Shatner recalls the fading 'Star Trek Memories'

October 28, 1993|By Isabel Forgang | Isabel Forgang,New York Daily News

"I always wanted to be a singer."

William Shatner -- better known to millions worldwide as Capt. James Tiberius Kirk, commander of the spaceship Enterprise -- was sitting in the green room of the "Regis and Kathie Lee" show Tuesday in New York and musing about what might have been.

Of course, Mr. Shatner, now 62, did have a brief and quite unsuccessful recording career. In fact, some of his vocals can be heard on a collective album of truly bad vocals by well-known entertainers. If Mr. Shatner seems lost in reflections of what-might-have-been, that's probably because he has just produced "Star Trek Memories" (HarperCollins. $22), co-written by Chris Kreski, a history of that eternally popular TV show and movie series.

The book has brought him to New York, where he did four TV shows and a press conference Tuesday, answering everyone's endless questions about his past, including details about his impressive resume: Shakespearean actor, Broadway, TV and film star, playwright, author, director, producer, champion horse breeder.

Mr. Shatner told his tale well, pulling no punches. At times, Mr. Shatner admits, his voyage through the world of "Star Trek" has been impersonal.

"I didn't have time to connect emotionally with people I knew so many years ago. Only now am I learning how terrific they really are."

Mr. Shatner was doing pretty well in the mid-'60s as a New York stage and television film actor when Gene Roddenberry tapped him for the television role that was to change his life.

He was not the first choice for Capt. Kirk, however. Jeffrey Hunter had already appeared in the pilot that NBC found "too cerebral" and unacceptable with a woman as first officer and an alien named Spock.

Roddenberry wrote another pilot, adding more action sequences whilestill managing to keep people rather than gadgets the primary focus. He dropped the woman first officer, but kept his alien, eventually proving what we all know about the ability of network executives to size up what will appeal to the public.

He needed a new captain, however. Lloyd Bridges and Jack Lord turned down the high-flying role. Mr. Shatner knew better. "Star Trek" may have lasted only three years on NBC, but the phenomenon has lived on and on. Six movies and two TV spinoffs, as well as the perpetual syndication of the 79 original episodes, have proved how shortsighted the network was.

And now there's a book to tell how "Star Trek" came to be. Why now?

"People are dying," explains Mr. Shatner. "Gene Roddenberry is gone. So are some of the unsung heroes like producer Gene Coons, makeup artist Freddie Phillips and costume designer Bill Theiss, who made 'Star Trek' what it was. And some well-known people associated with the show are terminally ill. I saw history losing its grasp. The stories that were to be told would be lost, and I thought it was imperative to do it now."

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