By Bernice McGeehan for TV Talk
She has clouds of soft dark hair and flashing dark eyes, and she’s moody and petulant and charming and demanding and generous and guileless and heartbreakingly lovely . . . and wholly satisfying. She’s the wonderful girl in Leonard Nimoy’s life . . . his daughter, Julie.
Julie who is thirteen. Julie who is teetering on the brink of innocence, impatient to be done with being a little girl, eager to become a woman yet still a little frightened, still needing all the love and support Leonard can give her.
This is a love that fills wife Sandi Nimoy’s heart with pride. The love that Leonard has for his daughter Julie and his son Adam are a tribute to her, too. Together the Nimoys have an exceptionally satisfying family life, one that stands out in a Hollywood where broken marriages and broken promises fill the air like motes of dust in the sunlight.
There’s a special kind of love between a father and a daughter... a special kind of love also for a firstborn child ... and Julie is both of these to Leonard. Ever since the day she was born in Atlanta, Georgia, during a time when Leonard was stationed at an Army camp nearby, this little girl has occupied a particular place in Leonard’s heart. Wife Sandi freely admits that it was Leonard who "walked the floor, made the formula, coped with the colic, helped enormously with Julie’s care." Sandi didn’t feel too well, and she was scared and lonely being so far away from home for the first time, and Leonard was the strength for both his girls. In a way they all grew up together. Sandi and Leonard forged the beginning of the marriage which has become more and more wonderful as years go by, and Julie- that little brown-eyed scrap of a girl who gained big-sister status with the birth of her brother Adam some fourteen and a half months later, grew up, too. By the time ·Leonard and Sandi were back and firmly established in Los Angeles, the Nimoy family was firmly established too.
Leonard and I met recently for lunch at a restaurant near the Paramount studios where his Star Trek show is filmed. The show——along with Leonard’s unexpected and sustained popularity—have become almost legendary, and when we walked into the jam-packed, noisy dining room, every head in the place turned to look at him. Leonard was wearing his full Spock make-up—eyebrows blocked out so that only the twin short-slants remained, pointed ears at the ready—but he had not yet changed into costume for the afternoon’s shooting, so he was dressed much as the other men in the room were, in slacks and a sport shirt. Nevertheless, one eager diner came up to Leonard and, looking right at the pointy ears, asked him when the show was planning to go back into production again! Leonard answered mildly enough, but later he shook his head laughingly and said, "I wonder about people like that. Do they really think my ears grow like this?"
We ordered lunch and while we waited, Leonard considered some of the heart-stopping, tender, and practical aspects of raising a teen-age daughter.
Right now Julie is attending junior high school in the Cheviot Hills area of Los Angeles. One day she’s thrilled and puppy-eager to have her picture taken with Leonard and the rest of the family, and she watches excitedly for it to appear in the papers or magazines ... and the next day she flatly refuses to pose "because the kids will make fun of me, they’ll think I’m trying to brag or something.” She’s desperately proud of her dad, of course, but like any teenager she vacillates between being proud of him and wanting to be with him ... and pulling away to be all on her own, all grown up. She’s curious and eager to be a part of all the boy-girl life bursting all around her, yet she’s also very aware of all the sad, heartbreaking, and ugly aspects of life today. Leonard loves her enough to let her be completely aware and informed about all these parts of life, to know about them and feel complete confidence in talking things over with him.
"Of course," he said firmly, "we talk about all these things. Drugs. Wars. Racial intolerance. Changing sexual standards. Violence. Most kids know about them anyway, from discussions with their peers, or from watching television. Every time they see a news broadcast, they hear about all kinds of violent and shocking things. It’s nonsense to try to shield a child from any of this," said Leonard, suddenly passionate. "It’s the worst thing a parent can do! Because the child is going to talk about these things with someone! And when he does, he feels the added burden of guilt in talking about something that’s apparently so bad his parents won’t even discuss it with him at home. That compounds the error. No, that’s not the way we do it at our house!"
"How do you get your ideas, your viewpoints across then?"
Leonard regarded me and arched his already-arched eyebrows. "Well," he said drily, "I don’t call a meeting and sit the children around the dining room table and say, ‘Well, kids, tonight we’re going to discuss sex or the war on poverty or racial bigotry or the Vietnamese situation.’ We do it a little more subtly than that.
"Actually, we have a sort of system of ‘signals’ at our house. Sandi and I make our attitude, our beliefs known through these signals, and the children are so aware and perceptive that they pick them right up. I don’t have to tell them for instance how I feel about racial prejudice or Vietnam.
"Julie knows exactly how I feel about racial intolerance-or any kind of intolerance,” Leonard said. Then he told me how he took his whole family to Synanon House a few months ago for a two-week vacation. That’s a counseling center for drug addicts who are trying to return to normal, and Leonard has often worked with them, teaching drama classes as part of their therapy. He grew to know these people as real and valuable human beings, and he saw nothing whatever wrong with taking his family there to spend a couple of weeks at the beach. The family was together, they were enjoying the sea and the sand, and they were extending their lives, growing, breaking down a few more barriers. "We often have Negro friends drop by the house," Leonard continues. "It’s just part of our life. Still . . ." he paused and grinned a little, “like kids everywhere, Julie unconsciously picks up some of the slants and biases of other people, especially kids at school"
The other day, for example, young Julie came home bursting with fury because "some terrible Mexican boys" at school had been bothering her, teasing her, just generally making her life miserable.
"Now wait a minute, Julie," said Leonard gently. "What’s this all about?"
“It’s those awful boys," said Julie importantly. "Those Mexican boys were bothering me . . terribly!”
"Were they all Mexican boys?" asked Leonard.
"Well, no——but two of them were."
"How many boys were there altogether?"
"Oh . . . I don’t know. Five, six . . . but . . ."
"Julie, there were just a couple of Mexican boys in this whole group?’
Julie got a little uncomfortable. "Yes."
"Well then," said Leonard in that inimitably dry manner of his, "it wasn’t just Mexican boys who were giving you trouble. It was . . . boys. All kinds of boys. Tell me, what would you do if you went to a school where all the kids had exactly the same background that you have'? What would you do then? Come home and tell me, 'Some of those terrible American boys were giving me trouble today?"
Julie laughed and got the message immediately. Leonard had gotten his point over without a long harangue, and without making her feel guilty . . . both very important points for a child.
And does Julie date yet?
Leonard heaved a fatherly sigh. "No, not yet. She just turned thirteen last March, you know." He grinned then and said, "Oh, she's been to a few boy·—girl parties. Heavily chaperoned, I might add -heavily! So we have a few months of grace yet before the worry over dating begins, but I don’t expect it will be any worse than the things parents worry about all along, When your children are small, there are other specific problems that concern you. Dating is just one of them."
Our lunch arrived and Leonard began to eat his with gusto, “What would you do,” I asked, "if Julie should come home from school with a Negro girl friend . . . or a Negro boy friend?"
Leonard paused for a moment and sat very still. Then he said simply, "Why I would judge the man, of course . . . the boy. To do anything else would be to deny everything I’ve tried to stand for in my life. Everything I've tried to convey to Julie.” He flicked me a look from those astonishingly penetrating eyes. “I suppose deep down every parent wants his child to marry exactly as he did. Marry someone with the same racial background, the same religion, to do things in the same manner. 'There is a certain comfort in knowing that your child will live in the way that you have lived, even if it is not the very best way, just because it is known to you. It's the unknown. the untried factor that most of us fear.
"I want Julie to learn to love and evaluate people for their own personal worth. It's just as wrong to love somebody only because he‘s Negro or Catholic or Jewish as it is to hate them for the same reasons.” He paused. "I hope Julie has absorbed these feelings by now. I know that in my own case I didn’t begin to develop a social conscience or think politically until I was in my late twenties. Before that I was too busy trying to become an actor, trying to establish myself.”
Suddenly he laughed. "I’m just remembering my own childhood,” he explained, "and the hotbed of racial feelings that simmered all around me. I grew up in Boston in an area where there were all kinds of nationalities represented—Irish, Italian, Jews —everything but the Latin races, they came along later. And there was always plenty of interracial fighting and argument and even within the frame·— work of one racial structure there was caste distinction. With the Jews, for example—which happens to be my own background-the German Jews looked down on other Jews, the Russian Jews looked down on the German Jews, and the Israeli Jews -well they were so rare, they were the absolute penultimate-they looked down on everybody!” He roared with laughter.
"I think we’ve all come a long way from that kind or smoking. I trust that my Julie understands how and why we feel the way we do today." Leonard's sensitive face was very somber.
It must have seemed to Julie, growing up, that she had the best daddy in the world . . . the tallest, the handsomest, the gentlest. the most understanding. For, in spite of the emotional sensitivity—or perhaps because of it—that marks any fine actor, Leonard projects an almost judicial quality of fairness, dispassionate consideration. Spockian logic and cool. The kind of impartiality that a little girl knows in her bones will guarantee her a fair hearing in any fierce contest of brotherly-sisterly wills.
And the Julie who has grown from the toddler who wrapped fat little arms around Leonard’s knees to the almost—young lady who can now nestle into her dad’s embrace and wrap her arms around his waist (when she’s in her little-girl mood, that is!) has a great rapport with her father. “I would say,” said Leonard, considering the question, "that Sandi and I have good communication, good rapport with both children. Of course I know that children never tell their parents everything, all their thoughts, but on the whole I think the communication among us is good.
“Sometimes friends of mine will mention something that Julie has said, some statement so perceptive, so knowledgeable that I am just filled with pride. I know then that she has understood what I’ve been trying to teach her, what Sandi and I have been trying to convey to her, to both our children?
So Leonard watches his little girl develop into young ladyhood, and he gives her the benefit of all his experience in every way that he can. When she threatens tearfully to run away from home because "you don’t trust me!" he explains, as only he can, that Sandi and he trust her. It’s the dangerous situation they don’t trust. Just recently Julie wanted to spend the evening with a girl friend who lives five blocks away and then walk home alone at eleven o’clock at night. “No," said Sandi. “No," said Leonard. "You don’t trust me," cried Julie! After Leonard pointed out all the things that might befall a young girl alone on the street at such an hour, including a possible curfew-confrontation with the police, Julie subsided, sniffed back her tears, went back upstairs, unpacked her suitcase, and decided to stay at home a little longer!
Life with Julie is exciting and nervewracking and joyful and infuriating just like it is with any teenager. But Leonard loves his girl, he loves his brown-eyed gift to the future.
There must be times late at night when he tiptoes into his daughter’s bedroom, decorated with the pictures and posters and records so dear to a thirteen-yearold’s heart. He looks at the flyaway brown hair spread out on the pillow, the sweet face so innocent and so vulnerable in sleep . . . and his own heart contracts with love and hope that this child of his heart and flesh will live a good life, a worthy life, a happy one. It’s because he loves Julie so much that Leonard takes time to discuss all the things wrong with the world today. He wants Julie to know about them. Who knows, perhaps this child will someday be a part of righting some of these wrongs. She already knows that fathers and mothers and brothers are to love. She’s learning that the whole world is to love. And that’s the greatest gift of knowledge that any parent can give a child.