Leonard Nimoy titled his 1977 autobiography “I Am Not Spock,” referencing the “Star Trek” role that, in its own way, became a pair of velvet handcuffs. Indeed, for actors, few parts better sum up the conundrum they can face – eager to find a steady role that propels them into the public consciousness, only to become at least partially shackled in terms of the doors that association closes.
Nimoy had bounced around in Westerns and smaller movie roles before landing the gig as Mr. Spock, the emotionless Vulcan. Even more than most of his “Star Trek” castmates, he seemed to chafe against some of the expectations the series engendered – amusingly spoofed in William Shatner’s mock “Get a life!” outburst at Trekkers on “Saturday Night Live” – before ostensibly resigning himself to them.
In that regard, there were always mixed feelings in seeing Nimoy drawn back into the franchise, although he wisely parlayed that involvement into directing (including the third and fourth installments of the movies that began in 1979) and other avenues that allowed him to stretch creatively.
Then again, colleagues generally spoke with great admiration regarding Nimoy’s considerable talent, which made the idea of him being asked to repeatedly arch an eyebrow or spread his fingers and recite his popular catch phrases a little more sobering. (On the plus side, his rendition of “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins” is almost without equal, except perhaps for Shatner’s “Rocket Man,” in terms of “Star Trek”-related kitsch.)
Nimoy gradually appeared to make peace with the cards dealt him, and became adept at spoofing his image, including his cameos on “The Big Bang Theory” and “The Simpsons.” His “Star Trek” persona also created opportunities, such as his hosting gig on the series “In Search Of…”
Still, it’s probably fair to say Nimoy never got the chance to exhibit his full range as an actor, in part because of the success he wound up enjoying with what at the time looked like a cult TV show that was canceled after three seasons.
There is, at least, an age-old mystery in that. Because for all the universes and times that “Star Trek” visited, we can never fully know the “What if?” regarding what would have happened to those the series made famous had their journeys led elsewhere.