Usually when I finish reading a memoir or an autobiography, I come away with a sense of connection of sorts with the author, a feeling that I’ve shared in some of the personal details of his or her life. This wasn’t quite the feeling I got with Up Till Now, William Shatner’s autobiography; however, the book is uproariously funny and highly entertaining, with occasional flashes of something deeper.
In Up Till Now, Shatner covers all of his acting career, from his start in theatre in Montreal to his most current role on Boston Legal. Shatner’s in his 70s now, so it’s been a very long career, and for many years, even with all the television parts he was getting, it was very much about working to pay the next lot of bills. Despite this, though, it’s clear that Shatner has enjoyed his career thoroughly.
He adroitly handles various criticisms that have been aimed at him by gently poking fun at himself. For example, on his well-known tendency to pause when he’s saying his lines:
Part of the reason I was becoming better known was what people perceived to be an unusual. Speech. Pattern. Apparently I was becoming known for. Pausing, between words, in. Unusual places. People have commented that it calls attention to the. Words, I’m saying. It provides a different kind of emphasis on a line. I have no idea where that. Came from. Possibly it came from the fact I was working so often in so many different types of plays and television program and movies that at times I did need to hesitate to remember my next words. Possibly, that’s just an assumption, but the reality is that I don’t even hear it. I can mock the idea. I understand people hear me speaking. That way. They’ve even put a name to it, calling it Shatnerian. As in, ah yes, the character spoke with true Shatnerian eloquence.
Shatner only touches on certain things that might have provided more of an insight into who he is. For example, he mentions that many of the Star Trek cast members disliked him, but he really doesn’t seem to know why. About his previous marriages, he admits that he didn’t know how to be married, but he doesn’t explore his relationships much beyond this.
For much of his career, Shatner did not consider himself to be a star, although everyone was always promising to make him a star. It’s apparent that his rise to stardom, through his role of Kirk on Star Trek, came as a complete surprise to him; it wasn’t until he accepted the first invitation to a Star Trek convention that he realized what an impact the series had had on people. To him, Kirk had been just a role, and he was a seasoned television actor who had played many, many roles.
It was impossible to truly grasp what was happening, because nothing like it had ever happened before. A failed television show was becoming a cultural phenomenon. While we were making the series I had often been recognized, but suddenly it started happening all the time and in strange places. People would come up to me in airports and recite ten pages of dialogue word-for-word from a specific episode they loved – and I would have absolutely no concept of what they were doing.
One thing I really took away from the book was the rigor involved in the filming of a television series; despite Shatner’s often very humorous look at his television career, it’s clear that being on a television show isn’t all glamour and roses. It’s hard work – and hard work and a disciplined work ethic is one thing Shatner definitely seems to have.
Stylistically, I could have done without the first chapter of false starts. I didn’t like muddling through any of that, but once all the fun was wrung out of that, the real fun began in earnest. I also didn’t really enjoy the little cliffhangers that occurred, when Shatner would discuss a particular anecdote and then break off right in the middle to go off on a very deliberate tangent. The “commercial breaks”, on the other hand, were quite funny; I couldn’t help but laugh at the plugs for his online store, for example. And the various sections where he pauses to list all the types of Star Trek memorabilia one can buy had me grinning.
He admits near the beginning of the book that he loves to make things up; this colored my perception of the rest of the book somewhat. I was never too sure when he was pulling the reader’s leg …
Mostly, though, there is an exuberance to the writing that made this a very fun book to read. What I came away with most of all was an overall view of Shatner the entertainer. It’s not that there’s no ego involved; in fact, there’s quite a bit of ego involved! But he is, after all, in show business. And while Up Till Now doesn’t illuminate the soul of the man for readers, neither do I think that to be its intention. Up Till Now sets out to entertain us, and it does its job very, very well. I laughed out loud frequently while reading the book, and I was still smiling when I closed the book. Deep and complex? Not at all. But definitely a very fun read.
Related Links and Fun Stuff
Shatner talks about his performance of “Rocket Man” on the Science-Fiction Movie Awards in 1978:
For two decades stories about this performance have been passed down from father to son and rare bootleg copies of the video were passed around. Men boasted of owning a first-generation copy and invited women home to see it. Parodies of my performance have been done on several shows, including Family Guy and Futurama. But now several dozen versions of it can routinely be accessed on the Internet, particularly on YouTube – and with more than a million people a year still mystified by it. And about that, I am not kidding.
Really, how could I resist? I’m not much of a pop culture kind of person, so I for one hadn’t heard about “the best-known performance of the song “Rocket Man” ever done”. Here it is:
Where to buy Up Till Now:
Review copy details: published by Thomas Dunne Books, 2008, hardcover, 342 pages