Book review: William Shatner’s ‘Leonard’ is one side of Nimoy

Much was made of William Shatner’s declining to cancel his prior engagements to attend the funeral of Leonard Nimoy. Now Shatner (with David Fisher) has published his account of his association with his “Star Trek” co-star: “Leonard: My Fifty-Year Friendship with a Remarkable Man.”

The first chapter begins with a quote from playwright Robert Anderson: “Death ends a life, but it does not end a relationship.” Then Shatner and Fisher give us an image, one of a dying Spock in the second Star Trek movie “The Wrath of Khan.” If you are a Star Trek fan, you know the one. Spock has incapacitated Dr. McCoy with a Vulcan nerve pinch and repaired the warp drive, but taken on too much radiation. He is dying when Admiral Kirk reaches him and Spock tells Kirk not to grieve. “It is logical. The needs of the many outweigh…”

Kirk finishes the sentences, “The needs of the few.”

“Or the one,” Spock adds.

Then Shatner and Fisher flash forward to the 2001 documentary “Mind Meld: Secrets Behind the Voyage of a Lifetime,” a conversation between Nimoy and Shatner during which Nimoy characterized their relationship as “Siamese twins.” It is hard for Star Trek fans to think of one without the other even though Shatner has gone on to successfully portray other characters on TV series that have lasted longer than the three season of the original Star Trek series: “T.J. Hooker” lasted five season from 1982 to 1985 and “Boston Legal” also for five season from 2004 to 2008. And then there’s that J.J. Abrams reboot. Shatner has become something like the historian of Star Trek, making documentaries on “The Captains,” “The Captains Close Up,” “Get a Life!” and “Chaos on the Bridge.”

The book discusses the time before Nimoy and Shatner knew each other, as struggling actors and then as men who met briefly on the set of “The Man from UNCLE” but they still didn’t know each other and didn’t become friends. Then he talks about how to two came to Star Trek. He was at first puzzled about all the fan mail that Spock received but he gives us insight to the relationship between Nimoy and Deforest Kelley by telling about the kind of pranks they played on each other, but he also discusses what he did not know at the time: Nimoy was a functioning alcoholic.

Shatner watched how Nimoy used his clout in the franchise and at conventions. One might not be surprised that Gene Roddenberry doesn’t come off too well in some of these remembrances. Yet also Shatner recalls the problems that Nimoy had with his children. Adam Nimoy was also interviewed for this book and recalls how hard it was to even have a simple dinner in a restaurant without being aware of the shadow of Spock, but there was also Leonard Nimoy’s alcoholism to contend with and later, Adam’s own addictions. Besides Adam Nimoy, Shatner contacted Richard Arnold, Joe D’Agosta, John De Lancie, Dorothy Fontana, Steve Guttenberg, Leonard Sachs, Jean-Michel Richaud and  George Takei. Yes, it seems Takei put aside his ongoing feud with Shatner to talk about Nimoy.

Nimoy was not just an actor, but also a director. Shatner gives examples of Nimoy as a director, as he himself experienced and as others, such as Guttenberg (“The Men and a Baby”). On a more personal level, Nimoy has served as best man at one of Shatner’s weddings and warned Shatner about alcoholism in one of his wives.

Tragically, Shatner and Nimoy were not friends before Nimoy’s death on February 27, 2015. They hadn’t worked together since 2014. They were not speaking. Shatner was not sure why, but writes he believes it was because a cameraman filmed Nimoy speaking at a convention without his permission when Shatner was making a documentary about the many captains of the Enterprise (“The Captains”). Yet even he cannot be sure.  He didn’t know how ill Nimoy was until the end and he shares with readers the letter he wrote to Nimoy. Oh, if only he had resisted the need to say, “I told you so.” He also reiterates why he didn’t attend the funeral, an explanation that is honorable and reasonable, but was subject to much criticism, at least in the Twitterverse.

The 278-page memoir is highly readable and entertaining. To a certain extent, the book is like the Star Trek movies in that it finds Shatner facing his mortality through his friendships and as in “Wrath of Khan” Shatner survives while his friend dies. The one of the original trio of Kirk, Spock and MicCoy survives to celebrate the 50th anniversary. The book’s dust jacket has a handsome black and white photo of Nimoy, but the hardcover is actually in the gold that might remind one of the original captain’s uniform color (and not the science officer blue).

“Leonard: My Fifty-Year Friendship with a Remarkable Man” officially goes on sale on February 16 (Thomas Dunne Books, $25.99). Shatner is only scheduled for two book signings. One in New York and one in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles book signing will be on Feb. 18, 2016  at the Barnes & Noble,  Grove Drive. Los Angeles, CA, 7 p.m.

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