By James Gregory
"Helping your children keep a proper perspective when you become a television star is very difficult—very difficult,” Leonard Nimoy told me, as the co-star of NBC-TV’s Star Trek relaxed in his comfortable Spanish-style home in West Los Angeles.
I had heard that he didn’t want any more pictures taken of his two children—12-year-old Julie and 11-year-old Adam—and I had asked him why.
“It’s not just a question of their own perspective, it’s also a question of their relationships with their peer group—the children their own age,” he told me. “The tendency for my children and their friends is to be very ambivalent about my position. One day the neighborhood kids are very excited about the fact that there’s a so-called ‘personality’ in the area—they’ll point out my son and exclaim, ‘His father is on television!’ And they’ll be happy about it. And then on another day, and maybe the very next day, it becomes a thing of jealousy, perhaps resentment. And they can get cruel about it, you see. On the day the other kids are swinging with it, my son’s proud—and the day they get cruel, he resents it, and he wishes his father was not a public personality.
"So it gets very tough for him to find out how he should feel about his father. ‘Should I like him, or should I hate him for what he’s doing to me?’ That’s what he asks himself. ‘Should I identify with him in front of the other kids, or should I act as if I hate it so that I can suit my friends?’
"And it comes out literally that way. Adam or Julie may not be able to express it that specifically, but I can see it happening," he assured me. "There are times when the kids won’t watch the show on Thursday nights, because on Friday they want to be able to say they didn’t watch it, so as to dissociate themselves from me.
"They do it in order to be able to say, ‘I’m one of the regular guys . . . you know, like, maybe I watch it and maybe I don’t, depending on how I feel . . . just like you. I’m just like you that way. You don’t watch it every Thursday night, you watch it if you feel like it. Well, that’s the way I am. It’s just another show to me!’ They’re trying to find a posture, a position, an attitude that will make it possible for them to live in their world.
"So the decision about not having their pictures taken grew out of that. We started trying to be as loose about the whole thing as possible, but I’ve found it’s a little difficult to do that. It’s rough on the kids if you have them pose, because here’s what happens: A friend picks up a magazine and says, ‘Ah, you’re a big shot—you’re in a magazine now. I see—you probably won’t talk to us anymore. Wise guy!’ And then the bullies come out of hiding, and it’s rough for my kids. That’s the point."
"Was there ever the problem of their getting a big head?" I asked. "Did that influence you in cutting down on their publicity?"
"Well, I don’t know if it’s really a matter of getting a big head. It’s a thing of going to school, and if somebody says something about Star Trek, they say, ‘Yeah, that’s my father. Did you see him last night? He plays Mr. Spock.’ Well, other kids immediately think that’s a big head. It’s just an overt, active kind of positive identification which they find they have to be a little careful of."
"Do the two children express their feelings about posing for pictures?" I asked Leonard.
"No, I kind of lead them," he admitted. "See, I understand that it’s possible to avoid posing. They may not know that it’s possible to just say, ‘I don’t want to do that anymore; let’s lay off of it for awhile.’ But I know that it is possible. I’m the one who’s in control of that factor, so I was the one who suggested that they not pose anymore."
"Do they know about your decision ?"
"I don’t know that they really know I’ve actually done anything to implement it. But their picture hasn’t been taken for awhile. It’s all very recent . . . just in the past week or two.
"And we have talked about it, and we have agreed. I’ve said, ‘O.K., look —I’ll just arrange that you don’t have to have your picture taken with me, and you won’t be embarrassed by having your picture show up in the Sunday papers or the magazines or whatever, and maybe that will help for awhile.’
"Actually, they weren’t excited about posing for pictures anyway. They were the very first couple of times. They thought, ‘Gee, this is kind of a groove, people coming over and taking our picture!’ But after that it wasn’t so interesting to them. It would just become a matter of course, and they weren’t very anxious to be involved.
"I remember one specific occasion. about four or five weeks ago, where we had to go out to the San Fernando Valley on a Saturday afternoon to do a photo layout, and the kids were supposed to come along. But they had made plans with their friends. So I said, ‘Do you want to come with us? We’re going to have some pictures taken for a magazine? And they didn’t want to go. They had made plans and were eager to see their friends and do things that they wanted to do. And I said, ‘Fine.’ So they didn’t come with us. The photographer and the others involved were very unhappy, but I can’t help that. I’m the one who’s got to deal with my children.
"They’re the ones that live with me, and they’re the ones I’m responsible to. I’m not responsible to the photographers," he emphasized.
"Of course, I cooperate as much as possible. But it’s bad when you reach the point where it’s become a problem in your own home. Because that’s really what it’s all about: The work and everything must be geared to ‘How are you living? What is your life all about?’
"lf your life is unhappy because of your work, then everything is upside-down. I chose my work because I thought that was the kind of work that was going to make me happy. Now I want to do those things in my work that do make me and my family happy. I enjoy doing Star Trek on television, and now I’ve even made a record album for Dot Records, Leonard Nimoy Presents Mr. Spock’s Music from Outer Space, on which I do songs and readings. That was something else I’d been wanting to do, because I enjoy singing.
"But my point is, the work itself is the most important thing about my job —the publicity isn’t. If people are interested in me, if they want to know about me, I tell them as much as I can and let them know as much as possible, until the point where it begins to make us unhappy at home. When the work has reached a point where it starts to make you unhappy, then the thing that you started out to do is all twisted—which is to find happiness through the work. So you have to make adjustments.
"My kids not only feel the impact of my success through the publicity, they also feel it in terms of the fact that I’m very, very busy," Leonard pointed out.
"We’re not shooting right now——we’re on layoff, so I see my kids more than I did when we were filming. But every weekend since we stopped shooting, I’ve been in some other city to promote the show. Once we start shooting again, I’ve got to cut down on that, because I need my weekend rest and I must have time to spend with my family.
"When I’m working, I don’t see them at all during the week. I leave the house at about six in the morning, when the kids are still asleep, and I don’t see much of them when I get home at night. They’re wrapping up their homework and getting ready for bed. So weekends are usually the time when we look forward to finding if we’re still together and here and alive!"
"What do you do on the weekends?" I asked.
"Well, it depends on what time of year it is. During the summer we like to go to the beach and go fishing, and we go out to eat sometimes. Sandy and I socialize with our friends on Friday night and Saturday night. But we’re here, you see. We’re here, and we’re near the kids, and whatever we do stems from here. And even if they go off with their friends on Saturday afternoon, they know that we are both here. They know where we are, and that when they come back we’ll be waiting-whereas during the week that’s not true. I’m not here. Sandy’s in very close touch with them, though. She drives them to school in the morning, in the car pool."
"So you try to keep the best of the old normalcy, yet enjoy the material benefits of your new success, as far as your family is concerned—would that be about it?" I asked.
"Yes, I think that’s probably the best way to express it," he agreed. "Financially, I’ve been doing pretty well the past half-dozen years or so and living in this house, though things were rough before that, when I couldn’t find enough work. Now the difference is going to be that we’ll take, perhaps, a better type of vacation. We’ll be able to buy a wider variety of clothing. Our wardrobes have always been very carefully selected. Now I’m beginning to enjoy the idea that I can walk in and buy a blazer jacket or a couple of pairs of slacks and not be quite so concerned as to whether I’m buying the $15 pair of slacks or the $18 pair, or the $20 pair. We don’t worry about the rent money anymore. We’ll have it, and we’ll have the food—it’s there."
"On balance, are your children glad that you have the show, then?" I asked.
"Oh, yes—they’re very, very pleased about it!" he assured me. "They`re pleased about it in the same way I am, because they’ve been living with an actor for a long time, and they know what acting is. They understand that I’m an actor—that I was before, and that I still am now. But the thing they’re very pleased about is that there’s some kind of regularity to it now . . . and that there’s a real identification?
“What do you mean by identification in that sense?" I asked.
"Well, let’s put it this way. Normally you ask a child, ‘What does your father do?’—if he’s at that age where the child knows. And he’ll say, ‘Well, he’s a doctor.’ ‘Where does he practice?’ ‘Oh, he’s got an office in Beverly Hills.’ That’s identification. He knows who his father is, what he does, and where he does it.
"Or he’ll say, ‘My father’s an engineer; he works for Douglas.’ ‘How long has he been working there?’ ‘I think three years. And before that he was with Grumman. He helps build airplanes, you know.’
"But if your father’s an actor they ask, ‘What does he do?’ ‘He acts.’ ‘Well, where?’ ‘Well — in different places . . .’ It starts to become intangible at that point. ‘Well, he was on The Virginian.’ ‘What show?’ And then the kid has to start and tell the story about the particular Virginian his father did. If the person says he doesn’t remember seeing that one, you’ve lost contact — it becomes unreal. You know? Like, maybe his dad was on it and maybe he wasn’t. Like Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman, the boy’s out there with a smile, and if the world doesn’t smile back he’s in trouble.
"So that’s what it is. When a person says, ‘Oh, yeah! I remember that . . . I saw him in that,’ and then fills in part of the story, wow! What a relief! Your child thinks, ‘Thank God, he saw it and he remembers it.’ Because that means you’re real. Otherwise they say, ‘Well, I`m not sure; you know, there are a lot of people around who say they’re actors. So I’m not sure about that.’ You’ve got to have identification. You’ve got to know who you are, where you are, and what you do-or what your father does."
"And now your children know that," I observed.
"Yeah, now they know," he grinned. "He’s on every Thursday night, on Star Trek. He plays Mr. Spock. And if the other kids don’t know that, they just don’t watch television, and that settles that!"