Chris Walsh (chris_walsh) wrote,
Chris Walsh
chris_walsh

Caring to Share my mid-Nineties writing: my review of Star Trek Memories

(I really should have a Star Trek icon...)

At the University of Oregon, where I was from 1992 to 1996, I wrote for a time for the student-run Oregon Voice. Fun publication, which is good 'cause we didn't get paid except in fun. One of my few published things in the Voice was a review of Star Trek Memories by William Shatner and Chris Kreski. While cleaning this week (hard to clean a week; all sorts of things get hung up on the ys at the end of the days, and getting into Saturday's nooks and crannies is a nightmare), I found the final draft I turned in; it was trimmed further, but here's how I wanted it to run, and by the way I make a little fun of Shatner here:

You can make any jokes you want about William Shatner's not-quite-there directing abilities, but this true ham of a man has proven in twenty-five years of Star Trek convention appearances that he is a surprisingly good storyteller. He's a man who makes stories about himself -- his favorite subject -- entertaining instead of the exercises in vanity they could be.

Shatner has now, with the assistance of co-writer Chris Kreski (a staff writer on, of all shows, Beavis and Butt-Head), accomplished 300 pages of entertainment in Star Trek Memories, the story of the creation and first three seasons of the meatiest meal ticket of Shatner's life.

Star Trek Memories covers the show's first three years of existence, an era when Star Trek was mostly misunderstood by nervous network executives (who did all they could to get rid of Spock, a character they found too "demonic" for American televsion) and ignored by America, save for the first few loyal fans.

Gene Roddenberry's battles to create and produce a different kind of television show are recreated with liberal use of the stories supplied to Shatner by the people who worked with Roddenberry from 1964 to 1969, from the origin of Star Trek to its cancellation. Shatner has the sense to let his Star Trek colleagues tell their stories themselves when they know more about an incident than he did. In one of the liveliest passages in Star Trek Memories, where Shatner recounts blow-by-blow a huge, escalating practical joke he pulled on Leonard Nimoy, Nimoy takes full advantage of being able to add his piece by tossing comments into Shatner and Kreski's text, making sure his side of the story gets heard.

These anecdotes are more than ably supplemented by over a hundred behind-the-scenes photographs and production sketches, several of them with captions like "Demonstrating his remarkable precognitive abilities, Kirk imitates Corleone a full four years before The Godfather's premiere."

Like both Shatner's acting style and Shatner's toupee, the story of Star Trek is almost always dramatic and over-the-top. A spectacular stunt by a certain young motorcycle cop and aspiring writer named Officer Roddenberry earns the cop a career in television. The long hunt for Star Trek's star yields such prospective Enterprise captains as Lloyd Bridges and Jack Lord (Lloyd Bridges? Jack Lord?) And the September 1966 unveiling, on two fronts, of Star Trek, earns first impressions that make day and night look like identical twins.

The program's original two episodes were seen for the very first time by the world at a Cleveland science fiction convention, from which a triumphant Roddenberry telegrammed 'STAR TREK' HIT OF THE CONVENTION, VOTED BEST EVER. The show then premiered, just over a week later, on TV sets in tens of households -- a premiere which yielded miniscule ratings and such reviews as "a dreary mess of confusion" from critics who had seen one, single, bad, poorly-chosen episode. It wouldn't be until the mid-70s, the age of Star Trek's rise from cancellation's grave, that the first impression had by those Cleveland conventioneers would prove to be the accepted one.

Star Trek Memories tells of Star Trek's difficult youth, when it was consistently whipped in the ratings by Lost in Space. Nearly three decades later, when enough people know and like Star Trek that it's possible for two Star Trek series to be hit TV shows at the same time, Shatner's lively recounting of the show's significant birthing pains is as entertaining as Shatner thinks he is.
Modern-day me again: Later I liked their followup, Star Trek Movie Memories, more; I saved my copy of the second book, and passed along my copy of the first. I haven't yet read their final book together, Get A Life! (about fans influenced by Star Trek, and named for Shatner's Saturday Night Live sketch (want a transcript of that sketch? Here's one!)).
Tags: books, flashbacks, star trek
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