Leonard Nimoy's directorial debut was this vampire story on Night Gallery
Fortunately, a Star Trek cameraman was on hand to help!
Image: The Everett Collection
Any Trekkie worth one's salt knows that Leonard Nimoy directed both Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. In the 1980s, it was not at all uncommon to find Nimoy behind a camera, from the sci-fi stuff we know him best for to family comedies like Three Men and a Baby. But it's likely few know about Nimoy's very first time stepping up as director. That happened a decade before his Trek movies.
The year was 1973, and Leonard Nimoy was desperate for his chance to direct. His friend, the producer Jack Laird, became the earpiece for this request. In an interview with the Archive of American Television, Nimoy said, "I had approached him several times, saying, 'I want to direct, I want to direct.'" At last, his chance came.
Laird was working on Night Gallery and a special script came in that Nimoy described as a cross between Romeo and Juliet and Dracula. It was called "Death on a Barge," and Laird thought perhaps this was the moment to turn Nimoy into a director. Nimoy said Laird called him in, handed him the script and said, "Go read this and tell me what you think of it."
Nimoy dove in, and he couldn't believe his luck. He said, "The script was poetry. It was a very, very good script." So he went back to Laird and said, "It's great. I love it." Laird said, "Well, you should. It's a great script." With that, the deed was done, and Nimoy signed on to direct, but not without some nerves.
Since this was his first time calling the shots, Nimoy wanted to impress. Luckily for him, the cameraman on Night Gallery was Gerald Finnerman, who'd done camera work on the original Star Trek series. Nimoy knew him well and went to him for guidance. Finnerman offered encouragement and insights, and looking back, Nimoy said, "I knew I was in good hands with him."
Viewers in the audience were in good hands, too. "Death of a Barge" is shot as beautifully as it's written, beginning with a glowing white gown of the central vampire up on deck of the barge, as she tries to lure victims. She's trapped on the barge via lore that insists vampires cannot cross flowing water, and the innocent romantic who takes her bait is a denim-clad young man whose innocence Nimoy captures in high contrast to the made-up beauty who seeks to sink her teeth into him.
In the interview, Nimoy recited the plot of this episode as though it's committed to memory. Undoubtedly this experience impressed upon him, since it took him nearly a decade to direct again, and as he got to the end of this summary, he smiled at the interviewer in that serene way of Spock and confirmed unbidden, "I had a lot of fun doing it. I had a great time."
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