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.
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.”
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.”
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 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.”
Scott 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.”
Photos of Nimoy as Spock and Hansen courtesy of Wendy Brydge. For a daily dose of Serling, you can follow me on Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest. You 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!