Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Review of "Star Trek Memories" by William Shatner and Chris Kreski

In this book William Shatner, the original 'Captain Kirk' from Star Trek, talks about the birth of the original TV series, the long struggle it took to get it on the air, and the people involved in making it a success.

Star Trek was created by producer and writer Gene Roddenberry, who was fascinated with space since childhood. It took years, though - and a lot of missteps - before a studio picked up the show and a successful pilot was made. Eventually Roddenberry assembled the core cast, including Shatner (Kirk), Leonard Nimoy (Spock), Nichelle Nichols (Uhura), DeForest Kelley (Dr. McCoy), James Doohan (Scotty), George Takei (Sulu), William Koenig (Chekov), and Majel Barrett (Nurse Chapel).

An interesting tidbit: Majel Barrett was Roddenberry's girlfriend and played the first officer (Number One) in the original pilot, which failed. The public wasn't ready for a woman in the role.

Shatner's writing is light and breezy and contains fun interesting anecdotes. One Star Trek episode, for instance, featured alien women with green skin. As a test before shooting an actress was slathered in green makeup and filmed....but the developed footage came back with flesh-toned skin. A more intense shade of green makeup was used, with the same result. In desperation, the makeup folks tried very thick, very dark green goop - to no avail....the skin still looked beige. Eventually a call to the film developers revealed that they were exhausting themselves, working overtime to 'fix' the skin color problem. (ha ha ha)

Another story details how difficult it was to get Spock's pointy ears right. The studio, being cost conscious, wanted the ears done on the cheap. So one inexpensive fake ear after another was tried, but they all looked terrible....and Nimoy - not wanting to look ridiculous - was becoming seriously perturbed. In the end, 'expensive' ears had to be ordered behind the backs of the bean counters. Moreover, Spock was originally supposed to be half Martian with red skin! In any case it took a long time to get Spock's appearance just right (pointed ears, devilish eyebrows, the iconic hairdo), and required a lot of negotiation with network honchos. They thought the public wouldn't accept an alien-looking crew member. (How wrong they were!)

When Star Trek was in danger of being cancelled after the first season Roddenberry recruited a couple of avid fans to organize a 'keep Star Trek on the air' campaign. One enterprising woman sneaked into the VIP parking lot of a Hollywood studio and slapped a 'Star Trek' bumper sticker on every limousine and luxury car. Johnny Carson probably went home with a Star Trek sticker on his car that night! The fans were convincing and the show was renewed. By season three, however, Star Trek was out of luck. It was stuck in a Friday night time slot (a death knell), the budget was slashed, and the episodes became mundane (or worse). Viewership fell and the show was cancelled. In a way this was a blessing because it led to many spinoff series and Star Trek movies.

Shatner covers every aspect of the original TV series, including the actors, costumes, set design, special effects, stories, scripts, directors, producers, lighting, editing, etc. To get the inside scoop Shatner interviewed many of the people involved with the show and includes their stories verbatim. This adds a lot of personality and interest to the book.

Though the Star Trek franchise eventually became a juggernaut, the original series wasn't a big success (at first) - and producing it wasn't all sweetness and light. Shatner reveals that Nimoy had serious disagreements with Roddenberry about many issues, including the sale of Star Trek merchandise (the actors didn't benefit) and the sale of blooper reels (which Nimoy thought were embarassing). Moreover, when Shatner interviewed his co-stars, many revealed hostile feelings toward him. In their opinion Shatner made it his business to inflate his role and cut theirs. In fact James Doohan refused to speak to Shatner and wasn't interviewed for the book.

From Shatner's point of view he doesn't recall doing this.....but he probably did. I remember Shatner - a married man - had a reputation for being conceited and trying to 'romance' (wink wink) all the female guest stars. (He doesn't talk about this in the book. LOL)

I've always liked Star Trek and I thoroughly enjoyed the book. My one caveat: I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Shatner, and he tends to talk too fast sometimes. This is a minor quibble though.

If you're Star Trek fan you'll like this book. Me....I'm inspired to go back and watch all the original Star Trek episodes looking for things that Shatner mentions.

Rating: 4.5 stars

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