William Shatner’s New Memoir Leonard is Surprising and Moving

Whether they’re in their Kirk and Spock guises, or just being themselves, it’s hard to prefer William Shatner to Leonard Nimoy. Nimoy just seems more comfortable and real of the two, whereas Shatner appears to be putting on airs. Over the years, William Shatner seems to have figured this out and embraced the fact that no one will ever totally take him seriously. All of this makes the publication of a memoir written by him about Leonard Nimoy both look like a cynical cash-grab and a disingenuous maneuver of faux-love.

But if you’re a Star Trek fan, or casually interested in Leonard Nimoy, Leonard: My Fifty-Year Friendship With a Remarkable Man reveals that not only is Shatner a good guy, but that Leonard Nimoy may not have been the cool one, and did in fact fight all sorts of demons both inside and out.

Structurally, Leonard is all over the place. William Shatner (and co-writer David Fisher) don’t always present events in linear order, which occasionally leads to repetition of anecdotes; a story may be summarized in an early chapter, and then completely explained further on in the book. For example, Leonard Nimoy had a longstanding lawsuit against Gene Roddenberry prior to the filming of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Shatner mentions the suit glibly in one section of the book, but then retells the whole story later on. It’s a little jarring and makes the book feel as though you should probably just skip around while reading it, which is exactly what I did initially. Eventually, you’ll find yourself engrossed and wind up reading the whole book anyway.

The lawsuit thing is interesting though. Hardcore science fiction fans and Star Trek fans might think of Harlan Ellison as litigious, but not the saintly Leonard Nimoy. Which isn’t to say there’s something wrong with standing up for money you’re owed or protecting your intellectual property; Nimoy’s likeness had been used to make money and he wasn’t seeing any of it. Plenty of memoirs have cast Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry in a less than favorable light, and this one is no exception. Was Roddenberry a visionary who was also kind of a cheapskate? I’ll never know, nor does it change the visionary part. Instead, the big takeaway from Nimoy’s suit against Roddenberry (and Paramount) is that his reticence to be in Star Trek: The Motion Picture wasn’t about a desire to shed the Spock persona—it was simply about getting paid what he was owed. Shatner writes “…he would not agree to appear in the movie until his lawsuit was settled. The lawsuit was settled in a few weeks. An hour after Leonard received his check, he got a copy of the script.”

While Shatner does chronicle both his and Nimoy’s early frustrations in only being associated with Kirk and Spock by audiences (“we were wearing our characters on our backs” he writes), this book asserts that Leonard Nimoy loved Spock and that any hesitations he had to participate in post-60’s Star Trek wasn’t out of any frustration with the fans, but rather for totally professional reasons. Nimoy may have written I Am Not Spock, but Shatner tells us that Leonard said this of Spock: “He gave me life.”

A lot of behind-the-scenes books usually have tons of information about the thing you love and thus, there’s a tendency to geek-out over cool tidbits you may have never known. This book has a ton of that: Shatner and Nimoy had a “most-favored nations clause” in their contracts, which bolstered their friendship and ensured a steady and substantial stream of income from all things Star Trek-related; contrary to popular belief. Nimoy did not require that Spock die as part of his involvement in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan; also contrary to popular belief. Another tidbit: Nimoy was brought to tears when nominated for an Emmy for his role on the original Star Trek. All of these details are, well, fascinating.

Still, what makes William Shatner’s book special is that he doesn’t present the facts of Leonard Nimoy’s life as a bunch of “hows” and “whats”, but instead as a series of “whys”. The reason this book is ultimately touching is that you get to know Nimoy through his motivations. He took a role hosting In Search Of… because the money was good, but also because it allowed him to learn about stuff that was interesting to him, including a ton of information about Vincent van Gogh that resulted in a theatrical play. The actor left Mission: Impossible because he felt the character of Paris was shallow, without development or backstory. And the reason why Nimoy loved Spock so much was clearly because the duality of the character presented him with a kind of control he might not have had in his personal life.

Leonard Nimoy was an alcoholic. This is not a secret, but there’s something about the way Shatner presents it in this memoir that’s both jarring and tender. William Shatner doesn’t think this was something that hurt Nimoy’s career: “The surprising thing to me is that at the time, I had no idea that this nice man, who put on the ears and went to work prepared every day, was fighting these monsters…he was able to control his drinking enough that it never interfered with his work. Spock didn’t drink, ever. Leonard was proud of that. Even on his worst days, Leonard took pride in his professionalism.”

And so, Leonard Nimoy was Spock after all: a professional man, a cool and calm, collected person. But underneath there was fire, flaws, and nearly uncontrollable urges pressing to get out. We often saw Captain Kirk’s barbaric side on Star Trek—but Spock’s only emerged occasionally. And maybe that’s because the man with the darker conflicts, the more troubled interior life, had built his mental armor around him so perfectly that his friends and colleagues hardly noticed his pain. A totally Vulcan move for a totally and utterly human soul.

Leonard will make you love Spock, Star Trek, and Leonard Nimoy more than ever. It’s a reminiscence which will remind any reader of someone they’ve lost while offering a comforting message of a man who overcame addiction, always pursued true art, and dealt with the pain of living with utter grace.

Leonard: My Fifty-Year Friendship With A Remarkable Man is available February 16th from St. Martin’s Press.

Ryan Britt is the author of Luke Skywalker Can’t Read and Other Geeky Truths (Plume/Penguin Random House). His writing has appeared with VICE, The Daily Beast, Electric Literature, BuzzFeed, Barnes and Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog, Clarkesworld, The Awl, The Morning News, Den of Geek! and extensively here on Tor.com.


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