How Leonard Nimoy came up with Spock's signature pinch

In 1969, Leonard Nimoy tells CBC how he came up with the concept of Spock's nerve pinch.

Actor didn't want Star Trek character to use a gun, but he was OK with a paralyzing pinch

Shortly after the cancellation of Star Trek in 1969, Leonard Nimoy chats with CBC-TV host Barbara Frum. 2:38

Star Trek fans know all about Mr. Spock's famous pinch.

He's used it to knock out numerous bad guys, to bypass Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy in an emergency and even to silence a rude bus passenger when he travelled back in time.

But why did it become Spock's go-to move in the first place? Because Leonard Nimoy, the actor who played the character, didn't want him to have to shoot someone and proposed the pinch as an alternative action.

"I devised the Spock pinch," Nimoy explained to Barbara Frum on CBC's  The Day It Is in 1969, three years after Star Trek debuted.

'This is archaic'

Nimoy said a script for an early episode of the original Star Trek series called for Spock to sneak up on someone and hit that person on the head with the butt of his phaser weapon.

Actor Leonard Nimoy gestures while telling CBC's The Day It Is the story of how he can up with Spock's famous pinch. (The Day It Is/CBC Archives)

"I said to the director: 'This is archaic. This is really western, you know, to pull a gun and hit a guy on the head from behind,'" Nimoy explained.

Instead, he made an argument for a pinch manoeuvre, which eventually became Spock's signature in those types of situations.

"This man is an alien, we don't know anything about aliens. We can say anything we want, we can make the audience believe anything we want about an alien," said Nimoy, describing how he persuaded the director to give his idea a chance.

"Let's use our imaginations. The man could have a very special knowledge of the human anatomy that hasn't been discovered yet, or he may have some special power that only Vulcans have."

'It became kind of a traditional thing'

Hence the pinch.

Actor and director Leonard Nimoy in 1973. (Jerry Mosey/AP)

"Producers saw it in the rushes — the dailies — the next day and said: 'That's a great idea. Let's keep using that,'" said Nimoy. "It became kind of a traditional thing and we had great fun with it. And I avoided what I consider physical violence ... it was a merciful way of knocking out an enemy."

Nimoy's interview with CBC came after notice that the Star Trek TV series had been cancelled, hence the introduction referencing the actor being part of a series "with no future."

The world of Star Trek actually had a very bright future, however. It grew in popularity, became a successful movie franchise and has spawned numerous spin-off series since the original show was cancelled.

Nimoy would go on to play the character on the big screen on many occasions. He died in 2015, a month before his 84th birthday.

Leonard Nimoy, the actor who portrayed Spock on the original Star Trek series, died in February of 2015. (Damian Dovarganes/Associated Press)