There are times when all the elements in my life seem to come together and make sense in one grand design. At those times I feel I know exactly what I am doing and why I am doing it. With apologies to Abraham Lincoln there are also times when I know what I am doing but don't know why I am doing it, or, I am not sure what I am doing but think I know why.
I had commited myself to a seven-week trip to Spain to appear in a Western. The part was very small in spite of the fact that I was to receive star billing above the title with Yul Brynner and Richard Crenna. But I instinctively felt that I was not there for the sake of making the movie. I hope my good friend and producer, Euan Lloyd, will understand when I say that I had ulterior motives. I was there to work with Sam Wanamaker, to prepare for Fiddler on the Roof, and to shoot pictures.
Sam turned out to be every bit as creative as I had hoped. He had a very extensive and impressive theatrical background, including a lot of Shakespeare. He had played Iago to Paul Robeson's Othello, and was at that time beginning to make plans for a new Shakespearean theatre in England. I told Sam that I was interested in getting into theatrical activity, including the classics. He told me that the Globe Theatre in San Diego would be very interested in having me appear and urged me to contact them. The Globe Theatre has for many years had a very fine reputation for its production of Summer Shakespearean Festivals. I sent them a letter expressing my interest and made a tentative appointment to see them upon my return from Spain. The meeting did eventually take place and paid off with unexpected dividends.
Since my role in Callow was small, I had a lot of free time. Much of it was spent wandering around the hillsides of Costa del Sol shooting pictures of everything in sight. Then I would head back to my hotel room where I would lock myself into the bathroom, as I had when I was a child, and process my film.
When I wasn't shooting pictures or tracking Yul Brynner I would spend my time lying on the Mediterranean beaches listening to my tape tracks of music to fiddler on the Roof. I'm sure I was a strange and exotic sight for the Spanish locals. Mr. Spock on the beach in a bathing suit and beard listening to Semitic songs on a cassette recorder!
There was very little television available in the remote towns on the southern coast of Spain at that time. This meant that I was free to roam around the streets of the villages as would any English or American sightseer. Star Trek did manage to catch up with me in a surprising way. Around the second week of shooting I was sitting in the make-up chair in the portable trailer which was used for the make-up department on the Catlow production. The make-up man was a friendly young man from Madrid who spoke fairly good English and let me practice my bad Spanish on him. On this particular day there was a gleam in his eye when he said, "I have something to show you." He reached down inside his cabinet and pulled out a small wooden cigar box.
You can imagine my shock when he reached in and pulled out a pair of my foam-rubber pointed ears. I was really amazed. Not only did I not expect him to be aware of Star Trek and Mr. Spock but, to see a pair of my ears left me dumbfounded. The explanation was simple. The ear pieces for Star Trek had been made by a master make-up man named John Chambers. Mr. Chambers specialized in "appliances," which are the very delicate foam rubber pieces used to change an actor's appearance. He later won an Academy Award for his work on Planet of the Apes. Chambers had been in Spain working on a picture and my make-up man had worked for him as an assistant. During that time Chambers, being a generous man with his talents, had spent some time with the Spanish make-up artists instructing them in the use of appliances. He had brought some samples of his work from the States, including several pair of the Spock ears. These he distributed to some of the make-up men in Spain, and that's how my ears ended up in a cigar box in Almeria.
Later that year, on a visit to London, I was a guest at the home of the Paramount sales representative. His son was a very nice young man in his teens. The conversation eventually turned to Star Trek and his father suggested that he go to the closet in the hall. This he did and, to my surprise, came back with a complete Mr. Spock uniform. The blue shirt, the black trousers and the black boots. They looked exactly like mine. The fact of the matter is that they were mine! The father was a very enterprising gentleman and because his son's interest in Star Trek was so intense he had contacted Paramount in Hollywood after production of the show had finished. I was amazed to discover that he had actually been able to persuade someone at Paramount wardrobe to send him a complete Mr. Spock uniform.
Somehow it gave me a feeling that pieces of me had been scattered all over the world. To this day all that I own as a physical reminder of Star Trek is a lot of photographs and one pair of pointed ears, which my wife, Sandi, had mounted in a plastic box which sits on the fireplace mantle in my den.
After three or four weeks of shooting on Catlow I had a break in the schedule which allowed me to take four or five days off. I took advantage of this opportunity to fly to London to take care of some business. While there I spent an evening in the theatre in the West End watching the London production of Fiddler on the Roof. In this case, as in New York, the production was somewhat tired and tacky since it had been running for approximately four to five years. However, my own concepts about the material were reaffirmed and I felt even more confident about my future in the role.
On June 10th, my work in Catlow was completed and I returned to Los Angeles. Three days later I arrived in San Diego for my first meeting with Craig Noel and Adrienne Butler at the Old Globe Theatre. We had a lengthy and stimulating conversation about mutual interests in the theatre. However, there was a problem. The Globe Theatre operates in repertory, which means that an actor must commit to a minimum of two and a half to three months of work and as much as four months to work the summer season. One would work in more than one production and would do the plays in repertory throughout the summer. This was far more time than I had planned to commit myself and, in any case, that summer was out of the question since I was already scheduled to do Fiddler on the Roof.
They pointed out to me that they had a winter season which was a possibility and suggested that they submit to me a list of plays which they would produce if there were one that I felt strongly enough about doing later that year. They sent me the list which included The Man In The Glass Booth. That was the play I chose, and it was decided that it would be the opening play of their fall season which I would do when I finished with my Fiddler tour.
Ten days after my San Diego meeting I was back in New York on June 24th to begin active preparation for our production of Fiddler.
From the day the work began it was obvious that this was going to be one of those situations where I knew exactly what I was doing and why I was doing it. The company that Stephen Slane and Ben Shaktman had assembled was absolutely first rate. The rehearsals went beautifully and Shaktman proved to be an extraordinary director. With his inventive and sensitive guidance and the incredible musical support of Herb Grossman, a family of twenty-five people came together in what for me was one of the greatest experiences of my life.
We rehearsed in New York and then the company moved to Hyannis, Massachusetts, where we were to play the first two weeks of a seven-week tour.
On the first evening that I spent in Hyannis, I walked over to take a look at the theatre with Ben Shaktman. The theatre there consists of a multicolored canvas tent in the round with a very deep rake down to a stage which almost seems to be in a pit. 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. As Ben and I watched the performance from the top of one of the aisles I turned to him and said, "This week the Christians are in the pit, next week they'll throw in the Jews."
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 playing in my home state of Massachusetts. And many of my family and friends were in the opening night audience.
This was my first time on stage in front of a theatre audience in over three years. My last appearance had been in a light farce called Visit to a Small Planet in a dinner theatre in Illinois. There was no comparison. Opening night was indicative of things to come. We played to an audience tingling with anticipation. The company was high-spirited, well-rehearsed and "up" for an exciting evening. Even the thunderous storm which temporarily halted the show couldn't dampen the spirits of that night.
The show played beautifully, filled with laughter and tears. When it was over we all knew what we had done and why we had done it. A packed house of 1,600 people were on their feet giving us a standing ovation and acting as if they didn't want to leave the theatre. It was the beginning of seven precious and glorious weeks in the life of a man with pointed ears.
Elliot Norton, the respected drama critic from Boston, came to see the show. He referred to us as the "pleasant surprise of the summer season." It was no surprise to us. We knew who we were, what we were doing and why.
We played to capacity houses, extra performances and standing ovations in Hyannis and Beverly, Massachusetts; Rochester, New York; and Toledo, Ohio. Six weeks later we were back for a return and closing engagement in Hyannis. They had been weeks of exquisite beauty. The condition where one knows that all is right and a very special event is taking place in one's life, where everyday regardless of the weather, the city, the food, the hotel room, is a special day. It was like the best of Star Trek. When one walks with pride and with a special spring in the walk because the vehicle, the company, the time have all come together in some kind of special magic confluence to create a mystic aura which stops time in its tracks and will become an unforgettable memory to be relived again and again.
We had rented a beach house at Hyannis and I was driving from the house to the theatre for an evening performance in the final week of the run. I was humming songs from the show when I was caught by a flood of emotion and heard myself say, "If I never act again it will be okay." That was saying a lot. It was saying that I had had the opportunity to act in a great vehicle, under great direction, both dramatic and musical, and with a great company of talent—singers, actors and dancers. I was riding on the crest of a wave and I knew it. When a good thing is happening in one's life that is something special. When a good thing is happening in someone's life and he knows it—that's a miracle. I was involved in a miracle and I knew that I could always look back on it with a sense of good fortune. "If I never act again, it will be okay." I had been there. I had had it all. I could never again feel frustrated or deprived.
I arrived at the theatre about an hour before curtain time. For the next half hour I would work out at a piano with Sean Daniels, who was playing the Constable in the show and was an excellent vocal coach. Sean and I were in the habit of warming up my voice for approximately twenty minutes, after which we would each go to our dressing rooms to prepare for the performance. During my warm-up I noticed a few members of the cast drifting into the rehearsal hall we were using. Gradually more and more of the company members drifted in and I became somewhat self-conscious and aware that something unusual was taking place.
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.
I believe there is a danger in the concept that "opportunity knocks." Taken literally this might mean that all one needs to do is to sit and listen for the sound of knuckles on wood. My feeling is quite the contrary and always has been. I believe that it's through the individual's commitment to various ideas and projects that one discovers surprising opportunities. At least that's the way it's always worked for me. I don't believe that there is such a thing as "waste of time" involved when a person is pursuing an idea, a project, a hobby, a social cause, or whatever motivates him.
I was in New York for a political cause when I first met Eric Schepard, the agent at International Famous Agency who introduced me to the summer musical theatre possibilities which led to my appearing in Fiddler on the Roof and other musicals such as Oliver, The King and I, and Camelot.
It was my decision to go to Spain to appear in a rather slim role in Catlow which led to working with Sam Wanamaker which led to a discussion about the Old Globe Theatre which led to a very enriching production of The Man in the Glass Booth.
During the course of an unrewarding stay at Universal Studios in 1972 I spent much of the time shooting and processing a lot of black and white prints. I had quite a collection of material when one day my wife, Sandi, arrived home with a book in hand. It was called Love Is An Attitude by Walter Kinder. It had attracted her attention in a bookstore, because it consisted of photographs and poetry. Sandi felt that it might be a format that I could use, since much of my photography lent itself to this kind of material. These are the times when one is grateful for an efficient assistant/secretary. Teresa Victor had zealously guarded and filed every poem, phrase or thought that I had scribbled in my travels. We pulled out the files and went to work putting together words and pictures.
It wasn't too long before a potential idea for a book began to emerge. Some of the pictures lent themselves to verbal ideas and some of the notes or thoughts I had gathered suggested photographic images. I went to work on both. Then I contacted Celestial Arts in San Francisco who were the publishers of the Kinder book. They agreed to print the work under the title, You and I. I was about to become a published author.
As an actor I discovered that I really was hiding behind characters—nobody knew who I really was. I'm saying somebody else's words and, in the most public profession of all, retaining my own privacy. Hiding identity behind characters. "Maybe I'm saying words and ideas that agree with my own but they are not mine, they didn't spring from me—I'm interpreting somebody else's ideas even if I do relate to them personally." And getting into writing is suddenly a very dangerous and scary experience because it is personal and it is real. It is a naked experience. It's like saying, "Okay, judge me, this is really me." If you don't like the character that I play then I can really hide behind that and say, "Well, that's not really me, you can dislike the character but don't blame me.
I had a fantasy of trying to publish material in a private way by going to a very small publishing company and figuring that they would only print a few thousand copies; maybe I could buy most of them myself and give them away to relatives and friends. But then a quarter of a million copies were printed and the book was no longer private.
Then the feedback started. Very lovely feedback coming from people who are touched by the material and say, "Yes, I feel that way, too." And you start to realize that it's okay to be out there and be honest and open about yourself because you are part of the human race and other people respond the same way and have had the same feelings and are touched by it and that gives you courage to write some more and say some more personal things. In 1974 Celestial Arts published my second books of poems and photographs entitled Will I Think of You? These books have added another rich dimension to my life.
This is a career built on Star Trek ... I can feel the influences all around me. The unique aspects of the Vulcan character have attracted a lot of press attention as well as offers to appear in motion pictures and television shows.
Much of the material that I am offered to do in films is pretty bad. It consists of bad science fiction, or bad horror films, for the most part. But there is nothing to complain about. Obviously, I can keep busy doing projects that are very exciting.
There are always those first few moments of my appearance in the theatre when people look for the Spock character and make an adjustment to Leonard Nimoy in this particular role. We get past that quickly and I never find it to be a very serious problem.
There is an occasional exception. Once during a performance in the theatre-in-the-round I was moving slowly down a darkened aisle waiting to make an entrance on stage. I was deeply involved in my character and that evening's performance when I was startled by a little voice coming from one of the seats nearby. He whispered quietly, "Hi, Mr. Spock."