What was it about Mr. Spock that captured the hearts and imagination of millions around the world? I'm not sure you would call him cool. He wasn't the streetwise kind of cool like the Fonz or Vinnie Barbarino, nor was he that slick, charming kind of cool like Napoleon Solo, but he was cool in a way that was different. He was smart and philosophical than everyone else on the Enterprise, so you might say that made him a nerd or a nerd's ideal. Let's face it, there were a lot of other things that made Mr. Spock popular. Even though he exist in an idealized future, his life, like ours, isn't perfect.
Yes, he was smart, had superhuman strength (which he rarely used), mind reading abilities, a self-defense technique that renders people unconscious, and didn't have emotions to weigh him down, but he wasn't good looking with those bangs, greenish complexion, the windshield-wiper eyebrows and, of course, the pointed ears. He was the hero for those who weren't good looking. Mr. Spock was the epitome of the person who stood out in a crowd.
You might say, Mr. Spock didn't fit in with his other crew mates. He was in the shadow of the dashing, heroic and good looking Captain Kirk, who you might say was sort of the jock to Mr. Spock's nerd. If Spock was a nerd, you can continue using junior high and middle school archetypes by pointing out that McCoy was the redneck who was always picking on people. He constantly harassed Spock about his green blood.
Add to this another thing about the Mr. Spock character he was multiracial. We found out during the course of the show that Mr. Spock was the child of a Vulcan father and an Earthling mother. Since he wasn't full blooded of either kind, he also didn't fit in with other children on the planet Vulcan, as was shown in the animated series.
This week in 1967, NBC aired one of the first episodes to give us an insight into Mr. Spock, "This Side of Paradise." Granted, they were tidbits thrown out through dialog in a story in which Spock is reunited with a beautiful female colleague named Leila (played by Jill Ireland, who looks like my old flame, Eunice Moneymaker), who had a major crush on him. Spock, of course, paid no attention to her because love is "a human emotion."
The landing party is supposed to evacuate the people on this communal planet, due to a radiation contamination, however, they don't want to go because they are "happy" and "healthy." It turns they are under the influence of strange plants that spray spores causing a euphoria. When Mr. Spock is sprayed with by one of the plants (which looks like a plant called caster beans that my Grandpa Jones planted around his garden to keep moles out), he not only notices how beautiful Leila is, but also notices clouds and rainbows. "Before today, I could tell you how they form in the sky, but until now I never noticed how beautiful they look." He is very close to singing "Both Sides Now." Mr. Spock also begins defying Captain Kirk's orders and climbing trees.
Besides seeing that Mr. Spock is awkward at love, we find out in this episode about his parents, and he has super strength. Captain Kirk finds that the spores are counteracted by anger. He brings Mr. Spock back to normal by angering him to the point of violence with some rather vicious insults about his looks (Mystery Science Theater 3000 opened one show with a parody of this episode). This and "Amok Time" are the quintessential Spock episodes.
Almost as soon as Star Trek debuted, Mr. Spock became a fascination with people. 93 KHJ Boss radio in Los Angeles ran a Star Trek contest, where the winner got to meet Leonard Nimoy on the set of Star Trek (See the above KHJ Boss 30 Countdown flyer). Cheer Laundry Detergent altered a future man character (played by Robert Rodan, who played Adam on Dark Shadows) to look like Mr. Spock.
I noticed on many comments on retro blogs, social and news media websites after the death of Leonard Nimoy that many people said they had a Mr. Spock toy, t-shirt, pajamas, or Halloween costume. Matter of fact, when I was six years old, I was Mr. Spock for Halloween. I made the costume, although none of the stores in Lebanon or Springfield sold the pointed ears, so I had to make due with some "giant" plastic ears. I also had a pair of tube socks with Mr. Spock's picture on them.
I even had this Star Trek coloring book with Mr. Spock wearing a red shirt on the cover. Don't worry, he survived the coloring book.
I think kids gravitated toward Mr. Spock over the other characters because he was the different one. They could be a Captain Kirk or a Dr. McCoy, but Mr. Spock was something they couldn't be...a highly intelligent being from another planet, who was one of the good guys.
Mr. Spock is probably the most complex characters ever created for TV. While he prides himself on being emotionless, he is far from being one-dimensional and boring. Bravo ranked him 21st on their list of 100 Greatest TV characters ever and TV Guide ranked him sixth on their list of 50 greatest TV characters. Personally, Mr. Spock is the greatest TV character ever. Live long and prosper.