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Full Speed Ahead

From Captain Kirk on "Star Trek" to Denny Crane on "Boston Legal," William Shatner has played the macho man role with no regrets.
Betsy Model
From the Print Edition:
William Shatner, Sept/Oct 2006

(continued from page 2)

"We were doing a scene on the balcony," says Shatner, "and the reason we choose long cigars and light them so that it looks like they're freshly lit is because a scene on the balcony could take all day, which means that once you light a cigar, you're stuck with it all day long.

"The further away it is from your face, the less inhalation you're doing. Now," Shatner continues, "James is always telling me, 'Don't inhale. I'm not inhaling, don't inhale.' I, on the other hand, can't get past the fact that puffing on that cigar and letting the cigar exhale from your face, your nose, your mouth, your ears is what somebody who loves a good cigar like I do does. You fully taste it. It's hard to cheat for me, [although] it's easy to be talking with a lit cigar in your hand and drinking and looking like you're smoking...and not draw.

"So I took that to its furthest. I thought, 'With these long cigars, it looks like you just lit them up. Why don't I cut those cigars in half and light half the cigar so it looks like I'd been smoking it for an hour?' So without thinking, early in the morning, we lit up one of those shorter cigars. I'm smoking one of the cigars that we have cut in half, so that it's now close to my mouth and nose and eyes. What I couldn't anticipate was [that] the scene went much, much longer than we expected. I counted 20 small cigar pieces at the end of the scene. I had smoked 20 cigars over a period of several hours, OK? I haven't been sick to my stomach since I was six. That's the truth! I've avoided vomiting like the plague, [and] I went home and I vomited. You know what aversion therapy is? I had aversion therapy for cigars for about six months. It made me sick to even smell one. I'm now back, I'm back off the wagon, but I gave myself aversion therapy and I won't do that again."

Actually, Shatner says, he still smokes a cigar or two when he's off the set, but says that he gets so many as gifts—and has so many problems trying to store them—that he pretty much smokes whatever's at hand.

"I prefer a full-bodied cigar to something subtle," muses Shatner. "The moisture factor in the cigar is critical for it to be a good smoke. If it's too dry, too hot, if it's too moist...it doesn't draw. So keeping the cigar in the exact right condition is critical; it's essential for the enjoyment of a cigar. So that can be a problem on a set."

Shatner discovered that it could also be a problem off the set, especially for someone like himself, who sometimes gets gifts of cigars. "One day, several years ago, I took a pile of the cigars that I had, and I had various humidors—which you've got to keep filling up, and I keep thinking, 'Is it distilled water? Why can't I use water from the tap?'—and I went to a local shop and I said, 'I'd like to rent a humidor.' And I put in thousands of dollars worth of cigars in their rented humidor. And then something happened in my life—it was a very traumatic moment—and I lost track, I lost the memory of having put the cigars there until about a year and a half later when I recalled, 'My God, that's right.'"

Shatner went back to the store, asked for his cigars and was told that, because he'd not frozen them before bringing them in, the cigars had become infested with bugs. As a result, the cigars had to be destroyed and the humidor fumigated. "And I thought," says Shatner, "'that's the worst excuse I've ever heard for stealing my cigars and smoking them because I wasn't around.' I don't know what the truth of the matter was...I'm still puzzled."

While Shatner doesn't elaborate on the traumatic moment in his life that caused him to forget his cigars for a while—one assumes that it may have been the 1999 alcohol- and valium-related drowning of his third wife, Narine, in the couple's pool—it's not hard to imagine Shatner losing track of at least a few things, if not his mind, while changing as many time zones and juggling as many work projects as the man seems wont to do.

In an A&E Biography segment that aired this year, "Boston Legal" co-star Candice Bergen lightheartedly described Shatner as "...an overactive child. He's the Energizer Bunny."

Bergen is referring, one assumes, to the septuagenarian Shatner's schedule, both on-camera and off. When he's not filming "Boston Legal," Shatner can be found on a horse—he and his fourth wife, Elizabeth Anderson Martin, breed award-winning American Saddlebreds—on a motorcycle, on another film set, in a recording studio or en route to yet another time zone.


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