Book Review 16: I am not SPOCK

Right or wrong, drama for me is a kind of spiritual crusade.

Page 110

Leonard Nimoy's first memoir is a meditation on the identity crisis he suffers in the years following Star Trek. Writing in the early 70s, Nimoy uses the book to try to understand where Spock ends and Nimoy begins. When he's not discussing the internal struggle he faces, he tells us stories about some of his Star Trek struggles, what it means to be an actor, and what he did in the post Star Trek years.

To begin with, this is a great smelling book. It has that strong, fresh paper scent that you typically don't see with newly published books these days. Perhaps in the past two decades publishers have eliminated some of the chemicals that used to make books smell like that. And, like the old, purple mimeograph documents, the classic scent of books is gradually disappearing.

Nimoy wrote the book while Star Trek was still a cult show. The convention business was growing, and the show was just beginning to take off in syndication. The book came out several years before the first Star Trek movie, and even before Star Wars transformed the science fiction adventure movie. Nimoy was trying to build an acting career while being known mainly as the guy with the funny ears.

There seems to be a commonly held perception that Nimoy was angry at the way Spock overshadowed Nimoy's other characters. And the book title seems to encourage that perception. Nimoy's relationship with Spock is more complex and is the heart of the book.

The first lines in the book emphasize the close relationship Nimoy has with his most famous character.

I don't go around introducing myself to strangers as Mr. Spock. But when someone addresses a letter to "Mr. Spock, Hollywood, California," I'm the one who gets it.

Page 1

In the second chapter, also called "I am not Spock," Nimoy dives into the contrast between Spock and other aspects of his life. It's an exploration of character that is less of a TV Script and more of a personal roommate. Spock may be fiction -- just words on the page. But to Nimoy, he is a separate entity. Nimoy "talks" to Spock, lives with him, consults him, and treats him as a separate person. Nimoy is not crazy; he understands the fiction involved. But the phenomenal presence Spock has in pop culture means that Spock will always be more than ink on a page.

I have a brother, Melvin. He lives 3,000 miles away. We have a good relationship. But it's different. If someone compliments him, I take pride. If someone were malign him, I would be hurt. But he is he. I am not him and he is not me. We exist independently. Spock and I do not. So, Spock is not my brother.

Page 13

I am not Spock.

But given the choice, if I had to be someone else, I would be Spock. If someone said, "You can have the choice of being any other TV Character ever played," I would choose Spock. I like him. I admire him. I respect him….He stand for something that makes me feel good. Dignity and honesty and a lot more. And whatever of that rubs off on me makes me feel good.

But I am not Spock.

Page 17

Later on, Nimoy talks about a speech he gave at a 1973 Star Trek convention. He comments on stories that he wanted to distance himself from his work on Star Trek.

"The whole concept was to create a believable environment in spite of some of the pretty fantastic things that were going to take place on the show. Therefore, I can not, never have, and never will complain about identification with the character. To begin with, because I feel that if that identification has taken place, I believe I've done my job as an actor, and second, because the character is perhaps the most dignified, most intelligent, most meaningful and most challenging character that I will ever get to play in my life and I'm very proud of it!"

That was the truth, but it wasn't really that simple.

Page 60

Nimoy is an intelligent guy and realized that even if he wanted to shed his Spock association, he really couldn't.

There were a lot of emotional cross currents operating for me at this time. Obviously, the work being offered was coming as a direct result of my impact as Mr. Spock. On the other hand, I was involved in something of a crusade to develop a reputation as an actor with some range.

At this point, I went through a definite identity crisis. The questions was whether to embrace Mr. Spock or to fight the onslaught of public interest. I realize now that I really had no choice in the matter. Spock and Star Trek were very much alive and there wasn't anything I could do to change that.

Page 63

In Shatner's books, Nimoy could come off as bit of jerk. And yet Shatner constantly referred to Nimoy as his best friend, and seemed to hold him in high regard. But Nimoy was always demanding things from the studio or arguing about Spock's role with Rodenberry or the other writers and producers. At first glance, it appeared Nimoy wanted more attention and more screen time. But I don't think that was Shatner's intention. On closer inspection, though, it appears Nimoy was really concerned more about Spock and less about Nimoy.

In his own book, Nimoy tells some of the those same stories. And it is clear that he takes his roles seriously -- perhaps more seriously than any other actor on the show. Nimoy is not just there to read Spock's lines, but to become Spock. Nimoy takes the script and builds on the persona. He commits to the part as though it were a true drama, and not just a mere TV show.

In a sense, Shatner is Kirk. Kirk seems to be just an exaggerated or idealized version of Shatner. It seems there is less pure acting there. I can't picture Shatner and Kirk together in the same room

Nimoy's relationship to his role is more complex. I can picture Nimoy and Spock in the same room. Rather than just putting on the ears and eyebrows and taking direction, Nimoy practically grows the ears and eybrows and gives life to Spock. Nimoy talks about his approach to acting early on.

The approach to the teaching was heavily influences by the concepts of Stanislavski. In my case, I was particularly committed to the concepts he expressed in Building a Character." I am very much affected by the clothes I wear. Putting on a cap can make me feel quite dashing and romantic. An old work jacket, work boots and an old dirty cap can make me feel quite seedy. The character clothes begin to affect me inwardly, as does the make-up. There are various other elements which will lead me to the core of the character. But the externals to me are very helpful.

Page 7

There are few externals as closely linked to a characters and Spock's.

Following Star Trek Nimoy looked for other parts. He even played McMurphy in a stage production of One Flew Over the Cuckoos nest. I'm still trying to wrap my head around the idea of Nimoy playing the same character that Jack Nicholson would come to define a few years later.

…I chose to do a play called: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest – to play McMurphy, because it there's anybody that's different from Spock, it's McMurphy. Because he's a totally instinctual, gut-level reactive anti-intellectual character, as opposed to Spock who is a thinker.

Page 65-66

It was an effort not distance himself from Spock for the public's benefit, but to exercise his own acting skills. That's been the continuing challenge for Nimoy.

After Star Trek, he became a cast member on Mission: Impossible. Eventually, though, he got bored with the variety of characters he was playing there. He acccomplished all he felt he could accomplish on that show, and asked to get out of his contract early.

Had I stayed on the show for at least the two additional years of my contract, and possibly the third year to the end of the series, I would have repeated myself professionally, and made an awful lot of money. The difference would be that instead of being a rich man today, I guess I would have been a very rich man today.

Page 117

At this point it's also interesting to compare him to Shatner. While Nimoy jumped on to Mission: Impossible with a lucrative contract, Shatner was doing regional theater and living in the back of his truck. Their professional careers had taken different directions.

It seems that every role Nimoy took, he took seriously. He gives his all and does whatever he can to make any production he's in the best it can possibly be.

The Acting is more important than the actor, and it should be treated as such. Performing a role properly and fully is almost a religious experience and obligation.

For the next few minutes, twenty five of the most beautiful singers, actors and dancers that it will ever be my privilege to work with, were huddled in tearful joy. That night's audience who watched the performance of Fiddler on the Roof were treated to a holy communion of the human spirit.

Page 132

And people who are that commited to something will appear arrogant and self centered, even though they aren't . The kind of commitment means they fight for what they believe is right, regardless of the egos they may bruise. They have a higher purpose, and that is to get it right.

Nimoy does tell a few Star Trek stories, such as the creation of his ears, the birth of the Vulcan neck pinch, and the development with the Rand and Chapel characters.

In the first several episodes, the character of Yeoman Rand, played by Grace Lee Whitney, was the direct counterpart to Amanda Blake's "Kitty," the silent, secret love of the leading man. This proved to be clumsy on Star Trek. It limited Captain Kirk's potential relationships with other ladies since he would have seemed unfaithful to Miss Rand. She was eliminated to give the amorous Captain more lebensraum.

Ironically, the opposite pattern developed in the case of Spock. Although he was theoretically incapable of loving, the female audience notified us very quickly that he was very much loved. This led to the introduction of the" Nurse Chapel" character, played by Majel Barrett.

It was through her character that the female audience could express itself. It was she who worried about Mr. Spock and cooked soup for him. It was she who cared about and quietly loved the Vulcan who couldn't respond.

Page 40

The book is short -- just 138 pages. But it could use a stronger hand at the editor's pen. Nimoy often jumps from topic to topic with little transition. Then he comes back to his original topic. It's as if he is spiraling in a point . This particularly evident in chapter 1, but continues throughout the book.

At one point, he talks about why Star Trek was cancelled.

There is a terrible, prevalent misconception that Star Trek was cancelled because it was too costly to produce. This is not the case. The show was run a very average budget. Mission: Impossible which was shooting next door on the Paramount lot was costing approximately 25% more than Star Trek.

Page 38

The he goes on to a bigger discussion of Mission: Impossible and the Star Trek schedule. He doesn't actually come back to why the show was cancelled.

Most of chapter 9 is about his favorite episodes. He talks about why he liked them and what they meant for the characters.

Then he suddenly jumps out of the episode discussion and talks about how the transporters worked. It's great information, but without any sort of transition, it was out of place.

I am not SPOCK captures Nimoy's thoughts at an interesting time. Star Trek was a cult, but was just starting to grow its monstrous following. There were no movies yet, and those discussions were still years away. Nimoy was fresh out of the series and didn't know he would still be putting on the ears 20 years later.

Despite the way the text jumps around, this is a fascinating look at the actor and the character. If you are more interested in an entertaining history of Star Trek, read Shatner's book. But if you are interested in a deep exploration of becoming a character, or you just want know more about the relationship between Nimoy and Spock, this is a great gooks to read.

And if you've made it this far, here is one more thought from Nimoy.

Most people are so busy doing what they must do that they never have the opportunity to find out what they can do.

Page 118

Tomorrow: The Longest Trek, by Grace Lee Whitney

1 comment:

RollerKaty said...

Sounds like an interesting read! I'll have to check it out - especially as it is written in the 1970s and I'm rather obsessed with that decade...

:) katy