Neither Charlie McKee nor Elizabeth Pearse were early risers. But on the frigid morning of February 5, 1976, the two friends climbed into McKee’s Jeep Commando for the 30-minute drive west from Toronto to Hamilton, Ontario. They were heading out to pick up Pearse’s friend Leonard Nimoy.
Nimoy was starring in the touring production of Sherlock Holmes, a popular play by actor-playwright William Hooker Gillette. Nimoy was in rehearsal at the Hamilton Place theatre prior to the play’s debut and he had booked an interview at Toronto radio station CHUM-FM.
This was five months before the doors opened on Toronto Star Trek ’76, Canada’s first Star Trek convention, created by Pearse. McKee was a co-owner of storied Toronto sci-fi bookstore Bakka and a major source for my recent definitive history of that convention. During one of our talks, McKee offered to send me his recording of that radio interview.
To the best of my knowledge, this interview had been lost to fandom – until now. Click below to listen to the entire 20-minute conversation.
A transcript of the interview was published in the 1976 Spring/Summer issue of Bakka Magazine, along with Pearse’s account of the car drive. Here are those pages.
He was not Spock
Nimoy’s somewhat controversial first book about his relationship with Spock was published in 1975 and, as the actor said in the radio interview, he thought the point he was making was straightforward:
The title is really a simple statement of fact, I am not Spock. In the sense that I am the actor who played the role, of course I am Spock, but in the sense of true identity, I am not. I am someone else.
But many fans felt Nimoy was disrespecting the character they loved, and this interview was one of the many times he was pressed to explain his thinking. He added:
…people are concerned about what my intention was with the book. “Was it my intention to disassociate myself from Spock?” whatever, which is really not the intention. The intention is to study the differences and to examine, if possible, the feelings that an actor goes through playing a character, and then being identified with the character.
But he also said playing Spock never limited his career, as Basil Rathbone experienced with Holmes.
Rathbone went through one year of [a] very difficult time when he had finished making the Sherlock Holmes films. He spent a year out of work… I have never had that problem. I went immediately from Star Trek, without a break, into Mission: Impossible… I did two years of that…and asked them to let me out because I wanted to do other things. And they did, and I’ve been extremely busy ever since. So I’ve never had the career problems that that kind of identity has created for other people.
Nimoy on stage
The radio interview was recorded on a Thursday and, on the following Saturday, Charlie McKee, Elizabeth Pearse, her daughters Lauren and Debra, and a few others attended a matinee performance of the play, then still in rehearsals. Pearse wrote in Bakka Magazine that the group “all enjoyed the performance immensely and afterwards went backstage to see Leonard. He was pleased to see them and chatted with each one, while autographing copies of his book.”
Nimoy autographed McKee’s copy of I Am Not Spock and later sent him a signed playbill from the Fisher Theatre in Detroit.
Debra Pearse Hartery related a slightly different review to me in 2020.
I thought he was average. He was not my favourite Sherlock Holmes but certainly not the worst. I found it to be fine and I enjoyed the show, but I was not taken by his performance. He was a really nice guy, but not the best actor and not the worst actor.
Nimoy’s first turn as Holmes
That day in Hamilton was Nimoy’s second appearance as Holmes. As he mentioned in the interview, he first played Doyle’s detective in the short film The Interior Motive, produced for the Kentucky State Educational System, filmed in 1975. In it, Holmes and Watson use inference to understand the internal construction of the Earth. The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia has more information on the production.
And fortunately for us, the film is on YouTube.
4 responses to “Listen to Leonard Nimoy defend I Am Not Spock in this long-lost radio interview from 1976”
It’s a good thing the Sherlock Holmes character wears a hat – you know, to hide Nimoy’s pointy ears.
Nice piece. Always interesting to get the actor’s perspective on playing a career-defining role and how they live with that. I can think of a number of actors – inside the ST universe and without – who have been so closely identified with a role that they struggle to get opportunities to do anything else.
Yes, and I suspect Nimoy was being slightly less than entirely honest. While he did go straight to Mission: Impossible and that is a big deal, five years later has was doing an educational film for the Kentucky school system, which is no one’s dream role.
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A wonderful artifact. Thanks so much for sharing it.
Hi David. Thank you for reading and commenting. I am open to feedback on anything I write here.