Leonard Nimoy; know for acting, directing, and producing television, film, and stage shows; died February 27, 2015 in his home. He was most noted for his portrayal of the pointy-eared, giant elf, half-human, half-Vulcan Spock in the series Star Trek. He reprised that role in several episodes and films, the most recent in Abrams’ Star Trek 2009.
The Star Trek characters all had back-stories, of course. Spock was the product of a marriage between the Vulcan Sarek and the human Amanda. He was permanently torn between the two cultures of Vulcan and Earth and found complete personal peace in neither even though loyal to both.
The actors who played the characters also had back-stories. Nimoy already had substantial credits for playing supporting roles in a variety of genres including westerns (Gunsmoke), counter-espionage (Mission: Impossible), and science-fiction-fantasy (The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits). None of these, however, matched his portrayal of the ultimate misfit, the human with no emotion and the Vulcan whose emotions ran deep.
George Takei (Sulu) referred to Nimoy’s Spock as the key piece in a crew of diversity, long before diversity became fashionable. Nichelle Nichols (Uhura) portrayed an officer who loved Spock in Abrams interpretation. Many followers of the Star Trek saga felt that Spock and Captain Kirk (William Shatner) had a sexual relationship. This last image took additional life when Nimoy and Shatner went on a tour together and Nimoy referred to Shatner as “my big brother.”
In addition to the premise of diversity, the series also worked toward non-violence and acceptance of different ideas and practices. It also offered several other different approaches to the television audiences of the late 1960’s. It was carried by NBC which threatened to kill the series at the end of its second season but relented when the loyal fans blitzed the network with mail denouncing the decision. It was not sufficient, however, to save the show after the third season.
But it went into syndication and began to pick up a following in the hour before the evening news and after the late night chat shows. People began wearing “Star Trek Lives” buttons and organizing StarCons to which original cast members were invited and came. After severe birthing problems, a second series Star Trek: The Next Generation was finally born.
The followers of Star Trek can be divided (yes, that is the correct word) into “trekkies” and “trekkers.” They do not have much use for each other. Trekkies are the “groupies” who follow the characters as if they are real people. They are the people that caused Nimoy to title his first autobiographical book I Am Not Spock! This group is sometimes referred to by the trekkers as the “Petticoat Junctioners.”
The trekkers motivated Nimoy to title his second autobiographical book I Am Spock! In it he echos Gene Roddenberry (creator of the Star Trek world) that followers of the show were corporate CEOs, college professors, and many students. Doctoral dissertations were written on the physics and philosophies presented in Star Trek. Most of these people did not carry imitation phasers nor wear costumes on the rare occasions when they went to StarCons.
But both groups wore the buttons saying “Star Trek Lives!” And eventually, more television series were presented. Films were produced. Discussion of topics raised in them were seriously discussed among scientists and artists. From its origins as an “also-ran,” Star Trek has now become a major component of culture around the world. (Try listening to something like “Phasers on stun” in Hindi sometime.)
It is not my purpose to evaluate the Star Trek phenomenon. Others have done that far better than I could. But whether it got social structures or black holes technically right, it has had a vast impact on the world we know today.
I recall being in southern Texas during the late 1960’s and staying up after the late night show to watch Star Trek out of Houston. I lived and died as the reports came down regarding whether the show would survive into its third season. I experienced severe withdrawal pains when it did not return for its fourth season.
But in keeping with the small group of faithful fans who grew to a multitude after it died and wore “Star Trek Lives!” buttons, I recall Leonard Nimoy’s contribution to our culture. Nimoy will no longer contribute, but his creation will.
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