Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Book Review Club: Leonard: My Fifty-Year Friendship with a Remarkable Man by William Shatner

leonard(This is the April 2016 Edition of Barrie Summy’s Book Review Club. For a complete rundown of all the books, click the icon following this review.)

I was taking my turn staying with my son as he recuperated in a hospital when I heard the news that Leonard Nimoy had died. His death didn’t hit me as hard as, say, David Bowie’s did this year, but Nimoy’s passing was unique. I’m a Star Wars kid who discovered Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock only after I learned who Luke Skywalker was. Through the years, however, as I grew older, the more cerebral Trek spoke to a certain part of my psyche, and Spock was a big part of that.

Another thing I really enjoy is learning all the lifetime steps a celebrity went through to get them to the spot when I know them. I love learning about an artist’s early work, the struggles to get noticed, and what they did once they became famous.

So it was a natural that I would gravitate to William Shatner’s latest book, Leonard: My Fifty-Year Friendship with a Remarkable Man. But, I made a crucial decision: I got the audiobook. Shatner himself reads his work, and that made all the difference.

Shatner uses his friendship with Nimoy as a framing device to tell Leonard’s story. Full confession: I never knew Shatner was Jewish! I knew Nimoy was, but it blew me away when I learned that about Shatner.

Throughout the book, Shatner tells how Nimoy grew up in a hard life in Boston with Jewish parents who emigrated from Europe. Nimoy’s work ethic—always show up on time, be prepared, be professional—is what should be considered normal, whether in acting or anything. Too often it’s not any more, so it makes Nimoy’s example that much more appealing.

I especially loved hearing how Shatner and Nimoy got work in the early golden age of television in whatever role they could land: bad guys, tough guys in westerns, and the like. As a fan of early television, these sections were among my favorites.

The Star Trek gig was especially great for Nimoy because he got a dressing room with his name on the door. He had been working for nearly twenty years at that point, and the Trek gig was his first true steady work. That Nimoy kept at his acting profession and added to his income by teaching and other jobs is a noble example, especially in a day and age when lots of folks think they should get the golden ring right out of the gate.

Shatner pulls no punches when it comes to some of the times he and Nimoy had disagreements. I figured I get the behind-the-scenes story of why he missed Nimoy’s funeral—charity function—and how Nimoy likely would have done the same thing if their positions were reversed.

At the end, however, is when the audiobook earns its keep. Shatner cannot keep all the emotion out of his voice, and it was those passages for which I bought the audio. I wanted to hear Shatner tell this story, and he does so in a wonderful fashion.

If you are a Star Trek fan or enjoy hearing the hardscrabble story of a working actor in the 1950s-2000s, this is a great book because you get two stories for the price of one.

Live Long and Prosper, Mr. Nimoy…and Mr. Shatner.

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