The Multi-sides to William Shatner
“I was built for the long run, not for the short dash, I guess,” says William Shatner and I wonder whether he knows how much this quote highlights his staying power as an actor! Shatner is a driven man, lives life to the fullest and has managed to fine-tune more than a skill or two. In his late eighties, he keeps busy with an agenda that would exhaust people half his age, with appearances, performances and new books. Shatner was born on March 22, 1931, in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Yes, despite seven decades, he is still a bankable, author, producer, and director. You will be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t know who Captain Kirk is, even if you live in the middle of nowhere. With the internet, you can download a clip or an episode of Star Trek. He has written several novels about the Star Trek experience and a fiction series called TekWar. He has a degree in Economics from McGill University and was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Letters. Even though he was featured in many successful television series in the eighties and the nineties and winning a People’s Choice Award, his 2 Emmys and Golden Globe will come in 2005. The Emmys will come for his intense and sometimes hilarious portrayal of attorney Denny Crane in the television series The Practice and its spinoff Boston Legal. He would stay with the series until the last episode in 2008. Last year, he starred in, Better Late Than Never, an NBC adventure, opposite Henry Winkler, George Foreman, Terry Bradshaw, and Jeff Dye. The quintet traveled to Asia in search of unique life changing experiences and their adventure was chronicled every step of the way. Well that premise is very fitting with the man I met. As the actor shared stories about his youth, his travels, it became clear that sometimes life took him different directions because of his thirst for that continuous self-challenge! Maybe that’s what contributed to him being first at some many stepping stones. Wasn’t he first at featuring a TV kiss between a white man and a black woman? (He kissed Lt. Uhura played by Nichelle Nichols) Did anyone else sell a kidney stone for $25,000 to benefit Habitat for Humanity? And, wasn’t he the one started that ‘spoken word’ genre of music? Who had heard of the ‘spoken word’ music category, before Shatner? His interpretation of Elton John’s ‘Rocket Man’ is hilarious, amazing and unique. The facial expressions and the corresponding vocal gymnastics are priceless! Below is a youtube link to both his interpretation of Elton John’s song and to his ‘Major Tom’ a few years later.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5hARDXYz2io Shatner singing ‘Rocket Man’
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l1moHWpLv-w&list=RDl1moHWpLv-w Shatner singing ‘Major-Tom’
I interviewed William Shatner, years ago, for a French magazine and I was simply astonished at his inner drive and at how accomplished he was. Every time I see one of his Priceline commercials, I smile and remember that interview. Well, it was more than your typical interview as it lasted more than a few hours. The magazine wanted to showcase his love for horses and they flew me and a photographer to Lexington, Kentucky to meet him at horse show. Why am I talking about this now? Well, the ‘Renaissance Man’ will be celebrating his 86th birthday this year and I think he deserves a special shoutout! Yes, Shatner is so versatile, well rounded as a human that he seriously deserves that title. In addition, I feel his broad talents in the entertainment arena are a bit undervalued! He seems to have found the antidote to the flash-in-the-pan disease! He has reinvented himself so many times, over the years, and has bounced back more than a tennis ball! He shared the struggles of arid years in Hollywood when he felt typecast and he also talked about the agony when life dealt him a few tragic blows, like with the accidental drowning death of his third wife, Nerine in 1999. Speaking to the press shortly after her death, he referred to her as his “beautiful soulmate” and talked about how she “meant everything” to him “. Later on he would admit to Larry King in an interview that she had suffered from a disease that ‘people don’t like to talk about: alcoholism which ended up causing her death’. In his autobiography, Up Till Now, Shatner shares how Leonard Nimoy helped with her alcoholism treatment: “Leonard Nimoy’s personal experience of alcoholism now came to play a central role in my life and it helped us bond together in a way I never could have imagined in the early days of Star Trek. After Nerine and I had been to dinner with Leonard and Susan Nimoy one evening, Leonard called and said: “Bill, you know she’s an alcoholic?” I said I did. I married Nerine in 1997, against the advice of many and my own good sense. But I thought she would give up alcohol for me. We had a celebration in Pasadena, and Leonard was my best man. I woke up about eight o’clock the next morning and Nerine was drunk. She was in rehab for 30 days three different times. Twice she almost drank herself to death. Leonard took Nerine to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, but she did not want to quit.”
When Leonard Nimoy died in 2015 and Shatner couldn’t go to his funeral, the internet lit up with gossip and nasty speculations about the relationship between the two Star Trek stars. That was sad to see! I really don’t know what went on between Nimoy and Shatner but I am certain that they did respect each other and were friends for decades. Although Shatner couldn’t attend Nimoy’s funeral, his daughters did, and subsequently Shatner created his own touching online memorial for him. Creatively, he asked from all Leonard Nimoy fans to send in selfies of them doing the ‘Vulcan Salute’ and more than 6k of them did! The snap shots were featured and will forever immortalize in the ether a true ‘in memorandum’ to his friend! To the press, Nimoy himself had summarized his four-decade friendship with Shatner by remarking, “Bill’s energy was good for my performance, ’cause Spock could be the cool individual, our chemistry was successful, right from the start.” Both actors were candid about some kind of rivalry while filming the television series.
Logically things must have changed for the two men after the cancellation of Star Trek, the television series, as the Star Trek franchise was far from being done. Whether they got along or not during the television series didn’t matter as they agreed to film six movies together and reconnecting over the years. That must have created some kind of bond and even a friendship. “It was a very competitive, sibling rivalry especially after Spock started getting more fan mail than Kirk did”, shared Nimoy about the television series, while Shatner related in many interviews, “that their friendship really blossomed after the show’s cancellation.” Shatner and Nimoy attended many functions together and were seen at conventions throughout the world. They must have liked each other! And, there was no obligation or contract for Nimoy to be Shatner’s best man at his fourth and last wedding to Elizabeth Martin in 2004. All friendships go through ups and downs! It’s tragic that the 40 year friendship ended five years before Nimoy’s death. Shatner writes about how devastated he was by that and about his failure to understand why. He wonders whether asking him to appear in a movie triggered it due to Nimoy’s refusal. And in that regard, he volunteers this explanation to the Hollywood Reporter, “I don’t know. I thought he was joking at first and treated it as a joke because he sometimes would pretend and say, “No, I’m not going to do that” and then say, “yes,” so that’s what I thought he did. (Laughs.) But that time he really meant, no. … I just don’t know, and it is sad and it is permanent. I don’t know why he stopped talking to me. I’m still in touch with his family as I’m helping his son with a documentary he’s making about his father.” Subsequently, Shatner has told the press, “I reached out to Leonard and sent him a note before his death.” Nimoy never sent a reply back to Shatner’s note. “I guess I’ll go to my grave without knowing why he stopped talking to me,” he simply said in a radio interview. He speaks about it on the Meredith Vieira Show.
Please check out this link of William Shatner interviewing Leonard Nimoy in 2009. That exchange gives a snap shot of the true dynamics between the two of them!
Many have accused Shatner of being difficult to work with and I sometimes wonder whether that was due to his quest for perfection of his craft. You can’t make music out of the spoken word and not be a perfectionist. He must have asked my photographer to retake one shot after the other a hundred times. He wanted to make the sure the angle was right and the beauty of the horse translated in the the best way. “How many ways can I capture a horse?” The photographer would mumble under his breath! And, here’s what I remember about my three days shoot with Shatner. He was very accommodating, driven, full of ideas- for getting that super shot- and a gentleman! It was Shatner who insisted on extending the shoot to include a stint at the equestrian center back in Los Angeles. His favorite horse was near there! He wanted to include him in the photo-session.
What surprised me most about Shatner? That he was a bit similar to the Star Trek Kirk character in many ways. I’m sure he’d hate that comparison. But, sometimes life imitates art just like art imitates life. He was an adventurer, ready to take chances especially if an enriching experience was to be had. Wasn’t Kirk always steering the Enterprise to ‘go boldly where no man has gone before?” Didn’t Kirk always appear eager to learn about new horizons and new universes? Anyhow, the Trekkies fans will enjoy that bit. I was also pleasantly surprised when Shatner started to converse in French and that he still spoke it fluently. I was also astonished at how well read he was as he was literally like a walking encyclopedia from trivia to facts about many subjects! And, finally, the most astonishing thing to me about him was his undeniable love for car racing and speed. I bet not too many people know that. I sure didn’t. I will never forget that day in Los Angeles when he suggested I let my photographer drive my car and ride with him to the equestrian center. I agreed not knowing that he had driven a friend’s prototype three wheel racecar (Hugh Hefner’s.) It looked like that image below. I remember that crazy ride to this day, in that car, nicknamed ‘the bullet’. “Isn’t speed exhilarating? It’s so exciting! Isn’t it, Randa?” He would exclaim while rocketing between trucks and cars at an average speed of 120! I tried to keep my cool even though my head kept getting squashed against the window at each car maneuver. “Hey, be careful, the truck! The driver might not see us! We’re zooming by and so low to the ground! We might be in his blind-spot!” I’d scream and he’d laugh and say, “Don’t worry! I’m a great driver! No accidents yet!” He’d repeat as I tried to hold on to the dash board while he zoomed in between the 101 freeway traffic and flooring the gas! I really thought I was going to die that day and I already was seeing the headlines in my head, “Unknown woman dies with Shatner at the wheel!”
What do people know the least about Shatner? That he is a longtime horseman and a serious breeder. Shatner is known for breeding and showing American Saddlebreds, and Quarter Horses. He loves to ride his own horses too, and has a 360-acre farm in Lexington, Kentucky, named Belle Reve Farm- (French for beautiful dream). The Shatners are avid horse people and together they are behind the Priceline.com Hollywood Charity Horse Show, (www. Horseshow.org) that benefits many children’s charities including, a riding therapy organization, Horses for Heroes (www.horsesforheroes.org). “I need to keep working to help pay for my horses! I found out early on that you can’t just buy one horse just like you can’t eat one potato chip! Horses are just amazing! I was always fascinated by them. It took a while for me to be able to afford one!” I’m surprised he was never was cast in any westerns. “My parents became aware of my new-found love because of the way I smelled. I’d ride my bike to the stable three or four times a week, sandwiching these trips between football and acting. Even those mongrel horses appealed to me. I was good at riding them, and they responded. I would often daydream about having a ranch, with my own horses,” he told the Los Angeles Times, “One of the few times that work and my pastime overlapped was when I filmed the movie Alexander the Great. Because Alexander was legendary not only as a warrior but as a horseman, I spent six months learning to ride bareback for the title role.” I remember vividly how animated Shatner got talking about his horses and their ability to go from being still to maximum race mode. To their unconditional love and their unstoppable attempts at reciprocating affection. I remember to this day how he found similarities between the disciplines of riding and acting. “Just like in acting, the best moments in riding are when all the elements come together.” Especially in reining, I can picture how a well-trained horse can communicate nonverbally with his rider and resulting in show champions!
When I met Shatner he was into showing Quarter Horses, then he got into Saddlebreds and is back with Quarter Horses. His stables include a few show winners including his stallion, Sultan’s Great Day, whom, he describes like a “Rodin statue is to an art collector, except that this work of art is alive.”
Here’s a link to William Shatner riding at the Blue Ridge Classic- the American Saddlebred show, Jul 29, 2012 · www.youtube.com/watch?v=cjQFFxrX8iAI’m not surprised that Shatner continues to find a way to be relevant! I wish more people, young and old, discover the Shatner way of coloring their life with renewed excitement, from a new role, to a new book to a new horse show! Should we be surprised when that excitement is reflected into his acting? His unique gift for narrations? His musical escapades? I think not! Here’s wishing more people would finds lessons of humility in riding a horse as well as tackling a new role, like it seems he does!
It seems fitting to end this article with a few cool William Shatner quotes, as they do give a glimpse into his wit and unique personality!
“The basic quality that any great story must have is a story that illustrates the human condition.”- William Shatner
“I think of doing a series as very hard work. But then I’ve talked to coal miners, and that’s really hard work.”- William Shatner
“Here’s something pompous — you take your day and artistically create it, so every moment has an artistic flavor.”- William Shatner
“Babies have big heads and big eyes, and tiny little bodies with tiny little arms and legs. So did the aliens at Roswell! I rest my case.”- William Shatner
“And I enjoyed the celebrity and the creativity that was involved in Star Trek.”- William Shatner
“Writing is truly a creative art — putting word to a blank piece of paper and ending up with a full-fledged story rife with character and plot.”- William Shatner
“I enjoyed reading all the classic authors like Isaac Asimov and Bradbury.”- William Shatner
“One of the advantages of being a captain is being able to ask for advice without necessarily having to take it.”- William Shatner
“In my proudest moments, I think I had a real hand in the creative force of making “Star Trek.” But most of the time, I don’t think about it.”- William Shatner
“No, I don’t regret anything at this point. That may change on the next phone call, but at the moment I don’t regret anything.”- William Shatner
“Sci-fi films are the epic films of the day because we can no longer put 10,000 extras in the scene — but we can draw thousands of aliens with computers.”- William Shatner
“Captain Kirk has been a source of pleasure and income for a long time.”- William Shatner
“If you make a fool of yourself, you can do it with dignity, without taking your pants down. And if you do take your pants down, you can still do it with dignity.”- William Shatner
“Nobody could have imagined the phenomenon that ‘Star Trek’ became. It’s still almost impossible to imagine.”- William Shatner
“Spencer Tracy was a man who did very much what I do on a set, and that is, he comes down and he does his job, and then he goes back to his dressing room.”- William Shatner
“Remember — you can’t beam through a force field. So, don’t try it.”- William Shatner
“I’ve got rock ’n’ roll in my blood.”- William Shatner
“Acting is easier — writing is more creative. The lazy man vies with the industrious.”- William Shatner
“How do I stay so healthy and boyishly handsome? It’s simple. I drink the blood of young runaways.”- William Shatner
“All in all, Kirk’s character is something I am very proud of”- William Shatner