A Nimoy back on the bridge: Cruising the con with Mr. Spock’s Son
Whirrs, bloops and pings greet visitors inside a darkened non-nondescript, corporate-friendly ballroom. Half hotel, half life-sized reproduction of the famous bridge of the NCC-1701, this is Starfleet’s flagship Constitution Class vessel of exploration, the Enterprise.
“This really feels like coming home,” Adam Nimoy says with a laugh as we’re granted permission to take a stroll where few fans have gone before.
I’m in Las Vegas with Adam Nimoy at the first official “Star Trek” convention since his father, Leonard Nimoy, died in February. Gatherings that his father referred to as “victory laps.” It’s been more than five months since the 83-year-old’s passing, and while there was a cloud of melancholy, fans were ready for what the convention was dubbing a “celebration of life” in the renamed Leonard Nimoy Theater.
“I was on set for pretty much the entire first season,” he says. “I was a 10-year-old kid, right who they were aiming for!” Nimoy is here shooting a documentary, funded partially through Kickstarter, called “For the Love of Spock.” He’s eyeing a release for next year, in time for the 50th anniversary of “Star Trek.” He wants to make the definitive film about Spock, the importance of this ubiquitous icon and his impact. In addition to film and TV footage, Nimoy’s documentary will access his family’s own stash of Spockanalia, plus new interviews with William Shatner and George Takei. The film will be narrated by the current green-blooded torchbearer, Zachary Quinto. Nimoy suggests that much of the endurance of his father’s character comes from people identifying with the feeling of an outsider trying to fit in.
“My father nailed that role because it was him, the son of Orthodox Jewish immigrants hoping to assimilate and get a career in Hollywood,” Nimoy says. Also: “He was a numbers guy.”
Sitting in the captain’s chair, he begins prodding the illuminated buttons. Nothing happens. You really expect to hear a phaser burst when you jam down your thumb.
“Yeah, it always was a tiny bit disappointing when they don’t actually move the ship around,” he says. “But I should really be over by the science station.”
As Nimoy steps to the red guard rail behind the captain’s chair heading toward his father’s blue scope, he recalls the episodes he saw filmed.
“I was here for ‘Trouble With Tribbles,’ ‘What Are Little Girls Made Of’ and ‘The Man Trap.’ And the one where Dad walks out of a booth and says, ‘Now I am blind.’ That line, that moment, that’s something I really remember, seeing Dad come out and bump into something.”He’s speaking, of course, of “Operation: Annihilate!” in which Spock submits himself to Dr. McCoy’s high intensity light rays to free himself of Denevan neural parasites. But don’t worry. Vulcans, as we soon learned, have an inner eyelid.
As he reaches the scope, hands placed on either side while he peers in, the blue light radiates from inside the prop, illuminating his face. The resemblance to his father is uncanny.
A small crowd has gathered in the quiet room where the bridge set is kept. Normally the fans are reverential in there anyway. However, with Nimoy poking around, there is complete silence. Stone-cold reverence. As we exit, one man touches Nimoy’s wrist and stage whispers, “Your father was a wonderful man.” There’s nothing to say back other than, “Thank you.”
Earlier that day, while passing a glowing replica of the Guardian of Forever gateway, a woman in a wheelchair, marked temple to toe with the spotting of a Trill, asks for a photo. Nimoy suggests they both make the Vulcan salute. They raise their palms, parting their third and fourth fingers in the fashion of Jewish kohanim representing the Hebrew letter “shin.” And though the character Spock (First Officer of and Science Officer of the USS Enterprise) always stayed emotionless, his son crouches down for the photo and grins. The Trill beams as well. To see Nimoy bring a smile to “Star Trek” fans at this of all conventions is no small bit of healing.
Despite, as he puts it, “some rocky years,” Nimoy isn’t fazed by the way the fans worship his father. “At this point, where my head is at, they should idolize him.”
He says he wasn’t surprised by the outpouring of emotion when his father died, not even the White House press release. “We all knew President Obama was a fan.” He also brushes away what he calls a “fake press controversy” concerning William Shatner’s absence from his father’s funeral.
“I don’t blame him. He had a commitment to be elsewhere, and to suggest that he wasn’t grieving is absurd. They were like brothers. Sure, the relationship was cyclical, and over the years they would argue, exactly like brothers!”
Repeating the New York tabloid’s “Captain Jerk!” headline provokes an exasperated reaction from Nimoy, then he sighs and collects himself. “Bill Shatner is a great friend, and he’s helping me tremendously on the film.”
“For the Love of Spock” is not meant to portray his father as a saint or to suggest the father-son relationship was always easy. He says being the Son of Spock always had pitfalls, such as the first and only time he bragged that his father was on “Star Trek.”
“It was in Hebrew school,” he said. “The show had just come on, and there was total pandemonium. While I did like that one of the older girls paid me some attention, for years I would avoid telling people my last name.”
In later years, he sometimes resented his father putting work ahead of family. A rare trip to a restaurant would be interrupted by autograph hounds. It’s no secret that both father and son were in recovery, and Nimoy says that, in later years, they would go to meetings together.
“He was part of my recovery. We’d share together. That’s why I want to make the movie, because it has a happy ending.”
Nimoy is no rookie working on this documentary. He’s an accomplished television director, with credits ranging from “NYPD Blue” to “Gilmore Girls” to “Babylon 5” to, yes, two episodes of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” As I begin to geek out and ask him questions, specifically about the space-time distortions from the episode “Timescape,” he politely reminds me that, “it was a long time ago,” but does add that Sir Patrick Stewart was a very disciplined actor who took the time to find the motivation for every moment in every episode. “And he found it on his own, thank God.”
We stroll through the vendors room, tables bursting with Spock merch. Regarding some of the more homebrewed wares, he uses an old, diplomatic line.
“At something like this, Dad would nod and say, ‘Not a bad likeness.’” He then reaches down beyond the jigsaw puzzles and lunchboxes to find an old yo-yo, still in the box, dating to the 1970s.
“Spock would say, ‘There is no sense in a yo-yo,’” he jokes.
There are glasses, mugs and a collection of dinner plates with “Star Trek” characters painted on them, many including Spock. Adam is reminded of a time he was looking to buy a house, and the realtor, a friend, had stashed one just like it in the kitchen as a gag.
“Spock is always there, wherever I go.”
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