Saturday, December 14, 2019

I Grok Spock!

Leonard Nimoy was born on March 26, 1931 in Boston.  He was the son of Jewish immigrants who had fled their native Ukraine, resettling in America and carving out their slice of the American dream.  His father owned a barbershop, while his mother raised Leonard and his older brother Melvin.

From an early age, Leonard had an interest in the theatre.  His father however, encouraged him to go to college and find a more stable career.  He enrolled in Boston College, but soon realized it wasn't for him, despite the drama classes he took against his father's wishes.  He had earned $600 selling vacuum cleaners door to door, and figured it was enough to get him started in Hollywood.

The Pasadena Playhouse, circa 1953.
Once in LA, he enrolled in classes at the Pasadena Playhouse.  This too, wasn't for him, as he felt that he was already a better actor than he could ever become there.  "I thought, I have to study here three years in order do this level of work, and I'm already doing better work."  Seeing the illogic of it, he dropped out.

He wasn't wrong.  He quickly landed roles in a number of B movies.  He was introduced to the world in 1952 in the Republic Pictures serial Zombies of the Stratosphere, playing, of all things, an alien.  You can watch the entire serial hereHere he is in an episode of Dragnet.

Nimoy as Spock, 1968.
Despite these early successes, Nimoy felt that he would never reach star status due to his thin physique.  Turns out it's what one up-and-coming producer was just looking for.

In 1964, former police officer turned Hollywood executive Gene Roddenberry cast Nimoy in his new science fiction series, Star Trek.  The two had worked together on Roddenberry's detective series The Lieutenant, where the producer first realized that Nimoy would be perfect for the role of Spock.

The series was a marginal success for NBC, where it ran for three seasons.  Of course everyone knows it went on to become a pop culture juggernaut, with Nimoy featured prominently front and center.

After Star Trek, Nimoy joined the cast of Mission Impossible for its final two seasons, playing a master of disguise named Paris.  Here he is in a 1970 episode, featuring his Star Trek co-star Mark Lenard.

In Search of....a steady paycheck.
In 1977, Nimoy began hosting the investigative series In Search Of, which ran in syndication for five seasons.  In addition to exploring historical mysteries such as the Lindbergh baby and Amelia Earheart, the series also examined paranormal phenomena, such as aliens, Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster.  Watch the iconic intro here.

That same year, Hollywood was rocked by the success of George Lucas's Star Wars, produced by 20th Century Fox.  Rival studio Paramount, buoyed by Star Trek's nearly ten-year success in syndication, opted to bring the series back as a feature film. From 1979 to 1991, Nimoy and his co-stars reunited for six such films, two of which were directed by Nimoy himself.  The more successful of these films was Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.  In this "Director's Series" video produced by Paramount, Nimoy shows us production of that film.

I could go on for days here, but entire books have been written on Nimoy's life, including a few by Nimoy himself (see below).  He retired from acting in 2011, though he continued to make occasional appearances on series such as Fringe and The Big Bang well as providing voice-over work in a number of films in The Transformers movie franchise.

Nimoy arrives at JFK Airport, 2014.
In 2014, Nimoy publicly revealed that he had COPD, a condition he attributed to his years of smoking.  Although nicotine free for more than 30 years, he could not escape the effects of it, and by 2015, relied on an oxygen tank for normal breathing.  He ultimately passed on February 27 from the disease.

The world mourned the loss of a true pop culture icon.  It's one of those I remember where I was when I heard the news moments.

He was laid to rest at Hillside Memorial Cemetery in Culver City, California, the first major Star Trek actor to have a final resting place, as both DeForest Kelley and James Doohan had opted for other, undisclosed arrangements.

Final Resting Place

A plaque adorns a rock marker by a cool stream at Hillside Memorial Gardens.

Indeed it was.

A fan has recreated Nimoy's final tweet, published just days before he passed away.

Rest in peace, Mr. Spock.

  • Nimoy was born just four days after his co-star William Shatner.

  • As a sergeant in the U.S. Army, Nimoy encouraged one of his fellow recruits, Ken Berry, to go into acting himself.  Berry did just that, starring in F-Troop, Mayberry, RFD and Mama's Family.

  • Nimoy and Shatner first worked together in an episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.  You can watch a clip of it here.  Robert Vaughn and Colonel Klink himself, Werner Klemperer, also appear.

  • Nimoy tried to shed his Spock exterior in 1976 when he published his first memoir, I am Not Spock.  Pick up a copy here.  Years later, he had a change of heart, publishing the follow-up I AM Spock.  Here's a link.

  • Nimoy was a versatile stage actor, racking up hundreds of Broadway roles, including a 1971 production of Fiddler on the Roof and a 1974 production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

  • Nimoy did hundreds of commercials throughout his career, including some with William Shatner.  Here are some for Aleve, MCI, and

  • I'd be negligent if I didn't include a link to Nimoy's 1968 music video, The Ballad of Billbo BagginsHere you go.

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