Thursday, January 31, 2013

SHAT HAPPENS: What's William Shatner's secret?

I think one of my first Shat memories was on a TV program, not Star Trek at all (for I had just started watching it and had decided I liked Spock best,) but The Ed Sullivan Show, something we watched with religious regularity. It was just unthinkable NOT to watch Ed Sullivan (which meant we had nothing better to do on a Sunday night). 

Along with the plate-spinning acts, contortionists and Topo Gigio, there was the odd - very odd - monologuist, some ehk-torrr who got up there and recited something tony like Dylan Thomas or Shakespeare. This was the Culture part of the program, and there seemed to be some kind of quota. I vaguely remember Richard Burton, probably held up with some sort of stand, and David Hemmings (briefly famous after the movie version of Camelot) doing And Death Shall Have No Dominion with an orchestra playing  in the background.

Speaking of Dominion, that used to be the name of a chain of grocery stores in Canada, but it was never quite as popular as Loblaws. Which is why you see William Shatner doing a Loblaws commercial in this video in about 1978, a lean period when he supposedly lived out of his truck. But before all that, before the magnificent rise and fall, there was Shatner the young Shakespearian actor, and there he was on Ed Sullivan doing Hamlet's soliloquy.

Canned culture, for sure, but I remember my father looking at him and muttering, "This guy is supposed to be the next big thing in acting. Hmph." That "hmph" sealed it for me. If my father hated him, Shatner was officially "in".

I don't remember much about that reading, but I did find a YouTube video in which he does the same passage, "to be or not to be", on the Mike Douglas show. And - he's good. Actually, a little understated; maybe he needed to bring up the intensity a bit. But he did a creditable job and said all those antiquated words as if they actually meant something. 

It's funny, but I do not remember anyone complaining about his overacting during the 3-year run of the first Star Trek series. Nobody said boo because nobody thought he overacted. I've been watching those old Treks for the eleventeenth time (and somehow they must have enhanced them for HD, because they look a hell of a lot better now, except for Sulu's acne which is worse), and so far I'm not laughing or groaning. That's because I think he's good. 

All this Shatnerian overacting business seemed to be retroactive (so to speak). The parody came later, and Shatner sort of fell into it, went along with all of it because it meant more public exposure, more work. He has been criticized for ubiquity and self-caricature, but that's like criticizing someone for having fun with their job.  

Myself, I've begun to think that Shatner on Trek was just being true to Captain Kirk, who was always a bit of a drama queen. Like Anthony Perkins and a lot of other dreamy leading men of the period, the young Shatner had a slight peach-fuzzyness about him, appealing to be sure, but just a touch androgynous. And dynamite to young women.

Shatner always works, always has, and at 82 or something, some insane age like that, he's still at it, and will do anything it seems, even make a safety video about the dangers of deep-frying a turkey. He's just around and seems not to need to sleep. He has sort of enlarged since his fox days (and he WAS a fox, make no mistake, especially during his Twilight Zone years when he was downright painfully fox-ish). He doesn't seem exactly fat, just "blown up" or expanded in some way. He does not have the saggyness and seams and crinkles that all other old people have, nor does he look freakish like Mickey Rourke, so it's doubtful he has done too much to his face. So what gives here? His skin has gone kind of like orange peel, thicker, but not slack. He'd be harder to peel, so to speak.

Sometimes I think he's like that character on one of the old Star Treks, the guy who was a gazillion years old and had been all these different famous people on earth. (The only one I really remember is Brahms.) He must be doing something different, or. . . I don't know. He acts the buffoon so frequently that no one would ever suspect that he ISN'T "one of us", but comes from some other place or has been subjected to some sort of "treatment", experimental to be sure, but which in his case seems to have worked. Like Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit, he doesn't seem to know how to die. How will he look at 100. . . 110. . . 150? Has he sold his soul to the devil or made a bargain with the turkey farmers or what? 

It's a secret. A William Shatner secret, and I doubt that he is ever going to tell it. But when he outlives all his children and then his grandchildren, the world is going to be asking some pretty tough questions.

You don't look like that at 82, you don't sound like that at 82, and you don't go around doing turkey videos unless you have something going for you that is very, very strange indeed.

This is my usual p. s., meaning I forgot a whole bunch of stuff. I am a big fan of Shatner's quirky series Weird or What, in which he explores a whole bunch of bizarre phenomena every week with his usual wacko wit. The self-parody here reaches the level of the sublime: when he points to a shelf full of books he has written, one of them is about synchronized swimming. And it is just so cool when he rides in on a horse. I don't know if I believe any of the stuff he examines on the show, but some of it is intriguing (like the signals from Russian cosmonauts that I blogged about a long time ago). 

Then there is that other thing, the thing that kind of shocks me now: there was a Star Trek episode called The Deadly Years in which everyone caught a horrible disease and began to age at a frightfully accelerated rate. The thing is, the makeup on this show was really bad, so no one really looked like an old person. Scotty looked like he'd stuck his face in a banana cream pie. Kirk, well. . . Kirk looked dumb, but absolutely nothing like his "old" self. Not even close.

When you think about it, it's all so - 

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