Thursday, February 18, 2010

I Am Spock

I Am Spock
© 1995 Leonard Nimoy
356 pages


Leonard Nimoy's autobiographical I Am Spock has been one of my favorite books for years. I purchased it perhaps over a decade ago: it's a very battered paperback now, well-thumbed. I revisted it this past week and found it as ever a pleasant affair. Essentially, it is a well-written, funny, and charming autobiography of Leonard Nimoy current to 1995 which doubles as a Star Trek memoir.

The book's title runs opposite Nimoy's first attempt at the same, I Am Not Spock. That book, published in the early 70s, ran afoul of nearly everyone and haunted Nimoy for years. People believed it was his attempt to rail against Star Trek and the character of Spock in particular, and he was not rid of the legacy until the Star Trek movies began anew.

He opens this book with the admission that for years he has carried on dialogues with the Vulcan living inside his head. Said dialogues introduce the book's many chapters and sometimes contribute to their contents. Nimoy's relationship with Spock often takes center stage, even in chapters not actually about  Star Trek.  After some initial autobiography,  he launches into the three year mission of Star Trek, describing Spock's birth in the mind of Gene Roddenberry and recounting his growth as Nimoy fleshed out the character. There are many tidbits here for Star Trek fans: I can't watch the original series without thinking of Nimoy's many ancedotes, whether they be amusing and trivial or meaningful.*

Nimoy identified strongly with Spock from the outset as being "different", but as he made the character his own, his feelings became decidedly affectionate. Nimoy's authorial voice is a treat for readers -- warm, and often hilarious. He recounts William Shatner's many pranks, and DeForrest Kelly's gentle refereeing between himself and Shatner during their brotherly feuds.  After NBC pulls the show for its poor commercial ratings, Nimoy goes on to other work -- sitcoms, plays, and the odd movie.  To Nimoy's occasional discomfort, Spock follows along. He appears on inappropriate billboards and continues to shape Nimoy's pattern of thinking even after the last script has been memorized. Nimoy also recounts the rise of the Trekkies and their influence on culture, particularly in the naming of the first Space Shuttle.

In the eighties and nineties, Star Trek movies return to production. Nimoy must grapple with the death of his character and assume greater responsibilities as director -- both of Trek movies (Star Trek III, IV) and of other films, ranging from light comedies (Three Men and a Baby) to more serious exploratory films (The Good Mother). Nimoy offers plenty of anecdotes about the stories behind these films, as well.  His relationship with Spock continues to evolve as they age together: Spock becomes more at home with his human side as Nimoy grows increasingly comfortable in both his and the Vulcan's skin.

Obviously, this is a recommendation for Star Trek fans, for it has added much to my appreciation for the original series and movies. I imagine they -- we -- constitute the bulk of Nimoy's fanclub, but this book proves he's had an interesting  career outside Roddenberry's creation.

Spock: Live long and prosper.
Nimoy: I think I've already done the former, Spock. And -- in no small part thanks to you -- I've certainly done the latter.

* One such tidbit: when deciding to produce a sixth film for Star Trek's anniversary, Paramount initially planned on a prequel film visiting the power trio's Academy days, but scratched it in favor of a Cold War story called The Undiscovered Country. Strangely, the Soviet Russia collapsed as the story of the Klingon Empire's collapse was being filmed.

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