Not long ago, I boldly went where I had never gone before — to a screening of “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” at the Kodak Center Theater in Rochester, where I took the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet living legend William Shatner, aka Captain James T. Kirk of the USS Enterprise.
I’m honored to report that this pop culture icon from my childhood didn’t disappoint. Shatner was in great spirits and at ease with the audience. At 87, he still carries the power and vitality that defined his portrayal of Kirk. And he’s a funny guy.
Shatner had the whole theater in stitches with his recounting of how he enlisted fellow cast member Leonard Nimoy (Mr. Spock) to play a gag on DeForest Kelley (Dr. Leonard “Bones”’ McCoy). After Kelley began toasting a bagel during a break on set, Nimoy distracted Kelley while Shatner removed the bagel from the toaster and then reset the button.
Kelley, waiting patiently for the bagel to pop up, was nonplussed when the toaster came up empty. He valiantly repeated his effort by inserting a second bagel in the toaster; Shatner and Nimoy gleefully repeated the stunt. This time, though, Shatner resorted to stuffing the bagel into his mouth to hide the evidence. When the toaster again came up empty, Kelley looked around, saw Captain Kirk with a mouthful and hollered “SHATNER!”
Another time, Shatner recalled, he was pulled over at 4 a.m. for warp speeding along a California highway on his way to a Star Trek shoot. The California Highway patrolman was wearing a hat and dark sunglasses. Shatner was, of course, in his Starfleet Captain uniform. When the patrolman asked him to get out of his car, show his license and asked where he was going, Shatner decided he had nothing to lose.
“I got to get to my spaceship,” he deadpanned.
It was a bit of acting that had its payoff when the officer let him go, sending Captain Kirk off with the official Vulcan “live long and prosper” hand sign.
I found it hard to believe that all of Shatner’s boundless energy was coming from a man who has spent 60-plus years on the public stage. With his enthusiasm for life, gratitude for the success he has earned during his movie and TV career, and ability to poke fun — at himself, more often than not — Shatner is an inspiring example for all of us.
After the show, Captain Kirk took the time to meet premium ticket holders in person, including me. Shatner and I talked, posed for a picture and ended it with a fist bump. He was very personable, and you could tell how happy he was to be in Rochester. It was obvious to me he loves people.
Now, whenever I watch a Star Trek re-run, I have an extra big smile on my face, thanks to the memory of meeting the captain on the bridge of the USS Enterprise, James T. Kirk.