Friday, February 27, 2015

The Late Great Leonard Nimoy, Live Long and Prosper

I have never known a world without Leonard Nimoy until today. Star Trek was among the earliest shows of which I was aware. I remember watching reruns of the show when I was very young. In fact, I do not remember a time when I did not know who Mr. Spock was and who played him as well. In the role of Spock on Star Trek, as well as that of Paris on Mission: Impossible and yet other roles, Leonard Nimoy was very much a part of my childhood, as I am sure he was the childhoods of many other people. Sadly, Leonard Nimoy died  today at the age of 83. The cause was complications due to  chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Leonard Nimoy was born on March 26 1931 in Boston, Massachusetts. He took to acting young, appearing in local theatrical productions from when he was eight years old. He continued to appear in local plays through his years in high school. His first major role was in an amateur production of Clifford Odets' Awake and Sing when he was 17. He studied at Boston College and in 1949 went to Hollywood. In 1951 he made his film debut in Queen for a Day.

Throughout the Fifties Mr. Nimoy appeared in such films as Rhubarb (1951), Kid Monk Baroni (1952), the serial Zombies of the Stratosphere (1952), Old Overland Trail (1953), Them! (1954), and The Brain Eaters (1958). He appeared on several TV shows throughout the decade, including Four Star Playhouse, Fireside Theatre, The Man Called X, West Point, Highway Patrol, Broken Arrow, Steve Canyon, Dragnet, Colt .45, M Squad, Sea Hunt, The Rebel, Wagon Train, and Bonanza. From 1953 to 1955 he served in the United States Army. He was stationed for 18 months at Fort McPherson in Georgia, where he was involved with shows for the Army’s Special Services branch. After his discharge from the Army in 1955 he studied acting at the Pasadena Playhouse.

The early to mid-Sixties saw Leonard Nimoy guest star on such shows as Rawhide, 87th Precinct, Gumsmoke, The Untouchables, The Twilight Zone, Perry Mason, Dr. Kildare, The Outer Limits, Combat, Daniel Boone, and Get Smart. In 1963 he first acted alongside future Star Trek co-star DeForest Kelley in the episode of The Virginian "Man of Violence". He first acted with future Star Trek co-star William Shatner in the Man From U.N.C.L.E. episode "The Project Strigas Affair" in 1964; Mr. Nimoy played the villain. He also guest starred on Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry's short lived series The Lieutenant. In 1963 he appeared in a few episodes of the soap opera General Hospital.

It was in 1964 that Leonard Nimoy was cast in what would be his most famous role, that of Mr. Spock on Star Trek. Mr. Nimoy first played the half Vulcan/half human character in the first pilot for Star Trek "The Cage". NBC thought that "The Cage" was too cerebral and as a result commissioned a new pilot. In the meantime there would be various changes to the cast (Jeffrey Hunter, who played Captain Christopher Pike, was not longer available, so William Shatner was cast as Captain James T. Kirk), as well as changes to the character of Spock. A mere lieutenant in "The Cage", Spock became the First Officer of the U.S.S. Enterprise. More importantly while Spock showed emotion in "The Cage", in the second pilot ("Where No Man Has Gone Before") he became the familiar character who's life is guided by logic. Although ratings for Star Trek were never particularly high during its initial run, the show developed a large cult following even then. Even in the late Sixties Leonard Nimoy as Spock was recognisable to people who had never watched an episode of Star Trek, to the point that he was able to appear as the character in a cameo of a 1967 edition of The Carol Burnett Show.

Leonard Nimoy would follow his role as Spock with a role on another iconic show, playing disguise artist Paris for two seasons on Mission: Impossible starting in 1969. During the Sixties he also appeared in the films The Balcony (1963) and Deathwatch (1966). He appeared on the TV shows The Pat Boone Show, The Hollywood Squares, Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, The Joey Bishop Show, The Red Skelton Hour, and The David Frost Show.

In the Seventies Leonard Nimoy returned to the role of Mr. Spock in both the 1973-1974 animated version of Star Trek and the feature film Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979). He was the host of the syndicated television documentary series In Search of... He guest starred on the TV shows Night Gallery and Columbo. He appeared in the TV movies Assault on the Wayne, Baffled!, The Alpha Caper, and The Missing Are Deadly. He appeared in the feature films Catlow (1971), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), and Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979).  It was in 1973 that Mr. Nimoy broke into directing with the episode of The Night Gallery "Death on a Barge".

The Eighties would see Leonard Nimoy play Mr. Spock in several more Star Trek films, including Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan (1982), Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984), Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986), and Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989). He also continued to direct, directing the feature films Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984), Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986), 3 Men and a Baby (1987), The Good Mother (1988), "Body Wars" (1989), and Funny About Love (1990) , as well as episodes of The Powers of Matthew Star and T.J. Hooker, and the television movie Vincent. On television he appeared in the mini-series Marco Polo and The Sun Also Rises. He also guest starred on the shows T.J. Hooker and Faerie Tale Theatre. He played Vincent Van Gogh in the TV production Vincent.

In the Nineties Leonard Nimoy played Spock in the feature film Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991), as well as an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. He guest starred on such shows as The Outer Limits and The Simpsons. He had a recurring role on the syndicated show Invasion America. He provided the voice of Mr. Moundshroud  in the TV special The Halloween Tree (based on Ray Bradbury's book of the same name), and appeared in the TV movies Never Forget, Bonanza: Under Attack, David, The First Men in the Moon, The Lost World, and Brave New World. He was the host of both the TV shows Ancient Mysteries and History's Mysteries.

From the Naughts into the Teens, Leonard Nimoy had a recurring role on the TV show Fringe. He guest starred on The Big Bang Theory. He provided the voice of King Kashekim  in the film Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001) and the voice of Sentinel Prime in Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011). He played Mr. Spock in the films Star Trek (2009). Perhaps fittingly, Spock would be the final role in which he appeared, making a cameo in the film Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013).

In addition to being an actor, Leonard Nimoy was also a talented photographer and poet. He published three books containing his photographs: Shekhina (2005), The Full Body Project (2008), and Secret Selves (2010). He published several volumes of poetry, including You & I (1973), Will I Think of You? (1974), We Are All Children Searching for Love: A Collection of Poems and Photographs (1977), Come be With Me (1978), These Words are for You (1981), Warmed by Love (1983), and A Lifetime of Love: Poems on the Passages of Life (2002).

Leonard Nimoy also had a recording career. In December 1966 the Paramount subsidiary Dot Records signed Mr. Nimoy to a recording contract when it became apparent that Star Trek was developing a cult following. His first album, Leonard Nimoy Presents Mr. Spock's Music from Outer Space, was released in June 1967. It was followed by Two Sides of Leonard Nimoy (which contains "The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins") and The Way I Feel in 1968, The Touch of Leonard Nimoy in 1969, and The New World of Leonard Nimoy in 1970.

Throughout his life Leonard Nimoy was identified with the character of Mr. Spock. Indeed, he even entitled his two biographies I Am Not Spock and I Am Spock. There should be little wonder that Leonard Nimoy would be so identified with the role, as he was extraordinary in it. Throughout the years Mr. Nimoy gave what may be one of the best continued performances in a single role in the history of television and film. Today it is often forgotten that Mr. Nimoy was nominated three times in a row for the Emmy for Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Drama for his work on Star Trek.

Of course, it was not simply Mr. Nimoy's performance as Spock that led to him being so identified with the character, but the fact that the character was so extraordinarily popular. Even while Star Trek was still on the air people who had never seen the show could recognise the character of Spock. As to why Spock was so popular, it is perhaps because the half Vulcan/half human represented in a single character a conflict with which each one of must deal from time to time, that of  logic versus emotion. Raised Vulcan, Spock sought to live his life according to pure logic. Despite this, all too often Spock's emotional side won out, particularly with regards to his friends. In many respects, then, Spock represents an ideal: logic tempered by the human heart. While Spock almost never allowed negative emotions such as hate or anger to dominate him, he often found himself at the mercy of such emotions as  love and sympathy, and he was ultimately a better person for it.

While Spock remains one of the most beloved characters in television history, in some respects it is perhaps unfortunate that the role overshadowed the rest of Mr. Nimoy's career to  large degree. The fact was that Mr. Nimoy was an immensely talented actor who could play a large array of roles, many of them about as far from Spock as one could get. On the Perry Mason episode "The Case of the Shoplifter's Shoe" he played a rather brutal hoodlum with no objections to beating his wife. He was incredible in his role as Vincent Van Gogh in the television production Vincent. He also did a fine job of portraying Golda Meir's husband Morris Meyerson in A Woman Called Golda (in fact, he was nominated for an Emmy for the role). In his many guest appearances on American television shows he played everything from a young Basque immigrant on Wagon Train to a surgeon who thinks he committed the perfect crime on Columbo. What is more, he played all of these roles well. Leonard Nimoy's talent as an actor is even more impressive when one considers he was also talented as a director, photographer, and poet as well.

Beyond Mr. Nimoy's talent, it also appears that he was quite simply a good man. During the run of Star Trek Walter Koenig (who played Ensign Chekov on the show) told Leonard Nimoy that Nichelle Nichols (who played Lt. Uhura) was getting paid less than either or him or George Takei (who played Lt. Sulu), despite the fact that her role was as large as theirs. Mr. Nimoy went to the producers and made sure Miss Nicholas got a pay raise. When the animated version of Star Trek went into production it was initially planned that neither George Takei nor Nichelle Nichols would be hired to reprise their roles. Leonard Nimoy made it clear that if they were not hired, then he would not return to provide the voice of Spock. Needless to say, Mr. Takei and Miss Nichols were hired for the animated series. Fans who had the honour of meeting Leonard Nimoy always had the same things to say about him. He was a very kind and gracious man. In the end, it was perhaps not merely because he played an iconic character or because he was a talented actor that Mr. Nimoy was so loved by his fans, but because in the end he was a truly nice person.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

An end of an era. Always have watched Star Trek when I was a kid. His character on the said show always have made a good impression to his viewers; his distinguishing voice and perspectives which made him the most vital member of Captain Kirk's team. He made voice overs such as In Search Of, which is one of my fave shows during the 70s, and made movies such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers. He may not have made it big in Hollywood, but his distinguishing personality and character will always be remembered. May he rest in peace.