William Shatner and Captain Kirk shared common traits
We don't know if aliens are out there watching us, but we do know a lot of people had eyes on Shatner.
William Shatner had no trouble with his space jargon during the time Star Trek: The Original Series was on-air (1966-1969). Part of the reason Shatner was meant to play Captain Kirk, the commander of the USS Enterprise, was because he believed in sci-fi and in Kirk.
"You might say that Kirk in many instances comes closest to myself of all the roles I've played," Shatner said in a 1967 interview with The Ottawa Journal. "This is almost so of necessity when you work day after day on a TV series."
According to the interview, Shatner said he was Kirk and Kirk was him. It was hard to know where the outer space captain started and where the thrill-seeking Shatner ended. "It's a two-edged sword," Shatner said. "I utilize aspects I know about myself in portraying Kirk, and sometimes I discover things about myself through Kirk."
Shatner said Captain Kirk had his temperament. According to the interview, Shatner admitted that he was typically quick to anger in his real life, which also played out with Kirk onscreen. He said he tried hard to control it, as did Captain Kirk, but sometimes it just didn't work.
Despite sharing a lot of the same qualities, Shatner said he was also able to learn from his character and go through a bit of self-discovery while exploring the role and while exploring space.
"I discovered that I had a sentimental nature that I didn't know existed," Shatner said. "At the same time, Kirk has to control his feelings being in charge of 435 people. I, too, have found that I have to disguise my emotions involving my private life on the set."
After one season of Star Trek, Shatner became a household name — especially in his hometown of Montreal, Canada. According to the article, he earned an estimated $250,000 annually for the series and he ranked among the 10 most popular people in TV as measured by fan mail alone.
Shatner said that before Star Trek, he and his wife at that time felt as though he was jinxed from every getting a solid acting gig, a gig that would make him a household name. He said for 10 years prior to his role as Kirk, he had trouble finding a role true to him. "I'm not bitter or regretful about the past because I did a lot of interesting things, rarely compromised my standards and built a reputation for quality," Shatner said in a 1967 interview with The Montreal Star. "However, I made a number of mistakes which almost proved insurmountable."
But with Star Trek, everything was different for Shatner.
"Doing Star Trek is one of the greatest physical and mental feats since Raymond Burr did Perry Mason," Shatner said. "I am in 90 percent of each show, my dialogue is difficult, and the schedule extremely fatiguing."
According to the interview, Shatner would be at the studio for 46 weeks out of a year, working long days that would typically be from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. five days out of the week.
To help him prepare for the role, he would read a large volume of sci-fi articles. Shatner said the mystery of aliens and their existence has fascinated him for some time. "That's why Star Trek has such a huge following," Shatner said. "It's more than science-fiction; it's science-fact. The things we meet in space are conceivable. We reveal what history might be like. We tell about tomorrow's fiction as if it were yesterday."
We don't know if aliens are out there watching us, but we do know a lot of people watched Shatner's portrayal of Captain Kirk. He was the face of early sci-fi on TV.