Billy grew up in Montreal, the only son in a conservative Jewish household. He regularly experienced bullying at school, being picked on and getting into fights because of his Jewish heritage. He tapped into his personal pain at a summer camp play, when he was cast in the role of a young Jewish boy who had to leave his dog behind as he fled Nazi Germany. The audience responded with praise and even a few tears for Billy’s performance. This had a huge impact on him: Billy had figured out what he wanted to do with the rest of his life, and his mother soon enrolled him in acting school.
To Bill’s father, acting was a hobby, not a career. He insisted that his son study business in college, and hoped Bill might join him at the family’s clothing factory. However, Bill hated the idea of working in the factory or in business in general. To pacify his father, Bill used his business degree to get a job as assistant manager of a theater company. Due to his overall dislike of the job, he was terrible at it, and before long he was fired. But his true passion was obvious to his boss, and he was kept on as an actor. He went on to join the Canada National Repertory Theater, where he trained as a classical Shakespearean actor and performed consistently.
Even though Bill had steady work as an actor in Canada, he was barely making enough money to survive. He asked his father for advice, and hoped he wouldn’t ask him to join the clothing business again. This time, though, his dad surprised him, saying, “it takes courage to pursue your dreams,” and urged his son to continue. Instead of giving up, Bill got fired up. He moved to New York, and within a month was cast in a Broadway play. Initially, theatre goers didn’t enjoy it, with many getting up and leaving during the performances. So Bill began infusing every scene, every line with breathless, dramatic intensity, adding emphasis and unexpected pauses that were his way of communicating to the audience, “Don’t you dare leave, because something important is about to happen!” It worked. People stopped leaving, and the show ran successfully for over a year.
Bill seemed to have the makings of success but never quite achieved it. He played cowboys, detectives and lawyers; leading men, criminal adversaries and love interests. He was cast in a TV series, but after three years it was cancelled due to low ratings. Following the cancellation, a number of television stations began to re-run the episodes in syndication. They were cheap to re-broadcast and a fan base developed. Conventions for fans of the short-lived program were springing up across the country, and ultimately the film industry decided to make a movie with Bill playing the lead.
William (Bill) Shatner’s role as Captain Kirk in Star Trek ultimately made him one of the most renowned celebrities of all time, and it’s estimated that he is recognized by one quarter of the earth’s population. Bill went on to write books, record albums, and play other iconic roles such as police officer TJ Hooker and lawyer Denny Crane in the hit show Boston Legal. Today, he even pokes fun at himself as the great negotiating spokesman for Priceline.com. Above all, William Shatner follows his passion and continues to live his dreams.
Bill is currently on tour with his one-man show, Shatner’s World, in which I was fortunate to be able to see him perform. Thanks to some serious negotiating on my part, I was able to meet him backstage following the show. After shaking hands and getting an autograph, I told him about my weekly stories written to help inspire people to pursue their dreams. I asked if he had any advice to share, and he offered this: “Life equals risk. It takes courage to pursue your dreams, but in my opinion… there’s no other way to live.”
There was a part of me that hoped Bill would end our conversation by saying, “Beam me up Scotty” but when he actually said, “Keep teaching others to dream,” I couldn’t resist saying, “Ay Ay, Captain.”
Until next week...
Live Your Dreams