March 22 is one of those mysterious universe wormholes where (or possibly when) momentous things happen.
Today is William Shatner’s 85th birthday. And in 217 years, March 22 is, coincidentally, the date James T. Kirk is born.
In honor of both men, I’m reviewing their memoirs today because the bookshelf is where “Star Trek” and memoirs intersect.
As a fan of both, I’ve read the memoirs of every single original series cast member who’s written one (George Takei, aka Mr. Sulu, comes to mind as writing — actually writing — the best one although I must admit I enjoyed Leonard Nimoy’s I Am Spock, the followup to his original I Am Not Spock; yes, I read both).
William Shatner, also known as the actor who made Captain James T. Kirk a cultural icon, doesn’t actually write his memoirs (and he’s written several). He writes them “with” someone. His “Star Trek” memoirs (because why write one when you can write three — about the television series, about the movies and about the rest of the franchise, conventions and otherwise) were written “with” Chris Kreski. I enjoyed them not because they were great memoirs, but because they were great memoirs about “Star Trek.”
You have to like Shatner in all his charismatic narcissism to like his books, and I confess to a little Shatner fan love. Or maybe a lot (but I’m not the only one). When I found Up Till Now: The Autobiography on a bookshelf, I knew I had to read it, too. I expected to find some more “Star Trek” memories, but I expected to find more than “Star Trek” memories, too, and I was richly rewarded.
Shatner, this time writing “with” author David Fisher, shares memories of his father, his early acting career, all his wives (he’s had four) and his daughters. Plus, he tells funny stories about “T.J. Hooker,” “Rescue 911” and “Boston Legal” and about his recording career, which is a hoot. (He, of course, also discusses being spokesman for Priceline.com, but I suspect he’s got another memoir in him there.)
Fisher manages to capture Shatner’s voice with style and verve. Shatner has a good, corny sense of humor, and he is nothing if not a marketer. Up Till Now reflects both elements of his personality. Here’s a funny paragraph in which Shatner reminds me of another charismatic, narcissistic marketer making headlines all over the place:
I certainly don’t get that enthusiastic about everything, only about things that I believe are the very best in the entire world and only those things that truly matter. For example, Cafe Firenze in Moorpark is simply the finest Italian restaurant in the world. That’s just the way it is. You have to trust me on this, but you have never had better chicken parmigiana in your life. You have to taste it, I mean, you won’t believe it. You’ve never tasted anything like it. …
When you leave Cafe Firenze, there’s a gas station seevral blocks away on the right. I mean, it looks like a normal service center, but in this place they have an air pump that contains the finest tire air I’ve ever encountered. It’s really amazing. Until finding this place I had always believed that all tire air was the same, but for some reason when you put this air in your tires the car rides more smoothly. I don’t understand it, what could it be? How could they have improved air? They can’t, can’t be done, it’s just air, but you have to try it. I mean, you must. It’s truly superior air.
Shatner’s not running for president, so I can forgive him for his ironic enthusiasm parading as fine literature. At least he realizes he’s ironic. But this gives you a taste for unvarnished Shatner.
The book isn’t entirely lightweight. Shatner writes achingly about the death of his third wife, Nerine, who drowned in their pool, and then he smartly intercuts his real life grief with memories of acting James T. Kirk’s death in “Star Trek: Generations” (which hadn’t been covered in the earlier “Star Trek” memoirs).
Interestingly (at least for other Trekkers), I read another “Star Trek” memoir recently: The Autobiography of James T. Kirk: The Story of Starfleet’s Greatest Captain “edited” by David A. Goodman.
Yes, someone bothered to write an autobiography of the fictional character played by William Shatner. And it wasn’t Shatner!
It’s a clever book (especially, or maybe only, for fans of the original “Star Trek”), complete with a slick section in the middle with pictures of Kirk (played by Shatner) through time (someone obviously understands the structure of celebrity memoir). It entirely ignores the storyline of the 2009 “Star Trek” movie (widely known as the “reboot” in which Kirk’s birth is set in outer space) so Capt. Kirk is born in Riverside, Iowa.
The book explains a lot of Kirk’s motivations and regrets left hanging in the television show and movies, so it’s fun (it also explains away the wild storyline of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, the ill-fated, Shatner-directed motion picture widely dismissed by Trekkers everywhere). It ends right before the death of Capt. Kirk (because dead men can’t write autobiographies), so reading Shatner’s version of Kirk’s death in Up Till Now is quite satisfying.
If you’re a fan of “Star Trek” and memoirs, I recommend both books. And I’ll be reinvesting in the Shatner memoir machine by adding his latest book about his relationship with the late actor who played fictional Kirk’s fictional best friend, “Leonard: My Fifty Year Friendship with a Remarkable Man.”
Because I’m a geek like that.
Happy birthday, William Shatner! Live long and prosper!