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Mr. Spock, Poet

William Shatner with David Fisher

Leonard by William Shatner

Leonard Nimoy was more than just a pretty half-Vulcan face. He also enjoyed a successful recording career, conducted numerous photographic projects, and even—you may not know this—published seven books of poetry. In this section from Leonard, William Shatner’s reminiscence of their friendship, he recalls the passion behind Nimoy’s famous impassivity.


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When Leonard was asked why he had been so strongly attracted to creative photography, he explained, “I wanted to learn the philosophy of vision, to open my eyes to light and shadow and texture.” But his provocative photographs also were the perfect accompaniment to the written word. When he first began taking studio pictures, he wondered what would be the best format to publish them and decided to produce a book of photographs and words. But rather than explanatory prose, which would have provided information about the pictures but not about the emotion, he decided to write poetry.

His curiosity about poetry began when he was eight years old, he said. He had stopped by a fountain and read the inscription with curiosity: “Cast thy bread upon the waters for thou shalt find it after many days.” Taking that literally, he tossed pieces of bread into the fountain where they were quickly gobbled by pigeons. But he came back for several days, wondering exactly how many days constituted “many” and what to expect.

I did not know those first few years we worked together that Leonard wrote poetry. Rather, I didn’t know that Leonard was a poet. That was a part of his soul that I hadn’t met yet. That part of the brain that I had become most familiar with was his straight-ahead intellect; he was very focused on the reality of his performance, on solving script problems and negotiating a fair deal. He lived very much in the world of traffic jams, bills to be paid at the end of the month, and the next job, always the next job. Poetry didn’t seem to be part of that world; it came from a very different place, and until his first book of poetry, You & I, was published he had never allowed me—or, as far as I know, anyone else from the show—access to it.

I did know he had a love for the English language; that I saw from the way he worked on scripts. To the occasional dismay of our writers, he wasn’t an actor who settled where he thought there was a better way of doing something or saying something. From that came Spock’s precise use of the language. A lot of humor on the show came from the fact that Spock responded to the specific words that one of us used, rather than the nuance that was intended. Whatever they came from, Leonard’s poems were word pictures of emotion. Just as he did with his cameras, he tried to capture feelings with his words.

I am an incurable romantic
I believe in hope, dreams and decency
I believe in love
Tenderness and kindness.
I believe in mankind

That first book was intended to be a small printing, as he called it “an exploratory lifting of the mask on his inner thoughts,” but the desire at that time for all things Spock made the book far more successful. There were five printings and 50,000 hardcover books in print, and—as Leonard proudly pointed out—the first printing of the paperback was 250,000. What helped sell the book, of course, was the fact that Leonard was willing to promote it by doing bookstore signings. It may have been Leonard’s poetry— but fans were getting Spock’s autograph. There was one memorable evening, though, at a book signing in Oradell, New Jersey, that his competition was doing considerably better than he was. The same day he was signing, Linda Lovelace, who had become famous as the star of XXX-rated Deep Throat, was signing copies of her book. “I had a few people in front of me,” he said, laughing, “but her line was stretching around the block.” Leonard did, however, come up with a strong selling pitch; he told them that You & I made a wonderful gift book, then asked, “Would you give your mother Linda Lovelace’s book for Christmas?”

He published seven books of his poetry over two decades, and you could draw a straight line from the first book through the final book and it would become obvious how little he changed over that period. Trying to understand poets through their poetry requires higher degrees than I have, but it is obvious reading his work that from the beginning to the end Leonard was intent on emotionally defining grand themes like love, compassion, loss, and the endless search for roots. For the man who became famous playing the ultimate dispassionate character, his poems successfully bring out the range of important emotions.

While some reviewers of Leonard’s photography wrote that he had found his voice through his art, in fact he actually found his voice through his voice. Making a living as an actor is in some ways a hustle. You don’t let opportunities pass by. Leonard had a melodic baritone. Close your eyes and just listen; your memory will hear him for you. That voice was an important part of his actor’s instrument, and even after he had mostly stopped performing, he continued to act with his voice.

There are singers who fight their whole lives for that single break; for Leonard and me, singing success came easily. I know it was not something I had ever seriously considered, and I can’t imagine Leonard harbored secret dreams about one day becoming a British singing star. I mean, the rock-star look in the ’60s was the Beatles mop-top and various versions of long hair. Spock’s hair was exactly the opposite, more of a scraping-brush top. While we were doing the original series, a Paramount executive told Leonard, “There’s a gentleman in New York who’s producing an album of music from Star Trek. Your picture as Spock is going to be on the cover. Would you like to be involved in the making of the album?”


William Shatner has worked as a musician, producer, director, and celebrity pitchman, and notably played Captain Kirk on Star Trek from 1966 to 1969 and in seven Star Trek films. He won an Emmy and a Golden Globe for his role as attorney Denny Crane on the TV drama Boston Legal. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Elizabeth.

David Fisher is the author of more than twenty New York Times bestsellers, including William Shatner’s autobiography Up Till Now. He lives in New York.

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Hemingway in Love, by A.E. Hotchner

My Uncle, Gerald Hughes, by Frieda Hughes

My Year in Indie Bookstores, by Jeff VanderMeer

Leonard was published by Thomas Dunne Books on February 16, 2016.

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