Up Till Now: The Autobiography by William Shatner with David Fisher
I can’t remember if I’ve confessed up to it since I’ve been blogging, but I used to be a full-blown Trekker – a Star Trek fan. I managed to stop just short of buying a uniform, but had all the videos of all the episodes of all the series, plus the 60+ novels, episode and making of guides etc, a model enterprise, and loads of other ‘collectables’. One day I decided it was too much, and snapped out of my collecting obsession and started to sell all the stuff off.
My enthusiasm for the shows themselves has not waned though. I remain a huge fan, even watch the occasional episode in the re-runs, and adored the last film which went back to Starfleet Academy. If pushed, although I truly adore Patrick Stewart, my loyalties ultimately reside with the original. Captain Kirk was fearless, handsome, decisive, and had a sense of humour; Kirk has a swagger about him that made it all such fun, contrasting brilliantly with Spock’s coolness and Bones’s old-fashioned Southern gent. I’m old enough to remember seeing some of the episodes in their original showing on British TV too.
All of this brings me to William Shatner’s autobiography, Up Till Now, written with David Fisher, which is refreshingly honest and up front about nearly everything. It’s also very funny, but has plenty of touching moments too. William Shatner is a man of grand passions and big emotions.
Shatner’s acting career has been long, and so much more than Star Trek. He started off in the Canadian theatre, playing small and supporting parts in much of the classical repertoire, before moving to New York and a new life in TV dramas – many of which were aired live. He was in demand, and turned up on time, lines learned, got great reviews playing a wide variety of parts including leading men.
Part of the reason I was becoming better known was what people perceived to be an unusual. Speech. Pattern. Apparently I was becoming know for. Pausing, between words, in. Unusual Places… I have no idea where that. Came from… but the reality is that I don’t even hear it. I can mock the idea. I understand people hear me speaking. That way. They’ve even put a name to it, calling it Shatnerian. As in, ah yes, the character spoke with true Shatnerian eloquence.
But it’s certainly nothing I’m doing intentionally, nor do I do it in real life. I have seen several William Shatner impersonators speak in that. Clipped. Punctuated manner. Okay, if people recognize the impersonation as me, then it must be me.
Bill’s the big break didn’t come until well after he moved to LA. Even after three series, Star Trek wasn’t a hit until it later sold into syndication around the world, and so the hard-working Shatner continued plugging away. It was the long-running series TJ Hooker in which he played a veteran cop that finally made him a TV star, later leading to the acclaimed Boston Legal, along with the Star Trek movies.
TV series like those tend to have a different director for each episode, and Shatner talks interestingly about this experience: “It’s the job of the actors who work there every week to proetct the integrity of the program. Because I cared about the quality of the show I tested every new director. And if they didn’t know what they were doing I would complain about it. That was my job.”
Another funny bit is when he and the voice cast of the animated film Over the Hedge got sent to plug the film in Cannes. “As we were walking up the red carpet, surrounded by photographers, we were introduced to the French actors who had played our characters in the French version. Wait a second, I wondered, we’re the stars of this film, right? I knew we were stars, our names were in big letters on the lobby cards and in the credits. Bus as this is an animated film our faces weren’t on the screen, and now our voices were being replaced by French actors. So we were the stars of a film in which we didn’t even appear.” He forgets that the animators usually embed some of the personality of their voice actors into the characters…
Along the way he’s had four marriages, the third of which ended with tragedy, when his wife Nerine, an alcoholic, accidentally died in their swimming pool. He threw himself into his horse business, and through that met Elizabeth his fourth wife. His first marriage was to an actress, Gloria. They had three daughters, but she never made it into the limelight, and it faltered once they moved to LA. Shatner talks openly about the mistakes he made, and the actor’s ego, that made him a poor husband at first.
What shines all the way through this memoir is Shatner’s sense of humour. Once he found it, (he was a very serious actor to start off with), he let loose, and takes every opportunity to laugh at himself. He can even laugh at the way his spoken song performances in his 1968 album The Transformed Man have been taken, although they were recorded in all seriousness and remain cult tracks today.
I thoroughly enjoyed this memoir, which is so not just for Star Trek fans, although the spectre of Captain Kirk looms large over much of it. I got a much better appreciation of Shatner, the actor and have-a-go hero, a would-be family man who learns by his mistakes, and unashamed self-publicist with a great line in self-deprecation. I shall leave you with an urging though, to pop over to Youtube and watch his spoken interpretation of Elton John’s song, Rocket Man, introduced by lyricist Bernie Taupin. If you search for William Shatner Rocket Man, you’ll find it (sorry, can’t embed it). (8.5/10)
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I bought my copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, click below:
Up Till Now by William Shatner with David Fisher (pub Sidgwick & Jackson, 2008), now in paperback.
The Transformed Man – William Shatner (CD)
Star Trek – The Original Series – Series 1 – Complete – Remastered [DVD]