Like any self-respecting science geek, I went through a phase when I regularly watched Star Trek. But as part of the Next Generation generation, I caught only some of the episodes of the original series in syndication, plus, of course, the movies. Several of my friends were more obsessive, such as a guy who lived on my dorm floor in college who would always quote the following exchange from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan:
Khan: Kirk? You’re still alive, my old friend?
Kirk: Still, “old friend!” You’ve managed to kill everyone else, but like a poor marksman, you keep missing the target!
Well, it turns out that James T. Kirk, captain of the USS Enterprise, is indeed still alive (and well), old friend. By that, of course, I mean that the character’s actor, William Shatner, is still alive and well — at 81 years young. And, thanks to our lucky stars, his traveling one-man Broadway show “Shatner’s World: We Just Live In It” made a stop at the Arlington Theatre on Jan. 18 as part of the UCSB Arts & Lectures series. (Interestingly, he revealed during the show that he and his now-wife had their first date sitting in the balcony at the Arlington.)
Shatner’s show was a series of often-funny and at-times touching stories about his life in acting and beyond, with some concerning Star Trek but many reminding us that there is a lot more to Shatner than Captain Kirk.
Shatner reminisced about watching burlesque comedy shows when he was growing up in Montreal, his time doing radio with the Canadian Broadcasting Co., his early acting gig at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in which he got a big break when he filled in for a sick Christopher Plummer (who, Shatner pointed out, much later had a role in the Star Trek VI movie), a practical joke he played on the lead in the play Tamburlaine The Great, and the poorly received play The World of Suzie Wong in which he starred.
He also told a funny tale of a fight scene gone awry during the filming of a live television show. The show didn’t have the budget to rehearse the scene properly, and when it broadcast live his castmate said what he was going to do (“Now, I break the chair over his head”) like they did during the walk-through, rather than actually doing it.
Some amusing nonacting stories were about his joyrides on a motorcycle that he borrowed without permission, meeting Koko the sign-language savvy gorilla, driving an associate’s prized car that ended up catching on fire, finding a rat in the RV on a camping trip with his daughters, passing a kidney stone that was sold with the proceeds going to Habitat for Humanity, and driving a rabbi from Vancouver to a temple in Chicago that included fast-talking the rabbi into believing that they made it just before the sunset.
Shatner also spoke at length about his love of horses, which was fostered during the filming of the TV movie Alexander The Great. This ultimately led to him purchasing a breeding horse whose sad decline was described in the show by Shatner, plus him giving the horse one last hurrah before it passed away.
But back to Star Trek, Shatner seems to have finally embraced his legacy as Captain Kirk, with help from Patrick Stewart, who plays Next Generation Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Shatner is particularly proud of the symbiotic relationship between Star Trek and NASA, and told of a joke played by NASA engineers when he was allowed to sit inside a Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) — they had a model of the USS Enterprise “fly” by the window. Shatner was also honored to do a wake-up call for the last space shuttle mission.
It was refreshing to see that Shatner doesn’t take himself too seriously. For example, he showed a clip of the time he appeared in a tribute to George Lucas — of Star Wars rather than Star Trek fame — and acted like he was at a Star Trek convention.
But he also visited serious issues, stating in a modification of Star Trek’s intro that “Death is the final frontier,” and begging for more context on the last words of Timothy Leary (“Of course”) and Steve Jobs (“Oh wow”). He also explained that he had Kirk die (in the movie Star Trek: Generations) the way that he lived — with awe and wonder.
At the end of the show, Shatner addressed his notorious singing career, including his 1960s bizarre covers of songs such as “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and later work with Ben Folds on his 2004 album Has Been.
He closed with a performance of the song “Real” from Has Been, written by Brad Paisley and about the fact that, despite his many acting successes, Shatner is “just” an entertainer. This closed with the lyrics: “And I wish I knew the things you think I do / I would change this world for sure / But I eat and sleep and breathe and bleed and feel / Sorry to disappoint you / But I’m real.”
Don’t worry, Mr. Shatner. We’re not disappointed.
— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his Web site, music-illuminati.com. The opinions expressed are his own.