50 Shades of Shatner

0316coverWilliam Shatner is going to be 85 years old soon. Not long after he hits that milestone, Star Trek, the franchise that made him famous, will hit a milestone of its own, as it celebrates its 50th anniversary. During Star Trek’s half-century reign as one of pop culture’s most beloved science fiction franchises, William Shatner learned to lean into his Captain Kirk roots and the fandom that’s embraced him for the past 50 years (and counting). That includes several generations of diehard Trekkies, NASA engineers, and even real-life astronauts!

In addition to his iconic roles on television he’s made albums, won Emmys, directed films, written novels, “moonlights” as the Priceline negotiator, and just recently ended a run of his one-man show Shatner’s World: We Just Live in It. I’m tired from just writing all of that! You would think Mr. Shatner would start to slow down but he is only starting to ramp up for another banner year. His most recent endeavor is a powerfully emotional book, Leonard: My Fifty-Year Friendship with a Remarkable Man, which has already received rave reviews. Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner first crossed paths as actors on the set of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Little did they know that their next roles, in a new science fiction television series, would shape their lives in ways no one could have anticipated. In seventy-nine television episodes and six feature films, they grew to know each other more than most friends could ever imagine.

In his book, Shatner tells the story of a man who was his friend for five decades, recounting anecdotes and untold stories of their lives on and off set, as well as gathering stories from others who knew Nimoy well, to present a full picture of a rich life. Over the course of half a century, Shatner and Nimoy saw each other through personal and professional highs and lows. As much a biography of Nimoy as a story of their friendship, Leonard is a uniquely heartfelt book written by one legendary actor in celebration of another.

Recently, Jlife Magazine’s very own co-editors got to sit down and chat (via phone) with the Enterprise captain himself about his legacy, his friendship with Nimoy, and he finally sets the record straight with the age-old question: Star Trek or Star Wars?

Tell us about the book Leonard and one story that you believe best describes Leonard [Nimoy] and your friendship, perhaps one piece of advice that he gave you. The book is about friendship. The book, by the way, is getting rave reviews. It’s about friendship over a 50-year period, but also how difficult friendship is for men—specifically that men have more difficulty making friends and keeping them than women. Whether that is nurture or nature I’m not sure. In my case, I never had friends that were of the depth of Leonard, but slowly over the years we became brothers that define that kind of friendship. That’s what the book is about. I never had that kind of thing before, and having achieved it was remarkable to me. His death was a severe loss in my life. When you lose somebody you love, with whom you’ve had life experiences, all of those life experiences are not validated anymore. ‘Remember when we did this?’ There’s nobody left to say that to, so that memory is lost. A part of your life goes.

As for a story about Leonard, one that comes to mind is, his grandfather worked in leather—he either made shoes or repaired shoes—something like that. When [Leonard] would go home to Boston and [this] grandfather lived with his parents, Leonard would go home and while talking to his grandfather, he would find his grandfather’s fingers in his shoes feeling around the leather and the heel. And he realized he was checking them out to see whether he had the money to have his shoes repaired, thus he was able to ascertain how well Leonard was doing.

This year is Star Trek’s 50th anniversary; we would like to know how playing the iconic role of Captain Kirk has impacted your life. Look how much good it has impacted upon me. I am talking to you, 50 years later, about a friendship that happened because of Star Trek. And I dealt with a whole circle of life with Leonard, from birth—the birth of his children, the birth of him as an actor—to death—his death, his passing, dealt with the grief, the eternal questions of what happens to a soul. All of the meaningful questions of life we awaken to and deal with when someone dies came to the forefront as a result of Star Trek. Add to that, on March 6th we are having an event that will help people, and people are coming to celebrate that. All as a result of what Star Trek has brought.

The March 6th event you are referring to is that you are appearing at Temple Bat Yahm here in Orange County. What can we expect and look forward to? I don’t know. I am appearing and answering questions.

Scott Siegel, President of Temple Bat Yahm, chimes in: You’re providing concepts from the book about humanity and a search for G-d. Not only does it have a search for G-d, it has moral questions on when to stand on principle and when to be politic. As the director of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, the creation and meaning behind the film was quite a spiritual experience, considering the plot is how Captain Kirk and his crew must deal with Mr. Spock’s long-lost half-brother who hijacks the Enterprise for an obsessive search for G-d at the center of the galaxy.

We are a Jewish lifestyle magazine. You were raised in Conservative and Orthodox Judaism and your grandparents were Jewish immigrants from Austria, Poland, Hungary and Ukraine. What aspects do you still incorporate in your life today? I am more spiritual in my Jewishness than in the formality; my parents had a kosher home, I do not. I was brought up with kashrut, treif was treif—no seafood. But I eat seafood. I imparted to one daughter the social and spiritual meaning of Judaism and as a result she holds Passover services at her home, which we all go to, and I used to attend Yom Kippur with Leonard at his shul—I would get seats with him—and we both worshiped at that shul and made sure we said [Yizkor] the prayers for the dead.

Speaking of Leonard and Judaism, we read somewhere the “live long and prosper” phrase was Leonard’s idea based on the blessing of the Kohanim. Did he ever speak with you about that? That is part of the book as well as the shekinah, where he got this finger thing. Yes, he was very much more Jewish than I am. In fact he was raised speaking Yiddish, and I saw a piece of film of him doing Hamlet, “To be, or not to be” in Yiddish.

As an author of over 30 books, we wonder what you are reading right now? I have 20 or 30 books on my telephone. I just finished a book on Attila the Hun. I am in the middle of a book about the Lusitania, that took America into World War I—The Wake. I finished The Martian. And I just completed the Revenant.

We also read you are doing a new mini-series, can you tell us a little bit about it? Yes, it is called Better Late than Never, in which Terry Bradshaw, George Foreman, Henry Winkler, and myself spend a month in Japan, Thailand, Korea, and … someplace else in Asia. It will be on in May. In the mean time I’m out on tour with my one-man show, called Shatner’s World: We Just Live in It. I was on Broadway with it and toured for a while—now I’m touring for a couple of weeks. In addition to that I have a science fiction novel coming out in late fall.

You are involved in equine therapy. Can you speak to that and how it impacts your life? Thirty years ago I saw a Thalidomide Baby [thalidomide was a drug marketed in the 50s and 60s as a mild sleep aid that caused phocomelia, a side effect in babies born to mothers who took the drug. Phocomelia is a condition that causes extremities to be attached close to the trunk.] She was missing one leg, had no arms and she was holding the rein of the horse in her toes – a beautiful child with that kind of handicap. The women who were running the program were discontinuing it as they could not raise the funds to keep it going. And I blithely said, “I’ll take over the horse show” thinking, “how difficult can that be?” So, 30 years later and several million dollars of contributions later, we have helped many, many children’s charities around this area, including many having to do with equine therapy. It was discovered, or rediscovered, that individuals—and this now applies to our veterans coming back from the wars, because they suffer many of the ills that these children suffer from, dissociation, mental, social—and the horses have a benign effect on them—a magical effect on the children and the veterans. It has to do with the physical [nature] of the horse, the largeness, the control that the people have on [the horse’s] back. It is also suggested, and I believe this myself, that the horses have a spirit that is a calming spirit that is part of the magic of the horse and the human being.

Our last question to you: Star Trek or Star Wars? Infinitely Star Trek! Thank you, it was a pleasure to speak with you.

There you have it folks, the man the myth the legend. Be sure to check out his website for all things Shatner, williamshatner.com, and check your local TV listings for the new series, Better Late than Never on NBC. It might be cheesy but it’s the only way to properly end a William Shatner interview…Live long and prosper.

Tanya Schwied graduated from New York University, studied abroad in Israel, and currently works for the CEO and President of Jewish Federation & Family Services. 

Lisa Grajewski, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist and adjunct Assistant Professor at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. She has been a contributing writer for Jlife magazine since 2004.

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