Leonard Nimoy: Beyond Spock

Cheers erupted in the Atrium Ballroom as fans got a second chance to see Star Trek legend Leonard Nimoy.  He began by discussing his early career, including his first film, Zombies of the Stratosphere.  “I thought it would rocket me to stardom,” he said with a wry smile.  After all, “I was the first zombie through the spaceship door.”  Strange that his job was to portray an alien outsider, a role that would eventually make him a science fiction icon.

Nimoy talked about landing character bits in episodic TV throughout the ’40s, ’50s, and early ’60s.  This was a time, he pointed out, when westerns focused on the same stories that ultimately became the mainstay of science fiction.  “When it became politically incorrect to point at the Indians, we created the Klingons.”  Often cast as an ethnic character or a thug during those early years, Nimoy admitted that he’s “always been useful playing the other, the alien type.”

Even during his two seasons playing Paris in Mission: Impossible, he was still reprising his earlier roles, going undercover as a dictator or some other bad guy.  As for Paris himself?  Nimoy found the role frustrating because “we never learned a thing about him.”  In fact, Nimoy remembered being “often [so] covered with makeup…you didn’t even know it was me.  There was no internal life, and I love playing the internal life of a character.  So I had to give it up.”

A man of many talents, Nimoy discussed his current love—photography, which he uses to express concepts that are important to him.  For example, appalled by huge corporations that tell women how they should look, he produced The Full Body Project to show “women who are comfortable in their own bodies.”  In another collection, Shekhina, Nimoy searches for the feminine aspects of God.  His latest work is The Secret Selves Project, an exploration of people’s inner, hidden fantasy lives.  The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art will exhibit this collection in July, which will include videos of his interviews with the subjects.

Singing and poetry are two more of this versatile man’s repertoire.  “Doors have opened for me,” he acknowledged, “and I have walked through them.”  He recalled that he landed the role of Tevye, the milkman in Fiddler on the Roof, because he was sporting a beard at the time.  This led to other stage roles in favorites such as The King and I, Camelot, and Oliver! He also wrote and starred in Vincent.  Nimoy smiled when spoke of his first album as Spock and also recalled “some work about a Hobbit.”  He proceeded to sing the first line, “In Middle Earth in the land of Shire…” to wild cheers from the audience.

With about ten minutes left, the curtains rustled, and to the audience’s surprise, William Shatner walked onstage and joined Nimoy, who grinned with obvious delight.  The lighthearted banter that had been so evident on Friday began immediately, when Shatner said, “I waited an appropriate amount of time…and I fell asleep.”  As Nimoy laughed, Shatner added, “Beyond Spock?  There’s no such thing as beyond Spock!”

Promptly taking on the role of interviewer, Shatner deftly drew out Nimoy’s early reactions to his role as Mr. Spock.  “There was a very special moment,” Nimoy recalled, when “a strange creature was getting in our way.  I had one word to say.  Fascinating.”  He had just spoken the famous line, yes, but somehow it didn’t sound right.  It was too bland.  Too…normal.  He then explained how the director told him to try it again and to say it scientifically this time.  “I got it,” Nimoy recalled.  “I turned and said…” (facing the audience and lifting an eyebrow in perfect Spock form) “Fascinating.

The crowd, of course, went wild.  It was a goose-bump moment, an exhilarating, never-to-be-forgotten experience, as if time had warped backward at light-speed, and Mr. Spock stood before us, logically contemplating our existence.

At one point, Nimoy turned to Shatner and asked, “Are you having fun at Dragon*Con?”  Shatner replied, “This is the most fun I’ve ever had.”  Watching these two best friends, I had no doubt that they were having a blast.  And thanks to them, the rest of us had the time of our fannish lives.  It was…fascinating.

Author of the article

Debbie Yutko lives near Atlanta with her husband and two cats. When she isn’t gardening, rescuing homeless kittens, or cramming math formulas into teenagers’ brains, she can be found stringing words together at her computer and dreaming of adventures in far-off lands. She is a lifelong reader of Science Fiction and Fantasy and a veteran of Dragon Con, where she enjoys attending panels and working with the talented staff of the Daily Dragon.