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(1931– ). Canadian actor.

Acted in: "The Promise," episode of One Step Beyond (1960); "The Hungry Glass" (1960), "The Grim Reaper" (1961), episodes of Thriller; "Nick of Time" (1960) "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" (1964), episodes of The Twilight Zone; "Cold Hands, Warm Heart" (1964), episode of The Outer Limits; "The Project Strigas Affair" (1964), episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.; Incubus (Leslie STEVENS 1965); Star Trek (tv series 1966-69); The Sole Survivor (tv movie) (Paul Stanley 1970); "Encore" (1971), "Cocaine" (1972), episodes of Mission Impossible; The People (tv movie) (John Korty 1972); Hound of the Baskervilles (tv movie) (Barry Crane 1972); Star Trek (voice for animated series 1972-74); Horror at 37,000 Feet (tv movie) (David Lowell Rich 1973); Impulse (William Grefe 1974); The Devil's Rain (Robert FUEST 1975); Kingdom of the Spiders (John Bud CARDOS 1977); Crash (tv movie) (Barry Shear 1978); Star Trek: The Motion Picture (Robert WISE 1979); The Babysitter (tv movie) (Peter Medak 1980); The Kidnapping of the President (George Mendeluk 1980); Airplane II: The Sequel (Ken Finkelman 1982); Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (Nicolas MEYER 1982); Visiting Hours (Jean-Claude Lord 1982); Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (Leonard NIMOY 1984); "The Playground," episode of Ray Bradbury Theater (1986); Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (Nimoy 1986); Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (Meyer 1992); Star Trek: Generations (David Carson 1994); "Dick's Big Great Headache" (1999), two-part episode of Third Rock from the Sun (tv series) (1998-99); Free Enterprise (Robert Meyer Burnett 1999).

Acted in and directed: Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989); produced, directed, and acted in: Tekwar (tv miniseries) (1993).

No doubt there is a great deal to dislike about William Shatner. Reports from fellow actors consistently portray him as an abrasive, arrogant egotist, and his frequent talk-show appearances provide ample evidence that such a repellent personality indeed lurks beneath his genial facade. Nor is Shatner always pleasant to watch on the screen: his talents are not ideally suited to every occasion, and there are times when he attempts to bluff his way through a part simply by turning on his oppressive charm. But all his sins must be forgiven because, more so than any other person, William Shatner is responsible for transforming Star Trek into the astoundingly popular phenomenon that it is today.

As evidence for that claim, one could simply compare "The Cage," the original Star Trek pilot starring Jeffrey Hunter, to "Where No Man Has Gone Before," the second pilot starring Shatner. While Hunter's performance is not grievously inadequate, it is apparent that he is not strongly committed to the role and is not emotionally attached to its fictional environment. But conveying conviction and passion are Shatner's strengths; even in that first episode, he strives to show that he really believes in the world of the Enterprise, that he is really worried about the threat posed by his friend's new powers, that he really cares about his crew and his friend. It is besides the point to complain that Shatner is a hammy or histrionic actor, for such an excess of effort may be necessary to get an audience involved in an exotic, imaginary filmic world. In essence, by his example, Shatner trained viewers to love Star Trek; and the program's stunning success in syndication may be in part attributed to the fact that the experience of observing Shatner five times a week, not just once a week, made his lessons five times more effective.

For three seasons, Shatner perfectly inhabited and molded the role of Captain James T. Kirk, a compassionate, impetuous man always ready, depending on the occasion, to engage in fistfights, badinage, or romance; only when asked to display Kirk's superior intelligence—defeating Mr. Spock in a game of three-dimensional chess or outwitting a supercomputer—was Shatner unpersuasive. (Wisely, scriptwriters later learned to leave the thinking to other characters—Spock, Dr. McCoy, or Mr. Scott.) He was at his best in episodes that emphasized his softer side, like "The City on the Edge of Forever," "Metamorphosis," and "The Paradise Syndrome." Indeed, while there were moments of macho swagger in the character, Shatner cunningly played Kirk more as a feminine character, as evidenced, for example, in "Balance of Terror," where his agonizing over the possibility of losing lives in combat seems inappropriate for a military commander. And consider the final episode of the series, "Turnabout Intruder," where Shatner had to play a Kirk controlled by a female personality; it required remarkably little change in his portrayal.

Strangely, when Shatner returned to the role ten years later, he had lost his grasp of the character, visibly unsure whether to play the same old Kirk or to invent a new, more restrained and reflective persona; his performance in Star Trek: The Motion Picture lacked authority because Shatner himself seemed to sense the wrongness in seizing control of the Enterprise from a younger and obviously qualified commander. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan tried to force Shatner into maturity, giving him granny glasses, an ex-wife, and a grown son; but all these attributes of age were contemptuously tossed away in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and he briefly recaptured his old cockiness and air of command in the wonderful Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, by far the best film in the series. But ambivalence returned in Shatner's ineptly directed Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, which uneasily returned to the themes of growing old and dying, and in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, which offered criticisms of Kirk's stubbornly adolescent amorous impulses. Then, in what one hopes is his final appearance in the role, Star Trek: Generations reflected the same conflict by presenting a Kirk in happy retirement who is implausibly prodded back into action by the decidedly non-adolescent Patrick STEWART.

Outside of Star Trek, Shatner has had a long and active career, with uneven results. He was superb in the Twilight Zone episode "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" as the man who sees a gremlin on the airplane wing (far better than John LITHGOW in the movie remake of the episode), effective in a weaker script for The Outer Limits, and appropriately sensitive in the television movie The People. Also, in his major film appearance between the Star Trek series and the Star Trek films, Kingdom of the Spiders, he was flawless in a routinely heroic role. But his short-lived series Barbary Coast indicated just how limited his personal appeal could be, and his brief role in Airplane II: The Sequel indicated that, unlike the other television performers in that film and its predecessor, Shatner had no gift for self-parody. He went on to produce a television miniseries based on his TekWar novels (featuring Shatner in a supporting role), which seem to derive more from his experience in the routine cop series T. J. Hooker than anything he learned from Star Trek. Overall, TekWar was an odd combination of strengths and weaknesses, something like cyberpunk as envisioned by Gerry ANDERSON—suggesting that, while Shatner perfectly understood the character of Captain Kirk, he does not understand science fiction nearly as well.

In recent years, while writing two memoirs and Star Trek novels, Shatner earned a steady income displaying his compassion, and expanding waistline, as the host of the documentary series Rescue 911. Yet a recent series of self-mocking television commercials, a recurring role in the comedy series Third Rock from the Sun, and an almost affecting appearance as himself in the film Free Enterprise, suggest that Shatner may finally be mellowing into what he should have been a decade ago—a genuinely persuasive father figure for a new generation of science fiction filmmakers.

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