Join us in wishing actor William Shatner a Happy 87th Birthday!
Hindsight provides great clarity. But, can you imagine the moment William Shatner agreed to take on the role of Star Trek’s Captain Kirk?
Born in Montreal, Shatner kicked off his acting career in 1952, training as a classic Shakespearean actor. He moved easily between stage and screen and quickly gained a reputation as a top acting prospect. But unlike some of his peers, Shatner viewed job opportunities as a chance to work. Acting, afterall, is a feast-or-famine proposition and landing jobs can be viewed as a privilege, not a right.
As stories go, Hunter’s ex-model wife took control of his career and evolved into a difficult character at production meetings. She had a larger vision of Hunter’s future and shooting a second Star Trek pilot for television failed to appeal.
According to Oscar Katz in the book Star Trek Creator: The Authorized Biography of Gene Roddenberry, Robbdenberry’s team continued to pursue Hunter: “Business Affairs negotiated with Jeffrey Hunter and we all thought it was the usual actor/network situation – they don’t want to do it for reason XYZ, and it’s a device for getting the price up. We kept increasing the price and he kept saying no. One day I said, “What’s with Jeffrey Hunter?” and I was told he just won’t do it at any price. Finally I said, “Tell Jeffrey Hunter to get lost”.”
Hunter’s life would end tragically as he was injured by an on-set explosion during a shoot in Spain. He flew home to Los Angeles with a head injury and after getting checked out by doctors and receiving an all-clear (he’d probably be alive today with concussion protocols and MRIs) he fainted from intracranial bleeding, fractured his skull and died at the age of 42.
And here we are, celebrating the 87th birthday of William Shatner. A man whose work ethic and drive to act evolved into the role of a lifetime.
In this interview with Bill Boggs, Shatner admits he played the Kirk role as an extension of himself.
Shatner and Kirk both overcame the “unwinnable” scenario. The young Kirk defeated Starfleet Academy’s Kobayashi Maru scenario by changing the simulation’s programming. He became the only cadet at the Academy to defeat the program.
In the real world, Shatner faced a career profile as the legendary Captain Kirk. Like Batman’s Adam West, Shatner used a combination of guile and his overall acting abilities to re-shape his entire career.
Shatner wandered through the 70’s as “America’s guest” on a variety of TV shows and regrettable feature films. He served as the voice of Captain Kirk on Star Trek: The Animated Series, which carried on many of the writers and scripts from the original series. He also embraced his leadership position within Trekdom to produce books and other sci-fi series such as TekWars.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture thrust Shatner back into the role of Captain Kirk. The movie led to his role as LA cop TJ Hooker from 1982-86. For Trek fans, Shatner’s appearance in a regular TV series warmed a few hearts.
Shatner earned reputation as an egotist. Post TOS recollections from fellow actors were not kind, although he remained close to Leonard Nimoy. Many viewed Shatner as a corny personality, but underneath his bravado, Shatner owned a tremendous sense of humor.
In the 21st century, Shatner utilizes rapier wit to shred people on social media.
Shatner’s self-deprecating style and quirkiness further endeared him to Star Trek fans. He used both qualities to great effect as Priceline.com’s pitchman in the late 1990’s.
His role as a lawyer on The Practice and Boston Legal (where he co-starred with the talented James Spader) moved Shatner’s career to a new level.
Shatner embarked on a one-man show in the past two years, exuding incredible humor and energy for two hours.
In his mid-80’s Shatner took to globe trotting as he pushed his energy into a hit show “Better Late than Never” with former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw, heavyweight champ George Foreman and a 1970’s television icon in Henry Winkler (who once jumped a shark as Fonzi on Happy Days).
While the term “jumping the shark” has come to indicate a watershed moment leading to a demise, Shatner continues to land his motorcycle and keep going.
In all, Star Trek fans have a familial love for William Shatner. We wish him many more birthdays.