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His Evolving Space

Actor Leonard Nimoy's home is a canvas for his passion for art

September 22, 2002|RUTH RYON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Leonard Nimoy's Los Angeles home looks more like an art gallery than a starship.

"Star Trek" reminders, such as the last pair of pointy rubber ears the actor wore as the half-human, half-Vulcan Mr. Spock, are displayed in his study, but he's quick to say, "There isn't much of that."

A Renaissance man, Nimoy has assumed many roles besides the imperturbable alien on the famous sci-fi TV series and spinoff movies. He starred in the one-man stage show "Vincent," about Vincent Van Gogh; directed a number of movies, including two "Star Trek" films and "Three Men and a Baby"; and wrote his autobiography, his memoirs and five books of poetry.

Now the consummate hyphenate (actor-director-writer-producer) is focusing on his love of art and his first book of photographs.

He will appear at a dinner hosted by Beverly Hills gallery owner Mark Selwyn as part of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art benefit "Art of the Palate 2002," starting Thursday. More than 50 dining occasions with Nimoy and other celebrities are planned. The theme of Nimoy's Oct. 1 dinner is "The Renaissance Men."

Nimoy is also about to launch his book tour to promote "Shekhina," published by Umbrage Editions in New York. The fine-art book grew out of his childhood experience in a synagogue when he sneaked a peek at elders giving a sign for a blessing during which the Shekhina, the female emanation of God, was said to be entering the temple. He later interpreted the sign for "Star Trek" as the Vulcan greeting.

The book, a photographic study of the female form, is about the feminine presence of God, Nimoy said. "The idea has stirred up a lot of interest .... It's an area I never explored before."

As Nimoy, 71, has shifted his concentration, he has made changes to his primary residence. Over the dozen or so years that he has lived there, the house, built in the mid-'40s, has been refurbished several times.

Most recently, he said, "we just freshened things up" with the help of L.A.-based interior designer Rosemary Peck.

Nimoy lives in the home with his wife, Susan, a trustee of the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Soon after moving in, the couple started collecting art. "It gives us energy," he said. "It's life affirming."

He also views his house as a work of art, saying, "There is wonderful, positive energy in it."

The Mediterranean-style home--with its arches, white walls and Spanish pavers--has a master bedroom suite that they expanded, a study for him, an office for her, a bedroom for her college-age son and a guest quarters with a garden view. The house has a family room, which was set up last week for Yom Kippur; a dining room with a new chandelier and off-white chair coverings; and a kitchen with an extra-large refrigerator and a banquette.

A toy train circles the family room near the ceiling. "Susan had it put in for my birthday a few years ago, because I complained that I never had one," Nimoy said. The train, like the outdoor pool, especially appeals to his grandchildren. He has five, ages 10 to 17. He has two children by a former marriage; his wife has one.

He keeps little memorabilia: marker boards for some movies he directed, a photo of himself with "Star Trek" star William Shatner, a director's chair with his name on it.

A large movie poster in the family room advertises his first sci-fi movie: "Zombies of the Stratosphere." It was released by Republic Studios in 1952.

"This was a great moment," he said, showing a small, framed photo of himself with actress Ingrid Bergman in the 1982 TV miniseries "A Woman Called Golda."

He keeps a copy of a TV Guide cover from last year featuring TV's greatest characters. Spock was one of four.

Nimoy prefers to talk about contemporary art and has what he describes as "one important piece" relating to "Star Trek." Called "The Enterprise," for the starship, it's a sculpture by Joseph Beuys, a German artist and "Star Trek" fan. It depicts Beuys and his family watching "Star Trek" on TV.

The Nimoys have fun and fanciful art as well as serious pieces such as a work by Anselm Kiefer about chaos and the Holocaust. There are also two Al Hirschfeld cartoons of "Star Trek" characters and several pairs of beaded shoes and slippers made by artist Liza Lou. "She built them for us from scratch," the actor said. Lou's shoes decorate a hall, where they sit like real footwear, slipped off in a hurry.

Most of the changes on the Nimoys' acre-sized property have been decorative in recent years. One of the largest projects was the addition of a private patio off the actor's study. He likes the light there and the purple bougainvillea.

About seven years ago, the Nimoys added a 1,200-square-foot room over the garage to the 3,100-plus-square-foot house. They use the room for exercising twice a week with a personal trainer and activities such as working on his photographs.

The room has a darkroom and a seamless backdrop for photography.

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