About Leonard Simon Nimoy
Leonard Nimoy has acted in films, television, and theater, and most likely will be linked forever to his memorable portrayal of Mr. Spock in the original Star Trek series 1966-1969. His character of Spock generated a significant cultural impact and three Emmy Award nominations. Nimoy is also an author of poetry and other works, as well as a director and a producer. He even recorded almost a dozen albums.
He was born on March 26, 1931 in Boston, Massachusetts, to Yiddish-speaking Orthodox Jewish immigrants from Iziaslav, Ukraine, Russian Empire. His father, Max Nimoy, owned a barbershop in the Mattapan section of the city. His mother, Dora Nimoy (née Spinner), was a homemaker.
Nimoy began acting at the age of eight in children's and neighborhood theater. His parents wanted him to attend college and pursue a stable career, or even learn to play the accordion—which, his father advised, Nimoy could always make a living with—but his grandfather encouraged him to become an actor. His first major role was at 17, as Ralphie in an amateur production of Clifford Odets' Awake and Sing. Nimoy took Drama classes at Boston College in 1953 but failed to complete his studies, and in the 1970s studied photography at the University of California, Los Angeles. He has an MA in Education and an honorary doctorate from Antioch University in Ohio.
Nimoy's film and television acting career began in 1951. But after receiving the title role in the 1952 film Kid Monk Baroni, a story about a street punk turned professional boxer, he spent most of the rest of his early career playing small parts in B movies, TV shows such as Dragnet, and serials such as Republic Pictures' Zombies of the Stratosphere (1952). This included more than fifty movies or television shows.
He played an Army sergeant in the 1954 Sci Fi thriller, Them!, and had a role in The Balcony (1963), a film adaptation of the Jean Genet play.
On television Nimoy 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.
After carving out a niche with day-player roles on the likes of "Dragnet," "The Rough Riders," "Sea Hunt," "Bonanza," "The Twilight Zone," "Dr. Kildaire" and "Perry Mason," Nimoy's featured role on a 1965 episode of "The Lieutenant" earned the attention of producer and writer Gene Roddenberry. At the time, Roddenberry was casting for the upcoming sci-fi series "Star Trek," and thought Nimoy would be ideal for the role of the stoic, logical, and brilliant science officer known as Dr. Spock. Roddenberry even allowed Nimoy to contribute his own elements to the character. Nimoy developed both the pacifistic Vulcan Nerve Pinch and the two-fingered Vulcan salute; the latter is reportedly based on a Jewish blessing.
"Star Trek" premiered in 1966, and turned both Nimoy and co-star William Shatner into legitimate stars. The groundbreaking show garnered a steady following (and earned Nimoy three Emmy nominations), but forged an active rivalry between its two competitive leading men. "The truth is, every good actor has an ego," Shatner said in his book, Up Till Now: An Autobiography. "I was supposed to be the star, but Leonard was getting more attention than I was. It bothered me." Despite the show's cult popularity, "Star Trek" closed down production and was taken off the air by 1969.
After the series ended, Nimoy was snapped up as a series regular on the show "Mission: Impossible." He spent the next two years playing the role of "The Great Paris," a master of disguise and illusion. He left the show in 1971.
After recovering from a stomach ulcer, Nimoy resumed an intensive acting schedule, touring as Tevye in "Fiddler on the Roof" and adding made-for-TV movies to his usual roster of film and television work. During this time, he began to explore other pursuits. Nimoy stepped behind the camera, and established a reputation as a competent television director. Throughout the 70s, he issued several volumes of poetry, and in 1975, he released his self-penned (and fan-offending) autobiography, I Am Not Spock, which featured a series of imagined discussions between himself and his most famous character. However, he never strayed far from on-screen work, and in 1976, he began hosting the long-running series, "In Search Of...", a show devoted to investigations of the unusual and the paranormal. In 1978, he starred in the hit remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
With the advent of the 1977 blockbuster Star Wars, America confirmed its love of big-budget sci-fi. At the same time, audiences showed a renewed interested in "Star Trek" as a result of re-run syndication. Paramount Pictures, determined to stay competitive with George Lucas's high-grossing creation, decided to capitalize on the "Star Trek" series, giving the green light to a big-screen version of "Star Trek." After settling some longstanding financial issues with the studio, Nimoy signed on to reprise his role as Mr. Spock.
The film, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, was released in 1979. It was a box-office smash, and was nominated for three Oscars. Nimoy returned for 1982's sequel, Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, and even directed the third and fourth installments in the series—1984's Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and 1986's Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.
The following year, Nimoy used his brief time away from the franchise to hone his directing chops further, and in 1987 he helmed the enormously successful Three Men and a Baby. That same year, he and wife Sandra divorced, and the following year, he wed actress Sandra Bay.
As the Star Trek film series ambled on, Nimoy and Shatner began to feel the strain. The two had put their contentiousness aside for the sake of the movies, but by the time 1989's Star Trek V: The Final Frontier and 1991's Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country hit movie theaters, Nimoy said his goodbyes to the franchise. The following year, he showcased his first screenwriting effort with "Vincent," an adaptation of a former work that he directed and starred in.
Nimoy spent the rest of the 90s honing his directing chops, voicing animated projects, and appearing in the occasional acting role. In 1995, he released his second biography, I Am Spock.
Largely retired from acting, Nimoy embraced a new career as a photographer and a philanthropist. He also mended fences with his former "Star Trek" co-star, serving as best man in Shatner's 1997 wedding to Nerine Kidd. His 2002 "The Shekhina Project" drew controversy for its depiction of Jewish themes, and his equally provocative 2007 work, "The Full Body Project," toyed with the idea of physical size and beauty. He and wife Susan continue to support the arts with generous financial gifts from the Nimoy Foundation, and the actor will reprise his most famous role in J.J. Abrams' 2009 reimagining of "Star Trek."
The Vulcan greeting:
Nimoy drew upon his own Jewish background to suggest the now-familiar salute. Back in the 1960s, hippies who watched "Amok Time" thought the salute was a variation of the two-fingered peace sign. But we Jews knew better. The Vulcan salute came not from protest marches, but from the pulpit of Nimoy's childhood synagogue.
The Vulcan greeting is based upon a blessing gesture used by the kohanim (koe-hah-NEEM) during the worship service. The kohanim are the genealogical descendants of the Jewish priests who served in the Jerusalem Temple. Nimoy modified this gesture into one hand held upright, making it more like a salute. So, technically, the Vulcan greeting is not the same thing as the ceremonial Jewish blessing. Still, the resemblance is close enough to evoke instant recognition among knowledgeable Jews.
During the synagogue service, the worshippers are not supposed to look at the kohanim while the blessing is being given. The reason for this is to focus our attention on the words of the prayer itself, rather than on the personalities of the kohanim. The kohanim are merely the channels, not the source, of the blessing, which comes from God. Unfortunately, all sorts of silly superstitions have arisen about this ritual, such as "Don't look at the kohanim, or you'll go blind!" and other nonsense. The real reason is simply to focus on receiving blessings directly from God, not from human beings.
Like most Jewish children, young Leonard Nimoy could not contain his curiosity about what the kohanim were really doing up there in front of the congregation.
He writes: "The special moment when the Kohanim blessed the assembly moved me deeply, for it possessed a great sense of magic and theatricality... I had heard that this indwelling Spirit of God was too powerful, too beautiful, too awesome for any mortal to look upon and survive, and so I obediently covered my face with my hands. But of course, I had to peek." (From his autobiography, I am Spock.)
Leonard survived his peeking unscathed, and saw the kohanim extending their fingers in the mystical "shin" gesture. That magical moment remained with him for life, and was there to draw upon years later, when he invented the Vulcan salute.
Nimoy has long been active in the Jewish community, and he can speak and read Yiddish. In 1997, he narrated the documentary A Life Apart: Hasidism in America, about the various sects of Hasidic Orthodox Jews. In October 2002, Nimoy published The Shekhina Project, a photographic study exploring the feminine aspect of God's presence, inspired by Kabbalah.
Nimoy has been married twice. In 1954, he married actress Sandra Zober, whom he divorced in 1987. He had two children with her, director Adam Nimoy and Julie Nimoy, who both appeared in an Oldsmobile commercial, with the tagline "This is not your father's Oldsmobile".
In 1988, he married actress Susan Bay, who is a cousin of director Michael Bay.
Nimoy's first wife, Sandra Zober's family are descendants of the Gaon of Vilna. See family tree chart in document section.
Nimoy began his career in his early twenties, teaching acting classes in Hollywood and making minor film and television appearances through the 1950s, as well as playing the title role to Kid Monk Baroni. In 1953, he served in the United States Army. In 1965, he made his first appearance in the rejected Star Trek pilot, "The Cage", and would go on to play the character until 1969, followed by seven further films and a number of guest slots in various sequels. His character of Spock generated a significant cultural impact and three Emmy Award nominations; TV Guide named Spock one of the 50 greatest TV characters. Nimoy also had a recurring role in Mission: Impossible and a narrating role in Civilization IV, as well as several well-received stage appearances.