Leonard Nimoy and the animated “Star Trek”

I am not the person to eulogize Leonard Nimoy. In just about any group of people I choose to be with, I am never the biggest Star Trek  fan. There are gaps in my viewing of the original series that would horrify a true Trekkie. I hadn’t even seen The Wrath of Khan until a few years ago. (The good news is that it holds up extremely well.) So if you want a knowledgeable appreciation of Nimoy’s life, his career in general, or his time as Spock in particular, the rest of the internet will be more than willing to help.

And yet, there is one Leonard Nimoy story that hasn’t been told much, even as just about every well deserved kind word that can be said about the man is being said. It’s a story takes place as the starship Enterprise was about to head off into the animated frontier.

Star Trek animated series title card

The animated version of Star Trek, called “Star Trek: The Animated Series” by fans to distinguish it from the live action series, came about in response to the growing popularity of the original show. Through syndication, Star Trek was gaining a bigger fanbase. Filmation’s animated version of the show was an early attempt to capitalize on the series’ growing popularity. But the animated Enterprise nearly took off without two of its regular crew members.

Filmation’s original plan was to exclude George Takei and Nichelle Nichols from the voice cast. I’m not sure exactly what their  reasoning was. The expense of hiring so many live action performers to do voice work may have been a factor. Cost concerns ultimately kept Walter Koenig from joining his fellow Trek alums in the voice cast, though he later penned an episode. Other Filmation animated shows feature very small voice casts, with each actor playing multiple roles. Though why Takei and Nichols were considered less necessary than the other actors is not clear. Another possibility is that Filmation wasn’t on board with the idea of a racially diverse starship crew. However, Wikipedia states that the original intention was to have James Doohan voice Sulu and Majel Barrett play Uhura. Whatever the reason, Nichols and Takei were going to be left out and may well have been if not for Leonard Nimoy.

Nimoy was aware that some of his fellow actors were having a rough time financially in the years before they could look forward to big movie roles and substantial appearance fees from conventions. He also believed that Sulu and Uhura were an important part of the show and of series creator Gene Roddenberry’s vision of a future where people of different races working together was just business as usual.

So Nimoy informed Filmation that if they were going to replace or recast Sulu and Uhura, they would have to recast Spock as well. Filmation relented and Nichols and Takei were added to the voice cast.

Spock with his younger self in "Yesteryear"

This was obviously an important event for Takei and Nichols, but it was also of great benefit to the show and fandom. Because when it’s at its best, the animated series really does feel like a legitimate continuation of the live action one. Yes the animation can be stiff and there’s a lot of recycled animation. And yes, the stories are sometimes very, very silly, though you could easily say the same thing of the live-action Trek. But the show’s best episodes hold up shockingly well. If you’ve never seen any animated Trek, do yourself a favor and go watch the episode “Yesteryear” on Netflix. It’s easily one of the best of the series, it’s written by perennial Trek scribe and pioneering lady science fiction writer D.C. Fontana, and – luckily enough – it’s all about Spock traveling to the past to save and guide his younger self. Elements from “Yesteryear,” as well as a few other episodes of the animated series, have even made their way into other Trek TV shows and movies.

There’s a quote from “Yesteryear” which I think is just as appropriate for reflecting on Nimoy’s passing as anything from The Wrath of Khan:

“Every life comes to an end when time demands it. Loss of life is to be mourned but only if the life was wasted. [His} was not” – Spock.

If you have a favorite memory of Star Trek, Spock, or Leonard Nimoy, please share it in the comments.

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2 comments

  1. itsthegoog

    I have never met him, but Valerie’s “Boy” and I went to see him speak at the Davis Sq Theater many moons ago. He was raising money for the Elizabeth Peabody House (http://teph.org/), where he spent a lot of time when he was growing up. They played Star Trek 3 and 4, which he directed. He was very friendly and answered a bunch of questions during the intermission between the two movies, then showed everyone out takes. It was a fun night, and I believe you can still see a ticket stub or announcement poster on display in the lobby.

  2. Jennifer

    That’s a Leonard Nimoy story I’ve not heard before you, and I’ve heard most all of them! Where the Vulcan hand salute came from (peeking during prayers as a boy in temple), where the Vulcan nerve pinch came from (LN thought Vulcans were too grounded/passive to physically fight all the time and would have come up with some non-violent way of passifying antagonists), about how two fans tracked him down at a hotel during one of the first ST conventions, and whatnot. Thanks for sharing!

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