I met Leonard Nimoy only once. And I irritated him.
Let me explain.
During the late 1970s and early 1980s, most of my friends and I were members of the Muncie Star Trek Appreciation Club, a very active Star Trek club based here in Muncie, Indiana. When I say active, I mean that besides monthly meetings, we did a bunch of fannish stuff. We went to movies together, watched movies on the new technology of VHS together, traveled to cities around the Midwest for conventions and raised money for muscular dystrophy, even appearing on the Indianapolis segment of the Jerry Lewis telethon.
And we met the stars of “Star Trek.”
Not just at conventions and autograph signings. That would have been all too easy. And of course, this was before the Internet, which later made communication with almost anyone, even celebrities, easier thanks to email or Facebook. This was in the snail mail and phone call days.
Somehow – the memory of how is lost to me now, more than three decades later – we made arrangements to meet with the likes of George Takei – who we met with a few times, taking him to dinner at what was at the time one of Indianapolis’ swankiest restaurants, the King Cole, later closed after an alleged bout of Legionaires Disease – and William Shatner, who we met in the bowels of Market Square Arena while he was touring with his spoken word performances along with symphony orchestras. When we met Shatner in a quiet MSA hallway, one of our group – not me – excitedly told him, “You’re my biggest fan.” I think the encounter might have been the inspiration for Shatner’s “Get a Life” sketch on “Saturday Night Live.”
We met Nimoy at the Ohio Theater in Columbus, Ohio. The exact date escapes me now and the memorabilia from that meeting is in storage somewhere. But it would have been after “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” debuted in late 1979 and before “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” came out in 1982.
Despite having returned for the first “Star Trek” movie, Nimoy was in his “I am not Spock” mode, having written the book of the same name in 1975, when “Star Trek” felt more like a burden than a blessing, and it was well before “I am Spock,” written in 1995, when he had come to peace with the character that defined his career for many people.
On that night in Ohio, a bunch of us had come to Columbus to see Nimoy in “Vincent,” a one-man stage show he had written in 1979. Nimoy played Theo, brother of Vincent van Gogh, talking about the artist a few days after his death. It was a good show and emphasized how versatile Nimoy, the actor, writer and artist, was.
We made arrangements to meet briefly with Nimoy at the stage door of the theater. Most of us had something for him to sign – being fans of course, and young fans at that – and I had the program for the show and a color 8-by-10 of Nimoy, in full Spock makeup and costume, from “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”
I knew that he might not react well, but I thought I might as well try it anyway. How many times, after all, would I ever meet Nimoy, a science fiction and television icon?
When he came out, he seemed amiable and willing to exchange a few words – none of which were “You’re my biggest fan;” that kid was in the trunk of the car. I handed him the program and he signed it (not the one pictured with this column; again, storage somewhere).
Then I handed him the photo of Spock. (Reasonable facsimile here.)
I wish I could say he arched an eyebrow, Spock-like. I think it’s more accurate to say he furrowed his eyebrows.
And sighed. Heavily.
And signed the photo and gave it back to me, as amiably as could be expected for a man who was trying to extricate himself from a role that, within a couple of years, he would fully embrace again.
By the time Nimoy appeared in “Wrath of Khan” in 1982, he was Spock – even if the sequel book didn’t come about for more than another decade – and had become master of the character. Hollywood lore tells us that Nimoy agreed to appear in the movie series in exchange for directing the third and fourth films. He proved to be an accomplished director and parlayed the success of those films – particularly “The Voyage Home,” the one with the whales – into directing hits like “Three Men and a Baby.”
This night, however, outside the stage door of a theater in Columbus, Ohio, Nimoy must have wondered, “Who the hell are these people and why do they insist on forever linking me to a character I played almost two decades ago?”
But – sigh notwithstanding – he signed the damn photo.
Thanks, Mr. Nimoy. Rest in peace.