Book Review 15: Star Trek Memories

If you don't like William Shatner, you may as well skip this book.

But if you enjoy Shatner being Shatner, you owe it to yourself to read Star Trek memories This is how the first chapter begins:

Snoring, smiling broadly, I am secure in the warmth and comfort of a carefree, dreamless sleep, and then it hits.

Instantly, my peace is shattered by the brain-piercing electronic screeching that blares and buzzes from my evil digital alarm clock. Quickly, I spring into action, tossing about heroically and finally employing the desperate maneuver known as the old "pillow over the ears" trick. Nothing works, and I come to realize this is truly a no-win situation…in Trekker an early morning kobayashi Maru. Slowly, painfully, my eyelids begin to slide upward, and my semiconscious senses begin to contemplate the orangy-red block-style numbers that glare and blink at me, just out of reach, mocking my early morning helplessness. Their blurry taunts immediately tell me that my eyesight isn't what it used to be, and, upon squinting, that it's also 5:15 AM. I'm late.

Now I boldly go…into the bathroom, stumbling to the sink, where a sting of cold tile and a splash of cold water shock me at both extremities. The cobwebs finally begin to dissipate. I find my toothbrush, and in my nearly awakened state, I even manage to load it up. I now pause to admire my neatly symmetrical blob of tartar control goo, lean in over the sink, look up into the mirror, and come face to face with my own image, which scares me.

Page 2

Stark Trek Memories by William Shatner and Chris Kreski is two books in one. First, it's a great overview of the challenges Gene Rodenberry faced getting Star Trek on, and then keeping it on in the 60s. Second, it's a book of random, humorous rants. Kreski evidently wrote the history, while Shatner wrote the comedy.

While the writing style does flow smoothly between the authors, it seems obvious which sections Shatner wrote. The sense of adventure and the number of adjectives leaps when Shatner takes over the pen.

Shatner interviews cast and crew from the original series, and includes lengthy transcripts of those interviews in the book. Consider the text carefully, however. Several of the people Shatner interviewed complained he gets key points completely wrong, takes things out of context, and has no clue about how he is distorting key facts.He starts off introducing us to the cast at the time he is writing.

He tells the story of when the cast got their names in the cement outside Graman's Chinese theater.

George Takei is there, too, and I swear to you this man thinks he's a Vulcan. I mean, either that or he's had some sort of operation on his hands because where ever he goes, he's wearing an enormous smile, and displaying ambidextrous Vulcan hand signals for "Live Long and Prosper."

Page 4

Shatner seems to have forgotten that smiling isn't a very Vulcan characteristic.

And Shatner takes great pleasure talking about how DeForest Kelly took up most of the cement himself, only to misspell his name.

The memoir is actually a revelation for Shatner. During the interview process he really discovers just how oblivious he was to everyone around him in the 60s. He was simply unaware of what the people around him went though. He barely knew his best friend on the set – Leonard Nimoy.

It's funny, but I realized as I sat down to work on this book that I really had absolutely no idea how Leonard initially got involved Star Trek.

Page 41

Shatner learned something important while writing this book. He discovered that other members of the cast don't like him. Some actors might be tempted to ignore this. Or to lash out at their critics. But Shatner dedicates the entire epilogue to exploring this. He is genuinely surprised when, after interviewing Nichelle Nichols, she says:

"Wait a minute," she told me, "I'm not finished yet. I have to tell you why I despise you."

Page 300

He turns the tape recorder back on and hears her out.

Shortly after I interviewed Nichelle, I found out that she, Walter Koenig, George Takei and Jimmy Doohan had all spoken, conspiring to use the interviews for Star Trek Memories as an opportunity to confront me, face-to-face, with their own negative feelings….I had to admit that in talking to my former coworkers I was now at a loss in attempting to understand how more than twenty-five years' worth of shared experiences never quite translated into friendships.

Page 302

While he did talk to Koenig and Takei, Shatner tells readers that Jimmy Doohan still refused to speak to him.

It's refreshing to see Shatner give up this much space to his critics. In fact, much of the book is really about Shatner confronting his own arrogance.

My character of Kirk was also becoming quite popular, but the swelling interest in Spock was growing by leaps and bounds, and to be perfectly honest, this really began to bother me…. I was now faced with no longer being the only star of this show. And to be unflatteringly frank, it bugged me. I wasn't proud of these feelings, but they were simply the natural human reaction.

Page 194-195

Surely the captain's wisdom, sagacity, courage and heroic capabilities were all fictional, having been so remarkably scripted for the character, but at its core, Kirk was, for the most part, me. An idealized version of me, certainly, but one that nonetheless sprang rather readily from my own inner workings. I operated almost totally on instinct…We were basically the same, although Jim was just about perfect, and, of course, I am perfect.

Page 130

Here he discusses the role of a script supervisor on the set:

For example, let's pretend Leonard and I are performing a scene together. We set up for a wide master shot, and the director yells, "Action." Kirk now runs over to his trusty Vulcan pal asking, "Hey Spock, is that your nose or are you eating a banana?" Spock turns and gives his captain the old Vulcan evil eye, raising his left eyebrow accordingly. Throughout the scene, Rutter's sitting in the back, gawking at us, manhandling a stop watch, and scribbling furiously into a notebook.

The director yells, "Cut. Print it!" and of course he add, "Bill, your performance was exquisite!" Now we move in for the close-ups, and Leonard's is first. Kirk again goes through his banana spiel, and Spock again gives him the eyebrow treatment. "Cut," yells the director, "Print it! Bill, your performance was breathtaking . Let's move on." At this point, Rutter finally stirs, raising his hand and his voice to point out that Leonard raised his left eyebrow in the mastershot, but his right eyebrow in the close-up. "Aw, geez, Leonard, you screwed up again," yells our director. "Why can't you be more like Bill?"

Page 121

Shatner does give Nimoy a chance to complain:

Bill's mean, he's really mean, I've been telling people this for years, and I want you to believe me. I'm not kidding. He's mean. He's a mean person. He stole my bicycle. He hurt me…badly. I want you to know this. I want it written. I want it on public record.

Page 232

And after a while Shatner does learn that he isn't actually Kirk.

And now, still riding atop a tidal wave of paternal instinct and adrenaline, I snapped, and for a second there, I swear to you I thought I was Captain Kirk. Because of that, I was just about to launch myself into one of my famous kicks when my brain flashed upon Newton's law, and I realized that if I were to leap into the air at full speed, hit one of these monsters in the chest and kick with all my might…I'd probably just end up like those seagulls that fly into 747s. I'd bounce off, fall to the ground and of course at that time these three guys would kick me to death.

Page 281

As I said earlier, though, this is really two books in one. Interspersed with Shatner's stories about being William Shatner, we get a great history of Star Trek. And Star Trek was a show made by some very tired people.

From the producers to the set designers to the directors to the writers, no one got enough sleep. From the seemingly impossible task of getting the pilot on, to the massive challenges of producing a quality show on constantly shrinking budgets, to finally just managing to keep it on the air, a dedicated team of professionals gave up sleep and sanity to meet the challenges. And in the end, the network turned its back on them. The real shame of the story is just how badly NBC treated the show.

The amount of trivia and history crammed into these pages between Shatner's alternating rants and navel gazing is impressive. For example, Star Trek is often touted as having the first interracial kiss on prime time TV.

In one episode in the third season, Kirk is forced to kiss Uhura. The network brass freaks out about it though, complaining the would never be able to air that episode in large parts of the country. After quite a bit of yelling, the director decides to film the scene both ways – one with the actual kiss, and one where it looks like they kiss but Shatner and Nichols don't quite touch lips.

Sadly, when push came to shove, the network got their way and the no-contact kiss made it to the airwaves. For that reason, the widely held assumption that Star Trek features the first interracial kiss in the history of television is absolutely untrue.

Page 285

In her own book, Nichols disputes Shatner's account of the kiss, and claims it actually did air.

We also hear about the various practical jokes Rodenberry used to play. And many of them involve naked people.

But mainly we hear about a dedicated team working hard on their artistic vision. They put everything they have into the show. And the network just made it even harder.

This book is a must read for any serious fan of Star Trek's original series. The behind the scenes look actually enhances they magic of the show, rather than dispelling it. It gave me new respect for the talented men and women who created this phenomenon. I highly recommend it.

Afterall, how could you not like a book that includes stories like this:

However, what none of us expected was that once George actually got hold of his sword, he went crazy, absolutely nuts, literally bounding around our sets all day, slashing and jabbing at whoever crossed his path. I mean, Takei gets this dangerous weapon in hand and he completely loses control, darting around the studio, swatting our crew guys and poking big Teamster butts. This is not a good idea! A couple of these guys even went so far as to threaten George's life. "HAAAAAAA!!!!" he'd gleefully exclaim, "You are powerless against my mighty sword."

Page 143-144

Tomorrow: I am NOT Spock, by Leonard Nimoy

1 comment:

Rudy said...

Thanks for the summary. Now I don't have to buy his book. :-)