Live Long and Prosper
Live Long and Prosper
Written by Eric Plaut
Creative people tend to be stereotyped quite a lot. They may act in numerous plays or on the screen, draw or paint a variety of subjects or enhance and enrich themselves on a musical scale. Yet due to a character they portray on stage or on screen, many of them endure being pigeonholed for that one peculiar role. Actors, especially those known for an iconic role or two, wind up being stuck in a conundrum. In that case, the performer tends to have two choices: either shun or embrace the character that made him or her a household name.
Just ask anyone who has portrayed a superhero (or villain). It also applies to films like Star Wars and Star Trek. If any of the major cast from the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz were still around, their takes on the legendary characters they portrayed varied from being embraced to extreme hatred. For instance, Ray Bolger enjoyed his role as the Scarecrow while real-life best friends Jack Haley and Bert Lahr detested playing the Tin Woodman and the Cowardly Lion. Haley and Lahr disliked wearing the heavy costumes and make-up, particularly under the intense heat from the studio lighting. (Lahr’s costume was made of lion-skin and that fur wig he wore did not help matters either.)
Leonard Nimoy himself had mixed views of playing an iconic role on Star Trek. Alongside William Shatner’s Captain James T. Kirk, Nimoy debuted fifty years ago as our favorite Vulcan, Mr. Spock. He based his Vulcan salute off the Priestly Blessing by Jewish Kohanim, and would usually tell the person he saluted: “Live long and prosper!” While Nimoy’s stoic character of Spock seemed to lack emotion, he still won fans over worldwide. Created by the late Gene Roddenberry, the original Star Trek was on television for only three seasons. Though an animated series debuted in 1973 and ran for two years, it would be another decade before Gene’s creation spawned off on the big screen and in TV sequels. (Between the original and animated series, Nimoy appeared for two years on Mission: Impossible.)
Yet TV viewers knew Leonard Nimoy before his claim to fame in Star Trek. He appeared in films such as Queen for a Day (1951) and 1954’s Them! Nimoy also guest-starred on the small screen on shows including Dragnet, Sea Hunt, Highway Patrol and Get Smart. His role of Mr. Spock led him not only into Hollywood immortality, but granted him lifelong friendships with his co-star William Shatner and the rest of the Star Trek cast. Nimoy fought for Nichelle Nichols (Nyota Uhura) and George Takei (Hiraku Sulu) to be part of the animated cast. (He also fought for equal pay for Nichols, the only female in the main Star Trek cast, and remained a loyal friend to Takei, who came out as gay.)
Leonard Nimoy, however, would not allow himself to be stereotyped just by one role. He had quite a number of interests as well. Nimoy showed an interest in science, and was flattered when he heard of people pursuing the field due to Star Trek and his character of Mr. Spock. He wrote seven books of poetry and recorded five music albums. Nimoy was an avid photographer who had his work displayed in museums in his home state of Massachusetts. He also had three photo-books published. Other literary works of his included two autobiographies and three screenplays. Nimoy directed a dozen films and TV shows including Three Men and a Baby (1987), Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984) and, two of his written works, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) and the 1981 TV movie Vincent, in which Leonard portrayed the Dutch painter’s younger brother Theo Van Gogh.
The one cable series that I remember best about Leonard Nimoy was on Nickelodeon during the 1980’s. Titled Standby: Lights, Camera, Action!, Nimoy hosted this show. I did enjoy this program a lot due to going behind the scenes of movies and interviewing actors and directors in the films. Standby also perked up my interests in seeing how movies were shot and all of the tricks of the trade were shown on the show. Some of the tricks shown included how people did stunts or showed how they were “hacked up” or even “shot and killed.” Leonard Nimoy, due to common sense, warned viewers “Don’t try this at home!” (Thankfully, nobody did.)
It was a time worth waiting for when waiting for a great weekend program was on the tube. And it sure made a long week in school seem bearable. Before Nimoy’s program, I enjoyed viewing the comedy classics of W.C. Fields and Laurel and Hardy on Chicago’s Metromedia (now FOX) 32. When Channel 32 stopped their run on these classic comedies, it was a pleasant change of pace. Once Standby concluded, viewers got to see Nimoy as Spock or as himself—either in animated form (ie. The Simpsons) or in shows like The Big Bang Theory.
As previously mentioned when you try and identify who you are, it may not be as others see us. Creative people tend to let their imagination run wild by wanting to go off in different directions—sometimes all at once! They try or do make their living through art, writing, acting, etc. in which only a handful can see this perspective. It is a constant struggle to be creative—trying to find new ideas while others try to pigeonhole them for a certain role they had seen them do. Sometimes it can be difficult for both parties to find that mutual ground and understanding.
Despite his iconic role as Mr. Spock, Leonard Nimoy somehow managed to be a jack-of-all-trades in the stereotyped industry of entertainment. He managed to direct films and TV shows and to record studio albums, display his photography and write screenplays and books. Nimoy maintained nearly a 50-year friendship with William Shatner and the rest of the original cast of Star Trek. (Nimoy and Shatner first played adversaries on a 1964 episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) Nimoy also was known for his stage work, including his portrayal of Randle McMurphy in the play One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest based from Ken Kesey’s novel. A year later Jack Nicholson won Best Actor as McMurphy in the 1975 Oscar-winning film.
In conclusion, creative people have a tendency to “think outside of the box.” Despite the occasional view from the public eye, many of them tend to look for a variety of opportunities. It is important not to keep all of one’s eggs in the same basket—unless you wanted them scrambled! Yet some people try to find other roles to identify others—especially the creative ones.
Actors in particular usually fight a certain stereotype and try not be pigeonholed by a role. Leonard Nimoy, though noted as Spock, managed to achieve success as a jack-of-all-trades. This accomplishment brought him respect and admiration from his family, friends, fellow actors and friends. Nimoy, who passed away in 2015, has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and had an asteroid named for him—the Nimoy 4864. He is someone who literally could go to infinity and beyond. Among the many tributes he received included (now retired) astronaut Terry Virts giving Nimoy the Vulcan salute as his spaceship flew over Leonard’s hometown of Boston. A big thank you goes to Leonard Nimoy and to his alter ego Mr. Spock for over 50 years of variety in a rough industry such as Hollywood.
In return for all creative types—past, present and future: Live Long and Prosper!
Delving into creativity myself, I always try to break away from the stereotypical roles of what others think of me. As with anything and anybody, it is important to be yourself. One can pick up bits and pieces, or be influenced by someone. However, try to be original and not copy other person or project in verbatim or how their piece is being shown.
Sources for this article include Wikipedia (Wikipedia.org) and the Internet Movie Data Base (imdb.com). The concept on battling stereotypes is not an original idea though. I imagine it began many millenniums ago. People may continue to pigeonhole others long after we are gone though I would never encourage it! Don’t pigeonhole others. Learn to let them be themselves and to try to work on their ideas, new and old. And as Voltaire once said, we must learn to “cultivate our own garden.” The journey itself makes it fun!