As a Star Trek fan, I enjoy finding out more about the actors who have played some of my favourite television characters. By attending conventions, browsing charity shops, and scouring specialist stores, I have come across three very very insightful book that have helped be delved deeper behind the scenes of the original series. These include William Shatner's and Nichelle Nichols' autobiography, as well as a biography on the creator himself, Gene Roddenberry.
Not only is it fascinating to find out about their pre-Trek lives, but it is particularly interesting to compare and contrast each individual's different take on shared situations and events. All three have very different personalities, and through reading these books, I uncovered some surprising, even shocking facts.
Going in order of when I read them, I will start with Nichelle Nichols' Beyond Uhura: Star Trek and Other Memories. The hardback was written in 1995. It might be almost twenty years old, and a lot might have happened to Nichols in that time, but it does cover the most significant moments in her life, including the ones before she was even born.
Chapter One reveals an atypical family history, in which her paternal grandfather, Samuel was the son of a white slave owner. Samuel fell in love with and married Lydia, a black woman from a family of ex-slaves. After being disinherited, the two ran away together.
This was just the first triumph over racism that the Nichols family had. Discover how Nichelle proved her Russian teacher wrong, when he said 'black people cannot dance ballet', how she managed to be cast as an important member of intrepid space explorers, and acted out the first interracial kiss on television.
Nichols describes that one of the most inspiring moments of her life was when she met, Martin Luther King Jr., who saved Lieutenant Uhura from becoming another Redshirt victim.
I had the honour of meeting Nichelle Nichols at a convention once, in which she signed her book for me. During a talk, she described the moment when she met him, and explained, 'you do not say no to the King.'
When I opened Nichols' biography for the first time, I was surprised to find that the prelude was not about her or her family, but dedicated to Gene Roddenberry, and the day of his memorial service. Sure, he was a dear friend, and the man who got her a starring role, but why give the limelight of her introduction to The Great Bird? Later I was to discover that their relationship went much deeper than this.
Nichols' autobiography is a wonderful read; not just because of the awe-inspiring stories, and shocking tales, but because of the sincerity and blunt honesty behind them.
This in complete contrast to William Shatner's Up Till Now, which begins with 'Call me Captain James T. Kirk', and Goes on to recall the day he sexually aroused Koko the Gorilla at the zoo. Shatner is a showman, and he is all for hyping up events to make them sound more exciting, funny, or sad.
I have also met Shatner at a convention, when he gave a talk about directing Star Trek: Generations. He is fantastic entertainer, and great with an audience, but to some degree, it feels as if he is always acting. Even in his autobiography. There are even moments when he promotes his own website, frequently referring to WilliamShatner.com, where 'you can order anything from a DVD of a movie in which I starred' to a 'bloodied Kirk action figure'.
There are sincere moments too though, such as his regret about killing a bear, life as a Jewish child, and falling in love. These are mixed in with tales about his acting experiences, such as how his mother sent him to acting school, how he once forgot his lines on stage, and the time he made a film in the made up language of Esperanto.
One particularly interesting section to contrast is a moment also mentioned in Nichols's book, in which she explains 'why I despise you'. Nichols and many of the other Star Trek cast members disliked Shatner because he always had the crew cut their screen time, and put him on instead. Nichols believes it was Shatner's egotism, but Shatner says he was doing what he thought would make a better show, and that the others were being petty.
If you are looking to read a biography with diversity, then you'll certainly find it here. Shatner is up for just about anything, meaning he has had many different experiences that you probably won't hear about elsewhere.
Gene Roddenberry's Biography by David Alexander is not a book your likely to be taking to read on the train. It is a large heavy hardback that requires a good comfy chair and time to ponder.
Although published posthumously, it is an authorised biography, as Roddenberry asked his friend to write it shortly before his death in 1991. In the introduction by his wife, Majel Barrett, she states that 'Gene had but one rule: the biography must be told honestly.' Roddenberry wanted warts and all included, so that readers could fully understand him.
Just as Nichols began her book with a scene from Roddenberry's memorial, the same is done here, quoting a speech made by a friend, who explained how Gene will in some way always be alive in each of us.
Definitely does tell the whole story, starting from the moment Roddenberry was born a 'veiled' baby (placenta covering the head), which is meant to signify a gifted child. He continues on, describing school life, and his fifth grade poem about a rabbit, explains how he survived an unsurvivable desert plane crash during World War Two, worked for the Los Angeles Police Department, and how he broke ground with Star Trek by creating a future where there was no racism, and humans lived in a secular society without hatred for one another.
These three books are insightful in their own right, but in conjunction with one another, it is like fitting together the pieces of a puzzle, so you can see the whole picture.