William Shatner is a misunderstood man. As an actor, he has many facets, some of which do not endear him to fans, but he has another side that many fans never see. They may even know about that side, but they have not experienced it, so that part of the actor is forgotten. We have never been friends with Shatner, but we have occasionally been close enough to get to know him better.
Granted that Shatner started out in the late 1960s baldly stating, in one manner or other, that Star Trek fans were silly and misguided for being fans. He made it clear that he had no time for us. Not surprisingly, fans reacted badly, even though many Trekkers admired the man for his acting abilities.
For those who doubt his ability to act, we submit his TOS characterization of a distraught female in “Turnabout Intruder.” Here was his chance to camp it up, as so many male actors do. Instead, Shatner worked with the small quirks that set a woman apart from a man: that little glance in a reflective surface, brushing an imaginary skirt down his backside as he sat down, and all without making these changes from male to female too broad. Since TOS, Shatner has gone on to many good roles that proved his worth as an actor.
Back in the old days, fans seethed at Shatner’s callous treatment, widely discussing it in Trek fanzines (paper versions of Facebook). Meanwhile, he discovered that well-paid appearances at Star Trek conventions were attended by fans who loved Captain Kirk. As an actor, he could not help reacting to this large-scale emotion, and fans began to see some more of Shatner the man.
In real life, Shatner bought a horse ranch and used his appearances at horse events to raise money for charities. He made sure that a percentage of the gate went to fund-raise for disabled children. In the Los Angeles area, he held an annual horse event that raised thousands of dollars to help children. Riding horses can help to re-train atrophied muscles, and can also create a warmth for children who have never had any love.
Our family joined other Trek fans to help at this event, vigorously selling T-shirts and other souvenirs to anyone at the equestrian arena. We also acted as grandstand ushers, and waited tables at the “cowboy banquet” that evening. Many Star Trek actors also played in western movies and TV episodes. The rewards for volunteering were many, from helping needy children to meeting every cowboy actor in the business. Trek females also discovered how many fanny-pinchers there were in those ranks.
When he decided to write his biography, Star Trek Memories, Shatner interviewed Bjo to find out more about this fandom that had stayed with him all these years. Our first surprise was that he held the phone interview himself, instead of assigning one of his staff to do it. She did not stint on giving him the facts about how he had treated early fandom. Shatner expressed shock that he had been so rough on his fans, but Bjo would not give ground on that. They also talked about his horses, and it surprised him to find that fans even knew about this facet of this life.
Unfortunately, Shatner didn’t include any of his charity work in his book. He erroneously felt that it would not be interesting to Star Trek fans. When we called his office to thank him for a copy of his book, we told him that his fans are interested in everything about the actors they admire and we humorously said that he should have at least mentioned his beautiful black stallion, Sultan’s Great Day.
Another facet of William Shatner that we like is his innate curiosity. He hears something interesting and he wants to know more about it. We know from many years of association with film industry folk, this is not usual with actors. For the most part, they are a singularly self-interested group. As, indeed, Shatner was at the beginning of his career, when his goal was to make it in the business.
We fondly remember one convention where the Trimbles guested, with Shatner as the main attraction, of course. The con committee had kindly arranged for an interpreter to assist a group of deaf Trek fans. The fans were placed at one end of a large stage, facing the convention speakers. As the guests gave their various presentations, the interpreter would sign everything to the deaf fans.
As Shatner talked to his enthralled audience, he could see the interpreter out of the corner of his eye, vigorously moving her hands. Finally, Shatner stopped talking, so she turned to see why he had done so. She found him staring at her, and blushed. Shatner asked her, “Are you repeating everything I’m saying?” The interpreter moved her hands to repeat this to an amused audience.
“Yes,” she said, “that’s what I do.” And she repeated this with her hands. “You are telling them EVERYthing I say?” persisted Shatner. She nodded.
“SoifIsaidsomethinglikethis,” Shatner said, speaking very fast, “you can keep up?” The interpreter magically paced him. “Yes, I can match just about any speed,” she said, still moving her hands. The audience, including the deaf audience, was beginning to giggle.
“Aaaand if I goooo veeery sloooooowly,” said Shatner with a grin, “yoooo caaaan siiign thaaat, tooooo?” She made long broad signs, and smiled at the actor over her shoulder. The audience was now laughing delightedly. Giving up, Shatner asked about the deaf fans and discovered that many of them were from a local school. He finished his prepared presentation, answered questions, then went over to meet his special fans and talked to them awhile.
Back stage, he commented that he’d never considered the impact of not hearing Star Trek, but still enjoying the visual action and excitement. Shatner asked a surprised con committee member to provide him with the address of the deaf school.
Our paths did not cross very often after that, but when they did, we learned more and more about this man’s generosity. Yes, Shatner still charges a lot for autographs (there is a great deal of peer pressure going on there, but that’s another story). But behind the scenes, and without fanfare, he gives much of his time for the benefit of others. This includes supporting early reading programs in the Los Angeles area, and many other worthy activities.
As he matured as an actor, William Shatner has become more comfortable with himself and learned to laugh at himself. As Star Trek fans, we’ve always enjoyed him as an actor, but we also have learned to like William Shatner -- as a person.
– John & Bjo Trimble
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