Unless you’ve been living under a rock, news of Leonard Nimoy’s death has reached and perhaps even touched you. As Spock on the original Star Trek series, he brought the role of ‘the Other’ out of the shadows and gave so many of us a flagpole character to celebrate and identify with. His iconic performance spoke to a promise of what our future could be, embracing our differences, uniting in exploration of the great unknown.
While Nimoy certainly struggled with his desire to be more than Spock – through photography, poetry, and pursuing active causes, in the end, he came to realize the value of his contribution to culture and society. An indelible, important contribution that urged young people to not only pursue science and the arts, but also push the boundaries just as he did with Spock. While we have plenty of alien characters in our 21st century stories — in books, television, films, etc. — that Vulcan first officer of the Enterprise was a first in creating a character we connected to, sympathized with, and, indeed, empathized with as well for being an Outsider, an ‘Other,’ different from everyone else.
For me, all those things are true, but I have a personal memory of the man beyond Spock for which I’ll always be grateful. Two 4-hour blocks in my teenage life where I got to spend uninterrupted time with Nimoy, away from the fans and frenetic enthusiasm of the franchise. Two days where I got to experience first-hand what a warm, talented, intelligent man Leonard Nimoy was and how lucky we were to have him.
In 1975, my father (Ward Botsford) was the producer and director for Cademon Records, the first spoken arts record company (think of it as the grandaddy of Audible.com). Dad and I were both massive science fiction fans, and most certainly Trek fans. We’d watched the series since it first aired in 1966 (I was only 5 years old at that time, but hey — I don’t mind admitting I cut my teeth on Trek, Asimov, Clarke, and all the rest of the ‘good stuff!’)
Dad had the foresight to know that the 10 year anniversary of Star Trek would be a great way to celebrate the franchise’s legacy so he arranged a recording session for Leonard Nimoy to read selected stories from Ray Bradbury’s “The Martian Chronicles” and “Illustrated Man.” Being the very awesome fellow geek that my dad was, he invited me to help select the stories and sit in on the recording sessions. (We also recorded William Shatner reading the first few chapters of Asimov’s “Foundation,” but I’ll leave that tale for another time).
I distinctly remember Nimoy’s first time coming into the studio, wearing a white, ribbed turtleneck, a beaten up tan jacket, and with an extraordinarily grand, charming smile that didn’t shatter Spock’s stoicism, but instead added to the clarity that this man was more than the sum of his role(s). While I had always had a crush on Captain Kirk as a kid, Spock stole my heart that day, or rather, Leonard Nimoy did — how can you not adore someone with such a grand smile who was willing to do second or third takes on a paragraph, wanting to do anything he could to make the recording session as excellent ast possible?
I was a typical teenager– awkward and insecure — and Nimoy went out of his way to treat me with respect and encouragement. After recording a passage, we’d pause, and he would always ask my opinion. At first, I was tongue-tied, but then, as the session went on, Nimoy’s ability to include me emboldened me to contribute to the production. To use my thinking skills. To be a critical contributor to creativity.
That 15-year old girl cried quite a bit when Nimoy died last week. I know there’s a slew of stories out there that make my experience small in comparison, but I will always be thankful for how he fostered an objective aesthetic in me to reach for the best and do it with a smile.
SIDEBAR: Imagine my delight when 17 years later, his son — Adam Nimoy — had his directorial debut with the Star Trek Next Generation script, “Rascals” which my dad and I penned. Adam did a really great job with playing up the awkwardness between the adults and kids. Although I hate what the writers did the script (again, our draft did NOT have a transporter accident cause the crew to become kids!!! We had another catalyst — one much more credible and story-related), I still managed to appreciate the directing.
If you’d like to hear the recordings, they’re available on YouTube: