There’s not a single sentence in William Shatner’s memoirs, Star Trek Memories (HarperCollins, $22), devoted to the actor’s inspiring eighth-grade dramatics teacher, his love-hate relationship with his father, or his painful yet poignant struggle to overcome any sort of substance abuse—and for that alone the celebrity author deserves Starfleet’s highest commendation.
Mercifully, Shatner has spared us his personal autobiography—not even hardcore Trekkies want to know that much—and instead confined himself to writing a history of the NBC series that had him zooming through space in a yellow velour top from 1966 to 1969. And it turns out that Captain Kirk has done a remarkably comprehensive job. Chockfull of Trek trivia (that cup of Trania served on the episode ”The Corbomite Maneuver” was actually warm apricot juice), with never-before-told tales of backstage backstabbing and in- depth interviews with members of the original cast and crew, this book should have Trekologists sifting through its pages for aeons to come.
Among its most earthshaking revelations: DeForest Kelley, who played the moody earthling Dr. McCoy, was originally asked to play the pointy-eared Vulcan Mr. Spock (ultimately portrayed by Leonard Nimoy). First choice for Captain Kirk wasn’t Shatner but Hawaii Five-0‘s Jack Lord (who would do it only for 50 percent ownership of the show). And Jeffrey Hunter (who played the Enterprise‘s first captain in the pilot) didn’t leave the series to make a movie (the official story) but was canned after his ex-model wife repeatedly burst onto the set to demand that her husband get more flattering camera angles.
Shatner’s warts-and-all portrait of the series’ late creator, Gene Roddenberry, is probably his most revealing disclosure. For the first time in a book, the Great Bird of the Galaxy (as he was nicknamed on the set) gets his feathers mussed, with suggestions of an extramarital affair with an unnamed secretary. (Nichelle Nichols, who played Uhura, will also claim that role in her memoirs, due next year; she lets slip in Shatner’s book that she and Roddenberry ”would get together as often as possible and discuss the ins and outs of my character.”) Shatner even accuses the producer of trying to persuade him and Nimoy to product-place a cheesy-looking Star Trek souvenir medallion in one of their scenes.
As with his best-selling Tekwar novels, Shatner didn’t tap out Memories all by himself: His writing was professionally smoothed by Chris Kreski, who coauthored Growing Up Brady. The resulting Shatner-Kreski style is a bit bumpy at the outset (”Slowly, painfully, my eyelids begin to slide upward, and my semiconscious senses begin to contemplate the orangy-red block-style numbers that glare and blink at me, just out of reach, mocking my early-morning helplessness”), but after page 30 the prose clips along at a breezy pace.
There’s even a startling epiphany at the end, where Shatner describes how, during the course of researching his book, he learned that most of his Trek coworkers have hated his guts for years. James Doohan, who played Scotty, wouldn’t even return his phone calls. ”While I’ve never set out to hurt anybody,” Shatner concludes sadly, ”I may have, at times, been ignorant of my fellow actors’ need for screen time, not to mention their feelings.”
What’s this? Captain Kirk getting in touch with his emotions? As Spock would say, ”Fascinating.” B+