At day two of Creation’s Official Star Trek Convention in San Francisco, the buzz was high from the start. Today’s lineup was jam-packed with action, and crowds arrived early so as not to miss a beat.
Richard Arnold, Gene Roddenberry’s long-time assistant, got the day started, warming up the crowd with more inside scoop from his Trek archives. Everyone came to their feet for Nichelle Nichols. The audience welcomed Uhura back to the City by the Bay with a standing ovation—and that enthusiasm carried through to the Q&A session. But first, emcee Adam Malin got us caught up with a relaxed-looking Nichols, who sat on stage on a director’s chair. We learned, for example, about Nichols’ newly formed foundation for promoting science and the performing arts. Things really got interesting, though, once Nichols began entertaining questions. One after another, fans took their opportunity at the microphone to express how much Nichols and her character had meant to them over the years. Several times, in response to questions, we heard Nichols showcase her magnificent voice; she sang about Charlie X at the request of one young fan; and she sang a refrain from the first-season episode “The Man Trap.” Her honey-rich voice was a hit with the crowd. Nichols recounted for the crowd how, when she had considered leaving the show, Martin Luther King Jr. had once told her, “You're part of history you cannot leave.” And later she retold the story of how Roddenberry kept her on the show, in spite of network concerns. Roddenberry wouldn’t let her sign a contract that first season, just so no one could fire her. Someone asked Nichols what she named her Tribble. Turns out her Tribble is named Trouble, and he purrs so often that Nichols admits, “I’ve worn out the battery.”
After Nichols leaves the stage, it’s time for the Costume Contest. Plenty of contestants today, enough that even with two flights of judging, it is still tough to fit everyone on the stage. An Andorian couple with a baby (cleverly, a Cabbage Patch Kid spray-painted blue and with antennae), a big, impressive Klingon, a slinky green Orion slave girl, and remarkably detailed Gorn make big impressions. Judging runs tight, but in the end the runaway winner of the $250 gift certificate is the Gorn.
Next up is a real treat: The debut of the Duras sisters’ act. B’Etor and Lursa take the stage, and immediately command our attention with their rendition of “I’m a Klingon.” The duo, portrayed by Canadian actresses Gwynyth Walsh and Barbara March, stay in character at the start, calling each other sister, and talking instead of their (human) alter egos. March tells us her husband, Alan Scarfe, “in truth, he wakes up to a Klingon every morning.”
This is the first time in 20 years the duo has donned the distinct, risqué costumes for the scheming Duras sisters, “and it all comes right back,” says March. Walsh adds it’s like riding a bike, but she couldn’t very well ride a bike with the costume’s stiff skirts. The costumes they wear today are based on the original costumes, and are very similar, says March. Soon after coming on stage, Walsh removes her teeth—her Klingon teeth, and her sister does the same. The teeth are uncomfortable, and it’s time to dispense with them. The teeth, Walsh says, were like torture, so you can get into character and be pissed off already before you get on camera. They each have only one set of their specially molded teeth, and the teeth are carefully stored. The actresses are having such fun up there; clearly, it didn’t take much to get back into character. At one point, March proposes they should bring the Duras sisters back in webisodes, an idea met with much applause. After an audience question, a debate erupts over the evolution of Klingon foreheads. After some back and forth, the child who posed the question joins in, saying “my theory is they got better makeup people.” The crowd likes that theory, based on the raucous laughter.
At the Stump the Experts panel, the three expert volunteers—who hail from far flung cities like Merced and Sacramento—find the action is fierce. The audience indeed stumped the panel several times, but the game was fun one to watch, nonetheless. And at the No Minimum Bid Auction, some folks walked away with deals. Anything with classic Trek signatures is red-hot, with bids flying fast and furious-- and going high. No surprise there: This auction was the warm-up to the day’s main event.
And when Leonard Nimoy takes the stage, it’s to a standing ovation from the packed, sellout house. Looking relaxed and casual, with a brown jacket and well-worn LLAP (short for Live Long and Prosper) T-shirt on underneath, Nimoy captivates from the get-go. Standing at the lectern and telling us, “I'm going to tell you some stories. Some of you may have heard some of these, but all of you won't have heard all of them.” Even if you have heard these stories, somehow they gain something in Nimoy’s spellbinding recounting. For more than hour, Nimoy regales us with tales spanning the full course of his career, from his early years in acting to his most recent photography projects. All the while, Nimoy shares personal images to go along with his narrative. We see his early acting gigs, including Zombies of the Stratosphere; and we see him in his army uniform, from his days as a non-commissioned officer, and later, personal photos from the set of Star Trek— including a picture of him as Spock with his 10-year-old son Adam, also made up with the ears. It’s a tour-de-force presentation and a fitting testament in this 45th anniversary year of Star Trek.
He recounts his encounter with then-Senator John F. Kennedy in 1956, when he was Kennedy’s driver. Kennedy’s words fed his soul, Nimoy told us. “There's always room for one more good one.” Nimoy then recalls his time in Westerns, a path well trod by Trek compatriots Jimmy Doohan, William Shatner, and of course, DeForest Kelley. That led directly to his gig on TOS, he tells us. “What attracted me to the character is that he was half human and half alien,” Nimoy says. “That gave me an inner life for this character. It made him unique. It made him special.” We next hear more background on the birth of the Vulcan nerve pinch. The episode “The Enemy Within” called for Spock “to hit [Kirk] over the head with the butt of his phaser,” recalls Nimoy. But he talked over his idea with the director, thinking that action was not in character for Spock. The idea? Just apply the pressure points and he'd drop like a rock. The director liked it, Nimoy went over the plan with Shatner, “and that's the way the Vulcan neck pinch was born. I knew it was successful when people started asking me to teach it to them so they could do it to their kids.” Nimoy moves on to the roots of another Trek staple, the Vulcan hand salute. The gesture, introduced in the second-season opener “Amok Time,” has its roots in Nimoy’s own Jewish upbringing. When they first filmed it, Celia Lovsky, who played T’Pau, couldn’t get the now-famous hand gesture down, so when it came time to film, Nimoy recalls, she kept her hand out of sight, with her fingers already in position.
“Third season was very difficult,” Nimoy admits of that rocky final year. “We struggled through the season and then it came to an end.” Gene had already moved on, and the direction had changed. And soon, so did his direction. After a stint on Mission: Impossible, Nimoy went back to UCLA to study photography. While Nimoy still continued to act, his photography continued to consume a big part of his creative life.
Nimoy has shared numerous tales with us by this point, but it’s his recollection of how he came to title his memoir, “I Am Not Spock,” that gets us all going. After an experience in San Francisco, when a woman introduces him to her son as Mr. Spock, Nimoy got to thinking about how he and the character are distinct. “I called the chapter, ‘I Am Not Spock,’” he says, and when his publisher asked him for the title of his book, he suggested, “Let's go with I Am Not Spock; people will find that interesting. They found it interesting, all right, in the wrong way.”
He was unsurprised when Trek was resurrected for films, after the success of Star Wars in 1977. But after the first Trek movie, Nimoy says there was no sense that the movies were ongoing, so when he was asked if he want to do a death scene in The Wrath of Khan, Nimoy agreed, thinking the death scene would be among Trek’s last. “Came the day to film Spock’s death scene, though and I was thinking, ‘this is a terrible mistake,’” Nimoy deadpans, raising laughter from the crowd. When the studio asked if he’d like to be involved in Star Trek III, “I said ‘I’d like to direct it.’” And thus, simply, Nimoy’s directing career was born.
After sharing some of his photography— the focus of his career for the past decade-plus— and reading some poetry to the spellbound crowd, Nimoy addresses the question everyone is wondering. “I'm totally satisfied,” he says of his career. “Do I have an identity issue? Of course I do. When somebody yells Spock, I'm the one who looks around.” After Nimoy exits the stage, the void is felt by all. The room empties as many head off to their photo-op with Nimoy, while those still in the room participate in pitching the next Star Trek movie.
The day wraps up with two special evening events, Leonard Nimoy’s Photography Seminar and the Saturday Night Celebrity Cabaret, featuring March, Walsh, Scarfe, and Sunday guest Dominic Keating. Keating opened up with a standup comedy act, while March and Scarfe gave a splendid reading of passages from Shakespeare’s Macbeth.