Not that I’m the kind of person to carry a grudge – but I’ve had a small axe to grind with William Shatner for the past 37 years.
It is all because of a phone call. Let me explain: When I came out of film school in London, in 1970, I went to Toronto, moving into a tiny bed-sitter as my first step into North America to seek my fame and fortune in the movie industry. My reason for going there was that I had (still have) a brilliantly entrepreneurial uncle there who urged me to come over, telling me the Canadian movie industry was just starting up and there were great incentives for investors.
I only knew one person in film industry then, a guy by the name of Malcolm Barbour, the son of a friend of my mother, who at the time was a modestly paid executive at Buena Vista in New York. Some years later, Mal had the bright idea of sticking a video camera in police cars and created “Cops”, thus inventing the whole concept of “reality television”. “Cops” and subsequent shows have netted him hundreds of millions of dollars. I was in his office one day a few years back and he showed me a royalty cheque that had just come in for $450,000 and he had no idea what show it was for!!!
But back in 1970 Mal had a script for a film called “Foreign Bodies” – a well-before-its-time ecological thriller, which he was trying to set up in Canada because he had heard it was easy to raise finance there. He told me that, coincidentally, William Shatner was filming on location in Thunder Bay about 100 miles north of Toronto. Maybe as I was heading back to Canada I could get the script to him, Mal asked me, and if I succeeded in getting Shatner to play the lead role, I could co-produce the film with him.
I hot-footed it back to Canada clutching the script, got hold of the production office number, and phoned from the payphone in the corridor outside my room and asked, very importantly, if I could to William Shatner. I was put through to his assistant who asked what company I was calling from. I replied, even more importantly, and making the name up on the spot, that it was Peter James, President of Jason Productions Corporation Limited of Toronto. The assistant assured me that Mr Shatner would call me back.
Two hours later he did! I dived out into the corridor, just getting to the phone ahead of the Moroccan chef, and the permanently stoned hippy, who shared the floor with me and picked up the receiver. It was the operator asking me if I could accept a collect call from Mr William Shatner.
What a mean bastard, I thought! The cost of the call was a lousy quarter. Of course I put it in, but in the process giving the game away that I was calling from a payphone! I cannot really remember much about the conversation, I was squirming with embarrassment that he knew I was calling from a payphone, and a tad miffed that he’d made me pay for the call. There he was, one of the most successful and highly paid actors on the planet, and there I was, an impoverished ex-student… Maybe he had his reasons for calling collect…
I’ve had a number of great and happy experiences with actors over the years, some of them A-list stars, and some unknown and impoverished. But I’ve also had some really bad experiences too, with A-listers and with others at the far end of the spectrum. Of all the traits I dislike, meanness comes pretty high on my list. I’ve been staggered by how tight some of some of the big names I have met and worked with have been. I guess in part it stems from the insecurity of an actor’s career. They can be at their peak one moment, then plunge into obscurity the next. But it is a trait I really don’t like.
So, if you are reading this, Bill, and you want to repair our relationship, all you have to do is put a quarter – or perhaps, allowing for inflation, one whole dollar into a charity box for me. Then I’ll be your new best friend!