A day after he celebrates his 69th birthday, author, actor, musician and photographer Leonard Nimoy comes to Baltimore tomorrow evening to appear in another of his many roles: that of Jewish activist.
Nimoy has written books, directed movies and made more albums than the Beatles. But more than 30 years after he first played the role, he is still most recognized for his portrayal of that pointy-eared pillar of logic: Mr. Spock of "Star Trek."
Though the television series lasted only three seasons (1966-69), syndicated reruns, feature-length movies and a cult following have forever immortalized Nimoy as the half-Vulcan, half-human first officer of the Starship Enterprise.
Before he was to beam into Baltimore, Nimoy spoke to The Sun from his home in that strange universe known as Los Angeles. With his amiable personality and lulling A&E; narrator's voice, Nimoy spoke about his feelings on the Jewish faith, social responsibility and, of course, about his role as the first alien to offer his space colleagues a Hebrew blessing.
What will you be speaking about in Baltimore?
Essentially, I wish to share the experiences with my work that connect to my faith. I plan to touch on the various aspects of my work -- the times where my faith has given me some very fulfilling, very ecstatic moments. It should be an extremely personal event.
Does the fact that your host is The Associated: Jewish Community Federation bring up any "Star Trek" nostalgia?
(Laughs) You're actually the first person to bring that up. I'll have to put that in my speech.
You have such a wide-ranging resume. What are you working on right now?
I'm mostly involved with my production company, Alien Voices. We've been producing [audio versions of works by] H.G. Wells, Jules Verne and Arthur Conan Doyle. We have five or six fully produced radio productions, and I've done some television shows. We are concentrating on the Web site [www.alienvoices.com], which is undergoing a major shift in the next few months. I also work on a new series of talk shows called "The Next Wave," where we interview officers from various communications companies and whatnot. My great passion, however, is my photography. It's my new area of work that I hope will become a book. I've been doing photography since I was a teen-ager. It's very solitary work. It's very private and I get to work more internally.
The role of Mr. Spock, of course, has gained you more recognition than any other. You have dealt with this identity issue in your books, and you've likely been asked hundreds of times before, but for the record: How much of Spock is you, and how much of Spock isn't?
I think about this a lot, that the eulogy at my funeral will start out, "best known as ..." It's one of those amazing phenomena. Other actors have had similar experiences and different reactions. Some have appeared for years in a show and went on to something else without a second thought. I don't complain about it. It's been a great ride and I've had a great life. It's all because of "Star Trek." I benefit financially, spiritually and in almost every kind of way. I've done a lot of work outside of "Star Trek" [and] I'm pleased with it because the show opened those doors for me. ... I got to act with Ingrid Bergman [playing her husband in a film about Golda Meir]. That was amazing for me.
Have you gone through the Trekkie convention circuit at all?
Occasionally. I've been appearing and performing "Spock vs. Q" with one of the co-stars of Alien Voices. It's sort of a challenge match between the character from the old "Star Trek" and one from "Star Trek: The Next Generation" [Q is performed by John de Lancie]. We performed it about a half-dozen times, and now it is available on a one-hour tape that is selling quite well.
The much-imitated hand gesture that accompanies your famous catch-phrase, "Live long and prosper" -- was that your addition to the character of Spock?
I'll be talking about that at The Associated's event. It was my addition to the character, and it came from an experience I had as a child with my parents. In the blessing, the Kohanim (a high priest of a Hebrew tribe) makes the gesture with both hands, and it struck me as a very magical and mystical moment. I taught myself how to do it without even knowing what it meant, and later I inserted it into "Star Trek." There was a scene in one episode that needed something. People were seeing other members of the Vulcan race for the first time, and I thought it called for a special gesture.
For many people, "Star Trek" itself is almost a religion. How does this sort of TV religiosity compare with an actual faith?
Actually, there was no religion in "Star Trek." That is mostly because Gene Roddenberry [the show's late creator] believed that he was the Almighty. That was why he called himself "the creator" in the credits. It was something of an inside joke. There was no religious persuasion in the show. Gene would not allow reference to any kind of religious belief.
It's been said, though, that Roddenberry considered you the conscience of "Star Trek."
I think it was a comment on the fact that I was often sending memos, or having conversations or arguments about ... missing opportunities to make some sort of social statement. From time to time, I would take on the writers and producers of the show, saying, "We're not dealing with these issues properly. Why don't we make a point of it?" ... I think that responsibility came with the territory. Science fiction has a great opportunity to be socially conscious. Take H.G. Wells, for example. In "The Time Machine," a man is sent into the future in search of utopia. What he finds is separation of the races at the worst level. Wells was very concerned with the social and political problems of his time, and his writings were a comment on that. The great sci-fi tends to do that.
What is the final frontier for Judaism? For the people, for their faith?
Well, we really are in an interesting time. The pope right now is in the Middle East and will be in Israel. This is all an interesting prospect. He is for the first time recognizing Israel as a nation. He's making apologies to Jews and other minority groups for things that went on in the Holocaust. This is a very historic time. Always the question with Judaism or any other religion is, can we find peace? One hopes that gestures like [the pope's] can help bring that around. But there are still political power issues. Trust is a major issue as long as that political demagoguery goes on. We have a block in the way of peace. Look what happened to Anwar Sadat and other peacemakers.
OK, one last "Star Trek" question: On several episodes, you would stare into something that looked like a microscope that was part of the ship's computer. What did you see in there?
All I saw in there was blue light. It was a blue light bulb. We put the show together on such a skimpy budget that it was really amazing that we were able to do what we did. We had to create the illusion of a futuristic setting with the minimum of everything.
Have you given any consideration to joining your former commanding officer, William Shatner, on the Priceline.com circuit?
My friend Bill is a ball of energy. He works hard and loves working hard. I don't quite feel that compelled to work so hard. I feel great, though, and I still have a lot of creative impulses. Every day when I wake up and see my family around me I realize that we are blessed to have another day of this.
What: Leonard Nimoy addresses The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore
Where: Chizuk Amuno Congregation, 8100 Stevenson Rd., Pikesville
When: 7:30 p.m. tomorrow
Tickets: $15 a person
Call: 410-727-4828, Ext. 250
Pub Date: 03/26/00