Live long and prosper

Nimoy blog

Leonard Nimoy (A5 sketchbook page, pencil, 2016)

On Sunday, the Observer newspaper printed an article on Jessie Burton, the author of the bestselling historical novel, The Miniaturist. After what she described as a ‘second-class career’ in acting she returned to her first love, writing, and produced a book that was published in 34 countries, sold over a million copies and resulted in a breakdown as she tried to deal with her own success. ‘Success can be as fracturing to your sense of self as failure: it just traumatises in a less qualified way,’ she says in the article.

The idea of success as a curse is an interesting one, especially to those of us toiling in the foothills of creativity. Wouldn’t we love to see our novel rising up the New York Times bestseller list, our paintings hanging in the Gagosian Gallery? Indeed we would, but what if that success tugged us away from all that we held dear, broke up the support systems that kept us afloat during the lean years, hammered a wedge between us and other people?

Someone who found success to be a very mixed blessing was the late Leonard Nimoy. After years as a moderately successful actor in 1960s TV shows, Nimoy was handed the role of Spock in a new space drama, Star Trek. Initially not particularly successful in the US, the series gathered momentum outside of the country (it was essential viewing when I was a boy in England) and really took off when it was syndicated.

From then on Nimoy, with his striking looks and richly beautiful voice, was Spock. Foolishly, as he admitted later, he wrote an autobiography called I Am Not Spock to try and distance himself from the character that had brought him fame and fortune. The world’s Trekkies reacted badly, threatening to ‘break him’ just as they had ‘made him’. (Personally, there are two groups I’d never pick fights with: Trekkies and fans of Star Wars.)

Some years later, Nimoy made his peace with the character and published a second autobiography, I Am Spock. By then, of course, Nimoy had also become a respected director, a photographer and a published poet, perhaps thereby loosening Spock’s grip on him somewhat.

I’ve drawn cartoon Spocks several times, mainly for my daughter’s birthday cards, but hadn’t really tried Nimoy in mufti until a few weeks ago, when I attempted the above portrait of the actor in his later years based on a photograph in William Shatner’s lacklustre memoir, Leonard.

I also met him once, very briefly. I was walking briskly through BookExpo – the publishing industry’s annual exhibition in the US – when I turned a corner and found myself standing in front of him as he waited for a publicist to take him off to sign copies of his latest book of poetry.  He seemed about nine feet tall and craggier than ever and I could think of nothing to say. I think I managed, “Good afternoon!”, received a gracious response, and then scurried off to my meeting.

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43 thoughts on “Live long and prosper

  1. I continue to stand on Success Station Platform #1 and continue to wait for my puffer-belly to belch it’s way to a full stop. In the meantime….the small cafe, just around the corner…offers great flat whites and Au Pain Chocolat. I’m good with that. For now.

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  2. I was totally into the shows as a kid in the ’60s (though i was not a Trekkie and didn’t go to the conventions, etc.). Only now do i realize what Roddenberry was doing and how visionary/bold it was. “Going where no man had gone before…” racial integration, even different races kissing (!), and all that.

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  3. I agree with Laura: it is extremely well-drawn and I knew immediately it was Nimoy (it probably helped that I’ve crushed on Spock since I was 4 years old). 🙂

    I also loved reading your post because I’ve had similar thoughts about fame and what it would mean to me personally, whether it’d be a good or bad thing, because right now, I wish so much that those in the publishing world would recognize my genius (not that I have genius, but this is a grand daydream, you know?) and would have a bidding war over my story and I’d be catapulted to the NYT Best Seller’s list. LOL! But would I really want that? Introverted me who would really rather not make public appearances…

    There is something to be said for obscurity and minor success…

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    • Thank you, Teresa. I did put extra special effort into measuring and such with this. You should follow the link to the interview with Jessie Burton and especially the link in the article to her blog post on what fame did to her – it’s compelling! It’ll also be useful when you’re Random House’s star author…

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  4. I love your drawing. I think it captures the complexity of his character, and his charisma as well as his humour (often overlooked) and it’s beautifully done.
    I agree about fame being a double edged sword. Years ago I was friends with a couple – now both dead – whose success in certain fields threw them into the limelight and would have brought fame if they had allowed it to happen, which they didn’t. I was much younger then, and didn’t understand. They were older and wiser. I’m off to read Jessie’s interview……

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  5. …….which is SO fascinating, and compelling. Actually I’m only half way through it and taking it slowly because there’s so much there, and it’s so resonant – particularly the feeling about being afraid of your own imagination. Thanks so much for this!

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  6. This is a great drawing…funny what you said about Trekkies. The post I did when Nimoy died is still the one with the most views ever. Who knew?
    And thoughtful words about fame…I’d like to make a living with my work, but fame? Can you do one without the other as a creative artist? I’m not sure. When no one knows you, you can just do what you want. But it makes it kind of hard to pay the bills…(K)

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  7. When I first looked at this sketch I thought “Macbeth” (I just finished slogging through a film with Michael Fassbinder as “M” and that may not make much sense, but there you have it) I always found Mr. Nimoy, what little I know of him, to be a highly articulate and thoughtful man-it was very interesting learning more his take on success-

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  8. Interesting thoughts on success. Wonderful portrait of Nimoy. I was always (and still am) an huge Star Trek fan. I didn’t know about the two autobiographies he wrote. Thanks, I enjoyed this post and your amazing portrait.

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  9. I have not heard of that book of Jessie Burton’s but it sounds like my life at this point of you. What you got out of that article is different from intentions but I am so glad to read about a person in my situation and I am so glad that I saw your blog.

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      • It is so hard to find what you really want and what will really makes you happy at the end. Most of the actors change their carriers in some point but I still have not figured out why is this happening. 🙂

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  10. Maybe the thing to do is to concentrate on you and your actions get and not worry too much about other actors. When I first started drawing I was a child so I only drew for myself. In my teens I suddenly became aware of other artists who were better than me in my eyes and the effect was crippling. If I could give my younger self some advice it would be simply, don’t worry and be yourself!

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