William Shatner

On this date in 1931, actor William Alan Shatner was born in Montréal, Québec, to Anne (née Garmaise) and Joseph Shatner, a clothing manufacturer. His maternal grandparents were Jewish immigrants, as was his father. His paternal grandfather Sheldon Schattner anglicized the family name to Shatner.

He studied economics at McGill University in Montreal, where he graduated with a bachelor of commerce degree in 1952, then joined the National Repertory Theatre in Ottawa, where he trained as a classical Shakespearean actor. He was an understudy to Christopher Plummer in “Henry V” and made his Broadway debut in 1956 in Christopher Marlowe‘s “Tamburlaine the Great.”

In 1959, he received good reviews in the role of a British artist in Hong Kong in the Broadway production of “The World of Suzie Wong.” His first feature film role came in MGM’s “The Brothers Karamazov” with Yul Brynner in 1958. Following were roles in “Judgment at Nuremberg” (1961) and “The Intruder” (1962).

The early ’60s featured his many episodic TV roles, but the role that made Shatner famous (and brought a star in 1983 on the Hollywood Walk of Fame) was as Capt. James T. Kirk of the USS Enterprise in Gene Roddenberry‘s “Star Trek.” It became a marketing franchise and an obsession for Trekkies enamored of its various movie and television iterations stretching into the 21st century.

He wrote books, fiction and nonfiction, and recorded albums about “Star Trek” and continued to act on TV, including as police Sgt. “T.J. Hooker” in that series (1982–86). His career acting credits by 2022 totaled 247, and he made numerous guest appearances on talk shows.

Shatner recorded a wake-up call in 2011 that was played for the crew of the space shuttle Discovery docked at the International Space Station. Backed by the theme from “Star Trek,” it featured a voice-over based on his introduction to the series’ opening credits: “Space, the final frontier …” He flew into suborbital space in October 2021 at age 90, becoming the oldest person to fly to space. 

He married four times and had three daughters with his first wife, actress Gloria Rabinowitz Rand: Leslie (b. 1958), Lisabeth (b. 1960) and Melanie (b. 1964).

Asked in 2018 about his religious upbringing, Shatner said: “My father and mother had an observant religious life. They went to temple every Sabbath, prayed to God, and I was dragged along. I’m not religious, but I’m spiritual.” (Sydney Morning Herald, Oct. 6, 2018)

“I probably am an animist,” he said, talking about the human-animal connection he wrote about as a longtime horse breeder in his book “Spirit of the Horse.” (AP, June 16, 2017) “Emotionally I would like to believe there is a life after death. Intellectually … I cannot accept the idea.” (1968 interview with Bonnie Mallory, NBC-TV)

PHOTO: NBC publicity still of Shatner as Captain Kirk.

Freedom From Religion Foundation