Spock Meets Serling: Remembering Leonard Nimoy

When the sad news of Leonard Nimoy’s death broke last week, images of Spock were everywhere. And why not? Everybody’s favorite Vulcan is one of the most beloved characters in television history.

Spock

But as the custodian of “Shadow & Substance,” I couldn’t help but think of Nimoy’s work in the Serling-verse.

There wasn’t much, alas. The Twilight Zone preceded his break-out role in Star Trek by a few years. But if you’ve ever seen the Season 3 war-themed episode “A Quality of Mercy,” you may have recognized the actor playing Hansen, one of the American soldiers.

“I was only in that briefly, but my memory of it is [working with] Dean Stockwell and Albert Salmi,” Nimoy later recalled. “We were in a war-time situation, and it was a kind of fantasy story, which isn’t a common combination. It was a good episode.”

Quality of Mercy1

Unlike Hansen, Nimoy didn’t serve in the Pacific during World War II. But he was no stranger to his country’s uniform, having joined the U.S. Army Reserve for an 18-month stint in 1953. Even then, however, show business beckoned: “Part of Nimoy’s time in the military was spent with the Army Special Services, putting on shows which he wrote, narrated, and emceed,” his Wikipedia entry notes.

By the time Serling’s early ’70s anthology Night Gallery was on the air, Nimoy’s face was one of the most recognized in the world. Even with human ears and sunglasses, it was obvious who was playing Henry Auden in Season 3’s “She’ll Be Company For You.”

She'll Be Company2

Auden, a philandering widower, must cope with an unwelcome house guest: an orange tabby given to him by his late wife’s best friend, who knows all too well why he isn’t grieving. This being Night Gallery, it isn’t long before the cat begins acting … strange. It’s no classic, but Nimoy’s performance makes the episode worth checking out. (Oddly enough, it first aired on Christmas Eve of 1972. No holiday hiatuses in those days!)

Only three episodes later, he was back — this time behind the camera. And who was in front? Leslie Anne Warren, playing a fetching vampire named Hyacinth. The young man who falls in love with her refuses to listen when his friends warn him about her odd behavior, culminating in a stylishly-staged showdown … on a house boat, of all things. (Hey, this was the ’70s.)

Death On A Barge4

Death on a Barge” may not be on any Night Gallery fan’s top 10 list, but it marks the first time Nimoy directed: “I met [Night Gallery producer] Jack Laird, who had shown a bent for starting new directors, and had several conversations with him. And I guess I just pestered him long enough, until finally one day he called me in and said, ‘Read this script.’ I thought it was a wonderful story, a sort of Romeo and Juliet love story with vampire turns, and he gave me the job.”

Death On A BargeScott Skelton and Jim Benson, authors of the definitive book on Night Gallery, rightly describe Nimoy’s efforts as “quite impressive.” They point out, for example, how he handled the then-standard studio practice of shooting night scenes during the day: “Nimoy and cinematographer Gerald Finnerman use it to their advantage, creating a netherworld of half-lights and strong, evocative color contrasts.”

If you’ve ever enjoyed Nimoy’s directorial efforts on the Star Trek movie franchise, now you know where he got his start. He’s gone now, but his work on three of the most imaginative series in TV history will indeed “live long and prosper.”

Death On A Barge3

Photos of Nimoy as Spock and Hansen courtesy of Wendy Brydge. For a daily dose of Serling, you can follow me on TwitterFacebook or PinterestYou can also get email notifications of future posts by entering your address under “Follow S&S Via Email” on the upper left-hand side of this post. WordPress members can also hit “follow” at the top of this page.

Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!

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About Paul

Hard-working, hard-playing fan of all pop culture, especially the Twilight Zone. Which led to a Twitter page. And then to a blog. And then to ... stay tuned. Yes, that's a picture of Rod Serling, not me. You can find the real me under the "Your Host" tab on my blog, along with biographical details that, while 100 percent accurate, sound kind of boastful and braggy. Sorry.

Posted on 03/13/2015, in Night Gallery, Twilight Zone and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.

  1. It’s so sad to see these actors/actresses pass away. We watch them on screen where they’re forever young, and it’s so easy to forget that unlike their beloved characters, the men and women who played them have aged considerably.

    “A Quality of Mercy” is an episode that I only just recently saw for the first time. Though Nimoy’s role may not have been as significant as either of Shatner’s two excursions in the Twilight Zone, it’s still nice that he could take part in our favourite corner of the Serling-verse.

    I enjoy the original Star Trek (though I much prefer The Next Generation series), and let’s be honest: While Shatner had Nimoy beat for star status in the Twilight Zone, Spock was the real main attraction of Star Trek. As I already told you, Boss, I just love how you ended this post with Nimoy’s signature “Live long and prosper.” You’ve shown that clichés can be very acceptable and appropriate if you handle them with a light touch and a dose of cleverness.

    As with Mike, I haven’t been immersed in the Night Gallery world yet, but I’m sure that Nimoy was a treat to watch no matter what show he was on.

    This was a lovely and out of the ordinary tribute to one of the world’s best loved actors. While most articles will most assuredly focus on the pointy-eared Vulcan, you’ve really done your duty here and kept the focus on Nimoy’s lesser-known but no less important affiliation with Serling.

    Nicely done. Feel free to write my obituary when I die, m’kay? ;D

    • *ponders, types* “Although her contrarian stances virtually guaranteed that she would look with disdain on many things that brought joy to the lives of others, Wendy managed to converse with them in a manner that almost suggested she enjoyed their company.” An obit? You bet — already working on it! ;D

      Seriously, thanks so much for these kind words. I wanted to do something a little different, and I’m very pleased to hear that it worked. Nimoy will always be Spock, of course, but I thought, well, he deserves to have his fine work on TZ and NG highlighted. And if I could put a twist on a cliché along the way, so much the better! :)

      I’m glad you got a chance to see “A Quality of Mercy” recently. Nimoy’s part may have been small, but his quiet professionalism helped get Serling’s message across just as much as the headliners in that episode, as far as I’m concerned. And his work on NG is certainly a treat. You’ll see when you watch it someday.

      And yes, I’m no happier than you are at the thought of these classic stars dying off. I feel like Norma Jean Trenton in TZ’s “The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine” sometimes, watching that world of yesteryear and wishing I could step into the screen. No wonder I’ve always liked the Kinks’ song “Celluloid Heroes,” especially the closing verse:

      “I wish my life was a non-stop Hollywood movie show,
      A fantasy world of celluloid villains and heroes,
      Because celluloid heroes never feel any pain
      And celluloid heroes never really die.”

  2. Fantastic tribute and very informative, too, Paul. Thank you for it. Still not being familiar with “Night Gallery” that much, I didn’t know about those appearances, much less his directorial debut! I will definitely have to check them out.

    I wonder if, in a quantum universe somewhere, Nimoy starred in “Nick of Time” and “Nightmare,” while Shatner had the minor role in “Quality of Mercy…” But in all seriousness I would not trade Shatner’s performances in either of those episodes for any other possibility, no matter how “fascinating” it might have been!

    Trek/Zone connections: Shatner, Nimoy, Takei among the major cast… I know of John Hoyt among the guest stars, and I’m sure there are many more. I think you may have spotlit them all in a single post in the past but, if not, maybe you should plan on it for Trek’s big 50th birthday in 2016!

    • My pleasure, Mike, and thanks for the nice comment! I wish I could say that Nimoy’s Night Gallery episodes represent the series at its best (check out my “Cobwebs and Canvases” and “Broomsticks and Brushstrokes” posts for that), but they’re still worth watching. I’ve linked to them on Hulu above.

      And ha, yes, it’s interesting to imagine Nimoy taking the Shatner TZ roles, though like you, I would never actually trade in what we have now. As for a Trek/TZ post, I haven’t done that yet (in tweets, yes), but that idea has been on my list of future posts for a while now. You’re right — next year would be ideal to finally do it!

  3. I knew he was in a Twilight Zone, Paul, but I couldn’t remember which one. I didn’t know any of the rest of this. Thanks for this post. I liked him for more than Spock. This adds to the list.

    • My pleasure, Dan. I knew most people could dig up his appearance on TZ fairly easily, but I knew his work on NG would likely go unnoticed, and I couldn’t let that happen, could I? Glad you liked the post!

      • I really need to set some time aside to watch some Night Gallery episodes. He was on the original Mission Impossible too, but nobody seems to mention that either.

      • Yes, I’m sure if I ran a Mission Impossible blog, I’d be writing about THAT! I enjoyed his work on M:I — I just think it gets overlooked because he replaced Martin Landau on the series, and ML was such an iconic IMF member. Too bad, though — Nimoy did a fine job.

        And yes, I hope you can give NG a spin sometime. You’ll find some good selections (and links) in this post: https://thenightgallery.wordpress.com/2014/10/31/brushstrokes-and-broomsticks/

  4. Might I suggest the Vulcan “mind meld,” Dan, re: watching all the Night Gallery episodes? ;-]

    Yeah, I vaguely remember Leonard Nimoy in Mission: Impossible. Loved that series!

    Great post, Paul!

    • Me too, Frank! M:I is one of my all-time favorites. I’ve been rewatching them on Hulu, in fact — they’re a lot more entertaining when you know what’s actually at stake, given that I first watched them as a semi-clueless kid. Anytime they’re using masks? Oh, man, I’m THERE. Fun stuff. :)

      Thanks for the comment, Frank — glad you enjoyed the post!

      • Haven’t seen any reruns in years…will have to try to catch some. Would be interesting to watch from an adult POV, like you said. :-] I was more into that technology and gadgets, I think, when I was a kid. Same for Wild, Wild West.

  5. Great tribute to Leonard Nimoy! I didn’t know he was in “The Twilight Zone” or “Night Gallery”!

    Mr. Nimoy was a man of many interests. I remember how excited he was about the Space Shuttle Enterprise coming to NYC in 2012 & that he was a fan of one of my favorite artists Vincent van Gogh. I heard he even did a play about him.

    I’m not that familiar with the TV series Star Trek, but I enjoyed the Star Trek movies. They were campy & fun!

    • Glad you enjoyed the post! I think a lot of people weren’t aware of Nimoy’s work on TZ and NG, so this modest effort to correct that was sort of my tribute to him. He was a good man — we’ll certainly miss him.

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