The discussion on the anniversary of the release of what might be my favorite album will have to wait for next week because this week’s post is dedicated to one of my earliest heroes of marine biology and to one of my greatest heroes of the big and small sci-fi screen. These two people have shaped my life in different ways, yet both helped to inspire a deeper love in science and art for me and many others. From the sea to the stars, the world is remembering the lives of Eugenie Clark and Leonard Nimoy who each died last week. Dr. Clark was a renowned scientist who studied the inhabitants of the oceans for almost 90 years. Her championing of the unjustifiably feared apex predators of the deep earned her the nickname “Shark Lady”, as well as my admiration from an early age. Nimoy needs no introduction, as most know him instantly for his iconic role as Spock, the half-Vulcan, half-human who lacked emotion (with a few notable exceptions) and professed logic as the chief science officer aboard the Enterprise on the classic show Star Trek and the films that followed it after it’s cancellation. However, Nimoy also acted in and directed many other shows, stage plays, and films, sang on a few occasions, more than dabbled in photography, and wrote poetry. Today I aim to memorialize these two in thanks for their impact on my life.
Eugenie Clark was born in New York City on May 4, 1922 to an American father and a Japanese mother. Her father died when she was only two, but her mother later married a Japanese restaurant owner. This exposed Clark to some of the marine creatures she would grow to become enthralled by. When she was nine, her mother would take her to the New York Aquarium at Battery Park on Saturday mornings (they didn’t have the same cartoon selection we grew up on back then) and her excitement for the oceans continued to build. She managed a 15 gallon fish tank in her home which she filled with numerous specimens over the years. She continued to conduct both formal and informal studies as she grew, earning a B.A. from Hunter College, and master’s and doctoral degrees from New York University, but not before boiling the bones of various (already dead) animals to study, add to her collection, and according to one biography, inadvertently freak the hell out of her mother with.
Throughout her adventurous life, Clark fearlessly journeyed (Yep, she’s holding one of that basking shark’s penises in that second picture) into the depths using scuba systems and various submersibles as a means of reaching the wonders that so fascinated her. Once there she conducted pioneering research on sharks of all sizes, poisonous fish around the world, and many more maritime mysteries. From her research she developed the first working shark repellent, although she stressed that we were the invaders in the shark’s world and that we were to blame for every instance of an attack in the extremely rare instances that it happens.
I have loved Eugenie Clark ever since I first read a brief biography of her life when I was in third grade. It was entitled Shark Lady: True Adventures of Eugenie Clark and at 88 pages was the longest book I had ever successfully undertaken at that age. I gravitated toward it because it was one of two books in my school library that had the word “shark” in the title (the other was the DK Eyewitness book simply titled Shark which I’d already perused many times). I was already interested in sharks and the study of fish (which I would later learn is called ichthyology) and this account of Clark’s life so far fueled my new-found passion all the more.
Clark was actively working in the field and her lab right up to her death from non-smoking related lung cancer last Wednesday. She is survived by her four children and one grandson. She was 92.
The other great influence of my youth that was lost recently was the more recognizable Leonard Nimoy who died Friday at the age of 83. As I stated in the introduction, he was a man of many talents that entertained people all over the world with his work in front of and behind the camera and curtain. I mentioned his affinity to share a song, and of course there’s this gem. Gotta love the 60s. Crazy as that was it’s still a better and truer interpretation of The Hobbit than Peter Jackson’s eight hour film trilogy. Nimoy was also the king of cameos when it came to Spocking a show up a notch, and it’s only fitting that the second-in-command on one of my favorite live action shows would help kick off my favorite animated show.
However, we all knew Nimoy best as Mr. Spock from Star Trek giving council to Captain Kirk and every once in a while a nasty nerve pinch to enemies of the Enterprise. He both revered and was annoyed at the love for his classic character, and this was especially well reflected by his two autobiographies which were titled I Am Not Spock and I Am Spock respectively.
For me he was Leonard Nimoy, Spock for sure, but also the man who lent his voice to The Simpsons, Futurama, and The Pagemaster to name a few, as well as the director of the third and fourth Star Trek movies. He was a wise and kind presence at conventions and sci-fi specials, and was the only original cast member included in the rebooted Star Trek films from 2009 and 2013, which is saying something considering his fate in Star Trek‘s finest hour and 53 minutes.
I don’t like movies being spoiled for myself or others, but since plenty of newscasts have already shown part of this appropriate clip (and of course, J.J.Abrams already reversed this scene in his reboot sequel Star Trek Into Darkness) I don’t feel so guilty potentially ruining the scene that marked the peak of the Star Trek franchise. In the climax of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the Enterprise is crippled following a battle with another Starfleet ship that now-Admiral Kirk’s old adversary Khan had stolen. Defeated and dying, Khan taps into his titular wrath and does his damnedest to take Kirk and company with him by arming the explosive Genesis device. With the Enterprise’s warp drive broken, it seems that our beloved original cast members are doomed, but Spock practices the logic he preaches and enters the radioactive chamber in the engine room to repair the ship and save the crew at the expense of his own life. While Wrath of Khan is definitely Kirk’s movie, the final exchange between Kirk and Spock and Spock’s funeral have Spock steal the show with a shower of tears from Star Trek fans everywhere.
Nimoy now boldy goes where fellow original cast members DeForest Kelley and James Doohan have gone before, and though I haven’t met anyone from a Star Trek cast past or present, as a science fiction fan I can honestly say that Nimoy and his associates have been and always shall be my friends.
Thank you for reading. Make the most of your gifts as Clark and Nimoy did and follow their example that is represented by the immortal words of Mr. Spock…
Live long and prosper,