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April 17, 2014

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William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy still the brightest stars in Star Trek galaxy

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Justin M. Bowen

Sir Patrick Stewart (center) joins William Shatner (left) and Leonard Nimoy Saturday, August 7, 2010 during the annual STAR TREK Convention at the Las Vegas Hilton Hotel.

Maybe William Shatner hasn't been overacting all these years. Maybe he hasn't even been acting at all, if his performance Saturday before several thousand emotionally orbiting Trek fans is an indication.

Shatner is, to put it in Earth terms, a genuinely dramatic individual.

Shatner was a beyond-this-galaxy superstar at this weekend's Star Trek Las Vegas Convention at the Las Vegas Hilton. In this culture, Shatner doubtlessly needs no introduction. So during a co-headlining appearance Saturday afternoon with the comparatively easy-going but equally beloved Leonard Nimoy, Shatner swept onstage in the midst of Nimoy's question-and-answer session with fans in the temporarily renamed Gene & Majel Roddenberry Theater.

"Eh?" Nimoy said as he noticed his close friend appear unexpectedly as the crowd rose, stunned at the lacking-in-pomp onstage arrival of Captain James T. Kirk. "What is this, a camera?"

"Let me film you!" Shatner called out. "Let me film you!"

Oh, there was a camera. Among Shatner's many projects is a documentary he's working on, titled, "The Captains." He's recording footage of everyone who has ever portrayed a Starship commander in the "Star Trek" franchise's long history. He's recording a lot of his own activities, too, such as mingling with old friends and the fans he encounters at Trek conventions. There were 15,000 to choose from.

Later, in his solo appearance before the standing-room-only audience (the format was Nimoy solo, Shatner solo, then the two together), Shatner took a question from a man who was likely in his mid-30s. The guy wanted to know about the 2009 film, "Star Trek."

Shatner and director J.J. Abrams never found common ground on an ideal role in the film for Captain Kirk, and Shatner was left out while Nimoy appeared as an elder Spock. Shatner's omission from that film is sort of a sticky subject in the Trek universe — he reportedly hadn't watched the film yet — and the self-confident actor seemed to expect this question was heading in that direction:

Questioner: "With your busy schedule, sir ..."

Shatner: "Yes!"

Questioner: "... it has been over a year since the J.J. Abrams film came out the theater."

Shatner: "It is!"

Questioner "It's been out on disc and home video ..."

Shatner: "Yes!"

Questioner: "... for several months, and I'm just curious, Mr. Shatner ..."

Shatner: "Yes! What!"

Questioner: "... why don't you want to see it?"

Shatner (pausing with the crowd laughing nervously) "Have I got a surprise for HIM! I saw it! I saw it!"

Shatner then was drowned out by cheers, but appeared to say he'd seen it just before the Las Vegas convention. When the applause subsided, he mentioned an earlier comment by Nimoy, who said he'd learned, "Never say never," when assessing his role as Mr. Spock. Filmmakers always seem to write a role for him, even after he has actually died onscreen (as he did in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan," which was released 28 years ago).

"I heard my friend Leonard, backstage, saying, 'Never say never.' I said, OK, 'I'm here!'" Shatner said, telling the audience how eager he was to return to feature films as Kirk. "I sat by the phone, day after day, then the phone rang. It was Leonard Nimoy!"

Responding to the laughter, Shatner forged ahead.

"He said, 'I'm in the next Star Trek movie, Bill!' I said, 'They're doing it without me?' And he said, 'Yes!' I said, 'What's it about?' He said, 'I can't tell you!' I said, 'You're KIDDING ME! Tell me what the hell it's about! He said, 'NO!'"

Imagine that: Captain Kirk, with no juice in a "Star Trek" film.

The audience relished what was the biggest event of the three-day festival, a glut of Trek culture that included a Propworx auction of Trek artifacts, displays of such old props and stage effects as phasers, communicators, Tribbles (pretty ugly up close, actually), the original series' multileveled chessboard and captain's chair (which seemed like the front seat of an old Chevy Bonneville tricked-out with little plastic buttons and oversized armrests) and appearances by every living "Trek" star who matters. Among them were George Takei ("Sulu" from the original series), Walter Koenig (Chekov) and Sir Patrick Stewart, who did briefly cut into Shatner's solo appearance Saturday to plug his own appearance Sunday.

Fifteen thousand Trekkies turned out for all this, and a few hundred gathered Sunday to take part snapping the Guinness World Record mark for the largest mass of costumed Trek fans, ever. The target was 507; 543 turned out.

Shatner, who during a now-legendary 1986 appearance on "Saturday Night Live," implored fans at a Trek convention to, "Get a life, will ya?" today still seems enamored of the show's remarkable longevity. He'd even walked among the commoners with his camera crew, recording it all for his documentary.

"It's good to see all of you, and in such wonderful numbers!" he said. "It's a delight to see how many people are in here. And out there, it was an experience." Oh, and then some. The only fan in attendance who seemed not to get it was the guy dressed as Darth Vader. Honestly, this guy was on another planet in more ways than one.

And since Trek fans can't seem to get enough, yet more we learned — or were reminded of — during the icons' dual-headlining appearance. Consider this "Bonus Material":

Shatner once stole Nimoy's bike: A story becoming more popular over recent years is that of Shatner organizing a theft of Shatner's bike during the filming of the original series. Nimoy purchased a bike, "and it even had my name on it," he says, to save time during lunch breaks on the series' set. "I had some makeup issues that he didn't have (Nimoy's Vulcan ears had to be removed and reattached during these lunch breaks), and to save myself five or 10 minutes of walking from the stage to the studio commissary and walking back, I bought a bicycle."

One day Nimoy went to retrieve his bike and it was gone. He asked the cast, "Did someone borrow my bicycle?" And Shatner began laughing. "He was going, 'Hoo-hoo-hoo!' and told me to look around. I around, I looked down, I looked up, and there it was hanging from the rafters by a rope." Shatner also chained the bike to a railing on the set, locking it with a Master Lock, "The type you could shoot and would remain locked!" Nimoy was forced to free the bike loose by cutting the chain with bolt-cutters. This gag went on and on — Shatner also placed the bike in his trailer, with a pair of his trained Dobermans watching guard; and when Nimoy placed the bike in his Buick Riviera, Shatner had the entire car towed from the lot.

"Is this an appropriate way to treat a friend?" Nimoy asked, as the fans — who get giddy during these behind-the-scenes tales — shouted, "No!"

Captain Kirk hates flying: True. Shatner has an artificial hip and invariably is stopped as he walks through airport security devices. "Every time I go through that arch it's BEEEEEP!" Shatner said. "Then all the people around are looking at me, saying 'He's Captain Kirk! What's going on?"

Shatner's plan to visit the hometowns of all the actors who portrayed Starship captains in his documentary project nearly unraveled as he considered flying across the country, to Canada and to London for video interviews. "The prospect of going to all of these airports was more than I could bear," but the Canadian airplane manufacturer Bombardier donated a private jet (at a cost of about $200,000) to Shatner because one of the companies top officials was a fan. "He said, 'Shatner! I became an aeronautical engineer because of you! Take our plane and have a good time!"

Nimoy's favorite original "Star Trek" episode is, "Amok Time": As he explained, "It's a very important episode for the Spock character, where he had to return to Vulcan to fulfill a marriage commitment. It was a beautiful script, written by a very good writer named Theodore Sturgeon (the renowned science-fiction writer who died in 1985) — the writers often don't get enough credit. There were two very memorable moments that came out of that script. One was, the words, 'Live long and prosper," were spoken for the first time in an episode. The other was the introduction of this (holds hands up in the universally recognized "V" sign)."

At age 79, Shatner might be the hardest-working man in show business: Along with "The Captains," Shatner is set to star in the CBS sitcom "Bleep My Dad Says," based on the Twitter feed of (roughly) that some name; he hosts the interview show, "Shatner's Raw Nerve" on The Biography Channel (among his guests have been Gene Simmons, Regis Philbin, Valerie Bertinelli and Rush Limbaugh); he hosts the news magazine-format show, "William Shatner's Aftermath" also on Biography Channel (the series debuted with Shatner's interview of "D.C. Sniper" accomplice John Malvo); and the Discovery Chanel reality show "Weird or What."

Nimoy, who at the same age as Shatner says he is retiring from acting and directing to focus on his photography (Nimoy hosted a symposium of his work Saturday night), seemed surprised at Shatner's workload. "Four series?" he said. "How many more do you need?"

When Shatner mentioned "Weird Or What," which will examine some of the more unusual unsolved cases centering on paranormal phenomena, medical oddities and unexplained natural disasters, Nimoy said, "That sounds like, "In Search Of," his own similar series from a generation ago. Shatner quickly responded, "Yes, but we're after a younger, more vigorous audience!"

Nimoy outsmarted himself with the title of his own book: The title, "I Am Not Spock" sent ripples through the "Trek" culture when the book was released in 1977. Nimoy agreed that his autobiography, even 33 years ago, would be interesting reading. He dedicated one chapter in the book to the differences between himself and his famed TV character.

"I was writing it, I was in the San Francisco airport and a woman recognized me. She had a little boy who was about 9 years old and said, 'Look who's standing in front of you!' The kid had no recognition," Nimoy said. "She said, 'This is your favorite person on television! You watch him every week!' But there was no recognition. Then she said, 'This is Mr. Spock!'

"Well, I'm standing there with my glasses and street clothes, no uniform, nobody else is talking to me in the San Francisco airport," Nimoy said, laughing at the memory. "I found this very interesting. She was using a kind of a language that was a shortcut — she meant to say that this was the actor who plays Mr. Spock. But she said, 'This is Mr. Spock.' Well, I wasn't. I wrote chapter about this — I am not Spock, and he is not me. I have a brother; he does not. I have a brother, Spock didn't — at that time (laughs). Later, of course, we found a brother (he would be Sybok, who hijacks the Enterprise in "Star Trek V: The Final Frontier"). My parents were Russian immigrants, his were not. Spock had a Vulcan father, I did not. I'm an actor, Spock was not. So we talked about this identity issue, and when it came time to publish the book, I thought, 'I am not Spock' was an interesting title."

Nimoy's publishers warned him about the title's negativity hurting its sales. Nimoy held up, "Gone With the Wind" as a negative title did work. "But I was too smart for my own good. It didn't sell well, because people thought I was rejecting Spock and got very angry about it. They read the book, but they didn't read the title," Nimoy said. "If I had the choice to play any character on television, it would be Spock. But I caught hell for that book. It didn't stop until 'Star Trek: The Motion Picture' came along.

"I certainly am Spock, and I am happy to be."

The Trek fans, hundreds of whom were wearing pointed ears and replicas of Spock's faded-blue Starship Enterprise officer's shirt, shrieked with delight: Live long and prosper. A message for all time.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at twitter.com/JohnnyKats.

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