Let me preface this piece by saying that I am a huge William Shatner fan. That is why I went to see his new show on Broadway, “Shatner’s World”. Don’t confuse me with a Trekkie. I don’t speak Klingon, nor do I own a Phaser or Tri-Corder. Growing up in the 60’s, Star Trek was part of my life and it will always be with me. I did go to one of the first Star Trek conventions. When I was a Junior or Senior in High School, I took a Science Fiction class. Instead of reading a book and writing a paper on it, I asked my teacher if I could go to the Star Trek convention that was coming to New York. I told her that I could do a report on that. She saw it as me showing initiative. I saw it as a way to get out of writing another boring book report. My friends and I went to the convention for about a half hour, realized that most of the people there were from another planet and spent the rest of the day running around Manhattan. I got an A on the project.
My real fascination is with Shatner. No one has ever accused him of being a terrific actor. Yet, next to Archie Bunker, James T. Kirk is probably the greatest character in television history. Shatner may have starred in more TV series than any other actor in history. Let’s see there was Star Trek, the animated version of Star Trek. Rescue 911, TJ Hooker, The Practice, Boston Legal, “Shit My Father Said” and Shatner’s Raw Nerve, currently on a cable network. He has written a series of books called Tek War that have been made into TV movies. That doesn’t mention the countless series appearances, such as his legendary spots on the Twilight Zone and dozens of movies. In the late 50’s he was viewed as the next dashing leading man. While he never really gained Paul Newman-type status, he has had a career that has spanned over 50 years. His career has been nothing short of phenomenal.
I had a chance to meet Shatner once. Back around 1975 he was doing a speaking tour. He played at my college and stopped by my television station for an interview. When he walked into the studio I realized that he was much smaller than I envisioned Captain Kirk. He was very trim and seemed to have something resembling a squirrel’s next on the top of his head. He basically proceeded to act like an asshole. This made me love him even more. Where did this guy, who hadn’t been on TV for nearly ten years get off acting like an asshole? After all HE said yes to an interview on a TV station that could only be seen in the cafeteria. Not exactly riding a hot streak.
That is the beauty of Shatner. He has no shame. He has made some of the worst records in the history of the recording industry. He had an album that was released back in the 70’s and was unintentionally hysterical. Here is a clip of “Rocket Man”…boy is he serious.
Somehow Ben Folds agreed to produce his album called “Has Been”. Last year he made “Seeking Major Tom”. I am sure Major Tom regrets ever being found. However, the lineup for this album contains rock legends such as Peter Frampton, Ritchie Blackmore, Steve Howe, John Wetton, Ian Pace, Lyle Lovett, Sheryl Crow and many others. Obviously they are Trekkies. I am sorry but I need to share this link of “Bohemian Rhapsody” with you. It is hysterical.
His commercial and artistic failures in the recording studio are practically legendary. Yet he continues. I have to hand it to him. He just does not give a shit. By all accounts he has a huge ego. I have heard that despite that, he is fun to be around because he has a great sense of humor. That trait was not obvious in last night’s performance. Shatner admits that George Takei (Sulu) does not like him. James Doohan (Scotty) went to his grave professing his dislike of Shatner and from all appearances, although being forever linked to Leonard Nimoy, their relationship seems to be tepid at best. I get the sense that Bill is just a pain in the ass. Still, somehow I love him.
I love his attitude. He can laugh at himself and the world he has created. He is self-effacing to the nth degree. His appearance on SNL where he tells his fans “to get a life” is amazing and pretty much tells us all we need to know about Shatner.
Shatner is a parody of himself. He has been roasted by Comedy Central and there are many comedians that do very credible impersonations of him. He laughs all the way to the bank. The best example of how Shatner has cashed in on his legacy is the Priceline.com commercials. There are lots of young people who mostly know him from those spots.
Last night’s show was horrible. It was comprised of anecdotes and film clips from his career. It started with appearances in his high school play, through McGill University, through a Shakespearean Company, to Star Trek and beyond. Instead of anticipated laughter in spots, he heard crickets. The best part of the show came when he told the audience to stay where they were and he would be back in 5 minutes. Usually there is not an intermission during a one man show. There was no scheduled intermission last night. The announcer in the theater stated that there were technical difficulties and that Mr. Shatner would return to the stage momentarily. In a few minutes Shatner returned stating that “technical difficulties can include a number of things. When you get older you will understand.” Did Shatner, who just turned 80, go the the Men’s Room in the middle of his own show? I have to admit I have never seen that. He came out and uneventfully completed the last 15 minutes of the show.
At the end of his performance he got a standing ovation from the crowd. Not for his performance last night, but for his entire career. He truly is one in a million. Canada’s greatest export since Gordie Howe. He is someone that has not gotten the true appreciation that he deserves. He could have been type cast as Captain Kirk. Practically none of the actors in the Star Trek series ever did anything else of note. There is just something about his carefree attitude and personality that makes you want to root for him. Is he a great actor or comedian? No. Is he an older, yet distinguished leading man? No. But there is something about him that keeps you coming back. Whatever it is, it is uniquely Shatner and we should be thankful that he is still around. You don’t need to go to the show, but you do need to understand what an icon Shatner is…if only in his own mind. It’s still nice to know he is there.