By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
Mr. Spock? What could he have to do with Company of Angels? Even Nimoy was a little surprised. “They must have dug my name out of the archives,” he says, from his Westwood office. It turns out Nimoy directed Company of Angels’ first production, in 1961, and worked through the byzantine and impenetrable city bureaucracy in order to secure permits to run what’s now the city’s oldest operating theater. To employ as many of the company’s large stable of actors as possible, the troupe staged Tennessee Williams’ character-bountiful Camino Real.
“We cast it and started rehearsing and rehearsing, and rehearsing — for months,” Nimoy recalls. “Sally Kellerman was cast but dropped out because she went on tour with another play — eight weeks later she came back, and we put her back in the production because we hadn’t opened yet.”
Nimoy describes how they ran lines while hammers were pounding on the set, as lights were being hung, and as city inspectors snooped around to see if they could find anything illegal in order to prevent the show from opening. The inspectors got what they apparently wanted: Camino Real never opened at Company of Angels, and Nimoy went on to be a Star Trek superstar, which propelled him onto the stages of regional theaters and to Broadway.
Between 1949, when he first arrived in L.A. from Boston, and his Trekkie days, Nimoy was onstage throughout L.A., as well as the country. He played the devil in Marlowe’s The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus at the city’s first professional theater, the Orchard Gables Repertory Theatre, a 28-seat venue situated in the living room of a home a group of actors all chipped in to rent. That was the antecedent of the actor-driven company that has become a linchpin of L.A. theater.
Now 78, Nimoy is ruggedly handsome, with deep-set eyes like dark pools, and the lugubrious voice that hasn’t thinned since his days of playing Spock. He’s been married twice, and has two children by his first wife, actress Sandra Zober, whom he married in 1954. In 1988, he married Susan Bay. Nimoy is also an accomplished photographer. The walls of his studio are lined with photographs of zaftig nude women from his “Full Body Project.” One depicts a trio cavorting in a circle.
“I call them ‘My Three Muses,’ ” he offers.
Nimoy’s theatrical history began in the ’40s in Boston, where he did quite a bit of stage work. “I couldn’t stay long because I couldn’t afford it,” he explains. “I had to work to make a living, so I moved to Hollywood.”
Keep in mind, Nimoy knew he wasn’t what Hollywood’s studios needed in a leading man. His ambitions were focused on the legitimate stage. So why L.A. and not New York?
“That’s a very good question,” Nimoy reflects. “Unfortunately, the answer is kind of stupid. I didn’t have good information. I used to read Theatre Arts Magazine, and the Pasadena Playhouse [acting academy] always had a full-page ad. They had an impressive reputation. On the other hand, on the streets of Boston, if I talked to a couple of people about New York, they’d say, ‘Oh, it snows there, you’ll freeze your ass off.’ ”
In the late ’40s, while in Boston, Nimoy was playing Ralph in a production of Clifford Odets’ Awake and Sing, when a pre-Broadway production of Odets’ The Big Knife rolled through, with a very successful character actor named J. Edward Bromberg.
“I sought his advice. I started calling hotels and looking for him. When I got the Ritz-Carlton, he answered the phone.
“My name is Leonard Nimoy. You saw me playing Ralph.”
“Yes. What can I do for you?”
“I want to study acting. What should I do?”
“Go to California.”
A twist of mockery plays on Nimoy’s lips: “The first professional actor I ever spoke with said, ‘Go to California.’ I had no choice.”
Upon moving here in 1949, Nimoy rented a room in a boarding house on the corner of De Longpre and Sweetzer avenues for $6 a week. His first roommate was Jay Fiondella, who started a restaurant in Santa Monica called Chez Jay, which has become a local landmark, now in its 48th year.
“A budding actress was living there and asked, ‘Do you fence?’ I had done some fencing in Boston. She was acting in a kids’ production of The Three Musketeers at the Coronet — two Saturday performances a week, and they’d lost their D’Artagnan. I went; it was a raucous experience, the kids were yelling through all the dialogue, but they shut up for the sword fights.”