People that have a close relationship usually have their own inside jokes. When I see my daughter Hannah in the morning or after school, I come up to her and extend my hand for a handshake. Her face turns serious, she shakes my hand and says “Denny Crane,” and we both collapse in laughter. To the rest of the world this will look like an odd moment. But this tiny moment lights up our hearts. This is our inside joke.
Hannah and I love the show Boston Legal, a comedy-drama starring William Shatner and James Spader that went off the air in 2008. Shatner plays Denny Crane, a named partner at a law firm in Boston. Here is how Shatner describes Denny Crane in his book Live Long And . . .:
Once among the greatest attorneys in the nation, as someone who is slowly losing his connection to reality – but whose confidence and ego remain fully intact. But what I found most intriguing was that in his growing dementia Denny Crane had lost his inhibitions. He had direct contact with his emotions. Unlike most people, he was able to express and do whatever he was feeling. …
Denny Crane didn’t just experience his emotions; he broadcasted them. He forced other people to deal with them, too. He was loud and bombastic and smart and lovable, but he lived life and he gave it no quarter.
I love watching Star Trek, but I am not a “Trekkie,” and neither is Hannah. I don’t think she watched a single episode of the original Star Trek. I watched a few, but I grew up with Captain Picard and Lieutenant Commander Data. I’d argue that Denny Crane is William Shatner’s best creation.
Often you don’t know if the person you’re watching is a brilliant lawyer or a madman. To let everyone know that they’re in the presence of a legend, Crane always announces himself (without saying hello): “Denny Crane.” This is where Hannah and I got our inside joke.
What really makes the show is the wonderful bromance between the William Shatner and James Spader characters – their relationship almost defines what a true friendship should be like. Denny Crane calls them “the two flamingos.”
I saw how much Hannah loved Denny Crane and thought it would be great if she could actually meet William Shatner. I discovered that Shatner was coming to Denver to attend StarFest, a sci-fi convention, where he would be taking pictures and signing autographs. I didn’t tell Hannah about it until Sunday, the day of the event. In the morning I said, “Hannah, today we are going to meet Denny Crane.” Her face lit up and she asked, “is it my birthday?” That was her natural response.
When we got to the convention Hannah and I found we were the only two people who hadn’t dressed up as Enterprise crew or aliens. Everyone in line was waiting to take a picture with Captain Kirk, and Hannah and I were the only people who were waiting for Denny Crane. In the five seconds we got to spend with William Shatner, I shook his hand and told him that we loved Denny Crane. He smiled kindly and said “Thank you.” A few seconds later William Shatner was taking a picture with two Klingons and a Vulcan.
Throughout the whole experience Hannah was lit up like a Christmas tree, giggling and smiling – she could not believe that she got to meet Denny Crane.
I’m not a person who celebrates movie stars, but this was different; and I think the difference, though subtle, comes from the fact that both Hannah and I love the Denny Crane character – it’s a daughter-father thing. In addition to the photo with William Shatner, Hannah and I have an even more lasting imprint, the memory of the day when we got to meet Denny Crane.
On a slightly different note, I recently listened to the book Leonard, by William Shatner. I chose to listen to it because it is read by Shatner. It is almost like listening to a one-man play that takes you through the struggles and successes of two Jewish actors who were born four days apart in 1931 – Leonard Nimoy (Spock) in Boston and William Shatner in Montreal. But this book is more than just a biography of Nimoy and Shatner, it is a biography of their fifty-year friendship that suddenly soured a few years before Nimoy’s death in 2015; and it’s the story of Star Trek, a cultural phenomenon that is exponentially more popular now than when it was created more than fifty years ago.
I highly recommend Shatner’s book.