“Leonard was able to touch so many lives through his acting and in the way he reached out to people.”—Russ Trowbridge, Salt Lake City
Star Trek fans have been contacting us to ask how we are taking the death of Leonard Nimoy. Actually, we didn’t really know him very well. Our first encounter was when we first visited the Star Trek sets on the Desilu Studio lot, and he ignored us completely. Nimoy and Shatner had been warned about fans becoming persistent pests, or worse. So they avoided fans in those early days.
Still, we enjoyed watching Leonard Nimoy in character whenever we could visit the set. He had a dual problem: his character was stoic and withdrawn, and he had deal with sci-fi technobabble. Nimoy’s difficulty with nonsense words shows in “The City on the Edge of Forever,” where Spock kept saying ‘menomic’ instead of ‘mnemonic’ and the horned ape-beast in "A Private Little War" was called a ‘gumato’ in the script, but Spock kept referring as ‘mugato’: the name stuck. He was not alone in this problem with alien words, as we have seen through so many Trek series and movies.
Fans felt betrayed when Nimoy wrote I am Not Spock, but we think it was his way of distancing himself from both the role that threatened to typecast him, and from the now quite-vociferous fans who wanted to adore him up close. Nimoy hired a personal assistant who became an iron curtain between the actor and his public. We were to become far more familiar with this formidable person than with Nimoy.
Finally, it dawned on Nimoy that Star Trek was doing more than bringing in a paycheck and that these crazy Trekkies were helping to keep his career alive, and help put his children through college. He wrote I am Spock and started accepting convention invitations. Here was another income he had ignored for years. We still found him very remote, but at least willing to talk to some of us. We had him as a guest at one of our Equicons, but then he became too expense to invite again. Still, at least the fans could finally meet and even talk to Leonard Nimoy.
Mr. Spock’s Vulcan salute got around. Years ago, we’d been invited to a midwest Star Trek convention, along with the volatile author, Harlan Ellison. Bjo had known Harlan since they were both 18, so she was not as buffaloed by him as were other fans. As the fan-loaded van tried to pull out of the airport, it became obvious that going-home traffic had clogged the highway. Harlan began loudly complaining that it would take hours to get to the convention hotel, when Bjo saw a car approaching with a Star Trek sticker on the front windshield. So she stuck her hand outside the van and made a Vulcan salute to the car. It stopped to allow the van into traffic, and Bjo smirked at Harlan, “See? You just have to speak the language!” Harlan groused about smart-alecs all the way to the hotel.
We were very honored to meet Wah Chang, the artist who designed the original Spock ears, and he told us this story. Over time, various people made executive decisions about “improving” the ears, and each time, Nimoy would catch the changes. He would argue that the original set was what the fans liked, so they didn’t need any fiddling to “make them better.” Each time, the ears went almost back to their original design, but not quite. Nimoy was right: the fans did notice, and said so. Wah Chang also said that Nimoy was very patient when being fitted, which was not a hallmark of many actors.
Over the years we watched Nimoy’s career grow, and were happy for him. After he directed Star Trek III and IV, Nimoy became more comfortable with himself and with fans. He probably didn’t go out for a beer with them after a convention talk, but at least he was more available. More recently, he even Skyped appearances when personal attendance was no longer feasible.
In spite of our not being close to him, our family was deeply touched by Leonard Nimoy. During our bare times, the free exhibits at the Griffith Observatory were often our only entertainment. Colonel Griffith J. Griffith, who willed funds to build the 1935 public observatory in Los Angeles, said: “If all mankind could look through [the Mt. Wilson] telescope, it would change the world!” He would have been pleased to know how many Star Trek fans have looked through the historic planetarium telescope. Our family visits included admiring the Chesley Bonestell space paintings, asking for a Tesla coil demonstration, and showing bemused visitors how to jump together to make the seismograph needle jump. When we left in the evening, we’d climb the stairs to the upper level to see all the lights of Los Angeles spread out below.
Then the Nimoy family donated one million dollars to renovate and add to our beloved Observatory. Not only that, but they actively looked for more donations to make sure the project was fully realized. We wish he knew how much our family has enjoyed the amazing and enjoyable scientific additions that could not have happened without the Nimoy family. Now fans can also enjoy special films in the Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon Theater and lunch at the Café at the End of the Universe: a legacy that will entertain and educate all ages, in the Los Angeles area and from all over the world.
An official memorial announcement on the Griffith Observatory website said: “Griffith Observatory and Friends of The Observatory are saddened by Leonard Nimoy’s passing today. His and Susan Nimoy’s generosity and spirited endorsement energized the entire renovation and expansion of Griffith Observatory. Mr. Nimoy was committed to people, community, and the enlarged perspective conferred by science, the arts, and the places where they meet. The Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon – the Observatory’s theater for special programs, public lectures, school program demonstrations, and other cosmic performances – is named to honor Leonard Nimoy’s expansive and inclusive approach to public astronomy and artful inspiration. Thanks to Leonard Nimoy, Griffith Observatory goes boldly where no public observatory has gone before.”
We had a last brief meeting with Leonard Nimoy under unusual circumstances. Bjo was invited to Paramount Studio to be interviewed for a short documentary on the making of The Motion Picture. Several fans who had been extras on the rec deck scene were gathered for the interview: Chris Doohan, David Gerrold, JoAnn Christy, Fred Bronson and Bjo. John had not been able to get off work to be in the first Star Trek movie, so he stood to one side and watched, along with other friends. The documentary was being filmed a couple of stages away from the highly secret filming of J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek movie, and we’d been told there was NO chance of getting on the set.
Then one of the documentary folk decided it would be dramatic to show the fans arriving at the stage where we’d become actors on the Enterprise. Never mind that most of the stages had been renumbered; all he wanted was a door for us to walk up to and open. Problem was, there were not many stages open at that time. Hey, the stage door of the new movie set was open, right? No. The door was unlocked, but it was guarded by a firm security person who had no intention of letting us enter the stage, even if for a few steps. We could not have seen anything from the doorway; there are always curtains or other baffles just to keep random light from hitting the set.
By this time, most of us just wanted to go home, but the documentary makers were now determined on this scene. Never one to be deterred, David went to the door and invoked a name that allowed him onto the stage. He was gone only a minute when someone from the set returned with him to OK letting us use the doorway. They filmed the scene several times while John and the documentary crew stood in the driveway between stages, and the security man rolled his eyes… a lot.
On the final cut, David and Bjo were inside the half-darkened stage, turning quietly to leave, when someone appeared to tell us that the documentary fans could come in to see the movie set after all. Bjo went to the door to call John and the others. Several delighted fans tiptoed onto the stage; an unnecessary precaution since the warning red light was not on.
We were still in the dark when Leonard Nimoy walked in behind us. He greeted David as an old friend, and David waved us Trimbles over and said “You remember John and Bjo Trimble?” Nimoy gave us that big smile and said, “Of course!” and shook our hands, then escorted us to the set as if we were all his personal guests. We’re old enough to withstand being dazzled by a celebrity, but we were certainly fan-boys at that moment! Not even being greeted by J.J. Abrams a few minutes later topped that!
“… we shouldn't mourn his passing so much as look back and celebrate what was a long life and successful career.” —Cary Condor, Vancouver, Canada