I imagine that just about every human being can look back and think of events or decisions made that profoundly changed the course of their life, inflection points that in retrospect mark a clear delineation between “Before” and “After.” What if I had gone to this school rather than that one? What if I had/had not taken this job or followed this career path? What if I had/had not moved to this city?
What if I had never met him/her? What if I had/had not married this person? What if I had not had three children?
For William Shatner, I would argue that the most impactful inflection point of his personal life, and quite possibly of his career as well, came as a direct result of his involvement with this episode of On Camera, “Dreams.”
In a number of interviews that I’ve seen or read, Shatner has made it very clear that his time in Toronto (from 1954 to 1956) was rather lean financially. Other than the steady work he got during the summer months at Stratford, each year was a constant cycle of attempting to get work on TV or radio for the fledgling CBC. When a job was had, it was by it’s very nature very temporary…a few days of rehearsal (maybe) and then it was performed and finished. Shatner stated in his autobiography that each job paid about $35.00 and then it was on to the next one…hopefully. But in those same interviews Shatner usually downplays the money aspect and instead talks candidly about just how lonely he was, and how that was worse than his financial situation by far.
There were really two things working against Shatner during those years. The first was that there just weren’t that many full-time professional actors in Toronto at that time, and many of the ones that were there were older than young Shatner. One of his selling points in those early days was that he could play what he called the “juvenile” roles…those young characters in productions for which he was a natural fit. He was one of the very, very few young actors that already had several years of full-time professional theater experience, not to mention the clout that Stratford imparted to him. So there were very few professional actors that he might have run with, and those that were there were generally older (although that was beginning to slowly change of course.)
The other factor working against Shatner was that he was Shatner…a guy who never really seems to have made a lot of deep friendships (especially male friendships) in his life with anyone, let alone fellow actors. Shatner always refers to the fact that actors are a bit narcissistic and nomadic by necessity, always moving from job to job and competing against each other at times, never together enough to form really tight bonds. Whether that is right or wrong, it’s what he believes and how he has gone through his life and career.
So we know that Shatner really didn’t have any close friends in Toronto or at Stratford, and his love life (at least according to him) was rather sparse as well. Other than a brief relationship that he had with a Toronto prostitute (read Shatner’s autobiography for the full story but no…he did not pay for sex) and a possible one-night stand with actress Kathy Burt that may have led to an illegitimate child, it appears that Shatner really was quite alone during this period. That would change forever with this episode of On Camera.
During these years scrambling to find whatever work he could at the CBC, Shatner apparently wrote and submitted a handful of scripts for consideration and (according to him) actually sold two or three. One of those produced (and the only one that I can verify) was a teleplay called “Dreams” for the series On Camera. As I mentioned in previous posts, On Camera was a half-hour anthology program produced by the CBC with a Canadian focus. As much as possible, On Camera episodes were directed, performed and (most especially) written by Canadians. So it makes sense for them to give a young Canadian actor a chance to branch out and write. Not only did the CBC purchase and produce Shatner’s script but they also allowed him the freedom to play the lead character and, most importantly, cast the other parts.
The only (very brief) synopsis that I could find about “Dreams” online says that it was “a story of a young couple who meet and fall in love under false pretences.” This seems actually quite appropriate as it appears that Shatner was using the casting of the lead actress opposite him to pursue one Miss Gloria Rand (née Rosenberg.)
In a filmed 1999 interview for the Archive of American Television, Shatner describes his flirtation of Gloria Rand as only he can…which is equal parts absurd and touching:
And then there was this lovely, doe-like woman who came, tremulous on the edge of the pasture of life and just struck up my fancy…and we struck up a friendship.
A “friendship” is probably both an overstatement and an understatement. An understatement because in less than four months Shatner and Rand were married. An overstatement because, although Shatner has never publicly said anything negative about her, the passages related to Rand in his autobiography make it fairly clear that he thinks they might have rushed into a relationship (and eventually marriage) a little too quickly:
So Gloria and I were both young and…and young. That really explains it.
Still, Shatner’s 13-year marriage to Gloria Rand was absolutely momentous and would set things in motion that resonate to this day. Again, they were married in less than four months from this episode, quickly moved to New York City, had 3 daughters in the span of about six years (daughters with whom he has always been incredibly close with) and then went through a divorce so brutal for Shatner that he launched headfirst into the gnashing teeth of his desperate “Lost Years” (more on all of these events in future posts.) I would say that this probably qualifies as the biggest inflection point of his personal life up to this point, wouldn’t you? In fact, this is almost indisputably the biggest inflection point in all of his personal life, ever.
But, before any of the events in the above paragraph would occur Shatner was back once again to Stratford for what would be his third and final season treading the boards for the Bard.
Finally, a brief note about the air date of this episode: IMDB lists it as April 16th, 1956. However, later I found a website called TVArchive.ca which lists out a large number of On Camera episodes along with air dates. That site lists the air date as April 28th, 1956. As I usually do, I’ve gone with the Canadians over IMDB. Just wanted to warn you that, like many Shatner appearances in the 1950’s, there is some haze here. It’s also quite unfortunate that there are no stills that I could find for this episode, and the program itself is most likely lost along with almost all of his other TV appearances for the CBC of this era. It would have been quite fascinating to see young Shatner starring in a teleplay that he wrote alongside his future wife.
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It’s time to detail all of the connections between On Camera’s “Dreams” and other Shatner appearances!
Gloria Rand and William Shatner never worked together professionally again. In fact, it looks like Rand stopped acting after 1956. This certainly (and Shatner confirms it in his autobiography) contributed to some of the tension in their relationship.
The only other actor in “Dreams” that ever worked with Shatner on other productions was Ted Follows. He had previously worked with him during the 1955 Stratford season in Julius Caesar, The Merchant of Venice and King Oedipus. As part of the Stratford troupe he also went to Broadway with Le Shat in Tamburlaine the Great. Like Shatner, he would also return to Stratford for the 1956 season and they would appear together in Henry V and The Merry Wives of Windsor. They would both be in the 1957 film version of Oedipus Rex and finally, Follows would appear with Shatner one last time in Festival’s 1960 adaptation of “Julius Caesar.”