Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Happy Birthday to Messrs. Shatner, Kirk, Hooker, Crane, et al

I didn't mean to post two "Star Trek" items in a row (sorry, non-fans) but today is the 80th birthday of The Man, The Legend, The Shat: Mr. William Shatner.

I'm going to get serious for a moment before posting some videos that simultaneously celebrate and ridicule Mr. Shatner. He's an easy target. However, I sincerely believe he's a very good if not great actor. Here's what I think defines the difference: in a good actor you can see the gears turning and technique being applied, and it looks difficult; in a great actor, the gears and technique are invisible, and it looks effortless. Not that I know anything about acting, but I always thought Mr. Shatner would be a good model for novice actors to study because they could watch him and see what he was doing and how he was doing it, in contrast to a better actor whose skills would look like incomprehensible magic. That's just a theory I have based on my analogous experience in cartooning (I understand what Walt "Pogo" Kelly did and can learn from his example, while George "Krazy Kat" Herriman was a wizard whose tricks were beyond my humble ability to grasp).

I also think that Capt. James T. Kirk is one of the great iconic fictional characters of the 20th Century. No kidding. Kirk is idealized mid-century America: bold, confident, resourceful, virile, but also (and this was often forgotten in later years when Kirk was slandered as a "shoot-first" kinda guy) a smart and compassionate leader who quoted Shakespeare and poetry. Kirk knew who he was, what he was doing, and why he was doing it. The Canadian Shatner created a hero as quintessentially American as Superman, Indiana Jones or Davy Crockett (I know Crockett was real; I mean the Disney version). He got help from a lot of producers, writers and castmates, but you can see the difference Shatner brought to the job by comparing his performance to Jeffrey Hunter's Christopher Pike, the Enterprise's captain in "Star Trek's" failed first pilot. Hunter was fine, but replacement Shatner brought a humanity to his captain--an edge, a twinkle--that made all the difference. Although viewers loved Leonard Nimoy's Spock for obvious reasons, I'd argue that without Shatner's Kirk, "Star Trek" would've died in 1970 (if not sooner) and be nearly forgotten today.

Some might consider that a merciful blessing. Not me.

I remember a time when Shatner struggled to shrug off Kirk and wasn't always gracious about it. Both his persona and career improved as he relaxed and developed a graceful sense of humor about his work and himself. The really nice thing about his later renaissance is that Mr. Shatner himself seems to be in on the William Shatner Joke. His willingness to play along--again, with a twinkle in his eye--makes all the difference. He may be an egotistical jerk in real life--reports vary--but on screen, from Kirk to Hooker to Denny Crane, I always find him interesting and fun to watch (although not even his presence is enough to draw me in to "$#*! My Dad Says"). The only time he ever disappointed me was when he didn't accept my Facebook Friend request.

Here are some reflections of The Shat, offered with sincere appreciation and respect on his 80th birthday.

All you need to know about Kirk in 1:57:

"Airplane 2," early in Mr. Shatner's evolving self-awareness:

Hooker. "Resist arrest! Resist arrest, please!" Maybe you had to be there, but I can't watch this without a big stupid grin.

A turning point in his career, 1986. The beauty of this piece is that anyone offended by it probably deserved to be:

If this doesn't make you weep until your eyes run dry, well, then I don't want to know you:

Recently, with George Lopez:

Finally, two mostly affectionate appreciations, the first marking the occasion of Mr. Shatner's birthday two years ago, and the second from last year. In the first, voice artist Maurice LaMarche refers to a couple of old recordings of Shatner behaving badly. Warning for a family-friendly blog: the second contains bad words. Hiliariously bad words.


Jim O'Kane said...

Brian, my only disagreement in your citations is the "All you need to know about Kirk" part.

The true, distilled JTK is found in STII:TWoK. Not the Spock "needs of the many" scene, but earlier, in the quintessential skirmish between Khan and Kirk. As far as I can tell, this is the first pop-culture reference to a trojan-horse virus. Unfortunately I can only find the latter part of the scene, here:


As a fellow presbyopia sufferer, I can also sympathize with the Captain dealing with his aging eyeballs.

Happy birthday, Mr. Shatner. And.... many.... more.

Mike said...

I've been in his student centre at McGill.

I'll bet you haven't.