Only a few days younger than William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy was born on March 26, and would also have turned 90 years old this year.
Like Shatner, Nimoy was a versatile actor with a long and impressive list of credits, but will always be best known for his work in Star Trek.
As we mark his birthday, let’s look at three “hands-on” contributions Leonard Nimoy made to Vulcan culture. We’ll also consider the most iconic or “epic” example of each.
These elements are now seen across the franchise’s 55-year history, but Nimoy was the first to do them all—and two of the three were his ideas originally!
Leonard Nimoy Creates a Pain in the Neck
Nimoy’s first contribution to Vulcan lore came early.
When he read the script for “The Enemy Within,” the fifth Star Trek episode produced, Nimoy was disappointed to find it called for Spock to sneak up behind the “evil,” duplicate Kirk in the engine room and hit him over the head with the butt of a phaser. He wrote in I Am Spock (1995), “it seemed more appropriate for the Old West than the twenty-third century” (p. 58).
Seeking a more civilized choice for his character, Nimoy postulated Vulcans could apply “special energy” (p. 58) to the proper pressure points and render an enemy unconscious. Aided by William Shatner and his “talent for fainting on cue” (p. 59), Nimoy sold episode director Leo Penn on the move, and the “Vulcan neck pinch” debuted.
Watch Leonard Nimoy himself tell the tale—and share his thoughts on what violence in entertainment is justified and what isn’t—in this interview on Canadian television from 1969.
According to the Memory Alpha wiki, 27 Vulcan neck pinches appeared on The Original Series, but apparently only once in Star Trek: The Animated Series, in the episode “Bem” (a casualty, perhaps, of Filmation’s limited animation style).
Over the course of the franchise, Vulcan characters other than Spock have employed it—and non-Vulcans have, too, including Michael Burnham in the pilot episode of Star Trek: Discovery.
As for the most epic nerve pinch?
It’s hard to beat that first one. It must have been especially striking in 1966, when no one, either Kirk’s doppelganger or the audience, saw it coming! The phaser scream at the exact moment only heightens the moment’s drama.
But for many viewers, Star Trek fans or not, the most memorable Vulcan neck pinch must be the one Spock delivers to the rude punk rocker on a 20th-century San Francisco bus in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.
Incidentally, the finger-flipper who receives Spock’s fingers in return was played by Kirk Thatcher, who wrote and sang “I Hate You” for the film’s soundtrack.