Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Trek for Schlock

Watch out for Trekies, they are all around us. Most the Trekies I know are like Freemasons. They don't stand out in public but they all know each other or have small subtle ways of secretly communicating their interests in the Space Federation and the possible events of the 24th  century.

The excitement in the Star Fleet community is at a peak. The next Star Trek is coming out and the debate continues on, is J J Abrams messing up the franchise with the new timeline or reinventing the story the way it should have been from the beginning.

Star Trek always had a hopeful vibe, it starts off in a future where humanity hasn't destroyed the planet and colonists are settling far off planets that sometimes look like the back lot of Paramount Studios.  It wasn't a post apocalyptic universe nor was it a utopia -it was the kind of future that looked okay, a place you would really want to go to. And the women in short skirts and go-go boots didn't hurt either.

I remember the original TV series and quickly found out that I was practically the only person in my class that like it.  It was on NBC channel 4 from New York at 10 pm.  By the third season it was switched to Fridays and I thought that was an improvement which shows you how young I was back then. Nobody but kids in middle school or babysitters watched TV on a Friday night.

By 1969 the show was cancelled and it was seen as such a failure the studios were willing to sell Gene Rodenberry all the rights back to him for $150,000. Sad for Gene that he couldn't raise the money but maybe he didn't think it was a wise investment either. Star Trek would have faded away like Captain Video except the old episodes went into syndication and became a staple every small unaffiliated TV station that couldn't afford to produce its own content.  About ten years later Star Trek was a cult favorite among college too stone to do their homework.  A network of Star Trek conventions became a second income for ex-Star Trek actors and even fodder for Saturday Night Live routines.  That's when you know you made it, when they make fun of you on SNL or in SNL's case the public knows who or what you are just by the initials.

Leonard Nimoy born in Boston at the beginning of the Great Depression may have always wanted to be an actor though his parents tried to persuade him to pursue a more stable career or even learn how to play the accordion for Bar Mitzvahs and weddings.  Like all success stories as well as most cautionary tales, Leonard Nimoy followed his dreams. His first feature movie was the title role in Kid Monk Baroni in 1952. A schlocky B film about a young boxer saving up his money to get plastic surgery. Years later Nimoy would look back at that film and say it was the kind of movie could make "unknowns out of celebrities".

He would for the next 14 years pay his dues in dozens of small parts in B movies and on TV.  In the slurry of character actors that Hollywood attracted, Nimoy had walk-on roles with William Shatner and DeForest Kelly in other TV shows before Star Trek. I believe Nimoy's day job was being a high school science teacher and he was only paid $350 per episode of Star Trek.

I think every actor in Star Trek got trapped in the gravity of the phenomena the show created later on. Everyone had a post Star Trek career but it took years if not decades to finally get out from under the shadow of what made them first famous. Even when Nimoy was a guest star on Fringe people had to comment how much he was like Spock.

Leonard Nimoy wrote his book I Am Not Spock but came back to play the role he was so type casted into when the Star Trek movies went into production.  It wasn't that other movie roles weren't coming but the Star Trek movies finally paid him and the rest of the crew of the Enterprise some real money with residual rights afterwards.  

Though William Shatner is known for his spacey and bombastic recordings. Nimoy was involved with a dozen albums of his own. If anything when Leonard Nimoy wasn't being Spock, he had a more quiet life as a writer, poet and photographer.

I have to admit that I shamelessly mock his recorded poetry about whales on college radio. It was a an easy target because it was so over the top sincere -and for that I now apologize for.  

In all I'm grateful for the character of Spock. Like all space aliens in science fiction, his strangeness or other worldliness is a mirror to reflect back at us what it means to be human. In Spock's case no matter how logical we want to be, human beings just have to break out laughing for no reason at all -or do something stupid and futile or else we'll go nuts. That contrast between the cool rational Vulcan mind set and the messy human condition has been the fount of serious discussions as well as million jokes.  Let's face it, Spock doing anything out of charter is potentially funny.

Here's to Star Trek ! The TV show that inspired the cell phone and the big screen TV.  Almost fifty years after the first broadcast the Star Trek universe is still growing. Come to think of it the 50th anniversary will be in 2016.  I only wonder will it eclipse the presidential election?

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