Leonard Nimoy was best known for playing Mr. Spock in the original Star Trek series. He died Friday morning at the age of 83 in his home in Los Angeles. But Nimoy's first home was right here in Boston. Specifically, Boston's West End — an area between Beacon Hill and North Station.
It's now dominated by huge hospital buildings, residential towers and parking lots, but Nimoy always remembered it as the tight, working-class neighborhood that existed before the "urban renewal" craze of the 1950s leveled the area.
He spoke to Radio Boston alum Adam Ragusea in 2012, when he was in town to receive an honorary doctorate from Boston University and to deliver the convocation address for the College of Fine Arts. Adam attended that speech, with the goal of documenting everything Nimoy still remembered about his long-demolished boyhood home.
Leonard Nimoy, actor, film director, poet, singer and photographer.
On the importance of balance:
Leonard Nimoy: "Our creativity walks on a razor’s edge, using both sides of the brain. The left side of the brain gives us logic and discipline. On the right side is instinctive, creative thinking. We as artists, we need booth. You fall to the left and you lose inspiration and originality. Fall too far to the right and we’re in danger of drifting into undisciplined chaos. The secret of a long healthy career in the arts is a successful walk on the razor’s edge."
On the deeper questions of art:
LN: "If acting is to be considered an art, one needs to learn more than the superficial craft. This is true of any work in the arts. What is the work about? What does it say to a contemporary audience? What light does it cast on our lives and on the issues which concern us and connect us? Indeed, how does it help to heal the world?"
On how his Boston roots helped prime him to portray Spock:
LN: "My folks came to the United States as immigrants, aliens, and they became citizens. I was born in Boston a citizen; I went to Hollywood, and I became an alien. Spock called for exactly the kind of work I was prepared to do. He was a character with a rich and dynamic inner life — half human, half Vulcan. He was the embodiment of the outsider, like the immigrants who surrounded me in my early years. How do you find your way as the alien in a foreign culture? Where does your identity and dignity come from? And how do you make a contribution?"
On his childhood street in Boston's West End:
LN: "It was three and four story brick buildings, attached, walk up buildings. There was one building — oh, five or six buildings away from us — that had an elevator, and it was known as 'the building with the elevator.'"
On labeling the West End a slum:
LN: "There were some areas of it that were tired, but I would never call it a slum. I think that description was useful to people who wanted to tear it down and develop the area. But I don't think it was fair or accurate."
On his parents, who tried to stick it out in the West End:
LN: "They refused to leave, not until they had to vacate the building [that was being torn down around them)]...They were very careful, low-profile, very quiet people, had come from a tough life in Russia where they had been subjected to oppression. They knew they were safe and peaceful in the West End, so they wanted to stay there as long as they could."
On the loss of the West End:
LN: "I wish I could go back to my roots. I can’t. They’re gone. The buildings are all torn down. I try walking with my wife to show her where I lived, but it’s so difficult because the street configuration has changed so much that I feel it’s gone. I feel my roots are gone."
A backstage interview on Nimoy's West End memories:
This segment aired on February 27, 2015.