My Jewish Trek

In the spring of 1991, I had the privilege of spending a month aboard the good old NCC-1701-D. That's the starship Enterprise to you, then the flagship of Star Trek:The Next Generation, and the only interstellar craft I'd been on (and as a bureau chief for the acclaimed sci-fi film and TV magazine Cinefantastique, I'd been on a few) that boasted carpeting on the bridge.

The occasion was the 25th anniversary of Star Trek, a series I had watched assiduously since its debut on September 8, 1966. I was 12 then, the proverbial “Golden Age of science fiction.” And by the end of “Man Trap,” an episode featuring the last of a race of mind reading, shape shifting, salt-sucking vampires, I shouldered a habit every bit as nasty as the hideous but otherwise sympathetic alien.

Henceforth, Thursday nights became nearly as sacred as Erev Shabbat. Henceforth, I would save my meagre weekly allowance to buy an AMT model of the original USS Enterprise, then a whopping $5.95, and after that, finances permitting, a Klingon Bird of Prey. Henceforth, I implored my Auntie Roz, who worked for Bantam Books in New York, to send me the Star Trek tie-in paperbacks no one else seemed to want. And in anticipation of Halloween, I haunted Eaton's, Hudson Bay Company, Zellers and other Montreal clothing retailers searching in vain for a velour cosplay shirt, all the while pestering my mother for a pair of pointed ears.

As you might imagine, the desk at The Los Angeles Times Magazine didn't have to ask twice if I was interested in a short tour of duty aboard the new ship of the line. And to start things rolling, I was provided an audience with the Great Bird of the Galaxy himself, Eugene Wesley Roddenberry or, as he presented himself while seated in a wheelchair in the expansive office of his palatial Bel-Air home, Gene.

I decided to conclude our wide-ranging interview with an issue that had intrigued me since I began covering Jewish and Israeli affairs. I suggested that there seemed to be something almost uniquely Jewish about the flavor of the Star Trek universe. Roddenberry perked up. “How so?”

“Consider,” I said, drawing upon long practiced Vulcan equanimity. “Earth has chosen a Federation as its greatest organizing entity. The Federation believes in outreach and mutual acceptance and respect as organizing principles. The peripatetic protagonists are tasked with the ongoing mission of wandering the galaxy. The second banana, hired because his unconventional Jewish face suggested alien qualities, used rabbinic gestures to convey salutations, and parsed the wild and wooly universe with the logic-bound aplomb of a Talmudic scholar.”

I left unsaid that performers Bill Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and Walter Koenig, as well as producers Robert Justman, Herb Solow and Fred Freiberger and too many writers to name were all fellow tribesmen. Roddenberry, I concluded, must have been a philo-Semite of the first order to surround himself with so many Red Sea pedestrians.

The congenial Roddenberry concluded what I later realized was a slow burn. “You Jews,” he snarled, “have a lamentable habit of identifying those characteristics in a society that you deem positive and then taking credit for inventing them”


Not long after my Times story appeared (and shortly before Roddenberry expired), Star Trek: TNG producer Rick Berman suggested to Leonard Nimoy that he might wish to co-write his biography, I Am Spock (early in his career, fearful of typecasting, he wrote a book called I Am Not Spock) with me. After some discussion, I bid farewell to the 7-series Bimmer that had replaced models of the Enterprise in my dreams: Nimoy, I suggested, would be best off, and was eminently capable of, writing the book himself. This he did, rather nicely, I thought, while I embarked on a feature on the making of the film Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, which he directed, for Cinefantastique.

(l-r), Cinefantastique Co Bureau Chief Steve Biodrowski, Trekspert Mark Altman, moi, CFQ editor Fred Clarke and Dennis Fisher.

My first interview then took me to the West Side home of the recently deceased producer Harve Bennett. Another Jewish Treknik, Bennett had eased Roddenberry out of involvement in the Star Trek films after the Great Bird laid an egg with the maladroit Star Trek: The Motion Picture (a film which inexplicably made $82 million over the long haul). Bennett informed me that as director, Nimoy had all but imbued Star Trek III with a surfeit of Yiddishkeit. Nimoy began by depicting Spock's homeworld, Vulcan, as a hot, desert planet recognizable as a stand-in for Ancient Israel.

“Vulcan is really the creation of Leonard's mind,” said Bennett. He noted that Nimoy saw Vulcan as a once-barbaric world peopled by a passionate race who had nearly destroyed themselves early in their history through civil war, yet channeled this energy into pure intellectualism. In so doing, they achieved species survival by becoming the most logical and least war-like of peoples. But despite their rationalism, they are still ruled by ritual and ideological orthodoxy. Even the costumes worn by Vulcan officials in the “Star Trek” were, according to costume designer Robert Fletcher, based on descriptions of the vestments worn by Temple Kohanim that he found in the Bible.

Initially, Star Trek: TNG provided a strangely hospitable haven for Jews who ordinarily would have blanched at the prospect of relying on Federation star dates to determine Shabbat onset. Who could have imagined that Klingon badass Worf, a Federation officer and scion of a Klingon imperial family, would be called upon to host his adoptive earth parents, including Theodore Bikel, identified as a Russian but initially conceived as a Jew until the idea of Tevye as paterfamilias threatened the Klingon warrior's estimable gravitas.

“It was a subject of extraordinary discussion,” the late executive producer Michael Piller recounted. “The orders were handed down not to make Worf's adopted parents Jewish. I don't want to sound anti-Semitic; that's not what it meant. I am a Jew and so is Rick (Producer Rick Berman). We were simply afraid of making the Worf character laughable.”

In the spring of '93, however, Jewish fans of the series took special umbrage at a group of aliens figuring prominently in the Star Trek series, Deep Space Nine. As originally conceived by Roddenberry, the Ferengi were squat, deformed and venal creatures, lecherous, miserly and greedy,  bearing huge, misshapen ear, severely notched noses and, according to Roddenberry's Writers' Bible, prodigious personal packages. The editor of Film Score Monthly, at the time, a student at Amherst College, called the alarm, attesting that “There was no denying the anti-Semitic attributes of the Ferengi.”

Paramount denied it. But writer/producer Brannon Bragga, who was not Jewish, told me he had in fact protested to Berman and Piller that the Ferengi represented malicious Medieval representations of Jews as profit-crazed merchants lusting for Christian damsels. But when he warned that such stereotypes still had the potential to wreak havoc in the late 20th Century, they dismissed his concerns. Meanwhile, word went out about my pursuit of this issue within the walls of Paramount. Smack in the middle of an interview with Ferengi majordomo Armin Shimmerman, himself a Jewish actor with admitted misgivings over the role, a call came in from Paramount's publicity department instructing him to cease and desist all contacts with me forthwith.

Clearly, I had become an enemy of the Federation. And as such, I discovered I had been, to coin a term from my early days as an SF fan, spaced.

Two years later, The Jerusalem Report asked me to interview Nimoy about his involvement in KCRW public radio station's release of a series of audio CDs comprising a series called “Jewish Short Stories from Eastern Europe and Beyond.” In it, Nimoy introduced 13 hour-long readings by such performers as Walter Matthau, Lauren Bacall and Elliott Gould. The series features contemporary works by the likes of Philip Roth and Cynthia Ozick along with stories by Yiddish authors, including Sholem Aleichem, I.B. Singer and I.L. Peretz

I met Nimoy at his Pico-Robertson adjacent office, where he told me about his difficulties, upon first arriving in Los Angeles during the 1950s, finding a minyan he felt welcoming and spiritually enriching. He spoke about his early activities in local Yiddish theatre, and of his discovery that he was one of the only local performers who could actually sing and dance in Yiddish, which made him quite the man in demand in those circles.

And then we spoke of Roddenberry. I told him of my sense of the man as no big fan of Jews or Judaism. But perhaps I was just being tetchy. In fact, I loathed thinking of Roddenberry in these terms. What would that portend for my own enthusiasm for his creation? Trek was, after all, the first TV series to portray an interracial kiss? He hired an African-American production manager. Roddenberry mocked small-minded bigotry and bloody-mindedness in episode after episode. He even had the temerity to put a Russian on the bridge at the height of the Cold War.

These were hardly the actions of a small-town American bigot.

And yet.

“Gene was anti-Semitic, clearly,” Nimoy replied as my heart sank. “Roddenberry had Jewish associates; Bill (Shatner) and I were both Jewish, as were others. To be fair, Roddenberry was anti-religion. And apart from being a ethnic-cultural entity, Jews, to him, were a religious group. But I saw examples not only of him practicing anti-Semitism, but of him being callous about other peoples' differences as well.”

How then, I found myself wondering over the years, could Nimoy, Shatner, Koenig and the rest of them work for a man who held Jews in such poor regard? Were they driven merely by the steady paycheck and star billing? Or was this just another time, when for many American Jews, this kind of crap was simply the cost of business?

What, for instance, are we to make of Roddenberry's decision to rewrite screenwriter Shimon Wincelberg's reference to Hillel's “Torah on one leg” parable in the classic first-season-episode, “Dagger of the Mind,”, attributing it to “the ancient skeptic.” Wincelberg responded to Roddenberry's incessant rewrites by requesting a name change to S. Bar-David. According to Trek historian Marc Cushman, Wincelberg, like many other veteran writers commissioned by Trek, took umbrage at being rewritten so wantonly. Was the resort to the Bar-David nome de plume the writer's way of telegraphing his displeasure over the whitewashing of the Jewish reference?

The truth, I suspect, is more layered. Roddenberry may have shared Richard Nixon's small-town anti-Semitism while availing himself, as would Nixon, of Jewish talent. But that sentiment could no more negate the fundamental decency of the universe he inherited than could the parochial prejudices of some of the founding fathers of this country. Disney may have been created whole cloth by a vicious anti-Semite. But that did not preclude Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg from assuming the helm of a public space open to all and in which some kind of outward decency ostensibly prevailed.

In the film Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Nimoy quoted a famous Vulcan proverb: “Only Nixon could go to China.” As I continue contemplating the measure of Gene's achievement, I am inclined to believe that only Roddenberry could have turned deep space into a Jewish preserve. And only Nimoy, a lovely man from an Orthodox Jewish family in Chicago, could have served as its high priest.

Sheldon Teitelbaum, formerly a Los Angeles-based senior writer for the Jerusalem Report, is currently editing Zion's Fiction: A Treasury of Israeli Speculative Literature

Nimoy Unalienated

This was written by Tom Tugend in March 1991

As a struggling young actor in the early 1950s, Leonard Nimoy, inspired by the rebirth of the Jewish State and childhood memories of Zionist rallies in Boston Garden, considered making aliya to join Habimah.

Upon cooler reflection on the huge language barrier he would face, Nimoy dropped the idea and headed west toward Hollywood instead.

Whatever the loss to the Hebrew theater, the decision vouchsafed to millions of Star Trek devotees that Nimoy would be at the right place at the right time to create the role of the semi-immortal Mr. Spock of the Starship Enterprise.

Although he can never escape his pointy-eared alter ego completely, there is a great deal more to Nimoy as an actor and man. An old friend, Diane Johnson has described him as “a nice earnest Jewish boy, hard-working, family-oriented, under-educated for his intelligence, with the autodidact’s respect for the intellect and for literature.

What does Nimoy think of the thumbnail sketch? Sitting in T-shirt and shorts on the patio of his rambling house the posh Bel Aire section of Los Angeles, a scuba mask and beach-ball paddles on the table, Nimoy leans back and laughs. “She’s right on the nose, right on the nose.” Exclaims. “I really screwed up on my education.”

Nimoy unusually relaxed. As executive producer of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, he has wound up the post-production chores on the film before its release in mid-December. And of course he is reprising his role as the eminently logical, half-human, half-Vulcan science officer aboard the Enterprise.

But otherwise, the relentlessly driven Nimoy is at peace with himself, perhaps for the first time in the 43 years since he made the irrevocable decision, at age 17, to become an actor. 

“I am turning down all new work and I’ve told my agent not to call me for at least a year,” says Nimoy, his lean, grave face validating his words. “I want to spend a great deal of time re-examining my life, my identity, my Jewishness. In the past, my identity was based on my job, but now I’m secure. 

“I’m a very happy guy, with a new family and no financial cares. At 60, I have accomplished far more as an actor, writer, director and producer than I ever expected The tables are cleared and I am open to inspiration and choice.” Of course, he adds as a precaution, if a really exciting project pops up, he may take it.

It’s been a long road to the self- assured squire of Bel Air from a difficult childhood and adolescence a middle-class section of Boston. Both his parents had arrived separately in the U.S. from the small Ukrainian town of Zaslav in the early 1920s. In Boston father Max became a partner in a barbershop.

The Nimoy household kept kosher and was flexibly Orthodox — though Saturdays the busiest day in the barbershop, the father tended to his job. Leonard’s studious older brother, Melvin, was clearly the parents’ favorite And when Leonard gave the first inkling of his future calling by starring in a children’s play at age eight, the father declared sternly that he hadn’t come all the way from Russia to America to see a son waste his life as an actor.

The family pecking order powerfully influenced Leonard’s career. “Family life made me a supporting player to my brother and later, as an actor, I continued to be most comfortable in that role,” says Nimoy. 

“I did not aspire to be the leading man but sought out the role of the outsider, the alien, who would be a secondary character.”

The sense of alienation was reinforced by growing up in a predominantly Italian-Catholic neighborhood. “Being Jewish, I always sensed some element of difference, a separation,” Nimoy recalls.

His early psychological bent became irreversible – as did his decision to become an actor — when as a I7- year old he landed his first real stage role as the teenage son Ralphie in Clifford Odets’s Awake and Sing.

The play dramatized the struggles of a Jewish family, the Bergers, in the depth of the 1930s Depression.

“That was an amazing event,” Nimoy exclaims. “That characters could talk about Jewish concerns on an American stage made me feel validated as a person and as a Jew. Berger in the play was my mother, desperately trying to control her family life to make it manageable. And my role as a young man, surrounded by a hostile and repressive environment, so touched a responsive chord that I decided to make a career of acting.”

Instead of going to college, Nimoy spent the next two years saving money as a vacuum-cleaner salesman; and when he had enough he headed for Los Angeles. The family separation scene still makes him shudder.

‘It was terrible, a terrible emotional ordeal,” he says. “There were tears and fights and arguments up to the last minute. I left with a lot of pain.”

Once out West, Nimoy enrolled in acting classes at the Pasadena Playhouse and, as one of the few youthful Yiddish-speakers in town, picked up a few dollars in minor roles whenever a Yiddish theater troupe carne to town.

“I was in a play with the great Maurice Schwartz, the most famous Yiddish actor of his time, and, hoping to gain some credibility in the eyes of my parents, I asked him to write a letter to them saying that I was doing all right. And he did so,” says Nimoy.

Slowly, very slowly, Nimoy’s career started to take off. At 21, he snagged his first major film role, playing another kind of outsider, a disfigured boxer, in the long-forgotten Kid Monk Baroni. Other roles followed in Queen for a Day, Rhubarb and, as an Indian heavy, in The Old Overland Trail.

One thing Nimoy appreciated about Hollywood was the pervasive Jewish influence in the film industry, which dampened any blatant expressions of anti-Semitism. “At least, I didn’t have to hear such terms as ‘dirty kike’ as l did in Boston,” he says.

After a two-year stint in the army, Nimoy was discharged in 1956 to face one of the lowest points of his life. He couldn’t find an acting job, his wife, Sandi, was expecting their second child and for a while he made a precarious living as a taxi- driver.

He gradually found more roles in the movies and theater, but the watershed event in his life came in 1965, when he was cast for the role of Spock in what was to become the enormously successful Star Trek television series and subsequent motion pictures.

An early report on Star Trek noted that it “has built up a cult following that rivals an organized religion in the number and fanaticism of its followers, known as‘trekkies.’”

Nimoy, as the rational, pointy- eared Spock, quickly became a pop hero and hundreds of thousands of admirers were grief-stricken when their idol seemed lost forever at the end of the movie Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. To calm the furor, Paramount Pictures quickly announced a sequel, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.

Has the Star Trek phenomenon been a curse or a blessing? “Both,” Nimoy advises jocularly, but then quickly changes his tone. “I shouldn’t be facetious about this,” he says. Spock’s fame “has given me an entree and influence, the chance to translate my abilities into other kinds of work, to play in the theater because they know that I can sell tickets.”

Indeed, given the opportunity, Nimoy has demonstrated a versatility even he might not have suspected. He has become a respected film director, listing among his credits Star Trek III and IV, the blockbuster hit Three Men and a Baby and Funny About love.

On stage, he has starred on Broadway in Equus and as actor, director and producer of Vincent, a one-man play about another alienated hero, Vincent van Gogh. He derived perhaps his greatest satisfaction from the role of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof during an eight-week run in New England, not least because it allowed his parents to view their son as an actor for the first time since he left home.”

Nimoy has been a highly-regarded acting teacher and, in a little known side of the man, the author of three volumes of poetry, illustrated with his own photographs. He has recorded 10 narrative albums and, in 1975, wrote his autobiography, entitled somewhat plaintively, 1 Am Not Spock.

At the same time. Nimoy has branched out into television movies. He warmly remembers his part as Golda Meir’s husband, Morris Myerson, in A Woman CalledGolda, because it gave him a chance to both revisit Israel, where the film was shot, and to play opposite Ingrid Bergman, shortly before her death. The performance as Morris brought him one of his four Emmy nominations.

Earlier this year. Nimoy scored a critical success in a role which offered him the opportunity to express both his affinity to the stubborn loner in a hostile environment, and his Jewishness. In the television movie Never Forget, based on actual events, he portrayed Mel Mermelstein, a 64- year-old Holocaust survivor, who won a dramatic and drawn-out legal battle against a group of neo-Nazi revisionists, who claimed that the Holocaust was a “Jewish hoax.”

The experience deepened his study of the Holocaust. Lying on his living room table were two books about the era, The War Against the Jews by Lucy Davidowicz andBeyond Belief by Deborah Lipstadt, next to Ben Shahn’s illustrated Haggada. 

In the midst of professional success, some painful personal problems, which had been building for some time, came to a head four to five years ago. A New York Times reporter and family friend wrote later that by the mid-1980s, Nimoy “guiltily played the roles of husband in a marriage that had turned stable, and son to immigrant parents he could never satisfy… In December 1986, he walked out on his wife of 33 years. In 1987, his father died and his mother six months later.”

It is understandably a time and memory that Nimoy does not enjoy discussing; but asked to comment on the quote, he says that “it is a way of looking at it, but it’s not the whole story, obviously.”

On New Year’s Day 1989, Nimoy married Susan Bay, and the couple attend services at Temple Israel of Hollywood, a Reform congregation, where Susan’s cousin, .John L. Roscove, is the senior rabbi. Though not a particularly religious man, Nimoy feels that “everything I do is informed by my Judaism. A lot of what I’ve put into Spock came to me through my Jewish orientation.”

As one example, Nimoy modeled the Vulcan hand greeting, which expresses “Live long and prosper,” on the gesture still seen in Orthodox synagogues during the blessing of the kohanim (priestly class).

At age 60, Nimoy appears the contented paterfamilias, who enjoys talking about the doings of his 10- year-old stepson Aaron, his, son Adam, a lawyer, his daughter Julie, and his three grandchildren.

It is a languid, sunny day in Nimoy’s densely-foliaged backyard, Hollywood seems far away, and one can almost accept the man’s protestations that the next year will be devoted to introspection and contemplation.

Of course, the former anti-Vietnam war and pro-civil rights activist is still involved in civic and political advocacy, though now, with wife Susan, mainly in environmental, women’s rights and pro-choice causes. Also, the couple is planning a joint photographic research project on how people over 60 deal with the ageing process.

In late November, Nimoy will travel to England to address the prestigious Oxford Union on his film career.

And will the now 25-year-old saga of Spock and Star Trek ever end? The studio has announced that Star Trek VI will be the absolutely final, final film in the series— but,Nimoy points out, “people are skeptical and for good reason… we have seen the supposed end again and again.”

In Hollywood, the smart money is betting that, despite his sincere affirmations, Leonard Nimoy’s name will pop up in screen and stage credits again in the not-too-distant future, to the delight of his fans.

Leonard Nimoy’s good mother

“Oh, by the way, Leonard,” I say into the phone, as breezily as I can feign, “what did you think about Diane’s belt?”

Leonard Nimoy is on location in Cambridge, Mass., preparing to direct “The Good Mother” for Disney, starring Diane Keaton. I’m the executive on the movie, on the lot, where a studio chieftain and I have just watched the makeup, hair and wardrobe test Leonard had shot. (I won’t identify the mogul, but it’s unlikely you’d know his name.)

“What about Diane’s belt?” Leonard replies, not remotely breezy, more like, Do not go there.  

“Didn’t you think it was kind of wide?  So wide it pulls your eyes from her face?” I am trying my best to translate the order the studio honcho had barked in the screening room – “Tell him to lose that goddam belt” – into a casual afterthought. 

Silence.  Then:  “Where did you say you went to college?”

He knows where, it’s located in the city where he’s shooting, but I answer.

“And after that?  Your next degree – where did you get that?”

I tell him.  This call is not going to a good place.  

“And then a Ph.D, if I’m not mistaken.  Where’s that from?”

I have now named three of the world’s most storied universities.

After another excruciating silence: “Tell me.  Is this what you thought you’d be doing with that education?” 

“Excuse me?”

“Yes,” he muses, “I can see how having to tell me what some imbecile suit doesn’t have the balls to tell me himself – that must be fairly difficult for someone as bright as yourself.”  The words are brutal, but the tone is Vulcan.

“I’ll give him your regards,” I lie.

It’s a miracle that a near 30-year friendship could rise from ashes like that, but it did.  I loved hanging out with him.  At birthdays and seders, in the classroom and on the radio, talking politics or parenting, Leonard and his wife Susan generously opened their hearts and home to me. And after all those years, having been reamed by Leonard Nimoy remains pretty much the coolest thing about me.

“The Good Mother” was the second picture that Leonard directed for Disney, after the hit comedy “Three Men and a Baby.”  But “The Good Mother” was no comedy. Disney chairman Michael Eisner was slipped the unpublished manuscript of what the New York Times would call “Sue Miller’s phenomenally assured, morally troubling and meticulously precise first novel,” and it struck him as a descendant of classics like “The Scarlet Letter” and “Ethan Frome.”  When it was assigned as an overnight read for the production executives, including me, we already knew he wanted to option it, so it surprised me how much I hated the story.  

It tells of a divorced mother who finds herself in a custody battle for her young daughter, whom she loses after her new boyfriend, an artist, helps her discover her long-repressed sexuality, an erotic awakening depicted (in my reading, anyway) as the gateway to parental negligence. At the meeting to discuss how much to pay for the book, who should write the screenplay and what actresses could get an Academy nomination for playing the lead, I – a lone voice at the table – said I thought the book’s message was reactionary: The cost of feminism is sin, and its price is tragedy. For half an hour, Eisner and I sparred over what “The Good Mother” was about and who would want to see it.  Afterward, I wondered how much I actually believed what I’d been saying, and whether my big mouth had just lost me my job.  Instead, I learned the next day that Eisner had decided I should be the executive on the film’s development, under the tutelage of the aforementioned suit.

A beautiful screenplay by Michael Bortman landed Leonard as director, who cast Keaton as the mother, and as the boyfriend he persuaded the studio to let him hire an Irish actor whom no one at Disney except the casting director had heard of: Liam Neeson.  Keaton kept her belt; I kept further imbecilities from the director, and my objections to the allegory to myself; and within a year, Leonard delivered a cut of the movie.  

Like most studios, Disney’s custom was to test directors’ cuts of movies in front of audiences, so it would be possible to make changes, and develop a marketing campaign, based on their reactions.  A test screening of “The Good Mother” was held at a multiplex deep in the San Fernando Valley.  Afterward, we sat glumly at the back of the theater, empty except for the focus group, as we heard them say the movie was a downer. In their words and in the comment cards, there was no whiff of my problem with the story. No one thought it was anti-feminist, anti-sexual, anti-anything; they just wanted to be entertained.

Leonard was unconvinced.  He pointed out that this audience, recruited in a suburban mall, was a complete mismatch for the picture, whose sweet spot was cosmopolitan adults who would find its moral complexity rich and uplifting.  The studio agreed to test it again, in San Francisco.  The response was better, but not much.

Back in Burbank, we met with Leonard.  This meeting was run by someone higher up the food chain than me – not the suit, but someone Leonard seemed to trust when he made his last picture.  The first words out of the executive’s mouth:  “This movie has cancer.”

Now “Three Men and a Baby” had been a huge cash cow for Disney.  Any other director, especially someone the studio wanted to stay in business with, would have been enraged by this provocation.  But Leonard instantly found his Spock.  

“I see,” he said, without a flicker of emotion. “And what course do you propose?” I was surprised he didn’t add “Captain” to the end of his question. 

“We would never take final cut from you, Leonard.  But if you want to shoot a different ending, we’ll step up to the cost, and you can compare the scores and decide which way to go.  It’ll be your decision.”

Silence – the kind I knew well.  Then: “What do you mean, ‘a different ending’?”

“A happy ending. Joint custody. She keeps the kid.”

I haven’t seen any mention of “The Good Mother” in Leonard’s obituaries, perhaps because so few people saw or heard of it.  Would it have done better box office if Leonard had caved?  Even “King Lear” was a bomb until Nahum Tate’s happy-ending version of 1681, in which Lear lives and Cordelia marries Edgar.  “The Good Mother” wasn’t Shakespeare, but Leonard stuck to his guns.  He also razzed me about that belt for the next 30 years.

Marty Kaplan holds the Norman Lear chair at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.  Reach him at

‘Star Trek’ star Leonard Nimoy ‘doing OK’ after lung disease diagnosis

Veteran actor Leonard Nimoy, best known as Spock in the 1960s television series “Star Trek” and a string of feature films that followed, said he was “doing OK” after being diagnosed with lung disease and urged fans on Thursday to quit smoking.

“Smokers, please understand. If you quit after you're diagnosed with lung damage it's too late. Grandpa says learn my lesson. Quit now,” Nimoy tweeted to his 810,000 followers.

In Nimoy's case, the actor said, he was diagnosed despite having quit smoking 30 years ago.

The 82-year-old actor added he was “doing OK. Just can't walk distances,” and he signed off with “LLAP,” an abbreviation of his character's trademark phrase, “live long and prosper.”

Nimoy first revealed in a Twitter message posted last week that he has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, a severe lung ailment that the U.S. surgeon general has concluded is linked to smoking.

Representatives for the actor did not immediately respond to Reuters' request for further comment.

Nimoy, a native of Boston, has become synonymous with his role as Spock, the fictional half-human, half-Vulcan first officer and later commander of the starship Enterprise, in the television and film versions of “Star Trek.”

He most recently appeared in J.J. Abrams' “Star Trek Into Darkness” last year, and is a celebrated figure among the franchise's loyal and avid fan base.

Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by Steve Gorman and Andre Grenon

The Nimoys: A father and son, with space between them

When Adam Nimoy was growing up, he felt alienated from his famous father.

Leonard Nimoy’s work as the Vulcan Mr. Spock on “Star Trek” and his numerous other film and TV projects on both sides of the camera provided a comfortable West Coast lifestyle for his baby boom family.

But the younger Nimoy said the time-consuming work also deprived him of the steady presence of his father, and when they did share time together, he quickly learned that he had to share his dad with the rest of America.

Given the loyal and obsessive reputation of “Trekkies,” Adam could be forgiven for looking at them as his father’s other family.

“There were times I thought he gave more time and attention to his fan base,” said Adam Nimoy, who has written about that experience and of his adult life in a self-proclaimed “anti-memoir,” titled “My Incredibly Wonderful, Miserable Life: An Anti-Memoir” (Pocket).

He’ll discuss the book Sunday, Sept. 28 at the West Hollywood Book Fair in West Hollywood Park as part of a panel on overcoming addiction. Both Nimoys have openly discussed their struggles with alcohol and, in Adam’s case, marijuana, which he began smoking as a teenager and used regularly through adulthood before entering a recovery program almost five years ago.

The ambiguity of the book’s title stems from the fact that Adam Nimoy would be seen by many as blessed in having a successful, famous father and an entrée into Hollywood life that later opened doors for his own directing career.

But the younger Nimoy describes a father who, like the stoic but dependable starship officer he portrayed, was often distant, putting the greater good of sustaining his family ahead of seemingly extraneous bonding and warmth.

“There’s a lot of Spock in Leonard, no doubt about that,” Adam Nimoy, 52, said in a recent interview in New York.

Leonard Nimoy grew up in the ’30s and ’40s in a Russian Jewish immigrant family in Boston, the son of a barber and a homemaker for whom Hollywood and its trappings seemed as distant as another planet.

“He’s not unlike a lot of Depression-era people, obsessed with generating income,” Adam Nimoy said. “I have friends who have dads cut from the exact same cloth.”

The difference: “If I have a conflict with him, I have to go back out on the street and deal with a public that adores him.”

The book is not, however, the tell-all memoir about “Life With Spock” that publishers and agents wanted him to write.

ALTTEXTRather, it’s a glimpse of how Adam Nimoy grew up with a famous name, inherited his father’s alcohol problem, met lots of interesting and famous people, and dabbled in law before becoming a successful TV director and starting a family, only to see his life come crashing down.

Leonard doesn’t escape some lumps, but neither does he absorb the brunt of the blasts. Adam takes responsibility for many of the failings of his life, including the end of his directing career because of on-set volatility he attributes mainly to his addictions. The deterioration of his marriage is harder to track from the details in the book, but the younger Nimoy makes clear that his wife and two teenagers urged him to reconcile, and that he persisted with the separation and divorce. The dust settled with both sides on good terms.

“I told her we’ll always be family,” he said. “We’ll always have a close relationship.”

Father and son share many traits and experiences, having both gone through divorces (Leonard divorced Sandra Zober in 1987 and is now married to actress Susan Bay) and worked as directors.

“We’re both similar in the sense of our ambition and desire to work and accomplish things,” Nimoy said.

One trait they don’t share is a desire to be in the spotlight, something Adam soured on during the inevitable media intrusions into his family life as a child.

“That’s one of the reasons I didn’t go into acting,” he said. “The idea of celebrity for its own sake was not something that appeals to me.”

Adam’s life these days includes 12-step meetings, dates and teaching directing at the Los Angeles campus of the New York Film Academy. Father and son have gone over their differences, and Adam took his father’s acceptance of the book, read before publication, as a gesture of atonement of sorts. Adam’s daughter, Maddy, is attending Bard College in New York and his younger son, Jonah, is finishing high school in Los Angeles.

Both Leonard and Adam Nimoy and their families are affiliated Jews active in the community. Adam became a bar mitzvah at Adat Shalom in West Los Angeles, where his mother’s parents, Archie and Ann Zober, were founding members. His children went to Hebrew school and celebrated their b’nai mitzvah at Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s Irmas Campus.

In the memoir, the younger Nimoy writes of the importance he felt of not only providing his children with bar and bat mitzvahs but making those occasions meaningful as well. He implored them to not only learn their Torah portions but to delve into their contemporary meanings.

“I come from Orthodox grandparents on both sides,” he said. “That’s a major factor in my life. I find it attractive, and it speaks to me, as well as my dad, so it’s a big part of my experience and something I want my kids to appreciate.”

Nimoy said spirituality and belief in God helped him in his recovery. “You have to believe in a power greater than yourself. A lot of addicts have trouble with the concept of God, because they think they’re the center of the universe. I’m a believer.”

Nimoy said he is working on another nonfiction book, which he declined to discuss, and he is continuing to teach. He’s contemplating a return to directing — “it’s fun being behind the camera” — but he’s happy with things the way they are.

“My dad fulfilled the immigrant’s dream of making it big for himself in America and becoming extremely successful,” Adam Nimoy said. “My journey was different. I’ll never come close to touching the kind of fame and fortune he’s created for himself. On the other hand, I feel very happy with my life, which is much smaller than his.”

Adam Nimoy will sign copies of “My Incredibly Wonderful, Miserable Life” Sunday, Sept. 28 at the West Hollywood Book Fair, West Hollywood Park, 647 N. San Vicente Blvd. The Book Fair runs 10 a.m.-6 p.m.