It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the man behind Star Trek’s Captain Kirk can recite a Shakespearean soliloquy with dignity and grace. He was trained to do so in the guise of his alter ego William Shatner. Born in Montreal on March 22, 1931, he attended McGill University originally studying commerce. He was bitten by the acting bug while in school and quickly switched majors to accommodate his new found love. He moved to Ottawa to become a member of the Canadian Repertory Theatre. He was paid $30 a week to perform in a string of low budget plays and he claims his time there was quite an experience. But being completely broke made him hungry to succeed in his chosen field. He has also appeared in a number of Stratford Festival productions.
Armed with plenty of stage experience from home, Shatner moved to New York in 1956 where he performed on Broadway and in a number of live television dramas. A lot of appearances on The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Outer Limits led Shatner to landing his first movie, The Brothers Karamazov in 1958. He is pictured above in a publicity still scanned from an original in the Northernstars Collection. He also landed parts in films like The Intruder, Judgment at Nuremberg and The Explosive Generation all in 1961.
His big break though came in 1966 as none other than Captain James Tiberius Kirk, leader of the Starship Enterprise in Star Trek. A science fiction show chronicling the search for intelligent life, Star Trek began as a critically dogged series. Most did not take much notice of the show until its final year, 1969, which coincidentally fell within the same year as the American lunar landing. Contract renewal problems wreaked havoc on the actors involved in the series. Shatner was no exception. He had difficulties financially when the series concluded. Living in a camper, Shatner hit bottom. Within the decade between the Star Trek TV series and the first Star Trek motion picture, Shatner appeared in an extensive amount of television, both made for TV films and series guest spots, barely keeping himself on his feet.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture fell out of the sky in 1979 to the joy of Shatner and Sci-Fi fans, everywhere. The film, based on the general theme of the television series in 1966, had the same cast as the show. Shatner returned as Capt. Kirk and the film brought him greater recognition and a lot more opportunity to act. His next noteworthy project was as a patrol cop on T.J. Hooker, originating as a 1982 made for TV movie it morphed into a series immediately, (Shatner played the role until 1987). While working on T.J. Hooker in 1982, he also made Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan. The first sequel in a long line of Star Trek films, the fan base was exploding and the original series was still being watched in reruns.
A departure from the serious Capt. Kirk came in 1982 in the form of comedy Airplane II: The Sequel. That said, William made Star Trek III: The Search for Spock in 1984, followed by Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home in 1986. In addition to reprising his role as Kirk, Shatner wrote and directed Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, in 1989.
Another sharp turn in the thespian road led to Shatner hosting Rescue 911, a television series based on reenactments of real life emergencies throughout North America. He made another comedy, Loaded Weapon 1 in 1993, and followed it with 1994`s Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. His love of science fiction and writing led him to pen Tek Wars, a novel about futuristic life that was adapted into a series of television movies throughout 1994. Shatner wrote, starred in and produced all of them.
In 1994, on the Star Trek: Generations television series Capt. Kirk was officially retired. That doesn’t mean he was never heard from again, Kirk resurfaced in Star Trek: Starfleet Academy, and his voice appears in Star Trek: Generations (both in 1997), and Star Trek: The Secret of Vulcan Fury in 1999.
Unknown to most, Shatner suffers from tinnitus, a constant ringing in his ears. He acquired it from a special effects explosion on one of the many sets of Star Trek. It may help explain why people have so much fun listening to his various attempts to sing. Well, maybe not so much sing as narrate lyrics to music. Once you’ve heard his rendition of The Beatles’ Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds it`s difficult to take him or them seriously again.
Shatner`s career has now spanned more than 50 years in which he was worked as a professional actor, director, producer, screenwriter and author. He is one of pop culture`s most recognizable figures, and has also established himself as a major Hollywood philanthropist. Most recently he was lauded by television critics and viewers alike for his recurring role as eccentric law firm partner Denny Crane on The Practice. Almost singularly unique to television, when that program ended its impressive run, Shatner reprised the role, but this time as a series regular on a show called Boston Legal.
And, don’t count out a return to Shakespeare. It wouldn’t be a big surprise to see him back on-stage in the future. He must be anxious to reprise his role in Henry V since being Christopher Plummer`s understudy all those years ago. He can’t go on being Kirk for too much longer, then again it looks like Star Trek has the potential for the kind of longevity Shakepeare has enjoyed.
Also see: William Shatner’s Filmography.
The image at the top of this biography is a publicity still from The Brothers Karamazov scanned from an original in the Northernstars Collection. This biography is Copyright © 2012 by Northernstars.ca and may not be reproduced without written permission. Click here for more information about copyright.