From Trekkie to jazz: Shatner deserves space in your collection

From Trekkie to jazz: Shatner deserves space in your collection

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"Beam me up, Scotty"….. Today we are discussing a true Renaissance Man. We are honoring William Shatner, who, according to a recent television special, changed the world.

Canadian-born actor William Shatner is, of course, best known for his portrayal of Capt.James T. Kirk of the USS Enterprise in the late-'60s TV series "Star Trek," but he is so much more.

I believe that it was on the classic "Howdy Doody" show where he first made an impression on the young American viewers who would later turn into teenaged Trekkies.

No, he was not a member of the famous audience known as "The Peanut Gallery." Shatner played Ranger Bill in 1954, a role very different than his previous work as a classically trained Shakespearean actor at the Stratford Festival of Canada.

Now, don't laugh. "Howdy Doody" was a launching pad for several personalities. Beside host Buffalo Bo Smith and the various puppets, Robert Goulet played Timber Tim in the Canadian version of the show.

Bob Keeshan created the original Clarabell The Clown for the show, and we all know that Keeshan went on to become the lovable Captain Kangaroo with all of those pockets full of cool stuff.

Early Shatner roles also included two classic episodes of "The Twilight Zone." In "Nightmare At 20,000 Feet," his character, recovering from a mental breakdown, was the only passenger on an airliner to see a gremlin tearing up the wing during a flight.

With typical Shatner double takes, facial expressions and vocal pacing that has become known as "Shatnarian," he eventually opened the safety hatch and, after being sucked partly out of the window, he shot the gremlin off the wing.

Upon landing Shatner's character was hauled away in a straight jacket as a parting shot showed that the wing actually had been heavily damaged. The score was William Shatner 1, Gremlin 0.

This was not Shatner's only Twilight Zone appearance. He also starred in the "Nick Of Time" episode where he and his wife were confused by the fortunes spit from a Mystic Seer carnival machine in a small town diner that sat squarely in the middle of the Twilight Zone.

Shatner's movie and television database listing tops 350 appearances that include almost every classic drama series of the Golden Age of the tube from "Studio One" and "Playhouse 90" to "77 Sunset Strip" with Ed "Kookie" Byrnes and Efrem Zimbalist Jr.

From 1966-69 Shatner was Capt. Kirk, the role that would define his career. Who else could have been played the role?

He later reprised the role in several Star Trek movies. My favorite movie was the episode where the crew traveled back through time to San Francisco to bring a whale, and the prerequisite lovely young costar, into the future and eventually save the world, as expected.

From 1982-86 Shatner starred in the police drama the series T.J. Hooker, where he spent much of his time rolling over car hoods in pursuit of criminals and probably costar Heather Locklear.

But, it was a pair of comedy roles that really brought me to true Shatner appreciation. A 1986 guest appearance on "Saturday Night Live" found him playing himself and appearing as the speaker at a Trekkie convention.

After taking too many convoluted trivia questions from the assembled, pointed ear masses, Shatner went into a diatribe saying, "GET A LIFE, will you people? I mean, for crying out loud, it's just a TV show! I mean, look at you, look at the way you're dressed! You've turned an enjoyable little job, that I did as a lark for a few years, into a colossal waster of time!"

He was reminded by the convention organizers that he was getting paid for the appearance, and he turned to the crowd and said, "Of course, that speech was a re-creation of the Evil Capt. Kirk… So everybody… set your phasers on stun, because… this convention's ahead Warp Factor Nine!"

That was when I was hooked. Shatner was making fun of himself and his persona, and he looked like he was enjoying it immensely.

He later appeared on episodes of "3rd Rock From The Sun" in 2000 playing the alien kingpin The Big Giant Head. Now, who else could upstage John Lithgow's self-absorbed, alien turned physics professor character of Dick Solomon especially when Lithgow referred to a male corset he was wearing as his "Shatner?"

Anybody with a good, warped sense of humor today is probably watching "Boston Legal" where Shatner portrays Denny Crane, legendary lawyer, whose odd behavior he attributes to his Mad Cow Disease.

"Lock and load: Denny Crane." The role was made for Shatner, and those two Emmy trophies he now owns prove that there are many fans out there.

In 2005 Shatner invaded Riverside, Iowa, the fictional earth home of his Star Trek character, to film what turned out to be a spoof television movie, and he then topped himself by selling his recently passed kidney stone for charity in early 2006 to an online casino for $25,000.

Yes, William Shatner has achieved cult status as an actor, but he also is an author, accomplished equestrian and even more noteworthy a recording artist.

His 1968 album "The Transformed Man" redefined the term "over the top." His rendition of "Lucy In The Sky" has been voted the worst Beatles remake in history.

The long out of print cult classic has resurfaced and a 1997 compilation CD "Spaced Out" also included recordings by Star Trek costar Leonard Nimoy, who is equally, adept at the art of pushing the musical envelope.

The question has to be asked: Was he serious or was he pulling our collective leg? Nobody knows to this day except Shatner himself.

His musical persona reemerged in a brilliant series of Priceline.com TV ads where he performed lounge singer commercials ala Shatner to such a clamor that audio recordings of the ads were being traded online by his fans.

In 2004 Shatner released "Has Been," produced by Ben Folds with a little help from Joe Jackson, Aimee Mann, Henry Rollins, Brad Paisley, and Adrian Belew. Is the world ready for another Shatner album? Well, it has received a rating of 4 1/2 stars on amazon.com.

"I'm doing word-jazz -- expressing in jazz form words that come from my soul," Shatner said recently in Billboard magazine.

"William Shatner: Living In TV Land" has kicked off a new series for the network with Shatner performing live and simply having a good time being William Shatner.

"How William Shatner Changed The World" from The History Channel is a humorous Shatneresque look at innovation and how it all stemmed from, well himself, with a little help from "Star Trek."

Yes, William Shatner is truly a man of all seasons. At four score minus five years old he looks like he is having the time of his life. He is not a "has been," because as he sings on the title cut to the new album, that would imply failure.

He exudes optimism when he recites the line, "Has been is history. Has been was. Has been might again."

So, I salute you, William Shatner. I salute your sense of humor and "joie de vivre." I sincerely hope you continue to be "Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs: Denny Crane!"

Rick Chase can be reached at rick.chase@wcfcourier.com

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