Be­fore they were heroes

Wil­liam Shat­ner and Adam West re­flect on their TV pilot about Alexan­der the Great.

Los Angeles Times - - Calendar - Geoff Boucher geoff.boucher@la­

Star­date 1964: Wil­liam Shat­ner and Adam West head to a toga party.

Capt. Kirk and Bruce Wayne to­gether — and in to­gas?

Yes, be­fore they took on their iconic roles on “Star Trek” and “Bat­man,” ac­tors Wil­liam Shat­ner and Adam West worked to­gether on a buddy pro­ject called “Alexan­der the Great.”

“It was so long ago,” Shat­ner said of the fiz­zled pro­ject, which started life as a1964 tele­vi­sion pilot. “It was great fun to make. It was a pilot that was mon­u­men­tal for ABC just be­fore I went and did ‘Star Trek.’ And I was deeply, deeply, hor­ren­dously dis­ap­pointed when this se­ries didn’t sell and then the fol­low­ing year or so I started work on ‘Star Trek.’ ”

The pilot de­picted the Battle of Is­sus with a the­nun­known Shat­ner as Alexan­der lead­ing his Mace­do­nian army in tri­umph and a less-than-fa­mous West as his com­pa­triot, Cle­an­der, who en­joyed a good party as much as a good fight.

“Bill was a very good Alexan­der and as the gen­eral Cle­an­der, I was the winewomen-and-song, Er­rol Flynn kind of guy,” West said. “How­ever, just be­tween us, it turned out to be one of the worst scripts I have ever read and it was one of the worst things I’ve ever done. We had won­der­ful peo­ple in­volved like John Cas­savetes and Joseph Cot­ten and Si­mon Oak­land in the cast.”

Shat­ner said he had high hopes that the show would find an au­di­ence for its spirit of ad­ven­ture — it was made just eight years af­ter Richard Bur­ton’s big-screen turn in writer-di­rec­tor-pro­ducer Robert Rossen’s “Alexan­der the Great” — but it was des­tined to oc­cupy a far dif­fer­ent place in pop cul­ture.

“Ev­ery piece of en­ter­tain­ment is made with the idea that it will be ter­rific but then it hits the pub­lic and then that’s when you find out if it’s re­ally good or not,” said Shat­ner, whose cur­rent pur­suits in­clude the just-pre­miered doc­u­men­tary “The Cap­tains,” an up­com­ing al­bum called “Seek­ing Ma­jor Tom” and an Oc­to­ber book ti­tled “The Shat­ner Rules.”

“Alexan­der the Great” did make a come­back of sorts — it was aired as a tele­vi­sion movie in 1968 to cap­i­tal­ize on the surge in fame by both Shat­ner and West, who had be­come a sen­sa­tion as the star of the campy “Bat­man” se­ries that aired from Jan­uary 1966 to March 1968. The pro­gram also was re­leased on DVD in 2006 by Bay­side En­ter­tain­ment (and there are clips on YouTube).

West, 82, who just staged a Gotham City re­union at San Diego’s Comic-Con In­ter­na­tional last month with Burt Ward and Julie New­mar, has new gen­er­a­tions of fans with his work on “The Fam­ily Guy,” so he doesn’t look back to­ward Mace­do­nia with much re­gret. He said it’s still fun to think about what could have been, es­pe­cially with the for­mat the pro­duc­ers had in mind for the aborted se­ries.

“Bill and I were sup­posed to al­ter­nate ev­ery week with the lead part,” West said. “We did the pilot and Bill was the lead as Alexan­der and I was the kind of side­kick guy, and I was go­ing to have the next episode and it was sup­posed to go like that from there. Bill had a lot more in that first episode than I did, of course.”

The 80-year-old Shat­ner has called the show “‘Com­bat!’ in drag,” re­fer­ring to the World War II se­ries that was made by the same pro­ducer, Selig J. Selig­man, and noted that West was “a neat guy to work with,” but he wasn’t es­pe­cially in­ter­ested in speak­ing more ex­ten­sively about the long-gone en­deavor.

West, how­ever, of­fered a vivid snapshot of the for­got­ten toga days.

“Four o’clock in the morn­ing out in the desert of St. Ge­orge, Utah, where it was mighty cold, they were putting body makeup on us so we could wear our lit­tle thongs and ride around on Ara­bian studs and fight the Per­sians,” West said with melo­dra­matic vi­brato. “You had to see this thing. It was like ‘Land of the Lost.’ But Bill was re­mark­ably ef­fec­tive. I think he’s al­ways good. If you’re one of those peo­ple who have pres­ence and poise and that aura, what­ever you want to call it, things work and it en­ter­tains peo­ple. Like me, let me check — oh, look, I’m a na­tional trea­sure.”

BE­FORE “STAR TREK”: Wil­liam Shat­ner, left, and Joseph Cot­ten in the TV pilot “Alexan­der the Great.”

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