By Robert Gluck/JNS.org
On April 24, audiences around the country had the chance to feel what it is like to be William Shatner, the Jewish actor best known for his portrayal of Captain James T. Kirk on “Star Trek.”
For one night only, Shatner’s one-man show “Shatner’s World”—which was on Broadway and toured Canada, Australia, and the United States—was presented in nearly 700 movie theaters nationwide. Sponsored by Fathom Events and Priceline.com (for whom Shatner has famously served as a pitchman), the critically acclaimed show gives audiences a behind-the-scenes look at Shatner’s career and life.
Born to Conservative Jewish parents in the Cote Saint-Luc neighborhood of Montreal, Canada, Shatner’s path to stardom—traced in the film—took him from trained Shakespearean actor to cultural icon. The son of Joseph Shatner, a clothing manufacturer, and Anne (née Garmaise), William’s grandparents were Jewish immigrants from Austria, Poland, Hungary, and Ukraine.
“Being Jewish is a part of what I am,” Shatner said in an interview with JNS.org. “What I am is what I bring to the world as an artist. ... As in many cases of people I know, where their religion is everything to them and is very imperative, for me being Jewish is not, but being spiritual is.”
Shatner has taken an eclectic journey as an actor, musician, singer, author, film director, spokesman, and comedian. He gained worldwide fame for his portrayal of Captain Kirk, commander of the Federation starship USS Enterprise, in the science fiction television series “Star Trek” from 1966 to 1969, “Star Trek: The Animated Series” from 1973 to 1974, and in seven of the subsequent “Star Trek” feature films from 1979 to 1994. Shatner wrote a series of books chronicling his experiences playing Captain Kirk and being a part of “Star Trek” and has co-written several novels set in the “Star Trek” universe. He also authored a series of science fiction novels called “TekWar” that were adapted for television.
Besides his “Star Trek” role, Shatner played the eponymous veteran police sergeant in the television show “T. J. Hooker” from 1982 to 1986. Afterwards, he hosted the reality-based television series “Rescue 911” from 1989 to 1996, which won a People’s Choice Award for Favorite New TV Dramatic Series. He has since worked as a musician, author, director, and celebrity pitchman. From 2004 to 2008, he starred as attorney Denny Crane in the television dramas “The Practice” and its spin-off “Boston Legal,” for which he won two Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe Award.
“The theme of Shatner’s World is the joy of life, saying yes to life,” Shatner said. “What I’m able to do by the end of the evening is involve you the audience in this joyful experience about life. Life has many facets, including grief, sorrow, and death. I go through all that. But it is a joyful experience in the end, with multi-media visual effects as well as me speaking. I talk about gorillas and motorcycles and comedy and music and discuss ‘Star Trek’ and horses. The multiplicity of subject matters is there. It’s a very funny show.”
Frequently involved in charitable causes, Shatner’s excitement for horses led him to the Central Kentucky Riding for Hope organization and the Hollywood Charity Horse Show. The Priceline.com Hollywood Charity Horse Show, sponsored by Wells Fargo, was scheduled for Saturday night, April 26.
“It’s a big party with a five-day horse show and we raise a lot of money for children’s charities,” Shatner said. “Some of those charities are riding therapeutic programs.”
Shatner noted how research shows the therapeutic effect of putting people with certain disabilities or impairments on a horse.
“Frequently they’re aided beyond anything you can guess,” he said. “I’ve seen children who couldn’t walk, walk. And children who couldn’t talk, talk. What we’ve also found is that applying this to returning veterans who have problems not dissimilar to the children—physically, emotionally, socially—riding therapy really helps them.”
In 2008, the Jewish Music Group released “Exodus: An Oratorio in Three Parts,” a dramatic biblical reading by Shatner accompanied by the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra. He is also still at work on “The Shiva Club,” a movie about crashing a shiva—the seven-day mourning period in Judaism that follows the loss of an immediate family member.
“It’s about two comics who go to a shiva to try to find an agent,” Shatner said.
Despite his various roles, it will be “Star Trek” that Shatner is remembered for. In his role as Kirk, he famously kissed actress Nichelle Nichols (Lt. Uhura) in the November 22, 1968 episode, “Plato’s Stepchildren.” The episode is cited as the first example of an interracial kiss between a white man and a black woman on a scripted television show in the U.S.
“I’m told that that is the case, that my kissing Nichelle Nichols, who happens to be black, did all that,” Shatner said. “I’m not sure if it’s as dramatic as that. If that’s what people say, I’m going along for the ride. If it wasn’t for ‘Star Trek’ I wouldn’t be speaking to you today, so I’m eternally grateful to be given the opportunity to do all the things that I’ve done since ‘Star Trek.’”
Dan Diamond, senior vice-president of Fathom Events, said Shatner “takes fans on a unique and exciting journey through his ‘Shatner’s World’ show.”
“This remarkable performance by the legendary William Shatner is a perfect fit for the big screen,” said Diamond.
While the show charts the path of the joys and sorrows commonly part of anyone’s life story, it is a positive experience overall, Shatner told JNS.org.
“Everything can be termed positively and that’s what I attempt to do in this one-man show,” he said. “This one-man show is very important to me. It’s the culmination of a long career.”
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