The Time William Shatner Saved ‘Star Trek III’

William Shatner fire

Paramount William Shatner in a scene from “Star Trek III”

It is an actor’s job to fool the audience. Usually, this foolery involves persuading the viewers of a television show or movie into thinking that the actor is someone they are not. Sometimes this means faking an accent or changing their facial expressions.

Many times, acting involves makeup and prosthetics. In the case of the great “Star Trek: Discovery” actor Doug Jones, who portrays Saru on the show, prosthetics and makeup is a way of life. For someone like William Shatner, who made a living with his rugged good looks and leading man charisma, he usually worked the way he looked.

Part of the thrill of “Star Trek” in general, especially the first series, which starred Shatner and Leonard Nimoy (as Spock), is that someone got to be a hero. Nearly every episode of “The Original Series,” either Kirk, Spock, or sometimes Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) or even Scotty (James Doohan) rose to the occasion and saved the day. 

Doohan in World War II

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Some of those folks served in the military, including Kelley, Nimoy, and Doohan. The latter lost a finger as he stormed the beaches of Juno Beach on D-Day with the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division. Read more about Doohan’s heroic actions and those of Trek creator Gene Roddenberry in this Heavy story

Shatner was never in the military, either in the U.S. or his native Canada, but he has played numerous military roles. He had affected debate in the newest branch of the U.S. Military — the Space Force — when he said that those in charge of a spacecraft should be referred to as captains rather than commanders.  

Still, he has acted heroically off the screen a number of times. Once, though, Shatner’s actions helped stop the destruction of a historic set on the Paramount Studios lot, which could have destroyed much of what had been created for “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.”

Shatner Saves the Genesis Planet

William Shatner and Crew Save Star Trek III Movie Set from Paramount Fire – 1983 – ABC NightlineAdmiral Kirk aka Sgt. TJ Hooker and his co-stars fend off massive fire at Paramount Studios from the "Star Trek III: The Search for Spock" set long enough for the LA Fire Department to arrive and finish the job. Unfortunately, the Shat and his crew were unable to prevent major damage to many older film…2018-12-28T22:23:49Z

On August 25, 1983, as the crew of “Star Trek III” neared completion of the film, a fire broke out on the famous recreation of New York City on the Paramount Lot in Hollywood. Shatner and co-author Chris Kreski wrote about this incident for the book “Star Trek Movie Memories.”

“On my second-to-last day of shooting, one of our sets caught fire. I had just finished shooting a scene on the Enterprise bridge, and as I began wandering back toward my dressing room, I suddenly heard a fire alarm blast,” wrote Shatner. “Jumping three feet in the air in surprise, I recomposed myself, chuckling that perhaps the Genesis planet had finally exploded. I then turned a corner and realized that New York City was burning down.”

Turns out that Shatner was correct because the Genesis planet sets were housed on Stage 15, which was in the path of the massive blaze. Shatner wrote that he ran toward the fire, still in his “Star Trek” dress uniform to battle the fire. He grabbed a hose and started to spray down the building.

“The effects guys had now climbed up onto the roof of the burning building, and while I continued squirting, they stood there cutting a hole in the roof of the stage, hoping to prevent a heat buildup, and simultaneously allowing some of my spray to drift downward onto their precious set,” wrote Shatner.

Eventually, the actual fire department arrived, putting the fire out. Shatner wrote that thanks to an all-nighter from the crew, the filming resumed the following day. The Genesis planet was saved, thanks in part to the heroic actions of Shatner. 

While he was happy that filming could go on for his film, he was also pleased that the fire did not interfere with his day job.

“I got to ‘T. J. Hooker’ on time and ‘Star Trek III’ remained on schedule,” Shatner wrote. 

READ NEXT: Why William Shatner Objected to the Script of “Wrath of Khan”

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