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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 5)

Shatner, for the most part, insists that things were great on the set and suggests that perhaps any conflict that's come to light is more about perceptions and perceived wrongs than actual slights.

"I try to explain it this way: [Leonard Nimoy] and DeForest and I were the three people who were there every day. We worked our lengthy day [and] we were three buddies, buddies almost the whole time—with some exceptions—and they came in, the other members of the cast, on occasion...a day a week, maybe. Sometimes not. And when the show was over, everyone was happy, at least as far as I knew.

"Then the conventions started, and the actors would go to the conventions and the audience would get up and applaud, and slowly, I think, the cast members began to consider themselves leads in the film and no longer wanted to take a backseat, [and] their perception of what the reality was had changed. I think of them with affection, and knowing them as long as [I] did adds to the mystique of affection. So I'm puzzled by their reaction."

When pressed to explain whether what he feels could genuinely be called affection or not, he pauses. "Yes...removed. Affection for the image that one sees against the person inside." That Shatner played Captain Kirk with gusto and energy is one thing that can't be denied; his dramatic, highly unique way of emoting lines—always part of his acting style, but rarely as dramatic as on "Star Trek"—became infamous. The delivery was not unlike machine gun fire; abrupt starts and stops, long bursts punctuated with the occasional pause, and then another burst before stopping abruptly again.

This staccato delivery is so unique to Shatner that the style's been nicknamed "Shatnerian" (in contrast to Shatner being known to answer questions in oblique terms, often refusing to answer at all, which is referred to by the media as "Shatnerise"). After years of denying that he delivers his lines in a markedly distinct way, even Shatner now admits that, well, if he does it, he's not aware of it.

It's akin, he says, to the unique speaking styles of truly great actors such as Jimmy Stewart and Edward G. Robinson, even though, he suspects, they weren't aware of it.

The cancellation of "Star Trek" after only 78 episodes, Shatner has claimed, resulted from Paramount Pictures' desire to move the show to the big screen to capitalize on the cult-like popularity that the series had gained.

When National Public Radio's Bob Edwards suggested to Shatner in a 1994 interview that the very concept of "Star Trek" was, for some, a "...philosophy, a religion, something very deep and wonderful for them that fed some need in their lives," Shatner instantly quipped back with "it certainly fed a need in my life, didn't it? Put my kids through school."

Shatner went on to explain that Paramount Pictures had canceled the television series because the studio "...felt that making these films would be more profitable for them. I can't recall at any other time in entertainment history whereby a show is taken off the air at the height of its popularity and it's due to the fact that they wanted to make movies."

As Spock would say, fascinating. Neither history nor Shatner's fellow actors remember it quite that way. In spite of its five-year mission, "Star Trek," at least the initial incarnation, was dry-docked after three seasons due to poor ratings. It gained viewers only after it went into syndication in the early 1970s and began appearing on an odd array of television channels during equally odd hours of the day and night. In fact, Paramount Pictures' first attempt at a "Star Trek" feature film, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, didn't come out until 1979, a decade after the original series had stopped being produced.

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