Up Till Now

Up Till Now: The Autobiography
William Shatner with David Fisher
2008
Read by William Shatner

This book could also be called Stupid Shit that Shatner Does Without Thinking or simply This Is A Great Idea! It’s largely anecdotal, very lighthearted and fun. It is also a special treat to hear it read by Shatner because you may not believe it unless it came from the horse’s mouth. Why wouldn’t you believe it? The stories are believable enough, though a little wacky. It relates to the Shatner Mystique that he plays with throughout the novel and in all his acting career: is he making fun of himself? Does he take himself seriously??

The answers to those questions seems to be no and yes, and yes and no. Largely the impression that I get of Shatner is that he is unthinking, courageous, charismatic, arrogant, naive and kind of stupid. He has no concept of other people, no concept of thinking about it before jumping into something, but his uncompromising optimism is just so darn adorable.

Examples include:

“This is a great idea”:

  • Killing a wild bear with only a bow and arrow.
  • Shooting an action scene on top of a real moving train without safety harnesses. This one is funny. Shatner asked the director, “how are we going to do this fight on a moving train?” Director: sad face. “I don’t know.” Shatner: “well how about I just get up there and do it while the train is moving?” Director: hopeful. “Reeeeallly?” 
  • Choosing the special effects guy for the last Star Trek movie because his wife makes really good potatoes.
  • Making an experimental talking word album of popular songs including “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” reportedly the worst song in the world.

His undying self-conceit and naivete:

  • He was sooo surprised to find out the Star Trek crew all hated him! Apparently he stepped all over their lines and grandstanded like crazy. He didn’t know until years later when one of them talked to him directly.
  • He was hit on a by a gay man early in his career. He didn’t even know they existed!
  • Making a controversial anti-racist drama in a southern town. A Canadian, Shatner didn’t know what he was getting into. They passed out edited versions of the script to extras so that the townspeople didn’t get word of the content, and told him to make an exit strategy for if the hotel he was staying at was rioted. His strategy: out the window and into the cornfield! He narrowly missed an awkward situation outside the courthouse. He was feeling sick and unable to perform his rousing speech on the front steps until all the extras had gone home. A townsperson came up to them afterwards and was like, “you guys are so smart! You see that tree right there? A man was lynched on that tree twenty years ago, and people who helped do that were in this crowd today.” Wow.

Whether it is talking about Yul Brynner kicking him in the pants, or Shatner humping a blow up doll on Boston Legal, or pulling his drowned wife out of the swimming pool, Shatner tells each tale with the same kind of honesty and gusto. He even manages to promote Priceline.com and his own website Williamshatner.com (where you can by this book for $7.95, a lower price than Amazon.com). After the fifth pump for his website you realize that 1) William Shatner is shameless and 2) that the first priority of the actor is to work. If you remember that, you will understand William Shatner much better than the whole is he making fun of himself question.
Shatner mentions several times that he has no idea what people are talking about when they say that he is making a caricature of himself. “I’m just me. I get up there and I act, and if people think that I’m making a caricature of myself, and it works, then great.” He is generally oblivious to his own staggered speech style, to his public image unless it gives him a job. A remarkably thick skin, which is probably best for an actor. Now that he is accepting his role of a caricature of himself, he is getting more work than ever and he is loving it. Yes, he did make an experimental spoken word album that he seriously believed in. And yes, he did make another album with Ben Folds because the first one was so infamous, thereby making fun of his previous failure. These things can coexist in his world, and good for him that it can. I would never want to be married to him or costar with him, but I think he would be a hilarious buddy.
Things that I learned from this book: 1) I kind of want to go to Williamshatner.com. 2) While there, buy his experimental dramatic movie made in Portuguese or something (another great idea!). 3) I want to watch all of Boston Legal. And finally, 4) Yul Brynner, for whatever reason, used to kick a young unheard of William Shatner in the pants repeatedly during shooting.
Confession: despite the serious content, the poem he wrote for his wife who had killed herself by drowning in their pool made me chuckle.

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