By Lydia Hope Wilen / New York City
How to Annoy Nimoy
My sister Joany and I were hired in the early 1980s to write and talent-coordinate a Nickelodeon series called Standby… Lights! Camera! Action!, introducing young viewers to the magic of making movies. The host was Leonard Nimoy. It was at a time in his career when he wanted to distance himself from Spock, the enormously popular Star Trek character that he made famous and that made him famous. In fact, his first book was an autobiography called I Am Not Spock.
According to a reliable source, Nimoy’s contract stipulated that he not be introduced on the Nickelodeon series as Star Trek’s Spock. A reasonable request that didn’t end there. During the crew’s orientation meeting, we were told, in no uncertain terms, that we were not to say Star Trek, or do the Vulcan salute, any mention of “ears” was a real no-no, and most of all, never, NEVER say “Spock.”
Since I didn’t watch the series and I had to have the Vulcan salute explained to me, what were the chances of me doing or saying any of those forbidden things? We all joked about having a pool, guessing who would be the schnook to say one of the words that was verboten.
The series started taping and the tapings were going well. Nimoy was good to work with…creative and professional. For one of the episodes, as a behind-the-scenes guest, I found an experienced TV and film makeup artist. I talked to her and gave my notes to Joany so that she could write a list of questions for Nimoy’s interview with her.
We all gathered for the upcoming episode’s production meeting. The meeting included Leonard Nimoy. Towards the end of the meeting, it was my turn to talk about the makeup artist and how she would be presented. She wanted to have Nimoy in a makeup chair, applying makeup to him while he interviewed her. Everyone agreed that it would be a good visual. And then I said, “Since the makeup woman would be working, she said she wanted to wear a Spock.” I said “Spock” instead of “smock.”
There was an audible gasp from everyone in the room, except me. I gulped and I quickly offered Nimoy an apology. He didn’t accept the apology. He was too busy giving me the stink eye. In those days, it was called a dirty look. I knew at that second, whatever I do, I must not look at Joany. If I did, we’d both lose it…and our jobs as well.
Roger Yager, the producer, kept his cool, acting as though this schnook didn’t say what she had said. Instead, he found a way to gracefully end the meeting and dismissed us. Leonard Nimoy was the first to leave. Once he was out of (excuse the expression) EARshot, we all laaaaughed!
The ironic part of this story is that a short time later, Nimoy embraced his Spock character. He wrote another autobiography—a best seller--and he called it, I Am Spock.
Leonard Nimoy lived a fairly long life and, boy, did he prosper.
As successful authors, it was easy for my sister Joany and me to have pitch sessions with editors at reputable publishing houses. One editor reached out to us, saying she was a fan of ours and our work and she wanted to meet with us. We made an appointment to see her, and we prepared treatments (a 500-1500-word explanation of an idea, making it as appealing as possible) for a couple of book ideas.
When the time came for our meeting, the receptionist welcomed us and called to tell the editor we had arrived. A minute or two later, a young…very young…woman came out. Obviously, the editor’s assistant. WRONG! The young woman was the editor. She was in her 20s and we weren’t. Neither one of us was too thrilled meeting with someone whose parents could have hired us to babysit her.
And then, 10 or 15 minutes into the meeting, both of us were super-impressed with the editor’s knowledge of publishing and how the editor best serves the writers.
We left her office, leaving our treatment pages with her, hoping she’d want to work with us. For the next few hours, all Joany and I talked about was this incredible young editor. We were sure she’ll have her own imprint one day, or her own publishing company.
Fast forward 33 years. I was recently going through old files, including a file labeled “Rejections.” One letter was outstanding. It was from the young editor who sent us the best rejection letter we ever received. She sure had a way with words:
I wondered if she has her own imprint these many years later. Or did she start her own publishing company? Of course, you know what I did. I googled her: Stacy Schiff
What are the chances of us being interviewed as writers by an editor who later became a writer and received the National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation fellowship, the George Washington Book Prize, Lapham's Quarterly Janus Prize, the New England Historic Genealogical Society Lifetime Achievement Award in History and Biography and the French Ministry of Culture, Chevalier des Arts et Lettres? And (DRUM ROLL PLEASE) in 2000, Stacy Schiff, former editor, won the Pulitzer Prize for Vera, her biography of Vera Nabokov. The Pulitzer Prize, folks! What are the chances?
If you have a “What Are The Chances...? story you would like to share, I’d love to know about it. Email it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t be shy!
Lydia Hope Wilen had a successful collaboration with her late sister Joany as nonfiction bestselling authors (18 books), journalists, TV personalities, writers and talent coordinators on a Nickelodeon series hosted by Leonard Nimoy, Reading Rainbow episodes, skit writers for Dr. Ruth's TV show, Diet America Challenge on CBS, and writers of screenplays (optioned but not produced yet).
Lydia is writing on her own now and has just completed an extraordinary book for young people and their parents. It will have them laughing and learning...once she gets an agent and it gets published.