Leonard Nimoy, the actor immortalized as Spock in the original Star Trek TV series, died Feb. 27 at age 83. His son, Adam Nimoy, told the Associated Press that the elder Nimoy had died in his Los Angeles home, surrounded by his family; the cause was end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Although he was best known for the pointed ears and arched brows he wore as the half-human, half-Vulcan Spock in the TV show and Star Trek films, he also wore a variety of make-ups in other programs, particularly Mission: Impossible. We asked artists and performers to share their thoughts on the man and his make-up.
I met Leonard on the 2009 Star Trek: He was a gentle, kind man and a consummate professional. Like I’ve said many times, even if you don’t know Star Trek, people know Spock. To make Leonard up as Spock was truly an honor—it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
He was a professional and a perfectionist. He’s lived with those ears his whole life, so he knew how they should be. I did the ears six different times; we did tests and we had fun doing them. At the end, he paid me probably the biggest compliment of my life: He said these were the best ears he’d ever had.
It’s a sad day, especially since we’re working on the third installment of the Star Trek reboot. I pulled everyone together in the shop and we had a moment of silence for him. We wish him a good voyage.
I remember being excited and pleased to see a nice photo collage published in TV Guide magazine back during the show’s original run, showing Nimoy being made up as Spock. Not as many photos as I might have preferred, but at least three, I’d say. Fred Phillips was doing it, of course. Nimoy had consented to shave off half his eyebrows for that, and I believe the upward ends were penciled in, though I’m not certain.
Fred was of another generation: his dad was one of the founders of the make-up union, and Fred worked in silents as a kid. I got to talk with him, or basically listen to him talk, for well over an hour, years ago. … What I love about that generation is that they’d show up with the ubiquitous hardwood box and manage to pull out of it just about any kind of make-up required by any kind of script. By the time the ’60s rolled around, there was a gradually increasing call for prosthetic reinforcement, though Fred was adept at using painted effects. Some of his efforts in this regard have been criticized, even ridiculed. I don’t think that’s always fair. In fact, I think if many of today’s make-up artists were similarly limited to only graying hair with cosmetics and face painting for age, they’d immediately realize that it ain’t so easy. But there were also what I call theatrical conventions for depicting age which were acceptable even by the ’60s.
… What I love about Spock between the lines, as it were, is that older world of make-up it evokes, as a single job. For instance, the base color was Max Factor’s Chinese! Actually a quite yellow ochre. And if you were going to try to recreate a classic Mr. Spock, the indispensable element of his totally non-realistic eye shadow was good old Factor Blue Grey, one of Factor’s limited range of lining colors, as they were called, which came in little brass-colored tins. … The old Factor lining colors were somewhat stiff and waxy, hard to get going at times, but they lasted well.
… I did see the actual, original dental stone mold for Nimoy’s ears, over at Fox when John Chambers generously and kindly invited me, as a 14-year-old kid, to come visit there in September 1967. It was very simply labeled in black marker, “Nemoy [sic] Ears.” Imagine that! That’d be a prize mold, if anyone has it today. (And if it survives.)
It was great working on the first film with him and making his ears. What’s more iconic than those ears? I was proud that he made a comment to Joel that those were his best ears. I thought it was interesting, too, doing that make-up and thinking about Fred Phillips doing the original ears and John Chambers making the molds. [Doing the ears] was a great homage to heroes, John Chambers and Fred Phillips—I felt like I was stepping into their shoes a little bit. Fred gave me the original ears years ago.
Having grown up a fan of Star Trek, when l learned that I would be on Next Generation, I was so excited. Then to find out [that] in the episodes I would be standing next to Leonard Nimoy as Spock, I was euphoric. Mr. Nimoy was one of the greatest character actors our industry has ever borne. To lay claim to the creation of an American—albeit Vulcan—icon is something an actor couldn’t even dare to dream possible. His passing simply reminds us that television will never be the same again.
It feels strange to not have Leonard Nimoy with us. I’ve been watching him all my life. Star Trek was my favorite TV show in the ’60s when it first aired. When I was a teenager working in a convenience store, I sold Leonard a pack of cigarettes. He had a cool, confident vibe about him that day. Nimoy was our executive producer on Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. I remember him on that film as having a quietly commanding presence, with nothing to prove. There was a naughty story being told then about Kim Cattrall, who played Valeris. Supposedly, she was so taken with her Vulcan make-up, she hired a photographer to shoot nude photos of her. As the story goes, Leonard caught wind of it and sent word to Kim to be in his office in one hour with the photographer and the negatives. I can’t say for certain that it happened but it’s a great tale. Leonard occasionally was involved in the Star Trek television shows in the ’90s. It was always special when we had Spock on the set. An important part of Star Trek has passed with him.
Nimoy Make-ups Over Time
For more on the 2009 Star Trek reboot, see our coverage here.
To see Spock’s original ears, click here.