Beam Him Down
updated 11/28/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST
•originally published 11/28/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST
Shatner's assistant, Paula Cline, rolls her eyes. "He's always like this," she says later. "He never stops moving."
Twenty-eight years after stepping onto the bridge of the starship Enterprise as Capt. James Tiberius Kirk on TV's Star Trek (1966-69), Shatner is still cruising at warp speed. TekWar, a cable-TV program based on Shatner's best-selling series of sci-fi detective novels, premieres on the USA Network in January. Last week his second volume of memoirs, Star Trek Movie Memories, beamed into bookstores, just in time to help tout the premiere of Star Trek Generations, the seventh Trek movie and the first to unite Enterprise captains Kirk and Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart of Star Trek: The Next Generation). It's also the last time—really really really, swears Shatner—that he'll portray Kirk, whose fate at film's end has been one of the worst-kept secrets in the galaxy.
And as if all that weren't enough, Shatner, back here on planet Earth, has found himself caught up in a minor Trek war. Actually it's more like a mutiny. A number of his former Star Trek colleagues have set their phasers on "stun" and taken potshots at their now-departed leader. In her new book Beyond Uhura, Nichelle Nichols, who played Lieutenant Uhura, calls Shatner "an insensitive, hurtful egotist." Former Enterprise helmsman George Takei—et tu, Sulu?—writes in his new Trek tome To the Stars that Shatner's behavior made him "the sad, stubborn, oblivious butt of derisive jokes" on the set.
Specifically, Takei and Nichols, backed by Walter Koenig (Chekhov) and James Doohan (Scotty), among others, accuse Shatner of poaching on his supporting players' scenes to give himself more camera time. "Bill wanted a certain number of lines in each show," says Herb Solow, who in the '60s ran Desilu Studios, where the TV series was shot. "If the lines came from other actors, so be it."
Shatner calls such criticisms "ludicrous." Any script changes he made, he says, were done simply to "improve" that particular episode or film. He is equally adamant about other charges—for example, Takei's claim that Shatner badly played what was to have been a key Sulu scene in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan so that the scene would be cut from the film. "I'm being paid this enormous amount of money, 30 million people are going to see me, and I'm going to louse up a scene?" Shatner scoffs. "It doesn't make any sense." He also dismisses Nichols's claim that he betrayed her by quoting her in his book Star Trek Memories after agreeing not to. "I told Nichelle I was interviewing her for a book," he says.
Some of the Bill-bashing, he believes, is just an attempt to sell books. Others suggest another motive. "Bill had made a success," says longtime Trek set decorator John Dwyer. "The rest of the folks maybe weren't quite so successful. There may be a tinge of envy there."
Certainly, not all his costars resented Shatner. Although neither Leonard Nimoy (Spock) nor DeForrest Kelley (McCoy) would agree to be interviewed by PEOPLE, Shatner considers both men close friends. "They like me—they're going against the grain," he jokes. So, apparently, is James Darren, who costarred with Shatner on T.J. Hooker from 1983 to 1986. "Bill's a private guy," says Darren. "But the more you get to know him, the more you like him. Once he loosens up, he's a card. He loves to clown."
Even Koenig, who rejoined Shatner for Generations, concedes that Chekhov's old kyep-tin was mellow on that set, joking with him and Doohan. "He's not my pal, and there's no love lost between us," says Koenig. "But he's not a monster."
Shatner, having given the matter due consideration, agrees. "I [have] searched my soul and found myself in pretty good shape," he says. "I didn't do anything [wrong]."
The Montreal-born actor also did some inward trekking last March, when he began rehearsing for his final turn as Kirk. A month earlier he and his second wife, actress Marcy Lafferty, 48, had announced plans to divorce after 20 years, citing irreconcilable differences. (Shatner has three daughters, Leslie, 36, Lisabeth, 32, and Melanie, 29, from his 10-year first marriage, to actress Gloria Rand.) At the time, preparing for Kirk's death scene, he found himself musing about his own mortality. "The whole idea of Kirk's death and my own seemed to combine," he says. "I wanted Kirk to die the way I would like to—at peace with himself and the life he had lived."
But Shatner does have some regrets: among them, the years he spent trying to distance himself from the Trek legacy. The idol who once playfully chided Trekkers to "get a life" in a 1986 Saturday Night Live sketch now turns up at some 20 Trek conventions a year. "I thought for a long time that Star Trek was a job, that Kirk was just a role I had played; the conventions and the fans didn't interest me," he reflects. "But I've learned that the conventions are great fun. The give-and-take with the audience is totally different from any other experience I've had."
Not to mention the promotional opportunities. Shatner uses those gigs to push his films, books and other enterprises. On Dec. 11, he and Stewart will team up for three live conference calls with 12,000 Trekkers. (Fans must spend $100 for a collectible calling card to listen in; up to 90 randomly chosen participants will get the chance to ask the captains a question during each call.)
And whom might Shatner be phoning these days? Despite Captain Kirk's numerous onscreen dalliances, Shatner, whose divorce was finalized this summer, says he's not interested in dating at the moment ("Good God, no"). But he doesn't rule out future romance. Meanwhile he divides his time between his L.A. home, where he keeps quarter horses, and Belle Reve, where he raises and trains American saddlebreds.
In fact, it's with his horses that Shatner seems most at peace. "They're bred to be beautiful and to move beautifully," he says, gazing at a 2-year-old saddlebred named Tabitha. As Tabitha rubs her head against her master's outstretched hand, one senses that she, like Shatner's other equines, is appreciated for more than her championship bloodlines. At least, says the actor, with a laugh, "I know they love me."