The Amazing Kreskin invited me to join him at William Shatner's new Broadway One Man Show, the immodestly entitled, Shatner's World: We Just Live in It, which just opened in New York for a three week hop, skip and jump prior to its 15 city national tour. On second thought, what's so immodest about that title? Each one of us, depending on the amount of self-love we can muster, lives in our own more or less self-concerned world, but we are loathe to admit it, not just because we don't have Shatner's joie de vivre, fearless nature or multi-faceted talents, but because we lack Shatner's confidence in his own talents and/or his willingness to go where no man (or actor) has gone before -- from commanding a space ship to negotiating for Priceline. What was amazing was Shatner's exquisite comic timing, demonstrating the old-time jokes he learned when he was working in the Laurentian Mountains, the Canadian version of the Catskills.
Kreskin and Shatner met 50 years ago in the late 1960's when The Amazing World of Kreskin was in its first Top Ten Year on Canadian TV. Shatner had just retired from his Star Trek command as Captain James T. Kirk, the first man on TV to kiss a black woman and later an alien female also -- fortunately two different performers.
Shatner, one of Kreskin's first guests, was a principal in an amazingly weird experiment. Shatner handed out 10 keys to random members of the studio audience before being trussed up and handcuffed and waited for Kreskin, who was freezing in a remote phone booth during an unexpected blizzard, to select the person who had the key to unlock Shatner's shackles. Did Kreskin do it? Need you ask? Of course he did. Shatner and Kreskin worked together 3 more times that year, became great friends, kept in touch by email and phone, but hadn't seen each other in the flesh for 50 years. When we went backstage, Shatner had tears in his eyes when he hugged Kreskin and said, "Kreskin, I thought you were dead. Are you still working?" which gave The -- I call him by his first name because we're friends -- the opportunity tell Bill that he had 22 performances scheduled during the coming month plus a dozen radio and TV media engagements.
Shatner's been lucky but he wouldn't have been if he hadn't said, "Yes!" to opportunities less confident folks would certainly have slunk away from. From his father, a clothing manufacturer, he learned how to pack jackets perfectly, to arrive five minutes early and to always know his lines. The latter two skills endeared him to producers. Shatner was also the explorer who discovered that outer space was not anti-Semitic when he went where no Jew had ever gone before. He was accompanied by another Jewish Captain, Leonard Nimoy's Spock as well as Captain Sulu, now known as George Hosato Takei Altman since he stood under the Huppah with spouse Brad Altman. Incidentally, the ability to make the Vulcan salute with four fingers spread into two groups is a traditional, possibly genetic ability, which only the Hebrew priestly Hebrew class, the kohanim, were able to accomplish.
Shatner easily laughs off what people have said about him, i.e., that he has an "ego the size of Uranus." For me his greatest accomplishment was selling his "onyx of agony" kidney stone for $25,000 -- 25 times more than any surgeon would dare to bill him -- and contributing the cash to Habitat for Humanity. Whatta mitzvah!
Shatner often undertakes proposals that seem foolish but end up profitable, like becoming the spokesman/negotiator for Priceline for 13 years in exchange for stock, which kept him prominently visible on international TV. It reminded me of the fortune Al Jolson made by accepting stock rather than salary for starring in The Jazz Singer, which made Jolie Warner Brothers' largest stockholder. Shatner may have been killed in a recent Priceline commercial but not to worry. As long as he's still under contract to them he's only in limbo.
Shatner's also been a consistently endearing, award-winning TV series performer. In The Practice and Boston Legal, as Denny Crane, Denny Crane, he demonstrated his superb but loveable comic timing and proved that Alzheimer's disease is no reason to give up brandy and cigars. He was hilarious in the TV sitcom Bleep, My Father Said, based on the book, !@#$% My Father Said, where he played the disgruntled retired doctor-dad of an (ugh!) unpaid blogger who'd moved back home. His recent interview show, Aftermath, as well as Raw Nerve, both on the Biography Channel, displayed him as an interesting conversationalist, able to speak in a personal, knowledgeable one-on-one way with not-your-run-of-the-mill guests from Daniel Ellsberg of Pentagon Papers fame or infamy (depending on your politics) to Bernie Goetz (ditto) about what happens when individuals are tragically or infamously transformed into household names.
In a recent New York Post profile, Shatner listed several commandments of his own. Like listening to what your body tells you, arriving early, realizing that lust is not love, and that sex isn't everything. Would he have come to those conclusion at 40? He also believes that riding horses is total and utter communication, that it's ok to indulge yourself but one should hold on to a good bit of your cash to reduce the anxiety of living when things turn bad for you, and finally, to age ungracefully and say yes to new things and new people like he does. He's 80 but feels 35 and looks 50, as we all would, happily married to a woman as kind and gorgeous as his wife, Elizabeth.