Leonard Nimoy Was Not (Only) Spock FEB.
His artistic pursuits ‚ÄĒ poetry, photography and music in addition to
acting ‚ÄĒ ranged far beyond the United Federation of Planets, but it was as
Mr. Spock that Mr. Nimoy became a folk hero, bringing to life one of the
most indelible characters of the last half century: a cerebral, unflappable,
pointy-eared Vulcan with a signature salute and blessing: ‚ÄúLive long and
prosper‚ÄĚ (from the Vulcan ‚ÄúDif-tor heh smusma‚ÄĚ).
As part of the Yiddish Book Center Wexler Oral History Project, Leonard
Nimoy explains the origin of the Vulcan hand signal used by Spock, his
character in the Star Trek series.
by Yiddish Book Center on February 27, 2015. Photo
by Yiddish Book Center‚Äôs Wexler Oral History Project.
Mr. Nimoy, who was teaching Method acting at his own studio when he was cast
in the original ‚ÄúStar Trek‚ÄĚ television series in the mid-1960s, relished
playing outsiders, and he developed what he later admitted was a mystical
identification with Spock, the lone alien on the starship‚Äôs bridge.
Yet he also acknowledged ambivalence about being tethered to the character,
expressing it most plainly in the titles of two autobiographies: ‚ÄúI Am Not
Spock,‚ÄĚ published in 1977, and ‚ÄúI Am Spock,‚ÄĚ published in 1995.
In the first, he wrote, ‚ÄúIn Spock, I finally found the best of both
worlds: to be widely accepted in public approval and yet be able to continue
to play the insulated alien through the Vulcan character.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúStar Trek,‚ÄĚ which had its premiere on NBC on Sept. 8, 1966, made Mr.
Nimoy a star. Gene Roddenberry, the creator of the franchise, called him
‚Äúthe conscience of ‚ÄėStar Trek‚Äô ‚ÄĚ ‚ÄĒ an often earnest, sometimes
campy show that employed the distant future (as well as some primitive
special effects by today‚Äôs standards) to take on social issues of the
His stardom would endure. Though the series was canceled after three seasons
because of low ratings, a cultlike following ‚ÄĒ the conference-holding,
costume-wearing Trekkies, or Trekkers (the designation Mr. Nimoy preferred)
‚ÄĒ coalesced soon after ‚ÄúStar Trek‚ÄĚ went into syndication.
The fans‚Äô devotion only deepened when ‚ÄúStar Trek‚ÄĚ was spun off into an
animated show, various new series and an uneven parade of movies starring
much of the original television cast, including ‚ÄĒ besides Mr. Nimoy ‚ÄĒ
William Shatner (as Capt. James T. Kirk), DeForest Kelley (Dr. McCoy),
Henry Takei (the helmsman, Sulu), James Doohan (the chief engineer, Scott),
Nichelle Nichols (the chief communications officer, Uhura) and Walter Koenig
(the navigator, Chekov).
When the director J. J. Abrams revived the ‚ÄúStar Trek‚ÄĚ film franchise in
2009, with an all-new cast ‚ÄĒ including Zachary Quinto as Spock ‚ÄĒ he
included a cameo part for Mr. Nimoy, as an older version of the same
character. Mr. Nimoy also appeared in the 2013 follow-up, ‚ÄúStar Trek Into
His zeal to entertain and enlighten reached beyond ‚ÄúStar Trek‚ÄĚ and
crossed genres. He had a starring role in the dramatic television series
‚ÄúMission: Impossible‚ÄĚ and frequently performed onstage, notably as Tevye
in ‚ÄúFiddler on the Roof.‚ÄĚ His poetry was voluminous, and he published
books of his photography.
He also directed movies, including two from the ‚ÄúStar Trek‚ÄĚ franchise,
and television shows. And he made records, singing pop songs as well as
original songs about ‚ÄúStar Trek,‚ÄĚ and gave spoken-word performances ‚ÄĒ
to the delight of his fans and the bewilderment of critics.
But all that was subsidiary to Mr. Spock, the most complex member of the
Enterprise crew, who was both one of the gang and a creature apart engaged
at times in a lonely struggle with his warring racial halves.
In one of his most memorable ‚ÄúStar Trek‚ÄĚ performances, Mr. Nimoy tried
to follow in the tradition of two actors he admired, Charles Laughton and
Boris Karloff, who each played a monstrous character ‚ÄĒ Quasimodo and the
Frankenstein monster ‚ÄĒ who is transformed by love.
In Episode 24, which was first shown on March 2, 1967, Mr. Spock is indeed
transformed. Under the influence of aphrodisiacal spores he discovers on the
planet Omicron Ceti III, he lets free his human side and announces his love
for Leila Kalomi (Jill Ireland), a woman he had once known on Earth. In this
episode, Mr. Nimoy brought to Spock‚Äôs metamorphosis not only warmth,
compassion and playfulness, but also a rarefied concept of alienation.
‚ÄúI am what I am, Leila,‚ÄĚ Mr. Spock declares after the spores‚Äô effect
has worn off and his emotions are again in check. ‚ÄúAnd if there are
self-made purgatories, then we all have to live in them. Mine can be no
worse than someone else‚Äôs.‚ÄĚ
Born in Boston on March 26, 1931, Leonard Simon Nimoy was the second son of
Max and Dora Nimoy, Ukrainian immigrants and Orthodox Jews. His father
worked as a barber.
From the age of 8, Leonard acted in local productions, winning parts at a
community college, where he performed through his high school years. In
1949, after taking a summer course at Boston College, he traveled to
Hollywood, though it wasn‚Äôt until 1951 that he landed small parts in two
movies, ‚ÄúQueen for a Day‚ÄĚ and ‚ÄúRhubarb.‚ÄĚ
Jerry Mosey/Associated Press
He continued to be cast in little-known movies, although he did presciently
play an alien invader in a cult serial called ‚ÄúZombies of the
Stratosphere,‚ÄĚ and in 1961 he had a minor role on an episode of ‚ÄúThe
Twilight Zone.‚ÄĚ His first starring movie role came in 1952 with ‚ÄúKid
Monk Baroni,‚ÄĚ in which he played a disfigured Italian street-gang leader
who becomes a boxer.
Mr. Nimoy served in the Army for two years, rising to sergeant and spending
18 months at Fort McPherson in Georgia, where he presided over shows for the
Army‚Äôs Special Services branch. He also directed and starred as Stanley in
the Atlanta Theater Guild‚Äôs production of ‚ÄúA Streetcar Named Desire‚ÄĚ
before receiving his final discharge in November 1955.
He then returned to California, where he worked as a soda jerk, movie usher
and cabdriver while studying acting at the Pasadena Playhouse. He achieved
wide visibility in the late 1950s and early 1960s on television shows like
‚ÄúWagon Train,‚ÄĚ ‚ÄúRawhide‚ÄĚ and ‚ÄúPerry Mason.‚ÄĚ Then came ‚ÄúStar
Mr. Nimoy returned to college in his 40s and earned a master‚Äôs degree in
Spanish from Antioch University Austin, an affiliate of Antioch College in
Ohio, in 1978. Antioch College later awarded Mr. Nimoy an honorary
Mr. Nimoy directed two of the Star Trek movies, ‚ÄúStar Trek III: The Search
for Spock‚ÄĚ (1984) and ‚ÄúStar Trek IV: The Voyage Home‚ÄĚ (1986), which he
helped write. In 1991, the same year that he resurrected Mr. Spock on two
episodes of ‚ÄúStar Trek: The Next Generation,‚ÄĚ Mr. Nimoy was also the
executive producer and a writer of the movie ‚ÄúStar Trek VI: The
He then directed the hugely successful comedy ‚ÄúThree Men and a Baby‚ÄĚ
(1987), a far cry from his science-fiction work, and appeared in
made-for-television movies. He received an Emmy nomination for the 1982
movie ‚ÄúA Woman Called Golda,‚ÄĚ in which he portrayed the husband of Golda
Meir, the prime minister of Israel, who was played by Ingrid Bergman. It was
the fourth Emmy nomination of his career ‚ÄĒ the other three were for his
‚ÄúStar Trek‚ÄĚ work ‚ÄĒ although he never won.
Mr. Nimoy‚Äôs marriage to the actress Sandi Zober ended in divorce. Besides
his wife, he is survived by his children, Adam and Julie Nimoy; a stepson,
Aaron Bay Schuck; and six grandchildren; one great-grandchild, and an older
Though his speaking voice was among his chief assets as an actor, the
critical consensus was that his music was mortifying. Mr. Nimoy, however,
was undaunted, and his fans seemed to enjoy the camp of his covers of songs
I Had a Hammer.‚ÄĚ (His first
album was called ‚ÄúLeonard Nimoy Presents Mr. Spock‚Äôs Music From Outer
From 1995 to 2003, Mr. Nimoy narrated the ‚ÄúAncient Mysteries‚ÄĚ series on
the History Channel. He also appeared in commercials, including two with Mr.
Shatner for Priceline.com. He provided the voice for animated characters in
‚ÄúTransformers: The Movie,‚ÄĚ in 1986, and ‚ÄúThe Pagemaster,‚ÄĚ in 1994.
In 2001 he voiced the king of Atlantis in the Disney animated movie
‚ÄúAtlantis: The Lost Empire,‚ÄĚ and in 2005 he furnished voice-overs for
the computer game Civilization IV. More recently, he had a recurring role on
the science-fiction series ‚ÄúFringe‚ÄĚ and was heard, as the voice of
Spock, in an episode of the hit sitcom ‚ÄúThe Big Bang Theory.‚ÄĚ
Mr. Nimoy was an active supporter of the arts as well. The Thalia, a
venerable movie theater on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, now a multi-use
hall that is part of Symphony Space, was renamed the Leonard Nimoy Thalia in
He also found his voice as a writer. Besides his autobiographies, he
published ‚ÄúA Lifetime of Love: Poems on the Passages of Life‚ÄĚ in 2002.
Typical of Mr. Nimoy‚Äôs simple free verse are these lines: ‚ÄúIn my
heart/Is the seed of the tree/Which will be me.‚ÄĚ
In later years, he rediscovered his Jewish heritage, and in 1991 he produced
and starred in ‚ÄúNever Forget,‚ÄĚ a television movie based on the story of
a Holocaust survivor who sued a neo-Nazi organization of Holocaust deniers.
In 2002, having illustrated his books of poetry with his photographs, Mr.
Nimoy published ‚ÄúShekhina,‚ÄĚ a book devoted to photography with a Jewish
theme, that of the feminine aspect of God. His black-and-white photographs
of nude and seminude women struck some Orthodox Jewish leaders as heretical,
but Mr. Nimoy asserted that his work was consistent with the teaching of the
His religious upbringing also influenced the characterization of Spock. The
salute, he often explained, had been his idea: He based it on the kohanic
blessing, a manual approximation of the Hebrew letter shin, which is the
first letter in Shaddai, one of the Hebrew names for God.
‚ÄúTo this day, I sense Vulcan speech patterns, Vulcan social attitudes and
even Vulcan patterns of logic and emotional suppression in my behavior,‚ÄĚ
Mr. Nimoy wrote years after the original series ended.
But that wasn‚Äôt such a bad thing, he discovered. ‚ÄúGiven the choice,‚ÄĚ
he wrote, ‚Äúif I had to be someone else, I would be Spock.‚ÄĚ