How Star Trek’s Mr. Spock Helped an Alien-Feeling Bisexual Kid Learn How to Fit In
By Mike Szymanski
Just after my 6th birthday in September 1966 I saw my first “Star Trek” show on a black-and-white TV in Brooklyn. I became totally entranced. I knew that Hollywood created this unique TV show just for me.
The crew included a variety of creatures: the stunningly gorgeous Lt. Uhura who made my heart pound whenever there was a hazy close-up of her; the grumpy wise-cracking Dr. McCoy; the chief engineer Scotty; the comical and cute Russian Chekov; the Asian driver Sulu (whom I had a lot more in common with than I ever knew at the time); and the handsome, roguish Captain Kirk.
The character I most enjoyed was the tall, stoic, but often-sarcastic Mr. Spock: half-human, but he still fit in well with this odd bunch of characters. Together they did amazing things and were going where no man had gone before. Mr. Spock exuded intelligence, logic and geekines and I totally identified with him.
After moving to Hollywood in the mid-1980s, I became a somewhat-respected entertainment reporter and I got a few chances to meet and have private conversations with each of those cast members. I witnessed them all putting their footprints in cement at the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, and I even bought a house not far from (Capt. Kirk) William Shatner’s place in Studio City, Calif.
But, the actor I got to spend the most time with over the years was the embodiment of Spock, Leonard Nimoy, my favorite character of the “Star Trek” franchise, who died on Friday, Feb. 27, 2015.
What the obits don’t say about Leonard Nimoy is how the actor was very concerned about the environment, the Earth, education, his fellow man and BLGT youth. I met him during roundtables and press conferences, as well as set visits and at charity events. I interviewed him at UCLA, at Paramount Studios, and at a Multiple Sclerosis event long before I was diagnosed with MS myself.
And, I was fortunate to spend more than an hour with him on the back lot of Universal Studios (ironically on the “Back to the Future” town square set), with his second wife Susan Bay, and my horror movie actress friend Barbara Katz-Norrod.
During this private time, I told Leonard Nimoy that the show brought my alcoholic father and I together for at least an hour a week before he went off to the Vietnam War. I told him how I felt connected with his character because I often felt different from the other kids, (and smarter sometimes) and his Mr. Spock persona made me unashamed for feeling that way. I told him that I identified with Mr. Spock’s obvious attraction to the stunning Uhura, and yet he had a palpable attraction to Capt. Kirk that even a 6-year-old could recognize.
Then, I found out I was not alone.
“I think Spock helped a lot of young people learn how to fit in with others and feel less disenfranchised,” Nimoy told me.
He pointed out a letter he wrote in 1968 to a teenaged girl in FAVE Magazine, who was half-white and half-African American and thought she would never have any friends, but that she identified with Spock as a “half-breed.” Nimoy wrote back a compassionate response, speaking like a young Spock whom he imagined was bullied as a youth-not fitting in with the Vulcans because his mother was human, and not fitting in with the Earthlings because his blood was green and his ears were pointed.
(This young Spock) replaced the idea of wanting to be liked with the idea of becoming accomplished. Instead of being interested in being popular, he became interested in being intelligent. And instead of wanting to be powerful, he became interested in being useful.
He said to himself, “Not everyone will like me, but there will be those who will accept me for just what I am.”
I was not alone in finding a friend to identify with in that seemingly unapproachable alien.
And of course, that’s why the misfit Sheldon on “The Big Bang Theory” dreams that his Mr. Spock action figure is real and alive. (Nimoy voiced the doll in the episode of that popular TV show.) Sheldon dreamt of being on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise someday, and the doll said, “Believe me, it gets old.”
It irks me that although the remembrances and plaudits do explain how Nimoy was “beyond Mr. Spock” in his talents, I’ve not seen much mention about his environmental activism. He has forever been part of Earth Day ceremonies before it became the star-studded thing to do, and he has always cared about alternative energy and recycling issues. One thing he told me on those steps of the “Back to the Future” clock tower is that he and his wife save water in a big bucket in their shower before the water gets hot, and he uses that to pour into his vegetable garden. I was dumbfounded!
Rich and famous Leonard Nimoy has a bucket next to his shower(s) in his Bel Air estate and saves the water until it gets hot, so that he can preserve water in drought-stricken Los Angeles? It stuck with me, and I felt guilt every shower since, watching the wasted water go down the drain as I imagined Mr. Spock preserving the drops in his mansion across town.
A world without Mr. Spock somehow feels impossible. Even when he seemingly died in the movies (and a few times on the TV show), there was a way to bring him back. Even when he was younger as the series became re-booted, there was a way to bring back Leonard Nimoy’s Spock. We cried when Spock died, and we understood when the gang went out to find him again, led by Captain Kirk.
It seems proper and appropriate that the last words that Leonard Nimoy left to the world was “Live Long And Prosper” and how those initials of LLAP are so much more appropriate that RIP. This is his last post to Twitter:
A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP
Nimoy, and Shatner for that matter, seemed to relish the slash fan fiction (nicknamed “K/S”) that had Kirk and Spock in a very explicit (and sometimes sexual) relationship. The intense closeness of the male human and the male half-breed that cropped up in the TV show and movies ended up going where none of the writers went before in the popular fan fiction.
And then, when the re-boot of the Star Trek franchise was going to have a more bisexual spin between the characters, neither of the older actors blinked. In fact, in response to the bisexual relationship between Spock and Kirk, William Shatner told AfterElton.com, “Are you kidding? Who do you think has been writing all that slash fiction? Half of it was me, and the other half was Leonard.”
Co-screenwriter of the re-boot films, Robert Orci, said that the new origin movie “was always intended to be about Kirk and Spock, about their relationship. It’s more than a bromance, but whether it’s a full-fledged romance depends on how you interpret the scene where they share a bed. When we were writing the script, we referred to it as a blo-mance.”
It’s fascinating that the world has changed so much, now with the new Spock, Zachary Quinto, feeling free to be open about being gay and out as an actor, and former crew member Sulu, George Takei, being an outspoken advocate for gay marriage, having married his partner when it became legal in California.
“My heart is broken,” Quinto tweeted when he learned of Nimoy’s passing. “I love you profoundly my dear friend. And I will miss you everyday. May flights of angels sing thee to rest.”
And Takei said, “Today, the world lost a great man, and I lost a great friend. We return you now to the stars, Leonard. You taught us to ‘Live Long and Prosper’ and you indeed did, friend. I shall miss you in so many, many ways.”
Shatner said “I loved him like a brother” and Nichelle Nichols (Uhura) said, “I have been, and always shall be, your friend.”
Even President Obama said, “Long before being nerdy was cool, there was Leonard Nimoy. And of course, Leonard was Spock. Cool, logical, big-eared and level-headed, the center of Star Trek’s optimistic, inclusive vision of humanity’s future.”
For me, the best way to remember the man, is from a quote said about his character in one of the movies: “Of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most…human.”
On a recent visit to his grave at Hillside Memorial Park, where he is not far from Michael Landon, Al Jolson and other celebrities, he is set under a rock near a pond and a fan wrote out my favorite quote about him.
I got a chance to explain to Leonard Nimoy, on that set at Universal Studios, how at a young age I was aware of my attraction to both boys and girls, and that the character of Mr. Spock helped me understand that it was ok to be different and that being different didn’t mean I was alone.
Nimoy paused, and smirked, and put on his Spock monotone deadpan and said, “That would seem logical.”
Of course, we laughed.