Mort: Mr. Spock

Mr-Spock-mr-spock-10874060-1036-730Another Icon down, with the passing of Leonard Nimoy today at the age of 83.

While you couldn’t really say I was ever a Trekkie, on the other hand, who the hell doesn’t like Star Trek? Maybe not all of it, you see the clunky elements, but the defining moments that imbed it in the culture? The bits that make it immortal?

Raymond Chandler — yes, Chandler — put it best, I think, in his essay “The Simple Art of Murder,” where he wrote:

Every detective story writer makes mistakes, and none will ever know as much as he should. Conan Doyle made mistakes which completely invalidated some of his stories, but he was a pioneer, and Sherlock Holmes after all is mostly an attitude and a few dozen lines of unforgettable dialogue.

Very early on I understood that Gene Roddenberry and his writers, in collaboration with the actors and what they could provide, had created a template — Kirk, Spock, Bones, Enterprise, voyage — very much equivalent to what Doyle did with Sherlock, Watson, the needle! in a London where it is always 1895.

An attitude and a few dozen lines of unforgettable dialogue.

Fascinating.

Spock immediately became my favorite of the characters with the first episode I saw as a kid, “Devil in the Dark.” I’m sure I didn’t catch every episode after that, but by now have seen most in one rerun or another. I caught the first film in the theatre but skipped Khan and that Death of Spock, but came back for the whales (that adventure was shot in San Francisco, after all). As I indicated, not a Trekkie, but not averse to strapping on a phaser now and then.

And it was the cast of Star Trek that gave me one of my early pop culture observations circa twenty-five years ago, that: People of my generation will know for a fact that they’re getting old when they hire new actors to play Kirk and Spock and company.

The original crew worked a lot longer than they might have been expected to play those roles, and some people seemed to doubt my idea because it looked as if the Trek moguls were going to handle “new stuff” with spin-off crews. But I waited it out, and sure enough, new actors for the iconic crew came along finally, and the 1960s kids were at or closing in on retirement age.

Had to happen. Kirk and Spock were too good to retire. They’d burned through lots of James Bonds in the meantime. Lots of Sherlocks and Watsons. A few Lone Rangers, but Clayton Moore still has that mask. I don’t think they’ve got Batman yet. And I fully expect other actors to land the roles in another ten years, or twenty.

And a final note, since this seems to be the time and place to mention it. On a visit years ago I took Jo Hammett, daughter of Dashiell Hammett, to 565 Geary Street to meet the fantasy and science fiction writer Fritz Leiber, living there at the time. Fritz had rooms on the top floor, but we also stopped in on his pal Margo Skinner, who lived on the first floor.

Margo was a Trekkie. She had various Star Trek items around, including a model of the Enterprise, which prompted Jo to mention that she loved Trek, too — and that she’d always wanted a Beam Me Up, Scotty bumper sticker.

We all know that feeling, right?

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