nimoy, has had a long and storied career as an actor, director, producer, writer and recording artist. He co-wrote “Leonard” with David Fisher, his collaborator on his 2008 memoir “Up Till Now.” He is also the author of “Star Trek Memories” and “Star Trek Movie Memories,” both penned with Chris Kreski, and has also co-authored a series of Star Trek sagas.
In his new book, Shatner divulges the many things the pair shared. Both Shatner and Nimoy were raised in what he describes as lower-middle-class Orthodox Jewish immigrant families. Nimoy, whose father ran a barbershop, grew up in a Boston tenement; Shatner was raised in Montreal, where his father worked in the garment, or shmatte, business.
To Shatner, they “came from the same tribe.”
Their relationship resembled something akin to competitive siblings, or as Shatner recalls Nimoy describing them, “Siamese twins in Space Age uniforms.”
When asked if Nimoy filled an emotional void as a surrogate brother, Shatner answers, “Absolutely. We talked about that a lot. He has a brother. I did not, and he certainly filled that image.”
And yet, as Shatner suggests in the book, he wears his feelings on his sleeve as his character Kirk did, while Nimoy was considerably more cerebral “much like the character Spock, very reserved.”
‘We made a good team. We fit together emotionally very well’
Shatner elaborated on how his differences with Nimoy were a plus on camera.
“He often said that he was able to play down and be more inward because I was more outward and more energetic, if you will. That’s my nature and that was his,” Shatner says. “So it fit us very well and we made a good team. We fit together emotionally very well.”
There were other advantages to Nimoy’s approach.
“Admittedly, I always envied Leonard’s genius in figuring out a method that is considerably easier,” Shatner writes in the book. “It seemed like in every show I’d find myself rolling around the floor, diving, jumping, falling — and being continually battered and bruised, while Leonard just pinched his fingers together. It was remarkable he never strained his fingers.”
Nimoy, who taught method acting early in his career, was deeply invested in his roles. Shatner confesses that “it was his personal investment in the character that almost caused a serious rift between us, when I made the mistake of treating Spock with less than complete respect. It was not a mistake I made a second time.”
In “Leonard,” Shatner explores more than their relationship and their work, describing Nimoy’s philanthropy, which includes the Nimoy Family Foundation for education and arts programs, the Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon Theater at the iconic Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, and the Leonard Nimoy Thalia Theatre inside Symphony Space on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, which the actor supported with a donation of $1.5 million.
In delving into his friend’s life, Shatner made an important discovery: “Writing the book made me realize even more than I did when he was alive, how artistic he was and how good he was at so many things. In doing my due diligence on his life, it surprised me even though I thought I knew him well, how complex his artistic life was, which led into his personal life. He was a complex individual.”
“He left a lot behind, Leonard did, to remind us who he was and what he accomplished,” he adds.
Nimoy also helped facilitate Shatner’s ritual life, taking him along to High Holy Day services at Temple Israel of Hollywood, a Reform synagogue where Nimoy maintained membership.
Shatner admitted that he hasn’t attended services in a while. “I celebrate it in my own way. I don’t have a shul that I’m going to at the moment.”
Nimoy’s passion for Yiddishkeit helped land the young actor a break as an actor for his ability to perform in die mame loshen (Yiddish for mother tongue).
“He’s the only actor I know who could perform Hamlet in Yiddish,” Shatner says.
As Shatner writes, “By the time we became friends, he was concerned he was losing his facility for the language, so he actually found a Yiddish-speaking psychiatrist in Los Angeles and paid her hourly fee once a week just to sit and speak with him in Yiddish.”
Despite a lack of his own formal affiliations, Shatner says he remains connected to his Jewish identity.
“I am passionate about Judaism and I feel deeply about Judaism and Israel and everything Jewish.”
Highlights of Shatner’s multiple visits to Israel included finding the best humus.
“I tasted the humus in Acre and Jerusalem, but I found the best humus on Ventura Boulevard [California],” says Shatner, who turns 85 this month, and who lives with his wife, Elizabeth, in the nearby Hollywood Hills.
Near the end of Nimoy’s life, Shatner sent him a letter because the two weren’t on speaking terms. As he writes, “It remains a mystery to me, and it is heartbreaking, heartbreaking. It is something I will wonder about, and regret, forever.”
Still, Shatner does not consider the book an amends for wrongs he wasn’t able to correct before Nimoy died. “I would have made amends when he was alive,” Shatner says.
He decided to write the book as a way to commemorate the remarkable bond they shared and their memories of creating something he recognizes fades with advancing years.
“The thing you find out when you are close to somebody and they die, is that the memories you have die with them. You don’t have anyone to share that experience with. I wrote my memories so I wouldn’t forget because there is nobody there to validate.”
Packed with intimate moments of connection, the book reads as a sort of tribute to their remarkable bond. When asked if it serves as the literary equivalent of the scene in the 1982 film, “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” when Kirk and a dying Spock say farewell by placing their hands in the Vulcan salute — borrowed from the priestly blessing used by Jewish Kohanim — against a pane of glass, Shatner says, “No, I don’t want to cheapen it that way.”
Instead, he sums up their relationship with love. “My memory is that I had a dear friend. And he died. And for that I am very sorry. My memories of Leonard are only love and laughter.”
William Shatner will discuss his book, “Leonard: My Fifty-Year Friendship with a Remarkable Man” at Silicon Valley Comic Con on March 18, Wizard World in St. Louis on April 1 and elsewhere in the coming weeks.
Does The Times of Israel give you valuable insight into Israel and the Jewish world? If so, please join The Times of Israel Community. For as little as $6/month, you will:
We’re really pleased that you’ve read X Times of Israel articles in the past month.
That’s why we come to work every day - to provide discerning readers like you with must-read coverage of Israel and the Jewish world.
So now we have a request. Unlike other news outlets, we haven’t put up a paywall. But as the journalism we do is costly, we invite readers for whom The Times of Israel has become important to help support our work by joining The Times of Israel Community.
For as little as $6 a month you can help support our quality journalism while enjoying The Times of Israel AD-FREE, as well as accessing exclusive content available only to Times of Israel Community members.