"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

“I. Have. Striven. For. Genius. All. My. Life. But I have known failure.”

Pat Jordan is 69 years old and still writing. He jokingly refers to himself as the “Last Knight of the Freelance,” and it’s true, he’s the last guy of his generation to still make a living as a freelance magazine writer. He writes for the dough but he also writes because that’s what he does, that’s who he is–he wouldn’t know what to do with himself if he wasn’t working.

Jordan takes on another old pro, William Shatner in a profile that appears in this week’s New York Times Magazine:

Shatner was interviewed once by a snarky British talk-show host, who showed scenes from Shatner’s TV cop show, “T. J. Hooker,” and asked, “What do you think about your acting?” Shatner replied: “Oh, I was terrible. How could I have played it that way?” Outside Starbucks, Shatner said to me: “If someone criticizes my acting, they may be right. Sometimes you shouldn’t work so hard” to entertain. Then, softly, he said: “I never thought of myself as a great actor, like Olivier. I was a working actor. I entertained people and always tried to be terrific at whatever it was.” His problem and his salvation. He played so many different roles that “people couldn’t define me like they could De Niro. I took whatever work came my way to pay the bills, even if it wasn’t a decent role.” His motto was “Work equals work,” which destroyed any hope he had of being taken seriously as an actor but also brought him longevity, wealth and fame. “I was always grubbing,” he said. “But I was saying the words somewhere.” He leaned toward me and said, with mock import, “I love to evoke the bones and meat and thoughts of characters.” He put his hand on my knee, squeezed gently, then said with breathless intimacy: “I said this one line for Priceline 20 times. I struggled to get the nuance. My silence reverberated in the ether.” His face was close to mine, as if imparting a great secret. “If you add a car and a hotel room, you will get an even better price from Priceline.com.” I nodded. “See! You got it!” Then, matter-of-factly, he straightened up and emphasized how much satisfaction that one line gave him. “A pro takes the job knowing it’s not a great role, just a paying job. But every word has music in it. My satisfaction is trying to reach that music.”


1 Chyll Will   ~  Sep 4, 2010 9:50 am

Shatner's best role past Star Trek has got to be as Denny Crain in "Boston Legal"; his sincerely absurd character was grounded by a reflective experience that almost comments on his whole career the same way he did with Pat. I've heard so many people who said he's a jerk and a supreme diva, but I imagine dealing with him personally is like standing upright in a moving roller coaster...

2 The Hawk   ~  Sep 4, 2010 10:04 am

Shatner has nothing - nothing - to be ashamed of. Sure not everyone gets to be an actor's actor (or whatever) - but Shatner is something even rarer - he's an icon; an archetype, even.

His acting style may have lacked taste or discretion at times but it is indelible and sometimes quite powerful. He's fantastic in The Wrath of Khan, for instance. Broad, sure, but very affecting.

That being said I don't understand the contrast he makes with De Niro who also played a variety of types of roles. Speaking of whom, when I was younger, De Niro seemed like the shit. Now I kind of don't get it.He has his moments but over all he's somewhat limited.

3 The Hawk   ~  Sep 4, 2010 10:08 am

I like the article too but I don't get the import of this line: "Shatner has said he once wore a William Shatner mask on Halloween — 'Nobody knew who I was.'"

Yeah, he had a mask on. And ...?

Though I wonder if it was a Michael Myers mask.

4 Alex Belth   ~  Sep 4, 2010 10:09 am

I'm sure he's more than a handful, maybe even a monster at times. I thought he came off kind of funny here though, better than I thought he would.

5 Alex Belth   ~  Sep 4, 2010 10:11 am

2) DeNiro was famous early on, or by the time MEAN STREETS and GODFATHER II and TAXI DRIVER put him on the map as the "new guy," for being a chameleon, never playing the same role twice, and getting so far into his characters that DeNiro, the actor, wasn't recognizable. Then, by the mid-80s, he started to just be DeNiro the Icon, and hasn't shown much variety in the past 25 years. Actually, DeNiro is closer to being Shatner now, without the self-knowing sense of humor.

6 williamnyy23   ~  Sep 4, 2010 10:23 am

Some actors make you think; some might make you cry; others can be inspirational or even cathartic. But the very sight of Shatner makes me smile. I am not sure if that counts for much in the craft, but from his old Twilight Zone episodes to the Priceline commercials, William Shatner is nothing if not entertaining, and isn’t that what acting is supposed to be all about?

7 Alex Belth   ~  Sep 4, 2010 10:31 am

6) So right. You know, the thing for me is that I really love professionals, no matter what they do. I gravitate towards the craftsmen and women. I suppose this is because my own father struggled so much to realize his talent. So it's not that the craftsmen I admire are necessarily the GREATEST, don't have to be Norman Mailer, just that they see it as their vocation, as part of who they are.

Pat Jordan has been that way for me, a guy who I met when I started reaching out to writers and interviewing them for the blog. Pat became a mentor and dear friend, and he's almost 70 and he's still working. I can't imagine him not working. This also holds true for guys like Shatner--and there is NOTHING to apologize about in being a working actor, you are right--and Woody Allen or Elmore Leonard. I just love those guys that do the work. Again, the work doesn't always need to be great--strikes and gutters like everything else--but when the approach is authentic and consistent, man, I just have so much admiration for that. It's what I strive to achieve one day...

8 williamnyy23   ~  Sep 4, 2010 10:53 am

[7] That's an interesting point. Even though the "great ones" undoubtedly work hard, they have an ease that seems to elevate them from the fray. Everyone else, however, really has to grind. Bringing the conversation back to baseball, Roger Clemens, an all-time great who often made it looks easy, would always say he took more satisfaction out of the games in which he had to really labor.

From the outside looking into greatness, the same thing seems true. Although one might admire or be inspired by the great, the daily struggle is what really resonates. And, maybe that’s why baseball is such a integral part of our social fabric. It is the one sport where the great really do struggle quite often, and even fail more than they succeed, and not only as a group, but as individuals. Although baseball does have it Oliviers (think Pujols) and Shatners (think Swisher), the game has a way of leveling the playing the field from time to time.

Then again, maybe I am reading too much into the obvious. Shatner, like baseball, is just so much damn fun to watch.

9 Diane Firstman   ~  Sep 4, 2010 11:34 am

Nicolas Cage seems to have adopted the "work is work" mantra, though I think nowadays its more because he's in financial trouble.

10 The Hawk   ~  Sep 4, 2010 11:57 am

[9] Yeah, The Rock came out in 1996 so he's been at it for a while

11 OldYanksFan   ~  Sep 4, 2010 6:14 pm

I think Shatner was much better suited for stage then TV. He is also a natural comedian, as Denny Crain has showed us. I thought Boston Legal was a great, great show.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver