February 27, 2015 was a sad day for humanity but it has given us all an opportunity to look back at Leonard Nimoy and reflect upon what he has meant to us. Mr. Nimoy had the opportunity to play a character that is known in all corners of the world (maybe even beyond our own, who knows). Mr. Spock, with his Vulcan ears and his "Live Long and Prosper" is known to people who've never even watched a scene from Star Trek. I decided to take this opportunity to reflect on what Leonard Nimoy has meant to me.
This will make me old, but I was born in the year that Star Trek debuted. I don't remember seeing episodes live, but I do remember discovering reruns and I was hooked. Star Trek gave my a love of science and technology and a belief in a brighter future, where anything was possible. Star Trek had everything, aliens galore, space travel, endless adventure, cool gadgets, everything a young boy could want. I created the presentation below, inspired by things I have learned from Leonard Nimoy.
Leonard Nimoy was a key part of the power trio at the center of the Star Trek universe. He was given the opportunity that many actors would love to have and that is to shape direction of a character. In Mr. Nimoy's case, he made lots of decisions that forever shaped how the Vulcan race would be played. Since the Vulkans were one of the central races (besides humans that is), how Vulkans were portrayed would have a big impact on the direction that the series (and subsquent series and movies) would go. There are lots of actors who have followed in his footsteps that can thank him for shaping the essence of who Vulcans were. Imagine, if he had decided to change how he had portrayed Mr. Spock?
Captain Kirk, Dr. McCoy, and Mr. Spock were the heart of the series. The chemistry between these three characters was going to drive how well the series did and play into what what happens in every storyline. Dr. McCoy and Mr. Spock had an old maried couple feel to their relationship, they were always bickering about anything and everything but you knew that the friendship between the three characters was solid and could withstand anything.
One of the appealing aspects of Mr. Spock and the Vulkans was that they applied logic to everything. At the time series was produced there was a lot of turmoil (there has certainly been a lot of turmoil since) and the idea of applying some logic in a non-logical world was rather comforting. When you look at our own humanity, we often do a lot of illogical things and act purely on emotions and instinct. Throughout the series we'd often see scenarios where the logical thing was not the right thing to do and where we would need to let more of our humanity shine through. Since Mr. Spock was half Vulkan and half human, he could tap into both sides (although the Vulkan side was dominant).
Leonard Nimoy created a Pinochio type character who was trying to discover who he really was. This self-discovery is something that the fans can relate to very well. It is also a theme that would be played out through various Star Trek series. In each subsequent Trek series there always seems to be at least one character who is trying to find out who they are and this can be traced back to the way that Mr. Nimoy portrayed Mr. Spock. In Star Trek: The Next Generation, it is often said that Data was playing this role. In all of us there is a longing to find out who we are and what we're going to contribute to the world.
Leonard Nimoy not only had a great relationship with William Shatner (Captain Kirk) and Deforest Kelly (Dr. McCoy) but with the other series regular characters (Scotty, Uhuria, Sulu, and Chekov). In an article at People magazine, it is mentioned that Mr. Nimoy spoke up when he found out that Nichell Nichols (Uhuria) wasn't getting paid what the actors playing Sulu and Chekov were getting paid. In the same article it mentions that he refused to do the voice of Spock in the animated series unless Nichols and George Takei (Sulu) were hire. Mr. Roddenberry apparently started referring to Mr. Nimoy as the conscience of Star Trek.
When N.B.C canceled Star Trek after three seasons, logic would have dictated that this was the end of Star Trek,.but something funny happened on the way to the forum. There was the emergence of the Star Trek fandom. The fans did a letter campaign during when NBC canceled it in the second season, which resulted in the series coming back for a third season. When NBC again pulled the plug after the third season, they mounted another letter writing campaign, but this time without success. The fans managed to keep the fires burning which resulted in a series of Trek movies, and 4 more television series. There is no doubt that Star Trek fans made history when Star Trek returned from the dead. Star Trek fans have done many innovative things that have been picture up by other fandoms. I wouldn't be surprised if Star Trek fans created the first real fandom. Most of us have known a few "Trekers" (Star Trek fans prefer to be called "Trekers" and not "Trekies"), who've seen downright off the deep end in their devotion to Star Trek. There is a great skit from Saturday night live (you can read the transcript here), showing the extreme devotion and nerdiness of some of the fans. I have one friend who can tell you want episode any quote is from and another who can see a picture and tell you what episode it comes from, my brain isn't wired that way. There isn't a company or organization out there that wouldn't like to be able to engage into the devotion of their consumers/users/(fill in the blank) the way that Star Trek has.
For many actors they always have to consider if playing this or that role will typecast them, that is to say that will they have problems finding other roles because people have associated them with a certain character and can't imagine them in a different role. There have been some actors who have played a role and never been able to come out of the shadows of that role. At one point Mr. Nimoy tried to distance himself from Mr. Spock writing a book called "I Am Not Spock", later he would write another book called "I Am Spock". Mr. Nimoy said, "Spock is definitely one of my best friends. When I put on those ears, it is not just another day. When I become Spock, that day becomes something special." Mr. Nimoy has had quite a life outside of Star Trek, I like to think that it has been enriched by his experience with Star Trek and the people that he has gotten to know via Star Trek.
One thing that isn't lost on me is the inspiration that Mr. Nimoy has had a Mr. Spock and the the Trek universe has had. Wil Whetton (who played Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation) wrote in his eulogy, "When I was a kid, long before I put on Wesley Crusher's sweaters or piloted the Enterprise, I loved Star Trek. I watched it all the time in syndication on our black and white television, and when the other kids at school wanted to play CHIPs or the A-Team on the playground, I wanted to turn the jungle gym into the Enterprise. On those rare occasions that I convinced my classmates that we were bodly going toward new worlds on luch recess, one of the Cool Kids would claim the role of Captain Kirk, and I would always happily assume the role of Mister Spock... I wanted to be Mister Spock because if I was, I could be myself-quite, bookis, alien to the people around me - and it wouldn't be weird. It would be awesome." You don't have to look to far to see people doing things that they might not have had the courage to do or because they were influenced by Mr. Spock and the other characters in the Star Trek universe. NASA named one of the Space Shuttles "Enterprise", no doubt in honor of the place in their heart for Star Trek. I find this inspiration totally amazing.
I could write so much more but all good things must end. I hope that you'll take the time to think about what Nr. Nimoy has meant to you and I hope that you too will be inspired by these words from Mr. Nimoy the commencement he gave at Boston University in 2012, "You are the curator sof your own lives. You create your own life and work. Give us your best...give us the best of your art. We crave it. We hunger for it. Help us to see ourselves...to know ourselves. Illuminate our lives" May we all "Live long and prosper"(you can read the text here). Thank you Mr. Nimoy!
Photo credits: The picture above is from Flickr the license can be found here.