Day 109: 15 Facts About William Shatner

originally published April 18, 2012

After a barrage of flavorless Wikipedian stubs about soccer players, Polish villages and moth species, a familiar face looked coyly out at me from the right-side column of the page. It was a face that said, “Hey there. You landed on my page. You know you want to write about me.” I am powerless to resist the power of the Shat.

So what did I learn? I learned that Mr. Shatner is worth the investment of a thousand words. For example…

He’s Canadian.

Okay, everyone probably knows this. He was born Côte St.-Luc, a Montreal suburb that was the first municipality in Quebec to ban smoking in public places. The city was forced to merge with Montreal in 2002, and exactly four years later it re-incorporated itself as a separate city. I doubt Shatner had anything to do with this.

He’s Jewish.

Bill is descended from Austrian, Polish, Hungarian and Ukrainian Conservative Jews. I don’t know if this has ever surfaced in his work, if he’s ever played a notably Jewish character, but it’s interesting. Also, the thought of him reading a portion of the Talmud in that trademark delivery of his just makes me smile.

He was on Howdy Doody.

Well technically he was on the Canadian Howdy Doody show. He played Ranger Bob. There’s no footage of this on Youtube, but I hope it exists somewhere. If nothing else, this gives us an idea how long Shatner has been in show business – he helped to invent Canadian television.

He scared the hell out of me as a kid.

When I was too young to know better than to fear mystery monsters from my TV set, I watched an old episode of The Outer Limits from 1964 featuring William Shatner as an astronaut who travels to Venus. He starts undergoing some strange symptoms, then remembers a previously blocked memory. Of this.

Okay, it’s not so scary in a little box between chunks of hastily-written text. But when I was 7 or 8, that alien creature prompted the swift purchase of a night-light for my room. I haven’t watched the episode since, but since it appears to be available online here, I may check it out, just because I can. Wait, it’s a Hulu broadcast, not available in Canada. Oh well, I guess the lights go off tonight.

Star Trek was his second time working with Nimoy.

Shatner and fellow Enterprisian Leonard Nimoy were both cast as guest stars on a 1965 episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. He has no recollection of working with Nimoy on that episode, but it’s on the internet, so it happened.

He appeared in an Esperanto-only film.

The 1966 horror film Incubus was shot entirely in the constructed language of Esperanto. The actors learned their lines phonetically, and apparently at its debut screening the Esperanto speakers in the audience roared at the horrible butchering of their language. The producer refused to allow any dubbing into any language, which really didn’t help box office numbers. Also, one of the actors murdered his girlfriend and took his own life, so distributors weren’t exactly lining up to be a part of this fiasco.

He lived in a truck.

Bill’s first wife divorced him in 1969, the same year that NBC lowered the ax on Star Trek. He wasn’t sitting on a packed bank account, and in 1970 he spent some time sleeping in his truck bed camper in the San Fernando Valley. He’d had a habit of taking any role that was sent his way – the Shat is all about working for a living – but after the high exposure of starring in a major network show, the offers for smaller stuff weren’t gushing in.

He totally lost his shit on a game show.

On a 1977 episode of The $20,000 Pyramid, a game show in which celebrities made up clues to help contestants guess words and phrases, Bill blew a gasket. He accidentally uttered the word ‘Blessed’, which was part of the phrase the contestant was supposed to guess. This was right at the top of the pyramid, which means he’d just cost the citizen a shot at $20k. Shatner reacted by yelling in true Kirk style and throwing his chair. The quality’s pretty awful, but the 35-year-old clip is right here.

The Priceline Negotiator got him hired on The Practice.

Show creator David E. Kelley was inspired to hire Shatner as quirky lawyer Denny Crane for the last season of The Practice (as well as the entire 4-year run of Boston Legal) after watching one of his commercials.

He has provided his voice talents to seven Star Trek video games.

That’s right, seven. He also provided Kirk’s voice on the short lived Star Trek animated TV series in 1973-74.

He almost appeared in two other Star Trek productions.

No, not the J.J. Abrams film – he was not invited, nor did he wish to have a part in that. The producers of the Scott Bakula-driven Enterprise were figuring out a way to drop him into that show, but it was cancelled before they could make it happen. Also, Star Trek: Phase II was announced in 1977 as the return of the original cast to television, minus Leonard Nimoy. Thirteen episodes were written, set pieces built and test footage shot, but Paramount hadn’t gotten together its television branch yet, and the project folded before they could shoot a pilot.

His music career is not entirely awful.

His spoken-word interpretations of “Mr. Tambourine Man”, “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” and “Rocket Man” have been mocked and parodied, but Shatner has actually released some pretty good stuff in the last ten years. His 2004 album Has Been was produced by piano-pop-punk powerhouse Ben Folds, featuring songs the two of them wrote together. It’s surprisingly quite good.

He has been married four times.

This sounds trite and showbizzish, but it’s really not like that. Bill was married for fifteen years to his first wife, 21 years to his second, his third wife passed away at an early age, and he’s past the decade mark on marriage number four. Bill’s no Hollywood man-flooz.

He is good friends with Heather Locklear.

Having worked together on TJ Hooker, the two of them have remained close friends ever since. Lucky bastard.

He has tinnitus.

After standing too close to a staged explosion on the set of the Star Trek episode “Arena” (that’s the one with that ridiculous fight with the Gorn, pictured way up at the top of this article), Shatner has suffered from a constant ringing in his ears, which he corrects with a small electronic white noise device that tricks his brain into pushing the tinnitus into the background.

How to sum up? Former castmate and current Facebook laugh factory George Takei doesn’t have many nice things to say about Shatner, but the guy’s longevity and his dedication to keeping busy are undeniable. He’s a cultural icon, and he looks damn fine for 81. Nobody else could have created such a memorable starship captain.

Hell, he needs no faint praise. He is Shatner! Long live the Shat!

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