Jewish Journal

The Nimoys: A father and son, with space between them

By Adam Dickter

Posted on Sep. 24, 2008 at 10:26 pm

When Adam Nimoy was growing up, he felt alienated from his famous father.

Leonard Nimoy's work as the Vulcan Mr. Spock on "Star Trek" and his numerous other film and TV projects on both sides of the camera provided a comfortable West Coast lifestyle for his baby boom family.

But the younger Nimoy said the time-consuming work also deprived him of the steady presence of his father, and when they did share time together, he quickly learned that he had to share his dad with the rest of America.

Given the loyal and obsessive reputation of "Trekkies," Adam could be forgiven for looking at them as his father's other family.

"There were times I thought he gave more time and attention to his fan base," said Adam Nimoy, who has written about that experience and of his adult life in a self-proclaimed "anti-memoir," titled "My Incredibly Wonderful, Miserable Life: An Anti-Memoir" (Pocket).

He'll discuss the book Sunday, Sept. 28 at the West Hollywood Book Fair in West Hollywood Park as part of a panel on overcoming addiction. Both Nimoys have openly discussed their struggles with alcohol and, in Adam's case, marijuana, which he began smoking as a teenager and used regularly through adulthood before entering a recovery program almost five years ago.

The ambiguity of the book's title stems from the fact that Adam Nimoy would be seen by many as blessed in having a successful, famous father and an entrée into Hollywood life that later opened doors for his own directing career.

But the younger Nimoy describes a father who, like the stoic but dependable starship officer he portrayed, was often distant, putting the greater good of sustaining his family ahead of seemingly extraneous bonding and warmth.

"There's a lot of Spock in Leonard, no doubt about that," Adam Nimoy, 52, said in a recent interview in New York.

Leonard Nimoy grew up in the '30s and '40s in a Russian Jewish immigrant family in Boston, the son of a barber and a homemaker for whom Hollywood and its trappings seemed as distant as another planet.

"He's not unlike a lot of Depression-era people, obsessed with generating income," Adam Nimoy said. "I have friends who have dads cut from the exact same cloth."

The difference: "If I have a conflict with him, I have to go back out on the street and deal with a public that adores him."

The book is not, however, the tell-all memoir about "Life With Spock" that publishers and agents wanted him to write.

ALTTEXT Rather, it's a glimpse of how Adam Nimoy grew up with a famous name, inherited his father's alcohol problem, met lots of interesting and famous people, and dabbled in law before becoming a successful TV director and starting a family, only to see his life come crashing down.

Leonard doesn't escape some lumps, but neither does he absorb the brunt of the blasts. Adam takes responsibility for many of the failings of his life, including the end of his directing career because of on-set volatility he attributes mainly to his addictions. The deterioration of his marriage is harder to track from the details in the book, but the younger Nimoy makes clear that his wife and two teenagers urged him to reconcile, and that he persisted with the separation and divorce. The dust settled with both sides on good terms.

"I told her we'll always be family," he said. "We'll always have a close relationship."

Father and son share many traits and experiences, having both gone through divorces (Leonard divorced Sandra Zober in 1987 and is now married to actress Susan Bay) and worked as directors.

"We're both similar in the sense of our ambition and desire to work and accomplish things," Nimoy said.

One trait they don't share is a desire to be in the spotlight, something Adam soured on during the inevitable media intrusions into his family life as a child.

"That's one of the reasons I didn't go into acting," he said. "The idea of celebrity for its own sake was not something that appeals to me."

Adam's life these days includes 12-step meetings, dates and teaching directing at the Los Angeles campus of the New York Film Academy. Father and son have gone over their differences, and Adam took his father's acceptance of the book, read before publication, as a gesture of atonement of sorts. Adam's daughter, Maddy, is attending Bard College in New York and his younger son, Jonah, is finishing high school in Los Angeles.

Both Leonard and Adam Nimoy and their families are affiliated Jews active in the community. Adam became a bar mitzvah at Adat Shalom in West Los Angeles, where his mother's parents, Archie and Ann Zober, were founding members. His children went to Hebrew school and celebrated their b'nai mitzvah at Wilshire Boulevard Temple's Irmas Campus.

In the memoir, the younger Nimoy writes of the importance he felt of not only providing his children with bar and bat mitzvahs but making those occasions meaningful as well. He implored them to not only learn their Torah portions but to delve into their contemporary meanings.

"I come from Orthodox grandparents on both sides," he said. "That's a major factor in my life. I find it attractive, and it speaks to me, as well as my dad, so it's a big part of my experience and something I want my kids to appreciate."

Nimoy said spirituality and belief in God helped him in his recovery. "You have to believe in a power greater than yourself. A lot of addicts have trouble with the concept of God, because they think they're the center of the universe. I'm a believer."

Nimoy said he is working on another nonfiction book, which he declined to discuss, and he is continuing to teach. He's contemplating a return to directing -- "it's fun being behind the camera" -- but he's happy with things the way they are.

"My dad fulfilled the immigrant's dream of making it big for himself in America and becoming extremely successful," Adam Nimoy said. "My journey was different. I'll never come close to touching the kind of fame and fortune he's created for himself. On the other hand, I feel very happy with my life, which is much smaller than his."

Adam Nimoy will sign copies of "My Incredibly Wonderful, Miserable Life" Sunday, Sept. 28 at the West Hollywood Book Fair, West Hollywood Park, 647 N. San Vicente Blvd. The Book Fair runs 10 a.m.-6 p.m.

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