[Review] - Leonard: My Fifty-Year Friendship With A Remarkable Man, By William Shatner And David Fisher


In which a pop culture giant eulogizes and selectively remembers a friend and fellow icon.



Last year’s death of Leonard Nimoy was a hard loss for me, as I imagine it was for many. The man was a hero of mine, his voice and arched eyebrow the defining iconography of my childhood. And yet, the loss was still that of a fan. As hard as it may have been, there is an inherent impersonality and distance to it. I lost an actor, whose talent I respected, whose work challenged and affected me. But I didn’t lose a friend, a co-worker, a fellow legend. William Shatner did. Perhaps the one person most able to speak of Nimoy’s life and influence besides the man himself (and who already had, twice before) was the man who was standing next to him practically for the duration.

This book is hard to peg down. It is one part memoir, one part biography, one part eulogy, one part celebration. Because of this, the tone varies from chapter to chapter, and even from paragraph to paragraph. A long stretch will be encyclopedic biographical information, when switch to a comparison of Nimoy’s experience with Shatner’s own, or, recollection of an event will segue in an anecdote of the two men together. The books works best when focused on these more personal moments, but they require the broader biographical material for context. The clinical descriptions do have a tendency to go on too long, broken up incongruently by a self-deprecating barb thrown by Shatner.

Where it really shines is in the passages where Shatner’s clear admiration and affection for Nimoy comes through. The book begins by contrasting their childhoods and early careers. Both men were born in 1931 – Nimoy in Boston, Shatner in Montreal – into Jewish communities climbing out of the Depression and into World War II. Shatner paints a warm picture here of the communities that shaped their lives, especially Nimoy’s grandfather, who repeatedly resurfaces as a source of much direction and wisdom. The compare and contrast continues as they find their inspiration in theatre, though Shatner, perhaps intentionally so as not to seem too self-serving or arrogant, undermines his own accomplishments with derisive or brief examples, while waxing quite poetical about Nimoy’s achievements.

Considerable time is spent examining Nimoy’s work ethic and acting style, firmly in the method department, and how this would later inform the success of Spock. Shatner conveys genuine admiration for his former co-star in this passages, as he readily accepts that his own style is the very antithesis of this, and earnestly believes, as Nimoy apparently did, that the successful chemistry between Kirk and Spock was born of these opposing but complimentary methods. Shatner, in fact, venerates most, if not all of Nimoy’s behaviours. Even when the record must concern their notable disagreements, Shatner manages to avoid becoming acrimonious, almost to a state of succumbing to a positivity bias. The good times are great, but the bad time are, in retrospect, not as bad as they seemed.

From their initial bitterness on set, to their disagreements during the filming of the movies, to the final dispute that clouded the last year they would know each other, Shatner looks at the past not through rose coloured glasses – he acknowledges their differences, and accepts the blame when required – but doesn’t linger on them. Whether this is a man editing his own history through hubris or grief, or if he simply doesn’t want to linger on the bad memories when memories are all he has left is uncertain. What is clear is that there is a certain level of unreliable narration, as these are events through Shatner’s perspective. For instance, he retells of a series of “pranks” he pulled on Nimoy during the first season of Trek involving his bicycle. This same tale is told in Nimoy’s 1995 biography I Am Spock, but with less jest. Certainly, the passage of time had allowed Nimoy to see the humour, but his take was noticeably more… pointed then Shatner’s.

The book does spend considerably more time examining Nimoy’s years on Star Trek then any of his other roles, but this makes sense considering that it is the story of Shatner and Nimoy together. Once Star Trek ends, the anecdotes become far more personal, and this is what sets the book apart from other biographies written at a professional distance. Nimoy’s directorial career, his photography, his music and voice work are all presented via a man clearly as much as fan as we were, though closer to the artist. Indeed, Shatner’s appreciation and awe at Nimoy’s achievements is evident. Likewise, when the subject matter turns to Nimoy’s alcoholism, and the strained relationship with his son, one feels the anguish and helpless distance that comes from a close friend wanting to lend aid to a problem beyond reach. Shatner’s description of his third wife’s battle with alcoholism, and the support Nimoy offered him during this ultimately tragic period in his life, is probably the clearest and most honest assessment of their friendship in the book.

It does though feel like half a story. This is Shatner’s perspective on Nimoy, and one aches to read Nimoy’s perspective on Shatner. By the book’s very nature and necessity, that can never happen. Which means that the reader is left, much as Shatner is at the end, with a void where Nimoy used to be. The prose is such that the reader brings their own emotions to it, and allows that to augment what Shatner provides. I brought a lot of my own grief and memories to the page, and reading more intimately about Nimoy amplified those feelings. That made it a more powerful read than a casual fan or someone without a long appreciation of Nimoy would feel. Even without that connection though, I do feel that Shatner has provided a loving portrait of someone he spent his life working with, competing with, being compared to, and who helped shape the culture of the second half of the twentieth century, and with considerable humility. It doesn’t break new literary ground, or make any shocking personal revelations, but it isn’t meant to. It’s just a friend saying goodbye to another. And it is a fond farewell.

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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.

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