Icon: William Shatner, above as Captain Kirk, says the original cast didn’t benefit from Star Trek reruns
When William Shatner landed the role of Captain James T Kirk in the iconic television series Star Trek in 1966, he was already an established stage and screen actor in his native Canada.
He reprized his role in the hit film franchise, while also playing the eponymous veteran police officer TJ Hooker in the 1980s drama television series.
After the mantle of Star Trek was passed to the next generation, Shatner won plaudits for his role as lawyer Denny Crane in the comedy-drama Boston Legal.
At age 90, he also traveled where no one his age had gone before, flying into space.
Now 92, he remains an avid horseback rider and lives with his two Dobermans in his villa overlooking the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles. He has been married four times and has three daughters, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
What was your first job after leaving school?
After graduating from McGill University in Montreal, I worked in a summer theater for two or three months. After the season, the director left for Ottawa to run the Canadian Repertory Theater for the winter, and I asked for a job. She said they didn’t have any acting jobs, but since I had a business degree, she could hire me as an assistant director.
I became a terrible business manager, was quickly fired and rehired as an actor. I was paid $50 a week, which was enough to pay the rent for an apartment with a bed with a rope mattress (where rope supports the mattress rather than wooden slats), and enough money for food most of the time. But if I wanted to do my laundry or go to the movies, I had to give up a meal.
Did you think being an actor would pay well?
I had been playing since I was six years old, all the way through school and college. My fault or my advantage is that I did not think about whether taking action would earn me enough money to live on.
It never occurred to me not to go on stage until I told my father that I wanted to become an actor. He just said, “Don’t be ridiculous! ” and we argued about my career prospects because he didn’t want me to be, as he called it, a “parasite.”
Did Star Trek offer a greater level of job security?
By the mid-1960s I had three children with my first wife Gloria and could no longer sleep in a small apartment on a rope mattress.
The thought hung over me like a storm cloud about to break: Can I make enough money to support everyone?
Star Trek could have offered financial security, but like any other series, the risk is being negated. We were not paid magnificently, even by the standards of the time.
So when Star Trek was canceled after three years, I had no money and was divorced. I put together a summer theater program and toured the United States with that. I stayed alive by being on stage and earning just enough to live on.
How did Star Trek reappear?
Star Trek disappeared for about six years, and then it started showing everywhere in syndication, to younger audiences, and suddenly it became very popular.
But the original cast did not receive any of the financial benefits.
Was there a year that turned out to be the most financially successful?
I’ve always been a saver and wasn’t one to spend a lot of money, so I was able to save it, put it in the bank and invest it. Little by little, I got to the point where I thought I didn’t need to worry anymore from year to year, so that’s when I felt the most financially successful, in the 1980s, when I played TJ Hooker.
Are you a spender or a saver?
I always felt financially insecure because I had three children and they needed care and attention. Now there are many people around me that I can help. In addition to my three daughters – Lisabeth, Leslie Carol and Melanie – I have five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Have you ever had a pension?
No! I think a pension requires a well-funded business, with a beginning, a middle and no end. I think it’s a very English thing.
Do you own property?
I purchased a four-bedroom modern Spanish Colonial-style house in 1974. It is in a suburb of Los Angeles, overlooking the San Fernando Valley. I also keep horses at a trainer’s stable about 30 minutes from my house.
Wiliam Shatner in soace: The star, right, with the Blue Origin crew in 2021
What was your best financial decision?
I knew that investing was a good idea. Being careful with my money, so I can take care of the family, fix the roof or something, and invest, has been my best financial decision.
What is your financial priority?
I’m comfortable now. I don’t think about money for myself, but about those I love. My top priority is to ensure that my family has enough food and shelter for years to come.
Did you have to pay to go into space?
I was very lucky to be Jeff Bezos’ guest in the Blue Origin orbit, but from what I’ve heard, commercial flights of the future will cost between $200,000 (£158,000) and $300,000. It’s a ticket!
You went to space in 2021 at the age of 90. How did it happen ?
In fact, I turned down the first offer – which invited me to succeed Jeff Bezos. I thought I wasn’t going to get second.
But I have a book called Boldly Go, which says, “Say YES!” to the adventure of life. So I convinced myself that I had to be faithful to that.
Anyway, they brought me there a day early and I thought, “What am I doing here, is there no one else here yet?” And then someone from the space team suggested going to the launch site, which is almost 5,000 feet above sea level in the desert. When we got there, one of the space crew members said, “Let’s take the gantry up to the launch pad.” »
Well, I did three, four flights – trying to catch my breath – then a few more, and finally reached the top. They said, “That’s great, let’s go back down,” and I thought, “Why bring me up here?” I then realized that they were checking if the old man could climb those 11 stories to 5,000 feet above sea level.
- William Shatner’s book Boldly Go: Reflections On A Life Of Awe And Wonder is now available in paperback. A biopic, You Can Call Me Bill, is coming out this summer
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