(The following is an excerpt from a work in progress…)
Author’s Introductory Note
Everyone believes they know William Shatner, the real William Shatner. He has played Captain Kirk, T.J. Hooker, and Denny Crane. He is a spokesman and an author. He’s been an enduring and entertaining presence in our lives for decades now.
Yet there was a time, a dark time, when Shatner had to struggle to find work. Between 1969, when the original series of Star Trek was cancelled, and 1978, when production began on Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Shatner struggled to get by. He kept working wherever and whenever he could. He did B movies and TV guest appearances, including game shows and talk shows. He worked hard to get Star Trek back on the screen, and he worked hard to provide for his children.
What follows are the shocking, moving, alarming and amusing true stories from what William Shatner has referred to as that period, when he toiled in obscurity just to pay the bills, unwilling to take a handout, yet willing to risk humiliation if that’s was what it took to put food on the table.
These incidents have been carefully reconstructed after years of archival research and interviews, and I have made every effort to be as accurate as possible in presenting the chronicles of Shatner: The Lost Years.
The Con Must Go On
San Diego, July 1977
William Shatner was in a foul mood. He was sitting in an uncomfortable plastic chair in a stuffy room behind a stage in the El Cortez Hotel. He sipped watered-down bourbon, checking the pockets of his out-of-date blazer to make sure he had some honey-lemon Halls. It simply wouldn’t do to breathe booze over the crowd of pimple-faced geeks waiting to see him.
Be nice, Shatner thought. Those geeks are the future, your future.
The entire Enterprise crew had their velour-covered asses handed to them by NBC eight years ago when Star Trek was cancelled, despite the freakishly obsessed fans and their letter-writing campaigns. Since then life had been a mixture of middle-class humdrum and scrabbling for roles, any roles that would pay the rent and keep his three girls clothed and fed.
Shatner looked around the room, taking another sip from his drink and making a mental note to skip the ice when he got a second one. The bourbon was bottom shelf swill, and the room was so warm the ice melted instantly, watering down the booze.
Damn it all to hell, Shatner thought, I’ve had stronger cough syrup.
A comic book writer left the room and the crowd went crazy when the guy reached the stage. His stories must be good, Shatner mused, because the guy looked like a sweaty-palmed, panty-sniffer. Then again, he thought, so did most of the convention attendees.
The only other person in the room smiled and nodded at Shatner. The man had a spectacularly awful comb-over and he reeked of pot.
If I start balding to that extent I’ll never resort to covering up like that, Shatner said to himself.
The man opened his mouth to say something. Shatner got up and went to the bar to pour himself another drink.
Christ, Shatner thought, I hope Gene can get the ball rolling again.
Roddenberry had been leading a one-man assault on Paramount for years now, relentlessly hammering the studio with storylines for a theatrical Star Trek feature film, and Paramount had finally gave Gene a green light, before shutting down The Planet of the Titans while it was still in pre-production.
Shatner tried to convince himself it was for the best, because the proposed feature was ludicrous horseshit with more writers on the payroll than cast members . . . but ludicrous horseshit paid the bills, as he knew all too well, having recently read an appalling script about a town overrun with spiders. Shatner was willing to take the role because cash was cash, and it would be a quick shoot.
Gene was now shifting gears and trying to get another series on the air. He wanted to call it Star Trek: Phase Two. That title wasn’t very exciting, it was silly, in fact, but Shatner didn’t care. He would be on The Show again; all of the old crew would be together again, except for Leonard Nimoy.
That had surprised and annoyed Shatner, but he knew why Leonard said no. Roddenberry attended conventions on his own, and he showed a crude blooper reel at every one of them, shots of the cast flubbing their lines, dropping props, and walking into the sets. For some reason, people laughing at Spock got right up Leonard’s ass. Didn’t he realize these conventions were a joke?
Shatner had already done a few of these conventions, and they seemed to be growing in popularity. For a modest per diem and a free meal he would endure an hour-long Q&A session because it was a chance to promote The Show, keeping it alive in the public consciousness and encouraging the fans, these paragons of social ineptitude, to write letters to the studio and demand more Star Trek.
The downside was that he would inevitably have to answer questions about what Jim Kirk was thinking or feeling during a particular scene, focusing his thoughts on a single moment within a hectic shooting schedule years ago. It was ridiculous, but he had to keep the fans happy, masturbating, pizza-faced fatties, the lot of them.
Now, if they asked him what it felt like having Nichelle’s photon torpedoes pressed against his chest, or demanded that he confirm the rumors that Majel often came to the set in her Nurse Chapel getup without any panties on, brother, that he could certainly—
“You look troubled, my friend.”
Shatner looked over his shoulder at the man with the comb-over. Odd way of speaking, he thought, as he poured a drink. After a moment he realized he had seen the man before. “You seem . . . familiar,” he said.
The man gave him a wide grin.
“Got it,” Shatner said. “You’re that astro-whatsis who’s always talking to Carson on the Tonight Show.”
The man nodded, and as Shatner came closer he could see that the man’s eyes were thoroughly bloodshot.
“I’m Carl Sagan,” the man said.
“You’re . . . stoned,” Shatner said in awe. “Stoned out of your . . . goddamned mind.”
Sagan responded with a deep laugh.
Shatner sat facing the man. The plastic chair creaked under him. Christ, he thought, if we do get the whole wagon train to the stars back on the rails, I’m going to have to hit the gym and lose this belly. He looked Sagan up and down, figuring the man was one of those skinny pricks like Nimoy who could eat all day and still stay slim. He’s tall like Leonard too, Shatner thought.
Sagan looked up at the ceiling and smacked his lips.
Shatner decided he despised this man. Tall, thin, carefree pricks really got under his skin at times.
Sagan was wearing one of those ugly leisure suits so fashionable these days. The houndstooth jacket had wide lapels and epaulets, and both the jacket and matching trousers were made from a double-knit synthetic. Under the jacket was a turtleneck sweater.
Shatner glanced down at himself. He was wearing a blazer thinning at the elbows, a flannel shirt, blue jeans, and his old dusty boots. He was heading to a friend’s ranch afterward to do some riding. Whenever the pressure started to build he was always able to blow it off by saddling up a horse and just heading away from people.
“We’re working toward the same future, you and I,” Sagan said.
Shatner held his tongue, thinking the man sounded as loopy as fuck.
“We see a world in which science moves us toward unity and enlightenment, sating both physical hunger and man’s thirst for knowledge, a world of physical comfort and intellectual bliss. A world in which we realize the truth of this existence.”
Shatner raised his eyebrows and sipped his drink, thinking he made the right call. The cheap stuff had a better kick without the ice.
Sagan raised his hands, his fingers moving. “A world in which we realize that we are God, awaiting realization.”
Christ almighty, Shatner thought.
“You look dooobious,” Sagan said.
Shatner shrugged. “You’re . . . out of your tree, buddy. I’m just an actor.”
Sagan gave him another toothy smile.
“All we need is love and science,” Sagan said. “Hardcore love and science.”
Shatner watched as Sagan pulled a bent joint out of his jacket and lit up with a pink Bic lighter.
“The doorway to cosmic enlightenment,” Sagan whispered, holding the smoldering spliff between finger and thumb. He took a deep draw and held it, pursing his lips. He offered the joint to Shatner.
“No thanks,” Shatner said, swallowing the rest of his bourbon in one gulp. “I like a clear head.”
“Head,” Sagan grunted. He pursed his lips again and started to laugh, releasing yellowish smoke in short chuffs.
Shatner waved away the smoke and made a face. He wasn’t a prude, hell, he’d taken a hit of LSD once, and aside from the enduring mystery of his morning-after discovery that his genitals had been painted green, he had enjoyed the ride. He just didn’t like the foul stench of pot.
Sagan frowned and took another deep hit, speaking in soft gasps. “Anti-intellectual asshole.”
“New-age freak,” Shatner replied. He got up to get another drink. He would never know if it was intentional, or just bad timing, but Sagan stretched those long legs, tripping him up. He stumbled and knocked over his chair.
Sagan laughed tiny clouds through pursed lips. “fff-fff-fff-fff.”
Shatner turned to face Sagan. “What . . . the hell is wrong with you?”
Sagan flicked the remains of the joint and it moved between them like a tiny meteor, an orange streak. The roach ricocheted off of Shatner’s forehead in an explosion of sparks and ash.
Shatner roared something unintelligible and reached for Sagan, who scooted backwards, pushing his chair across the floor.
When Sagan’s chair hit the far wall he jumped up and looked back at it in surprise.
Shatner said, “You’re completely baked!”
With an unexpected quickness Sagan grabbed the plastic chair and tossed it at Shatner’s head. Shatner somehow caught the chair, and as he raised it overhead to throw it back, Sagan ran directly at him, bending at the waist.
Sagan let out a laugh, ramming head first into Shatner’s round Canadian gut.
Shatner mouth a silent oh, doubled over, and then vomited cheap bourbon as Sagan stepped back, smoothing his comb-over into place. Shatner caught his breath and leaped at Sagan in a flying leg kick, his old boots connecting with the astronomer’s forehead.
Boot heels clocked against skull and Sagan was slammed against the wall, where he slumped onto his ass just as Shatner completed a shoulder roll and bounced to his feet.
“What’s your name,” Shatner asked. “Who’s your daddy?”
“I see stars,” Sagan said. “Billllions and billllions of them.”
“I don’t like head butts,” Shatner said, setting his chair on its feet and sitting down. “They give me a bellyache . . . and I’ve got a beauty right now.”
Shatner rested a moment, and then he got up and went to Sagan, trapping the man in a headlock. Sagan got to his knees, his long arms swinging. A fist cracked against Shatner’s chin, then connected with his left eye, and his balls.
Christ, this is like fighting an orangutan, Shatner thought woozily, as he began slamming Sagan’s head into the wall.
A moment later Shatner reeled and collapsed.
The door to the waiting room opened and two young men stared in disbelief.
One of them said, “Oh my.” On one side of his nose was a pimple so massive it caused the plastic frames of his glasses to lean off center.
The other smacked wet lips that were as red as slabs of beef liver. He was as white as paste and he looked as if he were about to cry.
Shatner was lying on his back. One eye was swollen, and blood was running out of his nose. He had damp spatters of puke on his flannel shirt and his left knee.
Sagan was slumped against the wall on his knees, his head hidden inside a hole knocked into the drywall. He looked as if he had been decapitated.
“This can never be made known,” Canted Glasses said. “This atrocity must remain secret for all time. Nothing can stain the sacred nature of the Con.”
“The Con must go on,” Wet Lips said.
The room was cleaned, chaos restored to order. The men were revived and generously compensated and sent home. New convention programs and posters were printed, minus Shatner and Sagan. Anyone who had seen the dishonorable guests there that day was sworn to secrecy.
Shatner and Sagan had never been there. Their names were stricken from the history of Comic-Con. The reputation of that sacred venue remains untarnished to this day.
The Con must go on.