Friday 15 December 2017

World's most famous alien Mr Spock finally takes his place amongst the stars

Leonard Nimoy as Mr Spock and Arlene Martel as T’Pring, in the Star Trek episode, ‘Amok Time’ in 1967
Leonard Nimoy as Mr Spock and Arlene Martel as T’Pring, in the Star Trek episode, ‘Amok Time’ in 1967
Leonard Nimoy attending a film premiere in 2013.

Leonard Nimoy, who has died aged 83, was an obscure character actor in films and on television before achieving celebrity as the logical, emotionless alien Mr Spock in the 1960s TV series 'Star Trek'.

Nimoy redefined the character from the minor one envisaged at the show's conception into the most memorable. When Paramount studios made the mistake of allowing Spock to be killed off at the end of its second feature film spin-off, 'Star Trek II', public demonstrations demanded his return.

Paramount's stock fell on Wall Street until the third film in the canon, 'The Search For Spock', was completed and the character was "regenerated". Six further films followed.

First shown in Britain in 1969, the year of the first Moon landing, the series flopped in the United States, but was picked up by the BBC and shown only after the entire run had ended in America. Even then it was originally scheduled in the Saturday teatime slot then normally occupied by 'Doctor Who', only moving to peak time when the hippies of the early 1970s tuned in and turned on to what became cult viewing.

Nasa

Moreover, seven years of syndicated American re-runs so transformed the show's fortunes that when Nimoy visited the Johnson Space Centre in Houston, Texas, he was astounded when Nasa astronauts asked for his autograph before he could ask for theirs.

Nimoy himself was the opposite of the unfeeling, imperturbable Spock. Humorous and emotional, he wrote romantic poetry, and published several volumes of verse, including 'Will I Think Of You?' (1974), 'We Are All Children Searching For Love' (1977) and 'Warmed'.

He was also an enthusiastic participant in 1960s "love-ins", gatherings where hippies came to relax and, more often than not, make love. "It wasn't quite group sex," he recalled, "but there was a lot of embracing."

Nimoy's personal professional inclinations were towards the musical extravaganza, and when 'Star Trek' ended in 1969 he played musical roles on stage such as King Arthur in 'Camelot' (1973), Tevye in 'Fiddler on the Roof' (1974) and Professor Henry Higgins in 'My Fair Lady' (1976).

Later Nimoy embarked on a second, more successful and certainly more lucrative career, as a film director. He had directed several television programmes in the 1970s but his first major film success was 'Star Trek IV, The Voyage Home' (1986). He followed this with the huge hit 'Three Men and a Baby' (1987), which grossed over $350m to overtake 'Fatal Attraction' and become the top box office hit of the year.

After that Nimoy broke away from comedy and directed the tear-jerking drama 'The Good Mother' (1989).

Leonard Simon Nimoy was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on March 26 1931, the son of a Jewish barber from the Ukraine, where the Russian word "nimoy" or "nemoi" means "mute". His father was opposed to an acting career; he wanted his son to be a lawyer, but Leonard was determined to act.

His boyhood film heroes included the British stars Boris Karloff (as Frankenstein's monster) and Charles Laughton (as Quasimodo), and in 1950 he made his acting debut with a Yiddish theatre company.

His first mainstream theatrical role was as Stanley Kowolski in 'A Streetcar Named Desire' (1955) and in 1959 he appeared as Brick in 'Cat On A Hot Tin Roof'. During the early 1960s Nimoy made his television debut playing a villain in the Western 'Rawhide'.

Stardom came in 1966 when he appeared in 'Star Trek'. Originally the role of Science Officer Spock was a background one, an exotic half-Earthling, half-Vulcan crew member aboard the US Starship Enterprise during its 23rd century galactic odyssey of exploration "to boldly go where no man has gone before".

Gene Roddenberry famously promised to drop the ears that Nimoy found uncomfortable if he was still unhappy by Episode 13.) Spock kept the role, pointy ears and all, for all 79 episodes screened over three years.

As the series progressed Spock became as important and popular as Captain James Kirk (William Shatner). Audiences grew accustomed to his yellowish-green skin, two hearts and green blood, his strange signature Vulcan salute, paralysing neck-pinch, and his "Live long and prosper" blessing.

While some viewers struggled to warm to a character who showed almost no emotion, Nimoy's deadpan delivery and ironic use of the raised eyebrow turned him into what he described as "everybody's favourite alien".

When 'Star Trek' ended in 1969 Nimoy was glad to be free of the Vulcan.

"I owe a lot to Spock," he said later, "he gave me my big break, but I don't want to be playing an emotionless character for ever." In 1970 Nimoy joined the cast of television's 'Mission: Impossible,' playing Paris, the master of disguises, often appearing in four or five different costumes during each episode.

Desperate to avoid typecasting, Nimoy published an autobiography, 'I Am Not Spock', in 1975, before launching into a series of hit musicals (his performance as Professor Higgins in 'My Fair Lady' was particularly well received by the critics).

Following the death of Spock in 'Star Trek II', Nimoy was disinclined to return for further appearances as Spock. Eventually he did agree, but on condition that he be allowed to direct the third film. Critics claimed that 'Star Trek III' was "subdued", but "in keeping with the tone of the original series".

His second attempt at directing was more assured. In 'Star Trek IV', Nimoy led the crew of the Enterprise on what one reviewer called "a sharp turn towards comedy".

Contrary to the received Hollywood wisdom that sequels do less well than the original, 'Star Trek IV' was a bigger hit than the first in the series.

Desperate

Nimoy followed his first major directing success with a second. After 'Three Men and a Baby' in 1988, he turned away from comedy to direct Diane Keaton in the emotional melodrama 'The Good Mother', about a divorced woman whose lover is accused of molesting her child.

"Six years after having completed the role, I am still affected by the character of Spock," Nimoy noted in his 1975 autobiography.

"Of course, the role changed my career. Or rather, gave me one… It also affected me very deeply and personally, socially, psychologically, emotionally. To this day, I sense Vulcan speech patterns, Vulcan social attitudes, and even Vulcan patterns of logic and emotional suppression in my behaviour."

Nimoy published a second volume of memoirs, 'I Am Spock,' in 1995, but it was 2001 before he revealed that while making the original 'Star Trek' television series, he had become an alcoholic and received treatment in a rehabilitation unit.

In 1989 he was acrimoniously divorced from Sandi Zober, his wife of 32 years.

His ex-wife demanded a multi-million dollar settlement but Nimoy claimed that he had made his millions on 'Star Trek IV', released after their separation. Sandi Zober died in 2011.

Leonard Nimoy married, in 1990, Susan Bay, a film executive 20 years his junior, who survives him with his son and daughter from his first marriage. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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