An Evening with William Shatner

Dr. Harrison Solow
Aug 22, 2019 · 9 min read

A long time ago, in the green room of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, at the opening of a Star Trek exhibit…

I was there as a guest — as an author, an architect of the exhibit, and in other, more private capacities, as part of the extended Star Trek family. I hadn’t met Herb* yet.

There was a conviviality verging on electricity in the room, which was mostly inhabited by the cast of TOS and a few others — people who had known each other for decades. I’d known most of them in varying degrees for about two years. It was cold, according to everyone else. I was wearing a sleeveless dress because I rarely get cold. The cast was noticeably tactile, as many LA people seemed to me to be then — both men and women — with each other and with me (which, with my San Francisco, Canadian and British background, I had felt was excessive when I first came to LA/Hollywood/Malibu but by that time, it didn’t bother me much).

I was in conversation with a small group of friends when William Shatner, or Bill, as most people call him [Herb, who always had a soft spot for his lead actor, refers to him affectionately as Billy sometimes, to me], came up to me and put his arm around my shoulders, a sinuous act, which managed to be both languorous and vibrant at the same time. His hand, which was icy (it is always freezing in green rooms for some reason), curved gently around my bare shoulder. He seemed a little startled and said, “Wow — you’re so warm! Can I warm my hand on your shoulder?”

I said, quite amiably, “No.”

He looked surprised and asked, “Really?” I answered, “Really.”

It was actually a lovely feeling, but “no” was my default position on almost everything in those days.

He smiled and took his hand/arm away, though without undo haste.

Someone — I think it was Nichelle — took his hands in her own and said, “I’ll warm them for you,” and we continued talking and went on to have a remarkably radiant, intermittently surprising, and delicately synchronous evening, throughout which he was not only mesmeric, but unfailingly polite.

Nichelle and I at Nichelle’s Birthday Party. 1994.

Neither of us was married to our current spouses; each of us chose our own level of interpersonal engagement, and after that evening, partly due to an orchestrated campaign by well-meaning friends to keep us apart, our paths diverged and led us to our own, separate, and happy futures.

I don’t consider this inappropriate behaviour, sexual harassment or, in fact, even mildly objectionable in any way.

I have no idea why my student does.”

________

The above was originally posted privately on Facebook. Below are a few comments and responses of about 90 I received. As this was not a public post, last names have been removed for privacy..

________

Ann

Words like invasive behavior, bullying behavior, manipulation of power positions, manipulation of an economic dynamic or exploitation of career ambitions would all apply in my evaluation.

Harrison Solow

Thank you, Ann. Those words would apply to my definition of sexual harassment as well, but of course this wasn’t.

We weren’t strangers — we had met on the set of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country when I was there with Gene, the year before. We’d been re-introduced at this opening had also been to some of the same parties, industry events and conventions for about two years.

We were in a tight group of mutual friends. I was a newly single adult, over 40 (though a generation younger than most people there), and was close to some of our mutual friends — extremely close to two of them — so none of the criteria applied.

And there was certainly no power imbalance.

Your definition is an excellent one. It just doesn’t apply to my situation. That’s why I was surprised when my student commented so negatively about this.

Karen

It’s only sexual harassment, in my opinion, if he had pressed the matter or invited you to his hotel or otherwise made you uncomfortable.

Harrison Solow

He did invite me — later in the evening. I don’t consider that harassment either.

Andi

Why not?

Harrison Solow

Because it was preceded by hours of conversation, laughter and fun (both within the group and privately, between the two of us), in which I would not have engaged had I been displeased. He’s not stupid.

It was a natural request. I said I was unable to accept due to prior engagements, he expressed regret politely, gave me his room number in case my plans changed, and we remained perfectly in sync for the rest of the evening.

I was both moved and charmed by him.

I was never uncomfortable.

But, now, after more than two decades, what comes to mind is that we usually regret the things we don’t do, far more than the things we did, however they may have turned out.

I thought he was lovely that evening — intelligent, funny, magnetic — luminous really — with a smile like sunrise. And something else — a quality that is stronger in memory than all the others: I found him touching. Even now, thinking of that night, something poignant arises.

It wasn’t just that he was physically rather splendid. It was that he was someone internally. [Someone, meaning a soul, not a celebrity. Half the people I know are celebrities. More than half, at that time. It’s not a thing.] There was a complex and compelling person inhabiting that body.

I would have liked to get to know him better — person to person— but slowly — as I came to so beautifully and deeply know Leonard over the years. It was just the combination of my background, Majel, and Bob & Jackie Justman, who suddenly turned into hovering parental units trying to keep us apart all evening, that changed the course of that particular history.

Carol

He doesn’t seem very subtle to me.

Harrison Solow

There are other ways to be subtle — and in those ways, he was.

Anne

I agree, Harrison. There was no threat, real or implied, and I would not deduce any ulterior motive from a comment like that. My two cents.

Harrison Solow

Thanks, Anne. I’m trying to get a handle on the definitions that women of different generations hold on this issue. I appreciate the input.

Anne

I look forward to hearing what others say as well, Harrison! Thank you for starting the dialogue.

Karen

It does depend on the situation, in my view. If you had been there for an audition and he had acted that way, then it would have been sexual harassment.

Harrison Solow

This was a situation of equality.

Laura

I don’t think it’s so much the actual action in many cases, but whether or not the person stopped when asked to stop and/or whether the assertive/aggressive person was in a position of power, such that the other person didn’t feel they could say no or stop. Obviously, some behaviors (clear groping, exposing genitals, etc.) cross the line under all circumstances unless the two people are already in a relationship, and even then it must stop if requested.

Harrison Solow

I was a bit taken aback when my student said “He put his hands on your body without asking.”

My response was that it would seem to me pretty creepy if Bill had asked, “Can I put my hands on your body?” but she thought the “rules” were that men have to ask before they touch you. Each time. It all sounds so mechanical and sordid and common sense seems not to prevail.

Karen

It’s an interesting question — I’m sorry this young woman had to ask, but what interests me is, I wonder if the men are now giving uninvited advances a second thought. I sure don’t want the social graces to end, but if they are reconsidering their behavior in the workplace, hip, hip, hooray! lol

Karen

I agree with Laura-it sounds like you were just having a nice evening :-D

Harrison Solow

Very nice.

Anne

Harrison, sorry, I’m unfamiliar with the TOS acronym. Is that a union supervisor, or set boss?

Harrison Solow

Star Trek: The Original Series. We, of course, just call the original series, “Star Trek” since that was Herb’s show and everything after that had/has an implied colon after it.

Anne

Understood, thanks! I was wondering about your comment.

Emma

I wouldn’t call that sexual harassment. He asked, you said no, he didn’t press further.

Harrison Solow

Thanks, Emma. Good to hear from a young woman. Appreciate that.

Marisa

I agree with you, Harrison. I can’t imagine that would fall under harassment.

Harrison Solow

Thank you, Marisa. I never thought of it as such. I don’t know what generation you belong to, but I am pleased to have your opinion.

Andrea

I don’t think that’s an issue. The fact that he removed his hand immediately speaks volumes.

Harrison Solow

Thanks, Andrea. So far, nobody my age thinks this is harassment. So, good. I wouldn’t like to be 22 today.

Jean: I’m sorry but it seems like invasive behavior to me. (I’m 37, by the way.)

Harrison Solow

Jean, I think if one has a certain social radar, a sensitivity to the individual situation and person, “invasion” doesn’t really come up.

William Shatner read the situation correctly. I wasn’t fundamentally or genuinely averse to an embrace in that situation or by him. Which is why he was surprised when I said no. I wasn’t giving off a no vibe. As stated above, I didn’t say no because I didn’t like him. I liked him immensely. I said no from habit, upbringing and, if I am honest, just to see what would happen.

If you don’t have that radar, it’s possible to make a lot of mistakes, I agree.

But in the end, this is my story, my body, my reaction and my conclusion, which that William Shatner was, that evening, a thorough gentleman, a conclusion shared by my husband Herb, to whom I recounted the incident a few years later, and Leonard Nimoy, my intense, beloved and deeply mourned friend, who was there.

And I’m not going to falsify history to suit prevailing definitions for anyone.

____________________

Note: I am loathe to write about my relationships or even brief encounters with colleagues, friends or acquaintances, famous or not, but as my student continues to recount (with a negative spin and on too many occasions) an anecdote that I used *once* in a classroom to illustrate a particular point, I am constrained to establish my position, and incidentally, defend William Shatner.

_______________________

* Herbert F. Solow, VP of Desilu Studios, Executive in Charge of Production of Star Trek, Mission Impossible, Mannix, and various other shows. VP of Paramount Television. VP of MGM Studios, Worldwide Motion Pictures and Television, Boreham Wood, UK, and much more.

http://bit.ly/2TWglao

Dr. Harrison Solow

Written by

Unwitting Eschatologist. Writer: Literature, Science Fiction, Star Trek, Space, Wales & Nuns. MFA, PhD. Pushcart Prize. https://drharrisonsolow.academia.edu/

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