William Shatner sits in a replica of the bridge of the Starship Enterprise at Star Trek Original Set Tours in Ticonderoga N.Y. on Friday May 4, 2018. Glenn Russell, The Burlington Free Press
TICONDEROGA, NEW YORK – Capt. James T. Kirk was back Friday on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. It felt like home.
William Shatner, the actor who portrayed the swashbuckling space traveler on “Star Trek,” said it felt like home in that way it does when you return to the house you grew up in – maybe bigger, maybe smaller than you remember, but incredibly familiar.
“It’s brilliant,” Shatner told a press gathering as he sat in his familiar captain’s chair admiring the detailed Enterprise bridge that surrounded him. “It is an exact replica.”
He was speaking of the “Star Trek the Original Series” set just across Lake Champlain from Vermont, built by Ticonderoga native and professional Elvis impersonator James Cawley. Cawley has spent more than $200,000 building his officially-licensed set re-creation in an old grocery store in his hometown.
“Never in a million years, literally worshipping that guy, did I ever think I would see him in that chair, in my building,” Cawley said as Shatner sat in the captain’s seat.
Cawley brought Shatner to Ticonderoga for a weekend of mingling with fans who paid up to $1,500 to spend time with the actor. (The majority of the 1,400 who bought advance tickets to meet Shatner paid far less than that, mostly $80 for an autograph and quick chat.)
The show’s notoriously diehard fans lined up for hours in the parking lot outside the “Star Trek” set. Most wore street clothes, but others wore garb reflecting various characters from the show’s three-year run in the late 1960s, a run that became endless in repeats that helped make the show an American institution.
Shatner himself is an American institution (and a Canadian one, though the Montreal native didn’t have time on this trip to visit his hometown two hours north). At age 87 he still has that living-large Shatner persona, and was alternately cantankerous and gregarious in his media session.
He was famously cantankerous with “Star Trek” fans 30-plus years ago, dissing them on “Saturday Night Live with the line “Get a life!” He got over that long ago.
“I meet a lot of people who enjoy ‘Star Trek’ and we have a lot of fun,” Shatner said. He’ll be in town Saturday, too, for another autograph session at 1 p.m. as well as a stage presentation tentatively set for 4 p.m. (A few tickets were still available for both Friday afternoon at www.startrektour.com.)
Cawley’s re-creation of the “Star Trek” set is so complete that it was hard not to think of Shatner’s late cast mates, Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley, as Shatner sat in the captain’s chair. “That occurred to me as I walked on. Leonard would be over there somewhere,” Shatner said, gesturing over his right shoulder to Mr. Spock’s spot at the science-officer’s console. “I think of Leonard quite a bit.”
After leaving the bridge, Shatner retired to his quarters – the replica of Kirk’s private room on the Enterprise – to sign autographs. “You look lovely,” he told one autograph-seeking fan, Ariana Parodi-Gibson, who wore a flowing dress like a character from the “Star Trek” episode “Friday’s Child.” That character was pregnant; Parodi-Gibson is 32-weeks pregnant herself.
“You look lovely, too,” Parodi-Gibson told Shatner.
She came from Gloucester, Virginia to see Capt. Kirk in his native habitat. “My dad’s watched (‘Star Trek’) since I was born,” said Parodi-Gibson, who has become a fan as well. “Anything’s possible (on ‘Star Trek’). You can be anyone you want to be.”
Roy Bjellquist wanted to be Capt. Kirk, so he dressed like him, with a gold shirt with the arrowhead-shaped insignia and his dark hair in a Shatner-esque swoop at the bangs. “It’s iconic to see him here,” said Bjellquist, who came from Phillipsburg, New Jersey, to meet Shatner and have him sign a photograph.
Bjellquist was born in 1966, the year “Star Trek” premiered, and has been a fan for more than 40 years. He initially visited the replica “Star Trek” set four years ago and volunteers to help Cawley and his crew.
“The first time when I saw the bridge and got to be in the center seat,” he said of Capt. Kirk’s chair, “it brought tears to my eyes.”
Contact Brent Hallenbeck at 660-1844 or email@example.com. Follow Brent on Twitter at www.twitter.com/BrentHallenbeck. Support local journalism in Vermont by downloading our app or subscribing to the Burlington Free Press.
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