Actor Leonard Nimoy had nothing but praise for Fresno when he addressed the Fresno Philharmonic Meet the Artist Luncheon on Friday at San Joaquin Country Club.
The luncheon, which is held the Friday before each subscription Philharmonic concert to introduce the guest artist, was a little more crowded than usual thanks toNimoy's presence. While the luncheon usually draws about 30 to 40 guests, Philharmonic publicist Shelly Sischo said, "We had 130 sign up, and I think a few more slipped in."
Nimoy noted that one of the TV reporters present had just asked him, " 'Why did you come to Fresno?' "
He said friends in Los Angeles, where he lives most of the year, asked him the same question.
"I'm going to participate in a performance of Beethoven's 'Egmont' overture and incidental music and Stravinsky's 'L'Histoire du Soldat, ' " he told them.
His friends replied, "Beethoven, Stravinsky -- Fresno? That's a bad joke."
Sounding as though he were running for mayor, Nimoy said, "That implies there's something [wrong with] Fresno. I said, 'It's time to stop this. It's not current, and it's not right. Fresno has vibrant and interesting cultural activities.' People in Los Angeles need to know this. And that's what I'm going to do when I get back there. I'm going to spread the word."
Nimoy could've been elected president of Fresno after that speech.
The actor is well aware that he's a popular draw for cultural events and said he enjoys being able to use his fame to help arts organizations such as the Philharmonic.
He does several of these appearances a year, in addition to sponsoring artists-in-residence at various art museums, and exhibiting his photography, to which he now devotes most of his time since curtailing his acting.
During his introduction, Philharmonic conductor Ted Kuchar called Nimoy "one of the most distinguished and accomplished figures in American culture in the second half of the 20th century, largely based on a particular role in a TV series, " which drew laughter from the crowd, and noted that Nimoy "devotes his time not only to American culture but to world culture."
Kuchar was referring to Nimoy's beloved "Star Trek" character Mr. Spock, of course, whom the actor has come to embrace in recent years. After first writing a memoir titled "I Am Not Spock" in 1975, Nimoy came around and accepted his Vulcan half 20 years later with a followup, "I Am Spock."
Nimoy even related the story of the Vulcan greeting, flashing the famous gesture with both his left and right hand.
He said he first saw the gesture, in which the hand's four fingers are split into pairs, when he was at an Orthodox Jewish service at age 8.
At the service, the Cohanim, Hebrew priests that date back 3,300 years, were chanting a blessing. By tradition, the members of the congregation cover their eyes when the Cohanim chant, but young Leonard was so transfixed that he snuck a peek, and saw the priests with their hands raised in a gesture, in which the ring and middle finger were split.
"I worked at copying it diligently, " Nimoy remembered. "On the 'Star Trek' series, my character, Spock, was a Vulcan. When he was going home for the first time, I suggested to the director that a Vulcan might greet other Vulcans using this gesture."
Although Philharmonic executive director David Gaylin said Nimoy's presence hadn't boosted ticket sales yet, Corridor 2122 saw a huge increase in attendance for ArtHop on Thursday night, with an estimated 400 to 500 people coming to see some of Nimoy's photography. The recently opened gallery normally draws a quarter of that at best, some of its members estimated. The traffic spilled across the street to the Studios @ the Bus Barn, where resident artist Robert Ogata and his wife, Sally, said they'd never seen crowds like that before. Next-door artist Dal Henderson said his studio was so crowded that it was hard to move, and he slipped out early.
Nimoy himself wasn't present at the exhibit during ArtHop, but some members of Spectrum Gallery, which is co-sponsoring the show with Corridor 2122, said he might visit sometime today.