William Shatner

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William Shatner Pencil Portrait
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William Shatner readily admits that his personal life suffered due to the sacrifices he made whilst working on the daily grind of various network TV shows. Referring specifically to ‘Star Trek,’ which ran on NBC for three seasons, from 1966-69:

“I was gone a great deal of the time. … I did what I could. I needed to be on the set,” he recalls. You’ve heard actors over the years talk about the number of hours they have to put in on the series and how exhausting it is, and how tired they are on the weekends, with lines to learn, and publicity to do, and finally you find that your whole year is used up. What have you done? Well, you’ve fulfilled yourself, both career-wise and emotionally, and certainly you’ve made a living, so you’re able to provide for your family. All of those things are asked of everybody’s life.”

Shatner courts controversy to this day. His third wife was discovered drowned in the family pool in 1999. Living with a chronic alcoholic is an exhausting experience. Recalling events leading up to the marriage in 2008, Shatner was philosophical.

‘You know, Leonard Nimoy telephoned me just before I married Nerine. He said just one sentence, “Bill, you do know that Nerine is an alcoholic.” I’m not sure what Leonard expected me to say. “I know she is,” I told him. “But I love her.” Leonard didn’t speak for a minute and then he said, sadly, “Well, Bill, then you are in for a rough ride.”’

Under construction

At a time when the young Shatner was jobbing wherever possible in the theatre, his first big screen role would hint at an on-screen intensity that offered the potential for a critically lauded mainstream career. What followed was worldwide success, an invariably punishing work schedule, and an essentially lightweight oeuvre.

The film that offered the promise of so much more to come was “The Intruder” (1962). Critically lauded at the time of its release, its box office potential was undermined by a near blanket distribution ban across many states. Today, the incessant use of the word ‘nigger’ will offend worldwide sensibilities, yet the word’s near exclusive association with ‘people of colour’ is at best limiting, and at worse conceptually incorrect. When John Lennon defended his composition “Woman is the nigger of the world” on the Dick Cavett show in 1972, he referred back to a (then) recent statement by Ron Dellums.

“If you define ‘niggers’ as someone whose lifestyle is defined by others, whose opportunities are defined by others, whose role in society are defined by others, then Good News! You don’t have to be black to be a ‘nigger’ in this society. Most of the people in America are ‘niggers’.

-Ron Dellums – Co-Founder and Chairman of The Congressional Black Caucus. US Congressman 1971-1998. Currently Mayor of Oakland, CA.

Recommended viewing

The Intruder (1962)

Shatner’s big screen debut – a role he would have paid director Roger Corman to land – is a flammable tale of rumbustious happenings in a scabrous Southern town when a vicious young rabble-rouser comes visiting in an effort to block integration in the schools.

A pro-integration film – Corman’s sympathies were ironically lost on many local redneck extras who happily participated in crowd scenes – it breaks fertile ground in this contentious area with obvious good intentions and a great deal of raw, arresting power. Thanks are due in no small part, to an eclectic mix of predominantly blinkered characters hell bent on reinforcing their views.

Leo Gordon, a much underrated actor, excels as the rowdy and uncouth Sam Griffin, whose promiscuous wife falls for the charms of the extrovert Cramer (Shatner). As the oily antagonist exposes her bare shoulders, the camera dissolves to a shot of a burning cross – a somewhat hackneyed but nevertheless effective stylistic device. When the infidelity is discovered, Griffin does not retaliate, or seek revenge. Instead, he advises Cramer to leave town, a reaction we do not expect especially when he initially threatens Cramer at gunpoint. Nor do we expect this seemingly crass vulgarian to be the only local intuitive enough to see the young antagonist for what he is. When the tables are reversed, he knows Cramer won’t shoot him. Shouldering some of the blame for his wife’s unfaithfulness, Griffin’s timely intervention at the film’s climactic end, calms the unruly mob intent on hanging a young negro on a trumped up rape charge against a white girl. Recognising Cramer’s involvement in the subterfuge, this is Gordon’s best role and one of the few times he was given a part worthy of his skills.

Shatner impresses as the unctuous and deceitful activist, his steely determination betrayed only by the beads of sweat that adorn his face, and his incongruous white neo-evangical two piece suit. Elsewhere, Prank Maxwell, is sturdy and stern as a straight-thinking law abiding newspaper editor who suffers physically in a mob assault, and Beverly Lunsford is suitably plain as the high school girl. Leo Gordon transforms from a cornball to a fine, fearless type in one quick jump, and Charles Barnes is momentarily devastating with his expression of fear and defiance as the lad who is almost lynched.

The film would light the torch for a subject subsequently explored by talented dramatists and cinematists. Full credit to all involved in this low budget enterprise.


Sole Survivor (1970)

Finally available in the UK via a 2016 Blue-ray Bites release, “Sole Survivor” concerns the discovery of a B-25 bomber in the Libyan desert 17 years after its disappearance during a mission to Sicily, and how a General attached to the investigation team is haunted by the ghosts of the crew whose navigator he once was.




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