William Shatner was a struggling Canadian actor when he joined the prestigious Stratford Festival in 1954, at age 23. He remained at Stratford for three seasons, at one point serving as understudy to fellow Canadian icon Christopher Plummer, for whom he subbed in "Henry V" when Plummer took ill in 1956. During his time at Stratford, Shatner appeared in "Measure for Measure", "The Taming of the Shrew","Julius Caesar"'"The Merchant of Venice" "The Merry Wives of Windsor" and "Oedipus Rex".
'Howdy Doody' Time
After leaving Stratford in 1953, the following year saw Shatner cast as Ranger Bob in a Canadian version of U.S. kids' show hit "The Howdy Doody Show". Coincidentally enough, Shatner was hired to replace the show's previous star, who played Timber Tom: his future "Star Trek" co-star and fellow Canadian James Doohan.
'The Twilight Zone'
CBS Television Distribution
In the late '50s and early '60s, Shatner became a ubiquitous presence on television during its Golden Age. Along with performances in the numerous live television dramas of the day, including "Kraft Theater" and "Playhouse 90". His most memorable role during this period, though, is easily his 1963 episode of "The Twilight Zone", starring as an airline passenger who can't get anyone else to believe that he sees a creepy monster on the wing of the airplane.
Following a high-profile role in the 1958 film adaptation of "The Brothers Karamazov", headlined by Yul Brynner, Shatner finally landed the lead role in a feature film, and boy was it a weird one. A horror film called "Incubus", the flick is best known for the fact that all of the dialogue was in Esperanto, the invented "universal language" that enjoyed a brief burst of popularity in the mid-'60s.
SNAP TVStills Archive/Entertainment Pictures. (©) Copyright 1968 by SNAP TVStills Archive
In 1966, "Star Trek" cast Shatner in the role that remains his most iconic, and which continues to follow him more than a half-century later. As Captain James Tiberius Kirk of the starship Enterprise, he led a crew of interstellar adventurers on a five-year mission to to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man had gone before. Sadly, the five-year mission concluded in three years when NBC decided to cancel the show due to weak ratings.
'The Transformed Man'
The years following "Star Trek" were lean ones for Shatner, but one of his passion projects was his debut album, released in 1968, which melded pop music with famous poetry from Shakespeare and others. With Shatner's now-iconic talk-singing delivery and dramatic... pauses, to say "The Transformed Man" was not a hit is putting it mildly. Q magazine ranks it among its list of the 50 worst albums ever made. Shatner the singer, however, would make a big comeback several decades later...
'Star Trek: The Animated Series'
"Star Trek" may have been cancelled, but it never really went away, kept alive by the magic of reruns — which, sadly, in those days did not translate into additional money for the cast, who found they had been typecast because of their roles on the show. As a result, NBC revived "Star Trek" in 1973 as a Saturday morning cartoon, and was easily able to get most of the original cast back to reprise their roles. The animated "Trek" ran for two seasons before it, like it predecessor, was cancelled.
'Kingdom of the Spiders'
The mid-'70s was a busy period for Shatner, albeit not an auspicious one. In addition to numerous TV guest-star roles (in such series as "The Six Million Dollar Man", "Kung Fu" and "Police Woman"), Shatner appeared in such shlocky movies as 1977's "Kingdom of the Spiders", in which he battled an army of rampaging arachnids.
In 1978, Shatner hosted the Science Fiction Film Awards, where he performed an utterly unhinged talk-sing rendition of Elton John's "Rocket Man", in which he plays three different versions of himself in a performance so iconic it was later spoofed by a cigarette-smoking Stewie on "Family Guy". Singing Shatner struck again, and while it didn't land him an album deal (at least not at the time) his three-Shatner performance remains one of the strangest, loopiest things ever seen, thanks to his odd phrasing and dramatic pauses. Rock-it... man.
'Star Trek: The Motion Picture'
During the 1970s, the popularity of "Star Trek" kept on growing, with reruns introducing new generations to the adventures of Kirk, Spock and the Enterprise crew. In 1979, the blockbuster success of "Star Wars" convinced Paramount to take a chance on reviving the show as a feature film. Although it was critically panned for a story that many thought was too cerebral, "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" made enough money that the studio greenlit a sequel.
'Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan'
Most fans consider "Star Trek II" to be when the franchise really regained its mojo, with a rip-roaring tale of Kirk and the crew facing a revenge-driven figure from their past in Ricardo Montalban's Khan (who appeared in the original series). Shatner continued to reprise Capt. Kirk in several more movies until the OG "Trek" films concluded with "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country" (which Shatner also directed) in 1991.
Columbia Pictures Television
Thanks to the big-screen resurrection of "Star Trek", Shatner was back in demand, and in 1982 he took on the TV role of veteran police sergeant T.J. Hooker. The series ran for three seasons until NBC cancelled the show; but that wasn't the end, as CBS then picked it up and ran it for one more season.
'Saturday Night Live'
Shatner hosted "SNL" in 1986 and appeared in one of the show's all-time most memorable sketches. Playing himself at a "Star Trek" convention, Shatner implored his pointy-eared, nerdy fans to "get a life," a phrase that he'd resurrect in his later phase as Shatner the Author.
Two tracks from Shatner's 1968 "Transformed Man" album appeared on this Rhino Records compilation of actors' unfortunate forays into the world of pop music (Shatner's co-star Leonard Nimoy is also featured on two ear-splitting tracks). Taken out of context from his concept album, Shatner's dramatic readings of "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" and Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man" became staples on wacky radio morning shows, hinting at a future reinvention.
In 1989, Shatner was tapped to host CBS docudrama series "Rescue 911", recounting real-life incidents involving 911 calls. Shatner would continue to host until the show ended its run in 1996.
Shatner The Author
In 1989, the first of Shatner's "Tek War" novels was published (despite his name emblazoned on the cover, they were actually ghostwritten by somebody else), which spawned a series of novels and subsequent TV series — guess who starred in it? This opened the door for Shatner's next incarnation, as an author of "Star Trek" novels and various memoirs, including 1993's "Star Trek Memories" and 1999's ode to "Star Trek" conventions, "Get a Life". His most recent book, 2017's "Spirit of the Horse", celebrates his love of all things equestrian.
'Star Trek: Generations'
With "Star Trek: The Next Generation" taking over the "Trek" franchise on TV and, later, movies, Shatner appeared with his Enterprise successor Patrick Stewart in the 1994 film "Star Trek: Generations". Due to a convoluted time-travelling plot, Captains Jean-Luc Picard and James T. Kirk team up to battle a nefarious bad guy in the movie that finally managed to kill off Capt. Kirk, with Shatner finally shedding the role he'd played on and off at that point for nearly 30 years.
In 1997, Shatner became the spokesman for Priceline.com, playing a character called "The Negotiator" (OK, he was really just playing himself, but why quibble?). Shatner proved to be a canny businessman, getting paid in Priceline stock — which he allegedly sold at inflated prices right before the dotcom bust, reportedly earning a whopping $600 million. That number, however, is now seen as an urban legend; some believe the amount he earned from selling the stock was closer to $13 million, and Shatner has never publicly revealed how much he made for his Priceline work.
Anchor Bay Entertainment
Shatner's reinvention took a lightspeed jump in this 1998 indie flick, which starred a then-unknown Eric McCormack before he went on to fame with "Will & Grace". In the flick, Shatner plays a skewed, over-the-top version of himself, obsessed with mounting a rap production of Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar". Shatner's performance was praised, and his transition from leading man to comic actor was well on its way.
Warner Bros. Pictures
Shatner's comedy chops were further utilized in the 2000 Sandra Bullock hit "Miss Congeniality", playing pompous beauty pageant host Stan Fields. He returned to reprise the role in the sequel.
By 2004, Shatner had embraced his unique musical stylings as part of his persona, and surprised everybody by producing "Has Been", a bona fide album... that was actually pretty great. Collaborating with Ben Folds (of Ben Folds Five fame), Shatner's foray into indie rock rated a 7.5 review on Pitchfork, and made it all the way up to #22 in the Billboard "Heatseekers" chart.
20th Century Fox Television/Entertainment Pictures. (©) Copyright 2004 by Courtesy of 20th Century Fox Television
Shatner was brought on to the final season (2003-'04) of "The Practice" as bombastic barrister Denny Crane, along with James Spader as slippery lawyer Alan Shore. Viewers loved the chemistry between Shatner and Spade, who reprised their roles in the subsequent spinoff "Boston Legal", which ran from 2004 until 2008. Denny Crane proved to be one of his most popular characters, earning Shatner six Emmy nominations and two wins, one for "The Practice" and another for "Boston Legal".
'S#*! My Dad Says'
A few years after the end of his Emmy-winning run on "Boston Legal", Shatner returned to TV in this 2010 sitcom, which boasts the dubious honour of being the first (and, let's hope, only) TV series ever based on a Twitter account. In the role of a grumpy, gruff guy who clashes with his son, Shatner was, well, Shatner. The show, however, was not good, and wound up getting axed after a single season.
'Shatner's World: We Just Live In It'
In 2012, Shatner hit the road to go on tour with his autobiographical one-man show, which garnered largely positive reviews, even in the New York Times. Shatner continued to tour off and on with the show, as recently as fall 2016.
'Better Late Than Never'
In the summer of 2016, Shatner starred in this reality show — alongside former NFL great Terry Bradshaw, former heavyweight champ George Foreman and erstwhile Fonz Henry Winkler — that sent the quartet of codgers off to far-flung parts of the planet to engage in goofy adventures. The show was renewed for a second season.
'The Indian Detective' And More
Shatner continues to be an in-demand actor; in 2017 alone he guest-starred in Global drama "Private Eyes", lent his voice to animated projects ranging from "Batman" to "My Little Pony" and played a shady real estate developer in Russell Peters' comic cop show "The Indian Detective". He'll soon be seen starring in the upcoming comedy "Senior Moment".