Leonard Nimoy And Me

March 3rd, 2015 by Max Allan Collins

The eccentric and self-aggrandizing mystery writer Michael Avallone liked to show people pictures of himself and Gene Kelly, standing together in a suburban front yard, with the great song-and-dance man’s arm slung around the pulp writer’s shoulder, both men grinning. Donald E. Westlake said to me about this photo, “The only way that could have happened is if Gene Kelly fell out of a plane.”

So the fact that I have a couple of photos of Leonard Nimoy, with me in them (that’s the back of my head in one), doesn’t mean we were pals. I doubt I made much of any impression on him. But he made an impression on me.

In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, when I was commuting to the University of Iowa in Iowa City from Muscatine (where I still live), Barb and I were in the early days of our marriage. We lived in a little two-room apartment with kitchenette and bath, where I wrote BAIT MONEY while Barb worked at the bank (the one I had Nolan and Jon rob in that novel).

Our first big shared enthusiasm (okay, our second big shared enthusiasm) was STAR TREK, which we began watching during its third season (I was aware of the show but my band the Daybreakers had our regular rehearsal on the night it aired) (no VCRs yet). Shortly after that, STAR TREK reruns began to appear in the late afternoon. I usually got home in time to see an episode.

When my schedule didn’t allow that, I lingered in Iowa City at my pal Mike Lange’s apartment, which he shared with three or four other nerds. Mike and I had been in a vocal quartet that won State every year of high school. He was one of the original sweater-vest-and-briefcase geeks and was very funny, sometimes on purpose. Barb and I called him an “incompetent Spock.” The best way to understand who Mike was is best demonstrated by his asking a waitress, “What is the ETA of a tenderloin?” Years later, Mike would join us for the various STAR TREK movies, invariably on opening night, starting with STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE, which we stood in the snow for several hours to see.

I suppose Barb and I were Trekkies, but the word wasn’t in wide use yet, at least not in Iowa. We went to one of the first ST conventions, in Detroit, where we met Gene Roddenberry, James Doohan, Majel Barrett (later to appear in my film MOMMY) and various writers from the show; I believe “The Menagerie” in black and white was shown. Around that time, I also somehow got in touch with Walter Koenig, who was a Big Little Book collector; we made some trades, and became friends, meeting up at several comic-book conventions. Very smart, nice guy, and an excellent writer. We’ve stayed in sporadic touch over the years.

We also went to see William Shatner, appearing in “The Seven Year Itch” at Pheasant Run dinner theater in Illinois; he was funny and energetic, as you might expect. This was in the early ‘70s. He signed autographs (including my copy of THE TRANSFORMED MAN) and was friendly but bewildered by the many STAR TREK fans who wanted to discuss a series that had been cancelled five or six years before. He said unequivocally that STAR TREK was dead (I asked him, “What about the rumors of rebirth for the series?” and he said, “More like afterbirth.”) I remain a big Shatner fan.

But of course the STAR TREK character and actor who had the Baby Boomers most in his thrall was Spock/Nimoy. The dignity, the humor, the humanity of that characterization spoke to so many things in my generation, not the least of which (pun intended) a shared alienation. Even more than Shatner, however, Nimoy felt captive to his ST role – the ears played a part in that – and it took him decades to understand the importance of his pop-cultural contribution, and to embrace it.

It needs to be said that the chemistry between Nimoy, Shatner and the great Deforest Kelley was the real engine of the show, thrusters be damned. That stroke-of-luck casting for three well-defined characters is the real reason why we are still looking at and talking about that 79-episode, late-‘60s science-fiction series.

In the ‘70s, Barb and I went to see Nimoy in a number of plays. One was THE FOURPOSTER, at another Illinois dinner theater, a matinee in a huge theater-in-the-round with maybe a dozen of us in attendance. Nimoy and his co-star, whose name I don’t recall, gave their all. I was very impressed. Later we saw Nimoy as a very strong Sherlock Holmes in a big, revamped version of the wheezy Gillette play; this was in a big Chicago theater and co-starred LAUGH-IN’s Alan Sues as Moriarty.

The most memorable Nimoy appearance for us was at a small political rally in the basement of the student union at NIU in DeKalb, Illinois, in October 1972. Nimoy was appearing to encourage young, first-time voters to get out and put anti-war candidate George McGovern in the White House. He gave a warm, smart speech, and we were in or near the first row. While we were McGovern supporters, Barb and I were there for Nimoy, of course. (This event, oddly enough, was just written up by me as a part of QUARRY IN THE BLACK.)

Leonard Nimoy at NIU
Leonard Nimoy speaking at NIU, 1972.

Barb and I were, in those years, very dedicated TREK fans. We still are, but as the fan phenomenon grew sillier and more shrill, we kind of reluctantly faded into adulthood. At the same time, as I said above, opening day for a STAR TREK film was our church (we also still worshiped at the temple of James Bond opening days) (still do). And Nimoy was an actor, and later director, who I continued to follow with admiration.

In the early ‘90s, when Tekno-Comics – by way of my late good friend Marty Greenberg – invited Mickey Spillane and me to create a comic book (MICKEY SPILLANE’S MIKE DANGER), the various celebrity creators of the various titles in that line were gathered at several events. Leonard Nimoy had created an s-f title, LEONARD NIMOY’S PRIMORDALS, which put me in the same room with him a number of times.

Max, Mickey, Mickey, Leonard, Neil
M.A.C., Mickey Spillane, Mickey Mouse, Leonard Nimoy, Neil Gaiman

At a Disneyworld event, specifically a luncheon, I mentioned that Barb and I had seen him in several plays, including SHERLOCK HOLMES. We spoke about Holmes for a while – Nimoy played him in a short film, as well – and he had a clear love for the character (according to Nicholas Meyer’s STAR TREK: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY, Holmes is an ancestor of Spock – and Meyer should know). I found Nimoy reserved but friendly, very Spock-like actually.

Later that same year, at a Griffith Observatory event, he was coming down an aisle with his lovely wife and I was coming up the aisle with my lovely wife. Surprisingly, he remembered me, sticking out his hand for me to shake, and flashed that great smile that is always so shocking coming from Spock. We spoke for just a minute or so, but…well, it was a moment I won’t forget. Maybe I am a Trekkie.

He died at 83. As someone said, that sounds really old, unless you’re a man of 82. I am a man of 66, who will turn 67 on the day this update appears, and 83 sounds less old than it used to. But it’s tough to have a better life, at least in terms of art and career, than Leonard Nimoy. He turned Spock into a cultural icon as well as a character of enormous appeal and power, mostly by underplaying. He appeared in numerous other TV shows and movies, and directed some as well; he was a skillful writer, one of the few poets I ever bought books by, and was a respected fine-arts photographer. Yes, I am going to say it. He lived long and prospered.

Just not long enough.

* * *

Here is an absolutely terrific, starred review of KILL ME, DARLING by Spillane/Collins.

March 15, 2015. KILL ME, DARLING. Spillane, Mickey (Author) and Collins, Max Allan (Author) Mar 2015. 246 p. Titan, hardcover, $22.95. (9781783291380).

It’s the mid-1950s. Four months ago, private eye Mike Hammer’s partner and girlfriend, Velda, left him without any sort of explanation. Mike leapt feet first into a bender, a four-month drunk; when this superb, old-school crime novel opens, he’s addicted to the booze and uninvolved in the world. His best friend, NYPD captain Pat Chambers, tells Mike he had better get his act together because Velda has turned up in Florida, hanging on the arm of a big-time gangster, and Velda’s boss from her undercover-cop days has turned up dead, the victim of a mugging that looks suspiciously like murder. So Mike heads off to the Sunshine State, determined to pull his head out of the bottle and find out why Velda left him—and, just maybe, to pull her out of whatever hole she’s put herself in and bring her back home. This latest collaboration between Hammer’s creator, the late Spillane, and noted crime writer (and frequent Spillane coauthor) Collins is based on an unfinished Spillane manuscript, but it reads seamlessly; in fact, it’s impossible to tell which parts were written by Spillane and which were written by Collins. Yes, it’s a new book, but it feels like something from 60-odd years ago, when Spillane’s prose was young and raw and full of energy. For Mike Hammer’s fans—yes, there are still plenty of them out there—it’s a sure bet. — David Pitt

Ron Fortier, fine writer in his right (righter in his own write?) is among the first to review KILL ME, DARLING.

This review of QUARRY’S CHOICE is favorable but suggests you may need a shower after reading it. Why not? I’m all in favor of cleanliness.

Here’s an interesting if patronizing essay/article on Mickey Spillane.

Here’s a nice mention of QUARRY’S CHOICE from my old pal Chris Mills (he did the great Perfect Crime “Van Cleef” covers for the NOLAN reprints). Beautiful look at the McGinnis cover.

Finally, check out this excellent, darn near in-depth look at MS. TREE.


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17 Responses to “Leonard Nimoy And Me”

  1. Terry Beatty says:

    I recall tagging along on that first day showing of ST:TMP — standing in line out in the cold at that theater at South Park Mall. I don’t remember Mike being part of the group, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t there — just that my brain is swiss cheese at this point. I loved that movie then, and despite its many detractors, I still love it today.

    Here’s hoping you have a great birthday today. Take some time off or something.

  2. Joe Menta says:

    Happy birthday, Max, and thank you for the lovely recollections of Mr. Nimoy. But it’s hard to believe that, until now, you’ve kept your “Trek-iness” hidden for the 30-plus years I’ve been reading you! Unless you’ve been open about it in years past but I’ve just missed those particular essays. And I’m with Terry: I think “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” is a terrific movie, too.

  3. Max Allan Collins says:

    I’m pretty sure Mike was along for ST:TMP, but I know you were. I saw few movies without you in those years. Like Joe, I too retain my love for the stupidly maligned first film, which I still consider the best of them, or at least my favorite.

    Joe, I’ve written about the TREK movies here, but I guess this is the first time my Trekkie credentials have been fully unveiled. My hunch is that Spock posters turn up in my early novels.

  4. Jon Jordan says:

    It’s awfully nice of you to give us a gift like this on your birthday. And the photo with the mouse id kind of surreal. Happy B-Day Al!

  5. Mark Lambert says:

    Al, thanks for posting your wonderful stories and memories about Leonard Nimoy. The man meant a lot to a lot of us. How cool that you and Walter Koenig are friends. My best friend and I met him at a Star Trek convention in Des Moines in the 80s — he walked in the room and we were standing just inside the door and he chatted with just us for about five minutes. He grinned widely when I mentioned I knew he had attended Grinnell College. Thanks again, Al, and HAPPY BIRTHDAY to you!!

  6. Bill Crider says:

    Great memories, and thanks for sharing them with us. Oh, and happy birthday, you young whippersnapper.

  7. David Nelson says:

    Happy Birthday. Hope it’s a good one. Thank you for sharing your memories of Mr. Nimoy. My favorite role of his was the doctor he played in Colombo.

  8. Max Allan Collins says:

    Some great comments from some good friends. — Jon, Mark, Bill.

    And David — funny thing, my son Nate and his wife Abby are huge COLUMBO fans. You know, Mickey Spillane appeared in one, too.

  9. Bob says:

    Now I am wondering why there has never been a STAR TREK novel written by MAC…

  10. Max Allan Collins says:

    There almost was a ST novel from me. When ENTERPRISE began airing, I was approached by Pocket Books. I did a proposal that I liked a lot, but was then told it was too much like some episode of VOYAGER or something. Then I did another that was basically THE SEARCHERS in space. They turned that down because it was THE SEARCHERS in space. But was STAR TREK described by Roddenberry as WAGON TRAIN TO THE STARS? Anyway, that never happened. I was almost relieved because I tried watching ENTERPRISE but it just wasn’t very good (despite Scott Bakula). For me it’s all about the first series, although the NEXT GENERATION movies led me into that series and it’s not bad. Spotty, but not bad, with some good people.

  11. Tom Zappe/St. Louis says:

    I hate being redundant, but happy birthday. Succeed and survive.

  12. Jan Griffin O'Reilly says:

    Boy, Al, did I enjoy that. My Dad, a pilot of fixed wing planes and helicopters, like many pilots, was a HUGE Star Trek fan. We watched every original episode as it aired and I thus became a fan. My sons are now huge fans themselves and my younger son Griffin has probably seen every episode of each series dozens of times, and each movie dozens of times, too. We just saw the last one tonight with the entire original cast to commemorate Nimoy’s passing. It was a good one. Zachary Quinto had very lovely and thoughtful things to say about his friendship with Leonard Nimoy and their enduring and deep relationship. It was a sad day when he died. (By the way, my sons graduated from Peabody High School.in Pittsbutgh, famous for its graduate, Gene Kelly!) Anyway, you’re the greatest and greatly missed. Happy belated birthday! Jan

  13. Max Allan Collins says:

    Thanks, Jan. I think the Baby Boomers were for the most part greatly touched by STAR TREK.

  14. Bob says:

    Still would love A MAC Star Trek novel. They should give you a crack at TOS.
    ENTERPRISE wasn’t so hot… well what I saw of it. My wife works at JSC, and when we got to the episode where they used mashed potatoes to seal a breach in the shuttle craft? Yeah, we never continued on. I figured we’d get around to it someday on DVD. We own them, so… I assume will get to them some day. Maybe…

  15. Mike Doran says:

    Happy Birthday (belated though it may be).

    I believe I mentioned a while back how the whole STAR TREK business passed me by, back in the day.
    My brother, who was an early Trekkeur (real hardliner), always gave me grief about how I wasn’t as devoted to TREK as he was.
    Probably no one outside Gene Roddenberry’s family or employ could have been.
    It came to a head of sorts during the “68-’69 season, which even TREK devotees concede was the least of the run.
    Why on Earth would I want to watch trivial fluff like JUDD FOR THE DEFENSE (where they were doing stories about draft resisters, heart transplants, computer card glitches, etc.), when I could watch Melvin Belli’s homage to Gorgeous George?
    Those were the daze …

    Interestingly, MeTV did mini-tributes to Leonard Nimoy all weekend long, starting on Friday night with PERRY MASON-“TCOT Shoplifter’s Shoe”, in which he *SPOILERSPOILERSPOILER* (well, you must have seen this one somewhere along the line).
    STAR TREK on Saturday, then a Sunday night mini-binge with COLUMBO, TWILIGHT ZONE, UNCLE, and MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE.
    Now there’s a tribute …

    The Age Thing:
    This is the year that I will reach 65, and I’m already starting to get junk mail from kindly folks who want to help me with my Medicare and such.
    In fact, I’ve been getting this stuff for most of the past year, addressed to my aforementioned brother, whose 65th b-day was in ’14 …
    … or would have been, if he hadn’t died in ’10 …

    Anyway, I’m still here all too aware that the parade has not only passed me by, but doesn’t want me around when it comes back the other way (Goddamn demographics).

    Good luck with that MWA Grand Master Award (to hell with subtlety; all MWAers who are also MACers, get on this ASAP).
    See you when I see you …

  16. Nice remembrance of Nimoy.

    As an aside, I took that picture… and my father was right to call Donald Westlake an asshole all those years.

  17. Max Allan Collins says:

    I knew your dad a little. I got him to sign some early hardcover Ed Noon books for me. Loved that series, and was pleased that when Curtis Books published my first novels, they were publishing (what turned to be) the last Ed Noons, too. I also understand his frustration at being dismissed for being a tie-in writer, since I’ve worked that salt mine, too. Your dad is revered by the organization I co-founded, the International Association of Media and Tie-in Writers. Just lately our discussion group was listing your father’s MAN FROM UNCLE book as a particular favorite.

    I also did not care for Bill Pronzini and others for making fun of a talented writer. Any writer who turns out a lot of material (me, for example) can fall prey to that kind of negative cherry-picking. On the other hand, your dad could be cantankerous (in letters) and was sometimes embarrassingly his own biggest cheerleader. So some of what he got could be written off as karma. But not much.

    As for Don, he was a huge influence on me and a mentor, and did me many kindnesses. But he had a cruel streak — I think if a joke occurred to him, he would blurt it, without thought or care of its hurtfulness. We are all imperfect, including your dad, Don and me.