By Colin Dangaard
"I'm not a man trapped behind the pointed ears. I lead a very creative life, am offered and accept a wide variety of jobs. I feel constantly stimulated and challenged; and I feel proud of what I've done."
Leonard Nimoy lifts his head as if he has just crunched down on a fishbone. His eyes flash and a controlled calm levels his voice. He has been asked one question too many about his image as Mr. Spock of Star Trek.
“I am not,” he says. “a man trapped behind the pointed ears! I lead a very creative life, am offered and accept a wide variety of jobs. I feel constantly stimulated and challenged; and I feel proud of what I’ve done … “
He does a Vulcan pinch to a piece of cracked crab, and a kind of uneasy truce settles over the lunch table.
Ask Leonard Nimoy anything, but move at your own risk on questions about his role as Mr. Spock, the green skinned, bat-eared Klingon-slugger from the planet Vulcan, and star of the phenomenally successful Star Trek series, now being turned into a major motion picture.
So touchy is he about the role that has won him three Emmy nominations, and dominated his acting career, that he pounded out a whole book titled, “I Am Not Spock.”
Admits Nimoy now: “Maybe I made a mistake, with the title. Most people interpret it as meaning I don’t want to be Spock, which is not what I had in mind.”
Regardless, Spock questions must be asked, as Nimoy plays the character in the 20 million dollar Star Trek movie for Paramount.
So it’s same time same station for First Officer Spock, pivotal character in a series that ran 79 episodes, before being cancelled with a flood of protest mail a dozen years ago.
Meanwhile, the series remains in endless re-run in 51 countries, gloated over by millions of “Trekkies”, with some 371 known Star Trek clubs, which hold 30 conventions a year in America alone.
Paramount President Michael Eisner insists Nimoy was brought back to the role “out of loyalty to the fans”, but Nimoy puts forward another story.
“First,” he says flatly, “I didn’t need the job. But if you were me, how would you feel about the Star Trek movie being made without Spock? Or with somebody other than me as Spock?’
Each was a possibility, says Nimoy, adding: “They had written a script and were planning to go ahead without me. I saw a full screenplay without Spock.”
This version suggests it was Nimoy’s loyalty to the fans that resulted in his being signed for the Spock role.
While Nimoy at 47 years of age points his ears back toward space, he is making a concerted effort to diversify closer to earth.
He has starred in Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, a different kind of arrivals-from-outerspace movie thriller. Donald Sutherland and Brooke Adams also star. For Nimoy, it’s his first motion picture since Catlow, eight years back.
Soon Nimoy hits the road in America with his one-man play “Vincent”, a story of Vincent Van Gogh penned by his own hand.
Says Nimoy: “We are coming into a period of shift in identification — which for me has been essentially television. This is important not for me, or the audience, but to some 1,200 producers and directors in Hollywood, who will see the merchandise, which is me, in an entirely different light.”
Nimoy insists he’s not going into movies in search of a 30-ft image, but rather he wishes to indulge a little-used side of his craft.
His kick, he says, is “doing good work with good people”, be it on stage, film or television. He nurses a kind of missionary zeal toward the discipline of acting.
“What I do must be good because it’s important. Some kinds of work can affect an audience forever; change how people relate to their families, to themselves, to society. That’s important stuff. That’s special.
“Other work I do simply for laughs, for relaxation. I am not a snob about what I do.”
Aside from his sensitivity about Mr. Spock, there’s a rare air of contentment around Leonard Nimoy. As he admits: “I haven’t yearned for anything I haven’t had — except more holiday time. There is no brass ring out there I feel I must reach for.
“I have a job to do, and I try to do it always with the highest level of craftsmanship. Now if women faint, I think that’s interesting. It men cry, I think that’s interesting. And if people laugh in the right places, I think that’s terrific.
“But I do not act trying to make people faint, cry or laugh. I don’t much concern myself with their reactions.”
There have been times, Nimoy says, when he has been so satisfied with his work that “if I thought I’d never act again, I would have been happy”. Such moments came in 1971 when he was touring with “Fiddler On The Roof”, playing Tevye, and, later, playing Goldman in “ The Man In The Glass Booth ”.
“Equus” on Broadway was another…“fantasy come true”, and doing Body Snatchers left him feeling sad that the production was over.
Nimoy’s appeal as an actor has been across the board, but women find him specially fascinating. They write to him constantly with offers of love. While he was making Body Snatchers in San Francisco one woman entered his dressing room, stole his motel room key, then let herself into his room, spent time in his bed, and left with his clothes, wallet and checkbook. At I.30 a.m., wearing his clothes now, she phoned, offering to return his valuables if he would meet her in a motel room nearby.
And appearing at Bowling Green University in Ohio, Nimoy was startled by a young lady who rose from the audience to announce: “I’m going to do something for your ego. Are you aware that you are the source of erotic dreams for thousands and thousands of ladies around the world?”
Nimoy lifted his glass of water and toasted her with: “May all your dreams come true.”
Since the day Leonard Nimoy’s earnings exceeded 125 dollars a week — the amount his father used to make as a barber in Boston — he has considered himself successful.
“I remember that moment well,” he says. “I was struggling to make it as an actor, living in a rooming house, doing all kinds of jobs to make ends meet.
‘I always knew that if ever I was in trouble I could call home, but my pride made me avoid that.
‘Earning as much as my father meant I had accomplished what he had accomplished, that I was now my own man.”
“I’ve been lucky”
Thus Nimoy is in sympathy with his children, daughter Julie, 23, who works for a television production company, and son Adam, 22, a law student.
It is, he says, going to be “pretty rough” for them to try and equal his accomplishments.
“Not only will they need to be talented and hard working,” he says, “but they will need to be very lucky — because I’ve been very lucky. I’ve earned more money than I thought I would, and have much more than I need.
“I am completely comfortable, yet my standard of living is not anywhere near what my income could provide. There is nothing I want… “
Nimoy’s only extravagance is flying his own Piper Arrow. He also owns a flower-filled New England-style home in West Los Angeles. Though modest by movie star standards, Nimoy and wife Sandi, a former actress, find it adequate, with the pool heated all year round.
It’s still a long way from Nimoy’s one room on Sunset Strip back in the Fifties, when he lived in a T-shirt and jeans, his style “heavily influenced by Marlon Brando”, and his answer firm to people who wanted to change his name. (How could they put a name like Nimoy in lights? Real stars had names like Rock Hudson, Tab Hunter, Tyrone Power...)
Explains Nimoy now: “I wanted to keep my family name, because if I made it, I wanted people to know it was really me.”
His first big break in the movies came in 1951 with the title role in a modest film called Kid Monk Baroni, the story of a kid from New York’s East Side, born with a disfigured face and a gift for boxing.
A decade later, cast as Spock by Gene Roddenberry, Nimoy would recall how similar it was, playing an outsider of another kind, a Vulcan who bleeds green.
In the intervening years, he consumed himself with learning his craft, being a student of Jeff Corey for two years, then opening a school of his own for another three, where he mostly pushed the Concepts of Stanislavski.
If Leonard Nimoy is best known for his cerebral, introverted roles, often bordering on the mystic, than it’s not too far from the real man.
Here is a deep-thinking Earthman whose written works include a book of poetry — which to his astonishment sold 300,000 copies — along with his autobiography and a collection of photography.
He believes life does not end with death, that “your spirit stays around”, and he is convinced he has lived at another time, though does not know as what, or when.
“But there is no question about all this,” he says. “I know many people who passed on, but are still around. You see, it comes down to a point of view...”
He likes to tell the story of two ladies sitting in a room when a wind blows through an open door, passes between them, opens another door, then slams it shut. One lady says: “Oh, you do have a draughty house.” And the other says: “No, that’s just Aunt Sarah passing through.”
Nimoy is also convinced there’s life in space, that “somebody is out there.”
He has no idea what form this life might be in, but suggests the most widely accepted visions reflect our own state. In the beginning, all forms of life from space were hostile. But at that time, America’s attitude to the rest of the world was isolationist.
Nimoy points to Robert Wise’s movie The Day The Earth Stood Still as breaking this concept. Wise’s visitors ware friendly, and gave Earthlings some good advice about saving the galaxies.
Today, people see many possibilities for life in space. The forms could be friendly or hostile or both. But it’s also an era when men and nations are more open to each other than ever before.
As Mr. Spock aboard the “Enterprise”, Nimoy actually lived this philosophy, writing in his book: “I feel that it (Star Trek) dealt with morality and philosophical questions in a way that many of us would wish were part of the reality of our lives.”
Regardless of what Nimoy says, Mr. Spock is branded on his public image. And even in his book he admits: “To this day, I sense Vulcan speech patterns, Vulcan social attitudes and even Vulcan patterns of logic and emotional suppression in my behaviour.” He swings between “embracing the character” and “total rejection of the character.”
While Nimoy continues to wrestle with Mr. Spock in the vast galaxies of his mind, one fact remains certain: with 20 million dollars being spent re-firing the “Enterprise” burners, it will be a long time before people stop putting Nimoy off his lunch by staring at his ears.