Sunday, July 5, 2015

To The Stars: The Autobiography of George Takei, Star Trek's Mr. Sulu

 Oh myyyy! Gallery Books finally issues an e-book version of George Takei's 21-year-old autobiography TO THE STARS: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF GEORGE TAKEI, STAR TREK'S MR. SULU.
 I started watching STAR TREK when I was very young, on channel 11 in The Bronx. My interest in the show is totally and completely confined to the original cast. I tried watching STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, and barely made it through the pilot movie. Give me Kirk, Spock, Bones, Scotty, Uhura, Chekov, and Sulu, or give me death.

 I don't think I ever gave George Takei much thought until Howard Stern became obsessed with playing clips of him saying "OH MYYYYY!" on his show. He also played chopped-up versions of sound bites from the audio version of this very book, from which they cobbled such deathless phrases as "Bill Shatner loves grimy Mexican wang." and "I love lengthy black teenagers!". I really sat up and took notice when George began to call in and appear in person on the show, demonstrating that, not only was he a good sport, but he also had a quick wit, an agile mind, and a great ability to accept people for what they were. I started to really look forward to his appearances on the show, and his interactions with the Stern Show crew.

 I'm a little late to the party with this book, which was originally published in 1994, just after the original crew took their final walk into the big-screen sunset. It hasn't been updated for this new publication, so it's missing a lot of stuff, most notably any reference to George coming out as gay. There are, however, a few references to his "friend" Brad, so it leaves an important void in the narrative. There's a huge chunk of George's life that goes completely unaddressed in this book.

 That said...wow, this man has lead one hell of an impressive life! The first half of the book details the internment of George and his family during World War II. George was very young, and couldn't really grasp what was happening, and managed to find fun and adventure in the camp, but his look back on those days is tinged with the shame and loss of dignity that his hard-working parents suffered during their internment. The families in the camps had, literally, EVERYTHING taken away from them. Everything that they had built up in their lives was gone in an instant.....businesses, homes, cars, appliances, and furniture....gone. One day they were at home, and the next they were behind barbed-wire, living in stiflingly hot shacks. Truly a shameful time in american history. Through all of this, the Takei family is held together by the love they share.

 The war eventually ends, and the Takei family attempts to rebuild their lives from scratch. George goes to college and decides to become an actor, starting off by dubbing numerous roles in RODAN, and moving on to live TV and feature films before striking gold with STAR TREK. He gets fairly in-depth with the experiance of making the TV show, and devotes a chapter to each TREK film. What you saw on the show and in the movies was pretty much what you got in real-life. It was nice to read how the entire cast, for the most part, supported each other off the set, appearing whenever one of them received a star on the walk of fame or a similar honor, gathering for conventions and funerals, hanging out and hitting sushi bars....I loved the "Guess what?" calls from Walter Koenig that kept George updated on the latest TREK rumors, the way that Nichelle Nichols bonded with George's mother, the playful bickering between James Doohan and Nichols, and the way that Leonard Nimoy stood up for his castmates after they were left out of the Filmation animated series..

 Less enjoyable were the bits about William Shatner. I absolutely LOVE William Shatner, but man, does he come off like an asshole here. It's easy to take a "He said, She said" attitude to these types of bad Shatner stories, but after you hear a whole slew of them, from numerous different people, and they're all pretty much the same, you kind of have to start to think that he must really be an asshole. A lot of stink was raised earlier this year, when Shatner missed Leonard Nimoy's funeral. He seemed to have a valid excuse, and I sympathized with him, until I read this book, penned 21 years ago, which details all of the other things, including a NASA shuttle dedication, Walk of Fame inductions, and GENE RODDENBERRY'S FUNERAL (!!!!!) that Shatner also bailed on. Where there's smoke, there's fire. Jeeze, Shatner.....you broke my heart, man.

 This is a great read, and one of those rare books that make you feel like you know the author. I had a great time reading this book, and getting to know George Takei.

 Gallery Books provided a review copy.