Stardate 8879.58: A new life form has entered the world. Although there are … no signs of any … irregularities, I sense a … strange destiny … for this child. This … boy they call … Bill.
Yes, the one and only William Shatner entered the world eighty-five years ago today and, little did anybody realise at the time, a legend was born. Even with the success of the recently re-booted Star Trek universe, and the excellent job Chris Pine has done, it’s still impossible to hear the name ‘Captain Kirk’ and not think of William Shatner. His name should be made a byword for the ultimate in typecasting – ‘sure Barry Humphries has created lots of great characters, but he’s been absolutely Shatnered as Dame Edna’.
Many choose to mock his unique delivery style (and, to be fair, we’ve done it ourselves at the beginning of this post) – all dramatic pauses and portentous intonation – but what these people either forget or never knew is that that style was once a new and very distinctive delivery method. It was his USP, the point of difference he brought to the table; it was novel, it was exciting and it was pioneered by … William Shatner. For an actor to have such an impact that his own signature style becomes part of popular culture is an extraordinary testament to his skill. And to mock him for it is akin to poking fun at Muhammad Ali for his footwork or Elvis for his hip-swivel. Not cool, people, not cool.
Of course, Shatner doesn’t care – more: he revels in his status as a pop cultural oddity. He’s poked fun at himself and (let’s be honest) at us with his famous Saturday Night Live ‘Get A Life’ Sketch, lampooned his Kirk persona in films Airplane II: The Sequel and National Lampoon’s Loaded Weapon, and lampooned himself in indie proto-Big Bang Theory film Free Enterprise (if you haven’t seen it yet, do so at once!).
He seems to be wilfully – joyfully – immune to his critics and more than happy to poke fun at himself, usually with more panache than anyone else could muster. We salute him for it. It’s not entirely clear whether his activities are knowing self-parodies or genuine attempts to tread new artistic ground . . . and, frankly, we couldn’t care less. As long as we get to marvel at performances like this, we’re in:
Happy Birthday, Bill. Long may your journey continue.