Tuesday, February 23, 2016

REVIEW: WILLIAM SHATNER'S "Leonard: My Fifty-Year Friendship with a Remarkable Man"

When I heard that William Shatner was writing a memoir about Leonard Nimoy, the cynic in me said "Bill must need a paycheck". After all, he had half a century to write such a book. Why wait until the subject is gone to make it so? And, over the years Mr. Shatner has made it clear that he'll do anything for a buck ("Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds", anyone?). So when I received my copy, I realized I had to put my own preconceived notions aside and let the book stand or fall on its own.

It's important to take the title into account. From the first page it's clear that this is not a biography of an individual, but the recounting of how that individual's life intersected the writer's. Because of that, Shatner intertwines elements about his own life (though to a lesser extent than Nimoy's) in the telling of Nimoy's story. In this case, that is a very proper thing to do, for without knowing how the two men led their individual lives, we'd have little understanding of how and why they would first come together as colleagues and, eventually, as friends. 

If you're a long-time Star Trek fan and reader of Shatner and Nimoy's past memoirs, there's very little new material regarding their early days. And very little new material, period, at least from a nuts and bolts "these are the facts" perspective. Been there, read that. But where this book shines is that, for the first time that I know of, the narrative is exclusively about how these two men became attached – first by fate and then by choice – for almost half a century. Each had played some role in the others' memoirs, but only as one of dozens of other players. Here the focus is specific and laser-tight.

It's interesting to see Shatner acknowledge that his own self-image was perhaps not as accurate as he once thought. In the past, Shatner has admitted to having being oblivious to the needs of others. And so, in relating various stories, Shatner gives us the sense that his friend Leonard sometimes gave him a very honest take on his past behaviors and how they affected those around him, and not always in a positive light. 

The book is filled with various interplay between the two over the years and is laid out in a roughly chronological way. Shatner and co-author, David Fisher, show no real ability to consistently connect to the material on an emotional level with a couple of exceptions. When Shatner relates a conversation with Nimoy in 2001 and quotes the actor as saying "You're my best friend", you'd have to be made of stone to be unmoved. So, too, as Shatner tells the story of his third wife's battle with alcoholism that would eventually lead to her death and Nimoy's steadfast support for his friend – an understanding that could only have come from an alcoholic like Nimoy, himself – we get a stark, honest look at one of the worst moments in Shatner's life. His friendship with Nimoy was one of the few rocks upon which he could lean. 

But the most interesting – and strangest – part of the book comes at the end when Shatner basically tells us (spoiler alert!!) that despite their deep friendship, the two hadn't spoken since 2011 because, for some reason unknown to Shatner, Nimoy stopped speaking to him. Shatner claims to have reached out to Nimoy several times to no avail. He also claims to not understand the basis of the problem. It's interesting to note that the last time the two saw each other was for the production of a German Volkswagen commercial in 2014, just a few months prior to Nimoy's death. Despite mentioning this event, Shatner tells nothing about how the two related to each other during the shoot. Surely the subject would have been broached, right? But no insight is given and we're left to wonder "what the...??".

While an imperfect story, "Leonard" should nonetheless be considered a must-read for Star Trek fans who, like me, grew up with these two wonderful actors and their iconic characters who took us, boldy, where no man had gone before. We'll never see their likes again, and any insight into these individuals is well worth the effort.




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