It’s fair to say that William Shatner has a bit of a reputation for being an egotist (don’t take our word for it; just listen to what some of his Star Trek cast mates have to say about him). Still, Shatner made life even more difficult for at least one of the show’s directors, although his heart was in the right place.
So, how did Shatner make life difficult for the Star Trek director? Like the Star Trek captain he played so diligently, he led the cast in a minor mutiny that would have delayed the sci-fi series production schedule, which is a big no-no in the high-pressure world of television.
According to The Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of ‘Star Trek:’ The First 25 Years, written by Edward Gross and Mark A. Altman, the troubles began during the second season of the original Star Trek series. Shatner and the rest of the cast asked a table for them to rehearse at. This in itself was no big deal, as it would allow the actors to put their own mark on the Star Trek characters they played.
Still, director Joseph Pevney took issue with the way Shatner approached the situation. According to Pevney, Shatner would act like a producer, rearranging things on set so the cast could rehearse.
“Bill would arrange the table and seats, and he would talk to the property man to move things over to the side,” Pevney explained to Gross and Altman. “Well, when you’re doing television in five or six days, or whatever the schedule was back then, there’s no time for this constant rehearsal, a reading rehearsal, offstage, with pencils in hand and making changes. Because once you start making changes on the set, they have to be approved by the producer.”
Eventually, Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry was forced to step in and offer a compromise acknowledging the actors’ contributions to their characters. This, unfortunately, pissed off Pevney, who seemed to be an old-school sort who believed the script was a director’s bible.
“It destroys the most important thing of all, the disciplinary control of the director on the set,” he complained. “It’s a very critical and tentative thing, which the television industry has gone away from completely. The director on a television set is nothing anymore. He doesn’t mean a goddamned thing. He’s an errand boy. I’m an angry guy when it comes to this kind of sh*t. I come from a disciplined school where everything is in the script. Nothing else counts.”
Now, our natural instinct is to side against Shatner, but honestly, did he do anything wrong here? I don’t think so. It sounds like all he wanted was to make his portrayal of James T. Kirk as good as he could, and it seems like the rest of the cast supported him.
Pevney even noted that Leonard Nimoy, who played Spock on the show had similar concerns about rehearsal, although he would go direct to producer Gene L. Coon and Roddenberry with his thoughts. Associate producer Robert H. Justman would later admit that Shatner and Nimoy were only doing what was best for the show, even if it made life “hell” for those on set.
“I don’t think Leonard or Bill ever gave up wanting to make the show better,” Justman said. “Especially Leonard. He always wanted to make it better, make his character more believable, and not take the easy way out. The problem is, of course, that the actors get the script a few days before they start the shooting, and then it’s a little late to try and effect changes. We did try to accommodate them as much as we possibly could, even though it made our lives hell. There wasn’t any time.”
So are we really going to complain about Shatner ensuring Star Trek would go down as one of the best TV series ever made? I don’t think there’s a court in the land that would convict.
If you love boldly going where no one has gone before check out our guide breaking down the complete Star Trek timeline. We’ve also ranked all Star Trek movies! Finally be sure to check out what’s next for the greatest sci-fi series of all time, by reading our guides to the Star Trek 4 release date and the Discovery season 5 release date.