While I was never a Trekkie, I watched Star Trek growing up in their endless re-runs and can barely separate out the television show from my actual real-life childhood. They are my memories. Star Trek was like The Brady Bunch in that way: always on, everywhere, background noise, constant. Others can speak about the role of Spock and what it meant to them (the elegies have been coming fast and furious, and there are some great ones out there! The emotion is so palpable!), how deeply the role of Spock has gotten into our cultural DNA. (Alan Sepinwall’s piece about Spock is fantastic.)
My deepest thanks to Jessica Ritchey, for linking to this clip, of Leonard Nimoy reciting Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy in Yiddish.
I met him one night at an event at the New School. He was there with director Stanley Donen. It was just a quick “Hi, how are you” kind of introduction, but he was one of those celebrities where it was impossible to believe that it was actually him, there in the flesh. His face, as Spock, with the ears and the eyebrows and the hair, is so much a part of our culture that seeing him outside of it, as just a regular elderly guy in a suit, laughing with Donen, that face, that look, is so distinct that it floated around in my head as I looked at the real-life guy. I thought, “Now THAT’S the role of a lifetime, if it’s an after-image forevermore.” And he handled it beautifully.
But the first thing I thought of today when I heard of Nimoy’s passing was of his lovely and touching performance as Golda Meir’s husband in the television event (member when we used to have those?) A Woman Named Golda. Ingrid Bergman played Golda Meir (and won the Emmy for it, and rightly so). A fascinating biopic, which showed her political journey, with her husband at her side (and then, not really at her side anymore). Their quiet and respectful intimate relationship is a huge reason why that movie works. Meir’s husband loves her. He is not a domineering husband, and doesn’t bitch and moan about why dinner wasn’t on the table. He was her supporter, her cheerleader, and yet … he missed her. She was gone so much. He wasn’t quite prepared to share her with everybody. But she needed to go where she needed to go. Over the course of the film, he needs to let her go. Nimoy and Bergman’s scene work is absolutely beautiful throughout, and the two of them both have to age about 30 years over the course of the film, and they do specifically and with very little fanfare. You believe that these two have been together for most of their lives.
There were other non-Spock roles, and books, and music and poetry and photography … a lifetime as an artist. But it is for Spock that he will always be remembered. It is hard to even quantify that legacy, the mark he has made with just one role.
But today I thought of the sad and quiet domestic scenes in A Woman Named Golda, and how beautifully and gracefully Nimoy played support-staff to her powerhouse performance. Bergman needed the grounding mechanism of Nimoy’s performance: the guy who played that role needed to be earthiness personified, deeply connected to his emotions, a rock. Nimoy was.
RIP, fine actor.