William Shatner appears Saturday at the Garde in celebration of 'Wrath of Khan' and his varied career
As James T. Kirk, captain of the Starship Enterprise on "Star Trek," William Shatner went where no man had gone before — and not just in terms of infinite space.
Shatner's career subsequently expanded like an elastic galaxy of success: more television roles ("T.J. Hooker," "Boston Legal," "The Practice"); authorship (several memoir-ish and "Trek"-centric books as well as cowritten sci-fi novels); film parts (a succession of "Trek" movies, the "Miss Congeniality" series); voice-over work including beaucoup video games; ad spokesperson ("Priceline"); recording artist; philanthropist, and sundry other activities that have established himself as one of the most famous people in the world.
Despite all this, though, if one is browsing the merchandise section on Shatner's official website, the vast bulk of the goodies for sale are associated with the "Star Trek" franchise. The holiday or birthday shopper eager to surprise a friend or relative might be disappointed if they're looking for an autographed photo of Shatner as T.J. Hooker (standing, perhaps, with co-stars Adrian Zmed and Heather Locklear); or an action figure of Shatner pitching a Priceline vacation package; or maybe a Boston Bruins stocking cap worn by Shatner as Denny Crain on the funeral scene/"Boston Legal" episode in Season Three ...
Wait! The merch section DOES have one of those stocking caps, complete with the copy: "Imagine wearing the cap and getting comments from your friends only to take it off and show them the (production company and show title embroidery) and say that you 'picked' it up from the set of 'Boston Legal'!"
One prominently missing item, though, for the true Shatner fan, might be the Michael Myers mask from the "Halloween" films. Shatner wasn't in those movies, but the serial murderer Myers always wears an iconic mask that was, originally, a rubber Shatner "Star Trek" pullover head that was made to depict a Captain Kirk death mask for one of the "Trek" episodes.
In a brilliant, spur-of-the-moment epiphany by the crew of John Carpenter's cash-strapped original "Halloween" — when they couldn't afford to conceptualize and produce their own Myers mask — a costume person impulsively flipped Shatner's "Kirk death mask" head inside-out and, presto! Michael Myers!
"Yeah, that IS my mask!" Shatner sounds thoughtful as he speaks by phone last week, driving from Los Angeles to Las Vegas for a horse show (another of the 87-year-old's many activities). He'd just been asked if there are regular royalty checks from the movies or costume shops for use of his image with the Myers mask — and what continues to be one of the biggest-selling costumes each Halloween.
"I wouldn't know where to begin in terms of recouping any of that." He laughs. "I imagine 'Star Trek' owns the rights to the Kirk mask, or maybe the 'Halloween' people. I guess I missed out."
Given that the interviewer has been allocated a strict 10-minute time limit to speak with Shatner, a discussion of the "Shatner Accidental 'Halloween' Mask Incident," as it might be called, is maybe not be the best use of a very concise opportunity. Shatner, after all, is appearing in New London's Garde Arts Center on Saturday for "William Shatner Live!" in conjunction with a showing of "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan." After the screening, Shatner will take the stage to tell anecdotes and answer audience questions about Kirk, "Trek" and his long career.
SUBHEAD: 'Trek' or Treat
But the subject of the "Halloween" mask prompts Shatner to share a few memories. He says that once, one of his daughters was shopping for a costume at a Halloween shop and saw the Michael Myers mask and thought it looked oddly familiar. She asked the clerk what it was and, Shatner chuckles, "He told her was 'The Shatner death mask they used in "Halloween".' She freaked out and came home to tell me. Of course, I already knew, so I took my daughters trick or treating and WORE the mask and, at each door, I'd pull it up so people could see the likeness. It was pretty great."
Hmm. Five valuable minutes have blown by but, frankly, the "Shatner 'Halloween' Mask Incident' has been pretty entertaining. The trick now, though, is to try to come up with any angle of any career topic that Shatner hasn't addressed dozens if not hundreds of times. The journalist can give it a try.
Q: Would T.J. Hooker — Shatner's title role of an L.A. police sergeant in a popular show that ran from 1982-86 — make a better astronaut than James T. Kirk would make a street cop?
A: "Oooh," Shatner says slowly, thinking. "That's a very important question because you've come up with a question I've never been asked before. I have to think about that." He pauses and says, "Well, both are highly qualified to be either fictional policemen or fictional space men. Having learned a great deal about each career while I was playing those parts, I think I'll just say I'd rather be an actor than either — and I say that with all respect to police and astronauts."
The journalist — a pop culture outlier who saw every episode of "T.J. Hooker" but only ONE episode of "Star Trek" — decides to try for a hopefully obscure "Trek" question about the Starship Enterprise's onboard physician, Dr. Leonard McCoy (portrayed by DeForest Kelley), whom Captain Kirk always referred to by the nickname "Bones."
Q: Have you ever, in real life, had a family physician or surgeon or even a veterinarian ask you to call them "Bones" as a personal, "Treky" favor? Or maybe YOU called them 'Bones' just to be funny?
Shatner chuckles and his response is immediate and in a completely unexpected context.
A: "No," he says, "but I breed dogs" — ANOTHER Shatner activity! — "and so often I go into the grocery store, to the butcher, and I'll use that word. 'Bones.' And that gets a response. It's totally sincere and a genuine request on my part, and I'm not doing it to be funny. But I guess it's just that I'm saying the word 'bones' that has an effect."
Almost out of time! The logical thing would be to at least ask ONE "Star Trek" question. On the other hand, any Trekky already knows more about the show/movies than Shatner does, so the decision is made to explore Shatner's admittedly peculiar side career as a recording artist. Along with Leonard "Dr. Spock" Nimoy, Shatner released "rock" albums going back as far as the late '60s. Shatner relies on a dramatic, spoken-word delivery probably more appropriate to the "Richard II" and the "Let's talk of graves, and worms, and epitaphs" soliloquy than pop — but his renditions of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" and "Mister Tambourine Man" from that era are certainly, ah, memorable.
More recently, Shatner has recorded "Has Been" (2004, produced by Ben Folds) as well as two discs using the finest musicians from the worlds of rock, prog, funk and country. "Seeking Major Tom" (2011) featured Zakk Wylde of Black Label Society; Peter Frampton; Brian May of Queen; Steve Howe from Yes and Asia; John Wetton from King Crimson and Asia; Ritchie Blackmore from Deep Purple; Alan Parsons; Bootsy Collins of Parliament-Funkadelic; and country wizard Brad Paisley.
In 2013, Shatner released "Ponder the Mystery" with an up-the-ante lineup that included Billy Sherwood and Rick Wakeman from Yes; Foreigner's Mick Jones; guitar shredder Steve Vai; fusion virtuoso Al Di Meola; Edgar Winter; Hawkwind's Nik Turner; country magician Vince Gill; Tangerine Dream's Edgar Froese; the Doors' Robby Krieger; and George Duke.
William Shatner has a better Rock & Roll Hall of Fame than the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame does!
Q: How do you describe the musicians you've worked with on the last few albums?
A: "It's ... well, it's just incredible talent." Shatner sounds almost intimidated. "The fascination for me was that all these players wanted to be on album with me. I'm not sure why that would be. The more albums I make, the more these incredible musicians want to be on them. I'm doing a blues album now and ... it's pretty flattering, to be honest. I don't know anything about my musicianship — well, I DO know. It's nonexistent!"
Time's up, but Shatner cheerily agrees to toss out a hint of what fans can expect at the Garde. He's done several of these events in short batches of three or four so they stay fresh and he doesn't get tired.
"I'll do about an hour, and that's probably enough of me, I think," he says. "It's really fun, and I think people have enjoyed it. I certainly have a good time because it's totally ad lib. So what happens, happens." He laughs. "I do bet the subject of 'Star Trek' comes up."
If you go
What: William Shatner Live! with "Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan," discussion hosted by Lee Elci of 94.9 News Now.
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday screening of film followed by Shatner talk, audience Q&A, and fan autograph session
Where: Garde Arts Center, 325 State St., New London
How much: $49-$69
For more information: (860) 444-7373, gardearts.org