In a business of massive ego and terrible behavior directed at slicing and dicing their competition, Leonard Nimoy was known as a total gentleman, a class act all the way and a consummate professional at every turn.
For several generations around the globe he will be forever “Mr. Spock,” the half-human, half-Vulcan first officer of the U.S.S. Enterprise, a United Federation starship exploring distant galaxies on television’s cult phenomenon, Star Trek (1966–69). His first autobiography was, “I Am Not Spock” (1975) and his second, “I Am Spock” (1995). Leonard Nimoy, who died today February 27, 2015, was both Spock and artist and so much more. His multi-faceted life in the arts reflected the 1960s–era of radical cultural flux and personal self-discovery that changed America and the world.
Star Trek was created and produced in the mid-1960s by Gene Roddenberry who, as a U.S. Army Air Force pilot in WWII, survived the crash of a B-17E Flying Fortress and flew 89 combat missions, earning him the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal. Star Trek would be one of the last pop culture entertainments reflecting America’s post-WWII public presumption that American intervention, even military, was always unquestionably a force for good in foreign conflicts worldwide. American science & technology, “enterprise,” democracy and basic goodness were on the march to save the world. The Vietnam War and Watergate scandal would soon shatter this grand illusion.
Nimoy’s “Spock” alter ego on Star Trek was of mixed heritage.
His mother was a human. His father was a Vulcan. In the world of Star Trek, the original main “tribes” of players were the humanoid good guys of the United Federation of Planets. The Vulcans were an alien race who had managed to suppress all emotion from their psyches as a way to avert destructive violence. The Vulcans were usually allied with the Federation. The Romulans originated as a rebel group of Vulcans who rejected the suppression of emotions. They shared the same ultra-logical, ultra-intellectual mindset as the Vulcans, but they could be politically devious and often went in and out of alliance with the Federation in the struggle to defend the universe against the Klingons, the pure evil nemesis race. Spock’s half-human/half-Vulcan no-nonsense personality, only occasionally evincing emotion in a rare moment of concern for Captain Kirk or an even rarer smile, made for moments of wonderful comic relief. Spock became an international pop icon of the scientific explorer leading humanity into the future.
After Star Trek’s cancelation in 1969 and before its resurrection in syndicated reruns and sci-fi conventions, Nimoy became a regular on Mission: Impossible and appeared in numerous other television shows.
He also won acclaim for his roles on stage, including productions of Vincent, Fiddler on the Roof, The Man in the Glass Booth and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
As an artist, Nimoy was not satisfied by only acting in only acting on television, in films and on stage, as well as directing other actors. He parlayed his fame as “Spock” into getting published as a poet and performing regular public readings of his poems. His final book of poetry, A Lifetime of Love: Poems on the Passages of Life, was published in 2002. Trekkies wanting to check out his poetry are encouraged to visit the online Contemporary Poets index of The HyperTexts. Nimoy’s poems are simple, accessible and mostly about moments in the experience of loving and being loved.
people we love
and strangers too
are shedding tears
sad and dusty streets
your hand touches mine
and comforts me
love is the beginning
and the end
Nimoy’s life-long interest in photography manifested itself in two controversial coffee table edition publications of his portraiture.
Shekhina, published in 2005 is a celebration of Jewish femininity and sensuality — Nimoy’s intent being to cut across stereotypes of “cold” Jewish women. Defenders of the faith seemed to be more offended by Nimoy’s acceptance of “Shekhina” as a legitimate goddess in the Jewish pantheon than by the nudity in most the photos. The Full Body Project (2007) took Nimoy’s objective of redefining female beauty to a new level with a series of portraits of full-figure females in classic nude poses.
Spock Lives! The Second Coming. (1979)
After its cancellation, Roddenberry continued to lobby Paramount for a revival of Star Trek as a feature film, pointing to the reruns’ success in worldwide syndication and then the Star Wars sensation in 1977. The success of Close Encounters of the Third Kind finally got Paramount to relent. Star Trek: The Motion Picture was a moderate success but suffered from a script that was a couple notches too “hard sci-fi” in plotting, dealing with an Earth-launched space probe that achieves full A.I. sentience. It seeks to return to its Earthly creator (as humans yearn to reunite with God?), and is killing everybody who gets in the way of this reunion. Nevertheless, the film did well enough to get a second one greenlighted – and Leonard Nimoy would return as Spock on the big screen in the six Star Trek sequels that featured the original TV series characters. Nimoy would direct two of these sequels as well.
Spock Lives! The Third Coming. (2009)
When Paramount decided to “reboot” their Star Trek film franchise with new actors replacing the TV series’ iconic players, there was great trepidation about fan response. But J.J. Abrams managed to work his magic in capturing the tenor and excitement of the original shows – and the ghostly cameo of Leonard Nimoy as “Spock Prime” sealed the deal with fans, who gave their fulsome approval to the relaunch. The sequel, 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness, would again feature a “Spock Prime” cameo – and be Leonard Nimoy’s final appearance in a film.
Leonard Nimoy was an actor who never stopped pursuing other forms of artistic expression, most of which he had some success with. His singing career was ridiculed by critics and fans alike, but he persisted in trying, anyway. In the space of two decades between volumes of autobiography, he was forced to reconcile himself to his persona being, in fact, part “Spock,” forever, whether he liked it or not. The poet in him finally accepted and embraced the proposition.
He was a talented actor, director and photographer. He was an artist’s artist.
I have worn more masks than I can remember
I have been a face without a name
And when like you I ask the final question
Who on earth am I supposed to be
I always come full circle to the answer, me, only me…always me
Live long and prosper.