March 02, 2015
"Star Trek" on the lecture circuit
I'm old enough to have seen an original Star Trek episode (not a rerun!). It was during a sleep-over at a friend's house, way back in 1969.
The episode was "That Which Survives." It made quite an impression on my young mind, especially the way Losira (Lee Meriwether; Catwoman on Batman) escaped by shrinking herself into a horizontal line and vanishing into a dot. Televisions once did that when you turned them off.
The neatest, scariest, coolest thing ever.
I'd have to wait for the series to end up in syndication to see the rest. These were the wilderness years for the fans, before Star Trek became a phenomenon. Except for the short-lived animated series (1973), the first movie wouldn't come out until 1979. Next Generation debuted in 1987.
Until then, I made do with David Gerrold's I-was-there memoirs (The Trouble With Tribbles and The World of Star Trek) and all of the Star Trek novelizations by James Blish.
But there was an upside. As the fan base grew, the stars of the show began touring, and even made it to upstate New York. Thanks to my mom, I got to see Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner in person. Their presentations amusingly mirrored their characters and personalities.
Leonard Nimoy spoke at Union College, lecturing on the convergence of science and science fiction. The Space Shuttle Enterprise (so named because of Star Trek) had just completed its maiden test flights (click to enlarge). His was very much the demeanor of a visiting professor.
|The cast at the roll-out of the real Enterprise (Wikipedia Commons).|
The same demeanor he'd adopt for the In Search of series. Notes Eric Raymond, "He made braininess sexy." Incidentally, Nimoy spoke in the same hall (the memorial chapel) where I attended a talk by Isaac Asimov.
Nimoy brought along a copy of "Amok Time" to watch after the lecture. A reel of 16mm film. That's how television series were syndicated back then. Commercial breaks were flagged by sixty seconds of plain black-on-white text that simply said, "Place commercials here."
Which, of course, everybody started reading out loud in unison.
William Shatner appeared in a larger venue (the auditorium at Siena College, I believe). His performance was mostly a scripted one-man show. It featured soliloquies and spoken narratives with the general theme of space and astronomy in theater throughout the ages.
Both Shatner and Nimoy concluded with Q&A sessions. Off-script, Shatner transformed into a young Bob Hope, laid-back and relaxed, bantering with the audience members. Towards the end, he started pretend-pleading with anybody ducking out early to beat the traffic.
Nimoy, again, was cool, cerebral, and to-the-point. Suffering foolish questions gladly, but not without a touch of good-humored exasperation at the sillier inquiries. Yes, as he stated in his first autobiography, he wasn't Spock. But as he conceded in his second, he always will be.
This later joint appearance gives us Shatner and Nimoy together in their natural element. And although they played antagonists in a 1964 episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., one can grasp glimmers of their future characters.