It’s said that a role as highly visible as James T. Kirk in the Star Trek franchise can be the “kiss of death” to a professional acting career, but it doesn’t seem to have hurt William Shatner. The Canadian actor attended McGill University where he was active in theater productions on campus. During his summers through college, Shatner performed in the Royal Mount Theater Company. When he graduated in 1952 with a B.A., Shatner began work at the National Repertory Theater of Ottawa. He eventually won co-starring roles in plays such as The Merchant of Venice and Henry V, as well as the Most Promising Actor award. After a run in New York in the play, Tamburlaine, Shatner was signed to a seven-year contract by 20th Century Fox. He married a Canadian actress, Gloria Rand, and honeymooned in Scotland. It was something of a working honeymoon, however, as Shatner had a role in an Edinburgh Festival production of Henry V.
After his honeymoon, Shatner returned to New York, where he guest starred on numerous series, including the anthology programs Goodyear Playhouse, Circle Theater, Philco Playhouse, Studio One and the series The Defenders. Then came his movie debut, The Brothers Karamazov, with Richard Basehart. Not wanting to miss out on the Western genre that was so prominent in Hollywood, Shatner learned to ride a horse and to rope.
Next, Shatner landed the starring role in the two-year Broadway run of The Secret Life of Suzie Wong. This was followed by A Shot in the Dark with Julie Harris and then L'Idiote, all on Broadway.
In 1961, Shatner landed two films, The Intruder, where he plays a rabble-rouser traveling from one Southern town to another, getting people to riot against court-ordered school integration. It was later released under the titles I Hate Your Guts! and Shame. Shatner also appeared in the film classic, Judgment at Nuremberg.
Then came the role for which he is undoubtedly best known: Captain James T. Kirk on Star Trek. Shatner actually joined the series for its second pilot, when Jeffrey Hunter declined to continue in the role of Captain Christopher Pike after the first pilot was rejected. Unfortunately, during the three years that Star Trek series ran, Shatner not only separated from his wife, but lost his father, as well.
Following the cancellation of Star Trek on NBC in 1969, Shatner went on to voice Kirk in Star Trek: The Animated Series and to play the iconic character in seven Star Trek films. He also directed one of the Trek features, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Throughout that period and beyond, he made appearances in countless television series (including several long-running non-Star Trek series in which he played a leading role—T.J. Hooker, TekWar and Rescue 911, among them), and to serve as the long-term, highly visible pitchman for Priceline.com. Over the years, the actor’s self-assertive sense of humor has come to define his career, and even translated into the personality of his Emmy Award-winning character, Attorney Denny Crane, of The Practice and Boston Legal. He also made such films as Sole Survivor, and the Sherlock Holmes classic, The Hound of the Baskervilles, Fanboys, Miss Congeniality, Just in Time for Christmas and Senior Moment. Guest appearances on such series as The Sixth Sense, Columbo, Barnaby Jones, Hawaii Five-O, Third Rock from the Sun, Futurama, Hot in Cleveland, Psych, Haven and Murdoch Stories have kept him in the public eye for decades. And, from 2010-2011, he starred in $#*! My Dad Says. In addition, Shatner has written numerous fiction and non-fiction books in and out of the Star Trek vein, directed films, hosted talk shows, recorded several albums, and produced a number of documentaries, including The Five Captains.
Off-screen, Shatner has appeared at countless conventions over the years, many alongside Leonard Nimoy, until the latter retired from the circuit in 2011. Shatner, in 2017, hosted/inaugurated the first Official Star Trek Cruise. He also breeds champion American Saddlebred horses on his ranch in Kentucky, and produces and hosts the annual Hollywood Charity Horse Show, an event that has raised millions of dollars for a variety of children’s charities.
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