Some of us are still processing the death of Leonard Nimoy; but almost lost in the midst of the outpouring of reaction to Nimoy’s passing was the death, within a day or two of Nimoy’s, of veteran TV and film producer Harve Bennett.
More on Mr Bennett shortly, but some of the tributes that emerged in reaction to the news of Nimoy‘s death have been particularly moving or even enlightening.
This response ranged from social posts by fans and friends (the image above is courtesy of Jacky Rodriquez on Facebook), statements from co-stars, from scientists, authors and political figures, to statements by famous figures across the board, such as Barak Obama, Buzz
Lightyear Aldrin and countless others, including personnel aboard the International Space Station who, perhaps in the most resonant gesture of all, photographed themselves making the Vulcan hand-salute towards the Earth.
The image below is of ISS space-woman Sam Cristoforetti paying tribute to Nimoy from inside the space-station.
Seeing those images made me realise how far things have come since the days Star Trek was originally on the air; at that time the Moon Landings hadn’t even happened yet. Now we have people pretty much living in space, and all of this progression happened within someone like Nimoy’s lifetime. What has been evident for a long time already is also how much of an influence Nimoy, and co-stars like DeForest Kelley and Nichelle Nichols had on people who are today out there in space, or people devoted to medicine or to engineering or to some other science.
Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz
Lightyear Aldrin acknowledged Nimoy’s cultural importance and that of Star Trek too; “It brought out the Vulcan in all of us; that, for me, translated into a peaceful progression of exploring the vastness of outer space for all mankind. Nimoy’s quite logical and always calm Spock struck me as an ideal person to have with us on board a spaceship headed into the unknown.”
A particularly inspiring letter by Leonard Nimoy to a teenage victim of racism in the sixties resurfaced online shortly after Nimoy’s death was announced and, like the stories of Nichelle Nichols’ encounter with Dr Martin Luther King, reminds us of the social and cultural significance of Star Trek in the 1960s beyond mere television or entertainment. The moving message, which appeared in American teen magazine Fave in 1968, is a response to a letter by the girl in a previous edition, in which she described being ostracized because of the colour of her skin. The letter is reproduced on the My Star Trek Scrapbook site, and one of the sweetest things about the letter is that it is addressed not to Nimoy but to Nimoy’s fictional character ‘Mr Spock’.
It demonstrates again how socially relevant the show was and how Spock in particular became a symbol representing different things to different people.
Comments made by Star Trek co-star George Takei on CNN highlighted that this part of Nimoy’s character continued to be expressed even beyond the early days of the original series’ run: “One extraordinary thing about him I remember: When Star Trek was going to be done as an animated series, they cast Leonard, Bill Shatner, Majel Barrett and Jimmy Doohan only for the voice acting on that. And when he discovered that Nichelle Nicholls and Walter Koenig and I were not cast because of budgetary considerations, he said, Star Trek is about diversity, and if the two people that represent diversity to most, Nichelle and George, then I’m not interested in doing it. … That was an extraordinary thing for an actor, to give up a gig on behalf of other actors. And because Leonard was so necessary to the project, they cast Nichelle and me and offered Walter an opportunity to write a script. He was really an amazing man.”
Not everyone was full of praise for Nimoy or even respectful about his passing, however; predictably those now famous hatemongers (and hate-sponges) the Westboro Baptist Church denounced Nimoy, made some scripted noise about him ‘burning in hell’ and threatened to picket the star’s funeral. This is of course standard policy for the Westboro Baptists’ by now, having done the same with Robin Williams and several other high-profile celebrity deaths. Their dislike for Nimoy might in fact have been more to do with association; George Takei and the current ‘Spock’ Zachary Quinto, who are openly gay, are ongoing hate-targets for the group, while William Shatner, it is claimed by the Westboro Baptist Church, “hates God.”
I’m not sure what the basis is for thinking Shatner “hates God”; unless these guys watched the “what does God need with a starship?” scene from the fifth Star Trek film and mistook it for real life. Though even if they did that, the entity in the movie wasn’t ‘God’ but a super-entity pretending to be god, so these guys would’ve had to first mistake the movie for real life and even then not understand the story. They’d have to be pretty dumb to do that; but then these are guys that picket funerals, so we’re not dealing with towering intellects.
Harve Bennett, another figure closely associated with both Nimoy and the Star Trek franchise, was 84: a year older than Nimoy.
After executive stints at ABC and CBS and co-creating Mod Squad, Bennett had a hand in creating or producing some of the most popular sci-fi shows on TV including The Six Million Dollar Man (he also voiced the opening credits, according to Bennett himself in a 2008 interview) and The Bionic Woman. He also produced the mini-series A Woman Called Golda — which was the late Ingrid Bergman’s final role and which also co-starred Nimoy.
But the work Bennett may remain most known for is his role in the Star Trek movie franchise, initially teaming up with director Nicholas Meyer on the second film in the series, the sublime Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan, which famously featured the death of Nimoy’s Spock.
Legend has it that Bennett feverishly watched every episode of the sixties’ TV series in preparation for his role in making the film. The enormous success of Star Trek II led to Bennett producing Star Treks III, IV and V. He can therefore be said to have played a major role in the franchise’s most successful films and in so doing can be said to have been a major influence in the continuation and longevity of Star Trek beyond the original generation. Had those few Star Trek films at that specific time in the early eighties not been so successful, it’s questionable whether we would have Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine or anything else that came after.
1986’s The Voyage Home became the first Star Trek film to surpass the century mark at the domestic box office with $109.7M. Bennett and Nimoy, who served as director and co-screenwriter on the movie, came up with the main story, which centered on the crew travelling back to 20th century San Fransisco in order to rescue two humpback whales in order to communicate with an alien probe and avert the destruction of Earth.
Bennett allegedly (I can’t find the source for this anecdote) wrote ‘the best Star Trek script never produced’ in the form of something allegedly called ‘Starfleet Academy’; in essence it might’ve been something not dissimilar to what the JJ Abrams 2009 reboot ended up being, except that in this earlier idea Kirk and Spock appear at the beginning and end of the script as their older selves and everything in-between is a flashback to their younger selves and their experiences at Starfleet Academy. There was also allegedly a draft in which the older Kirk and Spock time-travel back to the past in order aid their younger selves.
If that script is still knocking around somewhere or sitting in some dusty drawer, I’d love for someone to make either an animation out of it or a novel.
And then someone should make a movie about the Westboro Baptist Church.
Given how sympathetic a portrayal of monster Chris Kyle was accomplished, I’d venture Clint Eastwood might be the man able to somehow turn the Westboro Baptist Church folk into lovable all-American heroes.
Finally, it’s unfortunate that too many people, including so-called ‘fans’ – led in particular by an odious headline the day after Nimoy’s death in the New York Daily News – used the occasion to attack or pour scorn on William Shatner for not attending Nimoy’s funeral. I already covered my views on that particular matter in the YouTube video above, so I I’ll refrain from going into a tirade about it again here.