Book Review 19: I Am Spock

Do I miss Spock?

No, because he's a part of me. Not a day passes I don't here that cool, rational voice commenting on some irrational aspect of the human condition.

Page 332

Nimoy wrote this book approximately 20 years after he wrote I Am Not Spock. And a lot happened in those 20 years. Star Trek’s popularity grew to phenomenal levels. Seven movies came out featuring the original cast. Nimoy became a well respected film director. And everyone involved got a bit older.

While his previous book was a great meditation on what it meant to be an actor and have such a strong relationship with a character, this book is more history focused. Nimoy still creates short dialogues between himself and Spock, but he seems more at peace with it. In this book we get a more professional, more mature, and less petulant film professional. In the previous book, we hear from an ACTOR committed to his craft and struggling with the deep identity questions of where the actor ends and the character begins.

For the first third of the book, Nimoy covers familiar ground. He talks in detail about his time on the original series and about his time on Mission: Impossible. While many of the stories he tells are the same, his tone and approach reflects his success later in his career. He also seem more comfortable with his relationship to Spock. He has accepted much of the struggle he described in his first book. Later in the book he details his experience with the Star Trek movies and his own directing career. He spends less time talking about his photography in this book, as well.

That’s not to say this book is better; they are very different. Readers who enjoy an indepth character study, or meditation on the actor/character dichotomy will prefer the first book. Those who are looking for a more straight forward narrative or history of Nimoy’s career will enjoy the second one. They are both worth reading, however a reader may not want to go through both books back to back. Putting a few months between them may make the second book feel less redundant.

Nimoy did take some heat for the title of this first book. He discusses it early on in I Am Spock.

But I made an enormous mistake in choosing the title for the book. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my lifetime, but this one was a biggie and right out there in public. Perhaps it wasn’t quite as bad as Roseanne Arnold singing the “Star-Spangled Bagger” off-key, grabbing her crotch, and spitting in a stadium full of baseball fans, but mine did start a firestorm that lasted several years and caused a lot of hard feelings.

Page 6

Nimoy takes full responsibility for the unfortunate title. His publisher opposed it, and wanted a more positive title. But Nimoy insisted I Am Not Spock was what he wanted to call it.

I won that argument. And I’m sorry now that I did, because I was completely wrong.

Page 7

Throughout the book, Nimoy brings talks about things that help keep him somewhat humble. He freely admits his mistakes.

At a recent Star Trek convention, a teenage girl asked the questions, “How did you prepare for what happened to you when you became famous?”

My answer? “I didn’t.”

…I was so naïve, I didn’t even bother to change my phone number….

Page 78

In an oft-repeated story, Nimoy talks about when he and William Shatner had the privilledge of riding in the Rose Bowl parade during Star Trek’s first season. As they rode amidst the enthusiastic fans, the announcer’s voice came over the PA system:

“And here come the stars of Star Trek, William Shatner and Leonard Nimsy!”

Page 80

By the mid-eighties, Nimoy was an established director and producer. The studios thought he would be a valuable addition to the team behind Star Trek: The Next Generation. Nimoy, however, didn’t think a second Star Trek series would succeed.

While my argument sounded perfectly rational at the time, my ego was certainly involved. When I said to Mancuso and the assembled execs, "How can you hope to capture lightening in a bottle?" part of me was really saying, "How can you ever hope to do i do it without us?"

You know, crow isn't so bad. It tastes rather like chicken."

Page 325

Part of his humility may come from being in Spock’s shadow. While I Am Spock isn’t as focused on the Nimoy-Spock relationship as I Am Not Spock was, the relationship between the two is still important. In one of his conversations with Spock, Nimoy expresses his amazement at how they came to be so closely associated. Spock is not impressed.

Spock: Hardly. Because with each passing moment of your life, one event precipitated another; which made each subsequent occurrence more probable. For example, by moving from Boston to Los Angeles, and working hard to perfect your craft, you increased your chances of a successful acting career by a substantial margin, from 1, 736,534.2 to 1, to 351,233.82 to 1 – just as, by attending Starfleet Academy, I increased my chances of serving aboard the Enterprise. As your own Miguel de Cervantes said, “Diligence is the mother of good fortune.”

Page 4

Nimoy also described the Spock-McCoy relationship in greater detail. He compares it to an Abbott and Costello routine:

McCoy: (frustrated) Now wait a minute, Spock! When the first baseman gets his paycheck, who gets the money?

Spock: It is only logical that he should do so, since he provided his services.

McCoy: Who did?

Spock: Precisely, Doctor. “Who” did. “Who” receives the money.

McCoy: Are you trying to confuse me, you green-blooded son of a --!

Spock: Control yourself, Doctor.

Page 41-42

I can’t see the Nimoy of the early seventies making quite the same comparison. He took things more seriously. During the show, he often fought with producers, directors, and writers to make sure Spock was handled appropriately. Some people considered him hard to work with as a result, but Nimoy felt he was just doing his job.

Perhaps as this point, I should explain further why I thought it was my responsibility to look after the character. You see, after a television series has been on the air for a period of time, the staff will undergo a good deal of turnover….So the actor is ultimately “the keeper of the flame” for his or her character. It often falls to the actor to point out to incoming producers and directors and inconsistencies in the character, because the staff may not be familiar with what’s gone before. Therefore, if the actor doesn’t take on the responsibility, a character “drift” is likely to take place, and not necessarily for the better. So, felling as strongly as I always have about the development of character, I felt I was responsible to protect Spock from disintegration.

Page 121

Despite assertions by many in the 70s, Nimoy did not hate Spock.

And, frankly, I missed Spock. I missed him during Mission and afterwards, until 1979 when we filmed the first Trek motion picture. I’ve never been totally free of mental “echoes” of Spock…from time to time I’d here his voice commenting quite logically on a particular situation.

Page 132

Despite Nimoy’s personal feelings, those public perceptions would influence the Star Trek movies. Nimoy was initially reluctant to participate in the first movie, but not because he hated Spock. There were major script issues.

There were two problems. For one thing, the story simply wasn’t very good.

For anther, Spock didn’t appear in it.

Page 159

But he still wanted to be part of it. And even if he didn’t, he certainly didn’t want to be known as the only hold out.

Because, in the end, I also realized that I had no desire to face the public reaction if it were announced that I was the lone hold out from the original cast. I'd already weathered one firestorm with I am not Spock, and was in no hurry to kindle another one.

Page 164

But even when Nimoy came on board, the movie didn’t get any better. It was boring to watch, and, apparently, it was just as boring to make.

Once filming commenced, it seemed like we actors stood forever on the bridge of the Enterprise, staring at a blank screen, which later would be filled with wondrous special effects. The work was very tedious, and frankly, not much fun. What was this gloom? This depressed atmosphere? This lack of attack, fun, élan?

I think it came out of a sense that we were doing something Historic and Important. Somehow, although the TV shows depended heavily on the day-to-day energy of the creative community -- writers, directors, and actors -- the movie seemed to have been taken out of our hands. And our energy was sapped by an unwarranted reverence. We were passengers along for the ride on a voyage we could never quite fully manage or understand.

Page 168

Star Trek V is the second worst Star Trek film, and it, too, suffered major script problems. William Shatner directed this film and tried to hobble together the script, but it was doomed from the beginning.

I immediately sat down with Bill, and said, "Let's talk about Spock. I've got some problems here. For one things, my character has no function in the script."

"How does he further the plot?"

Bill said, "Don't worry about it. We'll think of something…"

Page 300

Even with numerous rewrites, the script and story remained weak. I believe this was the cause of Star Trek V's woes at the box office.

It certainly had nothing to do with Bill's abilities as a director, because he shot the film as efficiently and cinematically as any number of talented directors might have. ... The problem was in the execution and design of the screenplay; what was on the page is what he shot. He was riding a bad script, and as I've said at other times and places, when you're riding a bad script, there's not much that can be done to salvage a film.

Page 302

Nimoy lets Shatner off too easily on this film. He may have done a fine job directing, but Nimoy seems to gloss over Shatner’s own role in crafting the script. Shatner goes into detail on this in his own book.

But Nimoy and Shatner are friends, and Nimoy like to tell good natured stories about their relationship.

I got into the habit of having my coffee in the car, and my bacon-and-eggs sandwich with a thick slice of onion in the make up chair. While Freddie [Phelps] applied the ears, I ate. He and I would have a nice quiet conversation until 7 – when Bill Shatner arrived and all hell broke loose.

Page 46

They would then go into a series of massively absurd puns.

Thus the famous neck pinch was born, in part because of Bill Shatner’s talent for fainting on cue.

Page 59

Now, in that particular scene, Kirk greeted McCoy with the line, "How many fingers and I holding up, Bones?" while raising his hand in the Vulcan salute. But Bill had the same problem as Celia Lovsky in "Amok Time" -- he simply could not make his hand form the necessary shape. (Let's face it -- Bill's just not Vulcan!) We finally had to help him out; we lined the sides of his rebellious fingers with double-sided tape, then tied them into position with a piece of fine monofilament fish line.

Page 232

Nimoy also tells other behind the scenes stories from the movies he directed.

May fans have wondered why Kirstie didn’t reprise her role as Savik. It came down to money. Her agent simply asked for too much.

And he quoted a price that was so beyond our reach that it left me slack-jawed. I'm sure neither he nor Kirstie realized it, but the salary he wanted for her second Star Trek appearance was higher than what was being paid to De Kelly after seventeen years!

Page 225

When he crafted each film he directed, he wanted to make sure each character was important.

Because of this, we worked very consciously in Star Trek III (and would again in Star Trek IV) to define special moments for each member of the Enterprise bridge crew. Each one had a task to perform that would ultimately lead to Spock's return. In part, I think I was influenced by my experience in Mission: Impossible, where each character had a specific job to complete in any given adventure.

Page 224

This is in stark contrast to the way Shatner developed Star Trek V, where he had everyone turning against Kirk, and leaving Kirk the only hero in the movie, at least in the early drafts.

Eddie Murphy was almost in Star Trek IV (the one with the whales). For a number of reasons that Nimoy details, it didn’t work out, but not because Murphy disliked Star Trek. In fact, he was a huge fan.

When, contract in hand, the studio execs arrived at the New York studio where Eddie was rehearsing, they had to wait. Why? Not because he was working. No, Eddie was glued to the tube, watching an episode of Star Trek, and refused to be distracted. The guys from Paramount had to sit and wait until the final credits were rolling to the brisk strains of Alexander Courage's end-of-show music. Only then would Eddie sign the contract and take his million dollars. The man had his priorities.

Page 247

Nimoy talks in detail about his non-Star Trek films and especially his work on Three Men and a Baby, including some of the tough editing decisions. In one scene towards the end of the movie, a horse is supposed to stay tied up outside, while the characters walk into a building. Unfortunately the horse did not stay tied up and decided it wanted to come inside, too.

It was hysterically funny -- we were all roaring on the set -- and the camera operators managed to capture it all on film. I was sorely tempted to use it, but it was unfortunately irrelevant to the film, so I let it go.

Page 281

There are other stories of Nimoy’s career that help to flesh out the picture of who is Leonard Nimoy. But there is no getting away from the deep bonds between Nimoy and Spock. Nimoy now accepts this in a way he didn’t in the early seventies. The maturity and depth here makes this a very different story from the one he told in I Am Not Spock.

I Am Spock may not be as much of an intellectual endeavor as the more philosophical I Am Not Spock was, but it is fascinating in its own right. To learn more about acting, read the first book. To learn more about Star Trek, the movie making process, studio politics, and Leonard Nimoy’s life, read this book.

Better yet, just read them both.

1 comment:

RollerKaty said...

Hi Cromley - I like your blog! I was compelled to write about your Star Trek book review week in The RollerBlog today.

Keep that seventies love coming :)