William Shatner is the John Wayne of our time.
3/11/2013 9:29:00 AM
William Shatner is an American Icon. Quite an accomplishment for a Canadian.
John Wayne has been dead for nearly 34 years, but the Duke still casts a large shadow. He’s the archetype of the rugged American; the lonesome hero who always fought on the side of right. By the 1960′s, you didn’t have to explain John Wayne to anyone. He just was. Seemingly every human on the planet knew who John Wayne was and what he was all about.
Thanks to the fragmentation of media, there are few actors and actresses who have achieved John Wayne-style immortality.
William Shatner is on that list.
Shatner is Captain James Tiberius Kirk of the Starship Enterprise. He was Captain Kirk in 1966. He was Captain Kirk in 1979. He was Captain Kirk in 1991. He is Captain Kirk today. He will be Captain Kirk 100 years from now. John Wayne will forever wear a cowboy hat and western clothes. William Shatner will always wear the yellow Starfleet uniform he donned during the three-year run of the original Star Trek.
Everything about Shatner is oversized and larger than life. He pitched margarine on TV in the 70′s.
He was in truly terrible pictures like Kingdom of the Spiders. T.J. Hooker was the most 80′s show this side of Dynasty. He tried his hand at singing, of course. His performances on the Mike Douglas Show and the Science Fiction Film Awards have become the stuff of legend.
His attempts at singing in the 1960′s and 70′s were brilliantly parodied by Shatner himself on his 2004 album “Has Been.”
The past decade has been very kind to Mr. Shatner. People who grew up appreciating the talent of William Shatner cast him on TV shows. His portrayal of the lawyer Denny Crane on The Practice and Boston Legal led to two Emmys and a Golden Globe.
I’ll even make the argument that Star Trek V, the only movie in the Trek series directed by Shatner, isn’t as bad as people remember. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I saw the movie as part of my 9th birthday (it was released on June 9, 1989), but I always enjoyed the movie for what it was. Besides, it wasn’t Shatner’s fault that the movie was released during the brutally competitive summer of 1989 (It was going up against Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Batman, and The Abyss). Nor was it Shatner’s fault that the Writer’s Guild strike of 1988 delayed production past the point that Industrial Light and Magic could complete the special effects. The end result was a second-rate showdown with “God” that Shatner admits ruined the movie.
The true legacy of William Shatner may be hard to quantify. How many people pursued careers in science, math, and aeronautics because they wanted to travel through space like Captain Kirk? How many people enrolled as astronauts? How many people joined the Military because they wanted to command a ship of their own?
When John Wayne died in 1979, Mike Royko wrote that the same spirit that inspired the Duke to scream “Fill yer hand you sonofabitch!” in True Grit also inspired people to perform irrational feats of heroism (like jumping into the Chicago River to saving a drowning person).
Shatner has made his living by playing a pretend Space Man. But he inspired untold numbers of people to accomplish great things…that are very real.