Leonard Nimoy leaves a proud legacy as an actor, teacher, philanthropist and advocate for many of the qualities he infused in his enduring alter-ego, the science- and logic-loving Mr. Spock of “Star Trek.”
But who knew Nimoy once owned a pet shop in Canoga Park? Or that he teamed with Vic Morrow in 1962 to produce an indie film based on Jean Genet’s edgy play “Deathwatch.” Or that he paid for and narrated a TV special, “If The Mind Is Free,” that aired only in Chicago to raise money for the city’s St. Mary High School.
Here are 14 intriguing tidbits about Nimoy’s life and work as culled from the pages of Variety.
- The first reference of “Leonard Nemoy,” as he was billed in some of his earliest appearances, came in the Oct. 17, 1950, edition noting that he had joined the cast of the C-grade indie film “Queen for a Day.” It was stitched together from three segments featured on the radio program of the same name that later transferred to TV.
- Nimoy scored in his first mention in a Variety review in the April 17, 1952, edition, for his work in the C-grade indie “Kid Monk Baroni,” in which he plays a hoodlum from Little Italy who turns himself around by becoming a boxer. The reviewer found the pic mostly forgettable except that it “serves to introduce a young actor named Leonard Nimoy in the title role. He is a capable juve who merits attention.” Roles in “The Brain Eaters,” “Zombies of the Stratosphere” and “Them!” would follow.
“Kid Monk Baroni”
- Nimoy’s tour of duty in TV Westerns and dramatic anthology series of the late 1950s and early 1960s is well-documented in Variety’s casting notices. In the March 22, 1961, edition, Nimoy’s talent agency took out a small ad to tout his guest shot in a “Wagon Train” episode — a precursor of things to come, as Gene Roddenberry would later pitch “Star Trek” to NBC as “‘Wagon Train’ to the stars.”
- By 1962, Nimoy and Vic Morrow, star of ABC’s “Combat,” teamed to option the film rights to Jean Genet’s “Deathwatch,” according to an item in the Sept. 24, 1962, edition. The pair plan “independent filmization” of the project about two male prisoners fighting over the affections of a third inmate. The project becomes a six-year, $125,000-odyssey for Nimoy and Morrow, who directed. Paul Mazursky and Michael Forrest co-starred with Nimoy, with Gavin MacLeod in a small role. Nimoy and Morrow faced IATSE picketing during their non-union shoot in 1964 and indifference from distributors. The pair finally decided to book it into select theaters themselves, starting in San Francisco in 1966. It was picked up for limited distribution by Beverly Pictures in 1968.
- During this time, Nimoy established himself as an acting teacher with his own theater space in L.A. Singer Bobby Vee was among his students, according to an item from the June 23, 1963, edition.
- The item of destiny for Nimoy ran in the Nov. 5, 1965, edition, although he played second fiddle to Majel Barrett. The two-sentence blurb noted that both had signed on for the pilot (the second attempt, after the first was rejected by NBC) of a certain “hourlong color science fiction adventure series” for NBC and Desilu. Around that time Nimoy was co-starring with Juliet Prowse in a stage production of “Irma La Douce” at the Valley Musical Theater.
- Before the end of “Star Trek’s” first season Nimoy was signed to a recording contract with Dot Records. The March 8, 1967, edition reported the signing and noted that Nimoy was working on “improving his guitar’ing to pick up that valuable weekend loot.” His first album, “Mr. Spock Presents Music From Outer Space,” was released a month later. Variety’s review described his vocals on the pop selections as “pleasantly rugged.”
- The foray into music was no promotional stunt for Nimoy. He worked the nitery circuit, state fairs, amusement parks, local TV appearances, “Hollywood Palace,” etc. You name it, he did it. He was among the first guests on a short-lived music showcase program hosted by Rick Nelson for ABC, “Malibu U” and Dick Clark’s “Happenings ’68” series.
- The Rockefellers must’ve been “Star Trek” fans. While on a promotional tour of New York department stores in August 1967, Nimoy was transported to Albany by helicopter to have breakfast with Gov. Nelson Rockefeller and his kids, Army Archerd reported.
- Nimoy clearly had a problem saying “no” to worthy causes. In the late 1960s and early ‘70s he criss-crossed the country emceeing local telethons for United Cerebral Palsey, the March of Dimes, Variety Clubs and other orgs in such far flung spots as Charlotte, N.C., Steubenville, Ohio, Miami, Seattle, Buffalo, Vancouver and West Virginia, to name a few.
- In May 1968, following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and the unrest in major cities, Nimoy joined with Jack Lemmon, Bill Cosby, Barbra Streisand and others to rally Hollywood support for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s “The Poor People’s Campaign.” Nimoy spearheaded a food drive for the campaign, which held a glitzy fundraiser at the Hollywood Bowl later that year.
- In his March 13, 1969, column, when it was clear that “Star Trek” would be axed after its third season, Army Archerd ran the tantalizing tidbit that NBC had pushed Nimoy to star in a spinoff focused on Spock, but that the actor “nixed it.”
- In July of that year, Nimoy went to the dogs. He opened “Leonard Nimoy’s Pet Pad” in Canoga Park.
- Given the chance, Nimoy could have solved the problems of pilot season decades ago. With Spock-like precision, he lays out a case for why the television should be respected as a creative medium and makes a case for improving the series production process in an 800-word essay he wrote for Daily Variety’s 35th anniversary edition, published Oct. 29, 1968. Here’s an excerpt from “Thank God It’s Friday”:
Join me in Utopia for a moment. It’s the fall of 1968. Network A contracts with producer B for 26 segments of his hour series C, to premiere in the fall of 1969. The commitment is firm. There can be no hedging, no reverse decisions from higher up, no “subject to whims of the sponsor” clauses.
The producer is now free (and funded) to fully develop an entire season of scripts. He can imme- diately assemble (or reassemble) his cast. Directors can be assign- ed. Once the scripts are completed, and only then, would they be submitted to “the committee.” All the creative people would have their chance to contribute, to sift, to reevaluate.
The producer could plan set construction, pick locations for all the episodes, thereby saving huge chunks of time and money. He could avoid the needless, wasteful building, tearing down and re- building of sets necessitated by today’s hand-to-mouth system.
In summary, all the logistics for the year would be mapped out. Everything creative, except actual filming, would be accomplished before a single camera turns. Once shooting begins, the six days allotted each segment would be devoted to nothing but putting fine performances on film.
Economically unfeasible? On the contrary, the reduction in production costs alone would more than defray the costs of longer-term salaries. Too risky for the network? I don’t think so. By not committing early, by riding the ratings see-saw until the last second, by wasting weeks and month jockeying for position, the manip- ulators become the manipulated. The network and the series are on the ropes before the fight begins.
Time is the threat, exhaustion and pap the inevitable consequence. Let’s stop treating television like a passing fad.