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The Religious Affiliation of
the actor who played "Mr. Spock" in Star Trek
From: Leonard Nimoy, I am not Spock, Celestial Arts: Millbrae, California (1975), pages 8-9:
In 1951, I was cast in the title role of a very modest film called Kid Monk Baroni. It was a tremendous break for a 20-year-old kid in Hollywood only a year. The story is about an Italian boy from New York's East Side, born with a disfigured face. He becomes a boxer... Even in Kid Monk Baroni I was playing a character outside of the social mainstream--separate, unequal and alien. I had been raised in a neighborhood rich in Italian culture. Most of my early friends were Italians. Being Jewish, I always sensed some element of difference, of separation. Our friendships stopped abruptly at the door of the church.
Nimoy, I am not Spock, page 33:
When I was 17, I was cast as "Ralphie," the teenage son of the Berger family in an amateur production of Clifford Odets' Awake and Sing. The play deals with a matriarchal Jewish family during the Depression. Ralphie struggles and squirms under the domination of the mother, searching for his identity and finally moving into his own life with the help of some insurance money left by his grandfather. This role, the young man surrounded by a hostile and repressive environment, so touched a responsive chord, that I decided to make a career of acting.
I have played a great variety of roles since. But I still feel most comfortable playing characters that continue the line from "Ralphie" to "Monk Baroni" to "Spock." One of my most ratifying acting experiences in recent years was "Tevye" in Fiddler on the Roof. Here again was a man who tried to cope with the dramatic social changes in his society, struggled to hold onto crumbling traditions, and yet was considered alien by the Russian society.
How do you do it?
Nimoy, I am not Spock, pages 44-45:
Spencer Tracy, when asked for advice on acting said, "Know your lines and don't bump into the furniture." James Cagney said, "Walk in, plant your feet, look the other fellow in the eye . . . and tell the truth." With all due respect to both of these giant talents, I would have to say there's something more.
The true creation of a being, a character other than one's self, for me is comparable to a mystical or spiritual experience. To stand in another person's shoes. To see as he sees, to hear as he hears. To know what he knows, and to do all this with a sense of control, a mastering of the dramatic moment, there must be more than a "natural talent" at work.
Shortly after [Star Trek] went on the air, a network of underground communication quickly developed--fan to fan, club to club,--which carried current, often up-to-the-minute informatoin about the show and the actors involved. Often their informationa bout our activities has been sophisticated enough to make the CIA look like amateurs...
Nimoy, I am not Spock, pages 61-62:
On one trip to Salt Lake City, I was met at the airport and driven to a local motel. I had been preregistered and was taken directly to my room. As I turned the key in the door, the phone in the room was rining. I walked in and answered. A young female voice said, "Is this Mr. Nimoy?" I said, "Yes, it is." "Mr. Nimoy, I'm one of your biggest fans. I live in Denver and I just wanted to say hello and tell you how much I enjoy you on Star Trek." I was startled, and I asked, "How did you find me?" She said, "I heard you were going to be in Salt Lake City, and I called all the hotels and motels until I got the right one."
I thanked her for calling, and explained that I had to get off the phone since I was due to make an appearance in five minutes. I hung up, changed clothes quickly, and within five minutes was headed for the door. The phone rang again. I went back, picked it up, and heard: "Mr. Nimoy, my name is Patricia. I'm in Chicago, and I just wanted to say hello." I asked: "How did you find me?" The answer was very simple, "Mary in Denver called me. . . ."
In December of 1971, I went to San Diego, California, to appear at the Old Globe Theatre in a production of The Man in the Glass Booth...
Nimoy, I am not Spock, page 130:
Glass Booth became a major theatrical and community event in San Diego. Robert Shaw, the author, put together a gut-wrenching piece of material dealing with guilt and vengeance centered on the Second World War and the extermination of Jews in Nazi concentration camps. Being Jewish, I felt very strongly about some of the statements that were being made. There was a small but very vocal group of people in the San Diego Jewish community who felt that the play was anti-Semitic. We were playing to packed houses and standing ovations every night, but I did feel distressed by the negative reaction of this handful of people.
in the San Diego Jewish community who felt that the play was anti-Semitic. We were playing to packed houses and standing ovations every night, but I did feel distressed by the negative reaction of this handful of people.
On the other hand I felt that this could be the best kind of community catharsis using theatre as a focal point for an exchange of ideas. Having been contacted by the local Rabbi, we agreed to hold an open seminar session at his Temple to discuss the content and the question of anti-Semitism in the material. Craig Noel, Ben Shaktman and myself appeared at the Temple on a Sunday morning and found approximately 150 people waiting for us. Most of them had seen the play and the reception was very warm and encouraging.
The exchange of ideas was very lively and it became fairly obvious that the overwhelming majority of the people present were Jewish and did not consider the play anti-Semitic. Those few who did were concerned about the showing of the central character as being a Jew who had achieved power through real estate and financial manipulation.
Having very recently played Fiddler on the Roof, I had drawn some interesting parallels. I felt that those people, those same people, could identify easily with Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof because he represented the image of the poor Jew who didn't make waves and quietly went his way doing what the people in power felt he should do and not arousing any hostility or antagonism. It was interesting to me that in his major character song, "If I Were A Rich Man" he describes all of the fantastic ostentatious things he would do with money if he had it. "I'd build a big tall house with rooms by the dozen right in the middle of the town." "I'd fill my yard with chicks and turkeys and geese, squawking just as noisily as they can, as if to say 'Here lives a wealthy man.' " But Tevye is safe for these particular people because it is assumed that he will never have that money and never will reach that stage of ostentatiousness.
I couldn't help but wonder what might happen if Tevye had arrived in the United States and become as successful as Robert Shaw's character of Goldman in The Man in the Glass Booth. It seems that those same people who had loved him as a poor man would then turn on him with demands that he hide his wealth and function quietly on the lower rungs of society so as not to arouse the hostility of the community towards the rest of the Jews who live there.
The influence of Star Trek and Mr. Spock was still very apparent, particularly in the press. Sometimes it would take the form of a passing comment in the body of the piece such as, "Leonard Nimoy, Mr. Spock of the Star Trek series, played such and such a role." In other cases the connection was more immediate and direct. One of the San Diego newspapers' critics started his Glass Booth review with a banner headline which read, "Nimoy Great Sans Ears."
There were a lot of emotional crosscurrents operating for me at this time. Obviously, the work being offered was coming as a direct result of my impact as Mr. Spock. On the other hand, I was involved in something of a crusade to develop a reputation as an actor with some range.
At this point I went through a definite identity crisis. The question was whether to embrace Mr. Spock or to fight the onslaught of public interest. I realize now that I really had no choice in the matter. Spock and Star Trek were very much alive and there wasn't anything that I could do to change that.
I soon found out that the renewed popularity and interest were bringing me more and more offers which, although related to Star Trek and Spock, were proving to be very challenging. That being the case, I found that I could simply relax, do the work and go along for the ride.
On the first evening that I spent in Hyannis, I walked over to take a look at the theatre with Ben Shaktman... By this time our Fiddler troupe had become a very Jewish company, and I found it very ironic that the performance given that night was The Sound of Music [a musical about Catholics]. As Bena nd I watched the performance from the top of one of hte aisles I turned to him and said, "This week the Christians are in the pit, next week they'l throw in the Jews."
Nimoy, I am not Spock, page 132:
Fiddler on the Roof at that time was an event. It was the first time that the show had been released for production in stock theatres around the country. Our performances were widely anticipated and sold out in advance. Opening night was full of excitement for me particularly because I was plaing in my home state of Massachusetts. And many of my family and friends were in the opening night audience.
Before I knew it the entire company had assembled and were surrounding Sean and me at the piano. They apologized and stopped my warm-up. Then one of the company stepped forward and said, "We have something we want to give you." They handed me a ribbon-wrapped box. I opened it and discovered a pair of gorgeous pewter candelabras. It was a gift to Sandi and me from the company and on the base of the candelabras they had had inscribed a phrase from the Sabbath prayer song in Fiddler on the Roof. The phrase said, "Favor them Oh Lord with happiness and peace." I held the candlesticks in my hand and tried to tell them of my thoughts driving to the performance that evening. I said, "Your timing is incredible. You don't know what this means to me. Driving to the theatre this evening in my car, I was saying to myself, if I never act again ..." and that's as far as I got. I was in tears and could speak no more. For the next few minutes, twenty-five of the most beautiful singers, actors and dancers that it will ever be my privilege to work with, were huddled in tearful joy. That night's audience who watched the performance of Fiddler on the Roof were treated to a holy communion of the human spirit.
In the 1960s Nimoy was involved with Synanon, which was founded by Charles Dederich Sr. in 1958 in Santa Monica, California. Synanon had become the Church of Synanon before its founder left in the late 1970s. The group was disbanded in the early 1990s. Synanon had no connection to Narconon. Nimoy, I am not Spock, pages 68-69:
In the early 1960s, I became aware of a very successful organization known as Synanon, formed in Southern California. This was a self-help group for drug addicts which was accomplishing more in the cure of drug addiction than could be boasted by the more widely recognized institutions or the medical profession. I was teaching acting classes at that time and was curious about the "Synanon games." This was a group therapy type of situation. The major difference between it and other therapy groups being that there was no authority figure. All the people involved in the group were on the same peer level and the feeling was that there was no adult or authority figure to play to.
I became very impressed with the organization and volunteered to conduct some free acting classes at the center. Synanon has always been very dependent on contributions from individuals and small groups. No funds were forthcoming from city, state or federal governments. I taught acting classes weekly for about a year and then remained in close contact with the organization and some individuals who became close friends.
During the second year of Star Trek, my family and I wanted to take a vacation at the beach and we were scouting for an apartment. I mentioned this to one of my friends at Synanon and he suggested that we simply move into the Synanon House for the week. They had taken over a large complex in Santa Monica formerly known as the Del Mar Club. We moved in and spent a very pleasant week in a very unique and exciting environment.
During our stay I was invited to sit in on my first "Synanon game." During the course of the game one of the participants, a black lady who had developed marvelous verbal skills, posed a question to me about my appearance. As a matter of fact I think I should more accurately describe it as an attack. She asked me if I was on some kind of a "freak identity kick." She accused me of appearing like, or trying to appear like, "that Mr. Spock on television." It was my haircut which particularly attracted her attention and she suspected that I was trying to pass myself off as, or look like, Mr. Spock.
It was quite a shock to me. Of course there was nothing I could do about the fact that I looked like Mr. Spock. On that level the whole thing was rather funny. Other participants in the game tried to convince her that I actually was Mr. Spock but she wouldn't hear of it. "Why would Mr. Spock be sitting in on a Synanon game with a bunch of dope fiends?"
More important than the joke involved was the interesting question that it raised. She had accused me of "trying to pass myself off as Mr. Spock." Did that mean that I would rather be Mr. Spock than Leonard Nimoy?
Webpage created 1 October 2005. Last modified 1 October 2005.
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