It’s a general day of memoriam and memories of actor Leonard Nimoy. Here’s my Spock/Nimoy story.
I was a science fiction fan from childhood. In third grade, a teacher loaned me a copy of Eleanor Cameron’s The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet. That book started my fascination with SF that continues to this day.
I started watching Star Trek in 1967, in the middle of its second season. I was seven years old. I was too young to understand much of the subtext of the show, but I knew SF when I saw it. I enjoyed the show and begged my parents to let me stay up late to watch it.
However, I must be honest: The SF show I really liked was Lost in Space. This is hardly surprising, since Star Trek was aimed towards adults and Lost in Space was aimed to kids my age. I was far more interested in Billy Mumy in the role of Will Robinson than I was in Mr. Spock. I wasn’t especially concerned when Star Trek was cancelled, but I cried when Lost in Space was.
Fast-forward to 1973. In the five years since both shows were cancelled, I’d seen both in the seemingly-endless reruns of both series on syndicated television. As I grew older, I began to appreciate Star Trek more and more (and began to see Lost in Space for the silliness that it became, though I’m still a fan at heart). Like many other young people at the time, I identified strongly with Spock and wished I could be as cool as he was.
The first Star Trek convention took place in 1972 in New York City. I was only 12, and wasn’t confident enough to attend. The second was the following year, 1973, and by then I was a teenager. I knew I could conquer the depths of space and the New York subway system.
There’s nothing like your first con. My memories are hazy: talks by David Gerrold and Isaac Asimov; a dealers room filled with items I couldn’t afford on my allowance; a chance to touch (through plastic) a tribble that had been used on the original series.
I spent quite a bit of time in the main ballroom/auditorium, listening to the speakers and watching SF films I rarely saw since there were no VCRs back then. (Kids: VCRs are kind of like DVDs, but on tape. Younger kids: DVDs are kind of like YouTube, only longer and you could break them if you sat on them.)
Just as a special showing of the film Silent Running was coming to an end, the room lights came on unexpectedly. Three people ascended the podium. One was George Takei. Another was James Doohan, whom I didn’t recognize at the time since he was sporting a beard and spoke in his normal voice. The third was Leonard Nimoy.
It’s difficult to describe how special and unexpected that moment was. At the time, only the “second-tier” actors from Star Trek appeared at fan-based events. Shatner, Nimoy, and Kelley were not yet regular sights at conventions. Takei and Doohan had been announced to be at the con; Nimoy happened to be in New York City on that day, and decided just to show up.
The audience recognized Nimoy at once. A thrill ran through the crowd. Folks started to stand up. I stood up too, if only to be able to see over people heads. To Nimoy, it must have seemed like the audience was surging towards him.
Doohan stepped to the microphone. “Take one more step and our guest will leave without saying a word.” The audience sat.
Nimoy and the audience paused. Neither of us knew quite was to do. Suddenly Nimoy flashed a smile and raised his hand in the Vulcan salute. Everyone in the audience relaxed and raised their hands in salute as well, including me. The ice was broken.
Takei and Doohan moderated a few questions from the audience. It was all typical stuff: what was it like playing Spock, when was the series returning to television, and so on. It lasted less than half an hour, then Nimoy had to leave.
Leonard Nimoy didn’t have to come. When he saw an audience that was bigger and more excited than he anticipated, he didn’t have to stay. He was then, and remained for the rest of his life, Star Trek’s ambassador.