Leonard Nimoy (born March 26, 1931) is an American actor, film
director, poet, musician and photographer. He is best known for playing the
character of Spock on Star Trek, an American television series that ran for
three seasons from 1966 to 1969, reprising the role in the movie sequels,
the spin-off series Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Star Trek.
Leonard was born in Boston, Massachusetts, to Yiddish-speaking Jewish immigrants from Izyaslav, Ukraine. His father, Max Nimoy, owned a barbershop. His mother, Dora Leonard (née Spinner), was a homemaker. Leonard began acting at the age of 8. His first major role was Ralphie in Clifford Odets' "Awake and Sing," at 17. He studied photography at UCLA, but left before completing his degree. He graduated from Boston College in 1953, and has an MA in Education and an honorary doctorate from Antioch University in Ohio.
Leonard spent much of his early career doing small parts in B-movies, TV shows such as Dragnet, and serials such as Republic Pictures' Zombies of the Stratosphere. In 1961, he had a minor role in The Twilight Zone episode "A Quality of Mercy".
Leonard served in the U.S. Army Reserve, being discharged in November 1955 as a sergeant. According to the National Archives and Records Administration, Nimoy's U.S. Army service record was destroyed in the 1973 National Archives Fire.
As a foretaste of what was to come, Leonard and William Shatner (who would go on to play Spock's commanding officer, Captain James T. Kirk) found themselves on the opposite side of the Iron Curtain in the 1964 episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., "The Project Strigas Affair". With his saturnine looks, Leonard was predictably the villain, with Shatner playing a reluctant U.N.C.L.E. recruit. Leonard went on to reprise Spock's character in a voice-over role in Star Trek: The Animated Series, in two episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and in six Star Trek motion pictures featuring the original cast. He played an older Spock in the Star Trek movie directed by J. J. Abrams.
Before his success in Star Trek, Leonard had acted in more than fifty movies or television shows. He appeared as "Sonarman" in two episodes of the 1957-1958 syndicated military drama, The Silent Service, based on actual events of the submarine section of the United States Navy. Although most of these appearances were on television, Leonard also guest starred in The Balcony, an adaptation of a play by Jean Genet. Following the cancellation of the original Star Trek series, Leonard immediately joined the cast of the spy series Mission: Impossible, which was seeking a replacement for Martin Landau. Leonard was cast as an IMF agent who was an ex-magician/ make-up expert, "The Great Paris." He played the role from 1969 to 1971, on the fourth and fifth seasons of the show. (As noted by Patrick White in The Complete Mission: Impossible Dossier, Landau had been an early choice to play Spock.) It was during the run of the show that Leonard fell ill with a stomach ulcer.
He co-starred with Yul Brynner and Richard Crenna in the Western movie Catlow (1971). Leonard also appeared in various made for television films in this period, such as Assault On The Wayne (1970), Baffled (1972), The Alpha Caper (1973), The Missing Are Deadly (1974), "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" (1978), Seizure: The Story Of Kathy Morris (1980), Marco Polo (1982) and he received an Emmy award nomination for best supporting actor for the TV film A Woman Called Golda (1982). Leonard played other guest roles in a number of TV series including Bonanza, The Eleventh Hour, Get Smart, Two Faces West, The Outer Limits, Combat!, Perry Mason, Night Gallery & Columbo. He played a murderous doctor and was one of the few criminals at whom Columbo ever really became angry. In the late 1970s, he hosted and narrated the television series In Search of..., which investigated paranormal or unexplained events or subjects. He also has a memorable character part as a psychiatrist in Philip Kaufman's remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It was during this time that Leonard won acclaim for a series of stage roles as well. He has appeared in such plays as Vincent, Fiddler On The Roof, The Man in the Glass Booth, Oliver!, Six Rms Riv Vu, Full Circle, Camelot, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, The King And I, Caligula, The Four Poster, Twelfth Night, Sherlock Holmes, Equus and My Fair Lady. When a new Star Trek series was planned in the late 1970s, Leonard was to be in only two out of every eleven episodes, but when the show was elevated to a feature film, he agreed to reprise his role.
After directing a few television show episodes, Leonard broke into film directing in 1984 with the successful third installment of the Star Trek film series (Star Trek III: The Search for Spock). Leonard would go on to direct the most successful (critically and financially) film in the franchise to date, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) and move beyond the Trek universe with Three Men and a Baby, the highest grossing film of 1987. At a press conference promoting the 2009 Star Trek movie, Leonard made it clear that he had no further plans or ambition to direct.
“ No. No, I'm done with all that, thank you. I never set out to be a director. After Spock had died, sort of, in Star Trek II, they brought me in for a meeting and asked if I'd like to be involved in Star Trek III, in the making of it, and I had been told that I should be directing. I took it as an insult because I thought, "what's wrong with my acting?" But I thought maybe now I should do that and I said I'd like to direct the movie, and I suddenly found myself with a directing career which I had enjoyed and I had enough of it. I directed I think five or six films -- I had a good time.”
Leonard also did occasional work as a voice actor in animated feature films
including the character of Galvatron in The Transformers: The Movie in 1986
and The Pagemaster in 1994. Nimoy's work as Galvatron is potentially the
work for which he will be most remembered in regards to an animated
series/feature, as The Transformers: The Movie remains a long-standing
animated favorite among fans new and old of the Transformers franchise. The
film celebrated its twentieth anniversary in 2006, exposing a new generation
of viewers to Nimoy's work in the role, due to the re-release of the film on
a specially remastered two-disc set.
Leonard has written two autobiographies. The first was called I Am Not Spock (1977) and was controversial, as many fans incorrectly assumed that Leonard was distancing himself from the Spock character. However, Nimoy's stated intention was to remind the public at large that Spock and Leonard were not the same person. In the book, Leonard conducts dialogues between himself and Spock.
The contents of this first autobiography also touched on a self-proclaimed "identity crisis" that seemed to haunt Leonard throughout his career. It also related to an apparent love/hate relationship with the character of Spock and the Trek franchise.
His second autobiography was I Am Spock (1995), and the title was meant to communicate that he finally realized his years of portraying the Spock character had led to a much greater identification between the fictional character and the real person. Leonard had much input into how Spock would act in certain situations, and conversely, Nimoy's contemplation of how Spock acted gave him cause to think about things in a way that he never would have thought if he had not portrayed this character. As such, in this autobiography Leonard maintains that in some meaningful sense, he really is now Spock, and Spock is he, while at the same time maintaining the distance between fact and fiction.
Leonard has also written several volumes of poetry, some published along with a number of his photographs. His latest effort is titled A Lifetime of Love: Poems on the Passages of Life (2002). His poetry can be found in the Contemporary Poets index of The HyperTexts. In the mid 1970s Leonard wrote and starred in a one man play called Vincent based on the play Van Gogh by Phillip Stephens.
In 1995, Leonard was involved in the production of Primortals, a comic book series published by Tekno Comix that involved a first contact situation with aliens that had arisen from discussion between him and Isaac Asimov. There was a novelization by Steve Perry.
During and following Star Trek, Leonard also released five albums of vocal recordings on Dot Records, including Trek-related songs such as "Highly Illogical", and cover versions of popular tunes, such as Proud Mary. The albums were extremely popular and resulted in numerous live appearances and promotional record signings that attracted crowds of fans in the thousands. The early recordings were produced by Charles Grean, who may be best known as the composer of "Quentin's Theme" for the mid-sixties goth soap opera, Dark Shadows. These recordings are generally regarded as unintentionally camp, though his tongue-in-cheek performance of "The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins" received a fair amount of airplay when Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings films were released.
In addition to his own music career he directed a 1985 music video for The Bangles' "Going Down to Liverpool". He makes a brief cameo appearance in the video as their driver. This came about because his son Adam Leonard (now a frequent television director) was a friend of Bangles lead singer Susanna Hoffs from college.
He released a version of country music legend Johnny Cash's song I Walk the Line.
Nimoy's voice also appeared in a song from 1988's pop band "Information Society". The song was What's On Your Mind? (Pure Energy) which reached #3 on the US Pop charts, and #1 on Dance charts. Throughout the song, Leonard can be heard stating "Pure Energy". This was again thanks to the efforts of Adam Nimoy, who was a fan of the band.
Leonard appeared in Hearts of Space program number 142 - "Whales alive."
Starting in 1994, Leonard began to narrate the Ancient Mysteries series on A&E including "The Sacred Water of Lourdes" and "The Last Days of the Romanovs". He also appeared in advertising in the United Kingdom for the computer company Time Computers in the late 1990s. He had a central role in Brave New World, a 1998 TV-movie version of Aldous Huxley's novel where he played a character reminiscent of Spock in his philosophical balancing of unpredictable human qualities with the need for control. Leonard has also appeared in several popular television series—including Futurama and The Simpsons--as both himself and Spock.
In 2003, he announced his retirement from acting in order to concentrate on his photography, but has subsequently appeared in several popular television commercials with William Shatner for Priceline.com. He also appeared in a commercial for Aleve, an arthritis pain medication, which aired during the 2006 Super Bowl.
Leonard also provided a comprehensive series of voiceovers for the 2005 computer game Civilization IV. He did the TV series Next Wave where he interviewed people about technology. He is the host in the documentary film The Once and Future Griffith Observatory currently running in the Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon Theater located at the recently reopened Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, California.
In January 2007, he granted an interview to Fat free film where he discussed his early career and the benefits of being typecast.
On July 26, 2007, it was revealed at Comic-Con that Leonard would return to reprise his famous role as Spock one more time in the movie Star Trek, while Zachary Quinto will play his younger self. Leonard was given casting approval over who would play the young Spock in the new film.
On November 9, 2008, he narrated "Shining Through the Broken Glass: A Concert to Commemorate Kristallnacht".
On January 6, 2009, he was interviewed on Biography Channel's Shatner's Raw Nerve.
In May 2009, he played William Bell in the season finale of Fringe. Bell will return this fall for an extended arc, and according to Roberto Orci, co-creator of Fringe, Bell will be "the beginning of the answers to even bigger questions."
Leonard has long been active in the Jewish community. As a teen he was active in BBYO, the Jewish youth organization; he won their award for distinguished alumni. He speaks and reads Yiddish. One of his better-known roles was that of Tevye the milkman, in the musical Fiddler on the Roof, based on the series of short stories by Yiddish author Sholom Aleichem. In 1997, he narrated the documentary A Life Apart: Hasidism in America, about the various sects of Hasidic Orthodox Jews. In October 2002, Leonard published The Shekhina Project, a photographic study exploring the feminine aspect of God's presence, inspired by Kabbalah. His photographs, which show nude women draped in tefillin (phylacteries), which are typically worn by Jewish males, aroused considerable controversy in the Jewish community.
Leonard has been married twice. In 1954, he married actress Sandra Zober, whom he divorced in 1987. He had two children with her, director Adam Leonard and Julie Nimoy, who both appear in an Oldsmobile commercial, with the famous tagline, "This is not your father's Oldsmobile". In 1988, he married actress Susan Bay, who is a cousin of director Michael Bay.
Leonard introduced the Vulcan nerve pinch in an early Star Trek episode ("The Enemy Within") where Spock was supposed to KO the evil Kirk in the Engineering room. He suggested the "pinch" as a non-violent alternative. Leonard also devised the Vulcan Salute - a raised hand, palm forward with the fingers parted between the middle and ring finger - based on the traditional kohanic blessing, which is performed with both hands, thumb to thumb in this position: a position thought to represent the Hebrew letter shin (ש). (This letter is often used as a symbol of God in Judaism, as it is an abbreviation for one of God's names, El Shaddai. This usage is seen, for example, on every mezuzah.) Leonard says he derived the accompanying spoken blessing, "Live long and prosper" from this source, as the last phrase of the blessing is "May the Lord be forebearing unto you and give you peace" (Numbers 6:24-26). Leonard was asked to read the verses as part of his narration for Civilization IV.
This Leonard Nimoy Biography Page is Copyright © 2004 - 2009 Chuck Ayoub