Actors often struggle at the beginning of their careers. The jobs are few and far between when you're first starting out. The gigs you do land aren't exactly a money faucet, either. Sometimes, actors have to go after side hustles to stay financially afloat. Especially if an actor is inelligible for equity wages, supplementing that meager income is the only way to survive.
That was the case for Leonard Nimoy before he boarded the USS Enterprise on Star Trek. Before he donned those iconic pointy ears, Nimoy wore many hats, a veritable Vulcan jack-of-all-trades. He was a salesman, hawking vacuum cleaners and freezers. Nimoy worked at a pet store. He put smiles on faces scooping ice cream. He serviced vending machines and managed apartment buildings. At one point, before he was known to the entire galaxy, Leonard Nimoy even installed and did maintenance on fish tanks.
In a time before he navigated the stars, Leonard Nimoy navigated the streets of Los Angeles as a cab driver. He'd just left the military (between 1953 and 1955, Nimoy served his country as a Staff Sergeant in the United States Army Special Services). Nimoy spent all day looking for acting work, and at night, he'd pick up and drop off passengers throughout the city.
"I got a call to go to the Bel Air Hotel to pick up a Mr. Kennedy," Nimoy told the Tampa Tribune. The year was 1956. "It was a highly political time — right before the convention — and Stevenson and Kefauver were running strong." [Notably, that same Stevenson (Adlai) was the cousin of M*A*S*H's McLean Stevenson, who was running the political hopeful's campaign.]
"When I got to the Bel Air, I asked the doorman if I was waiting for the Senator from Massachusetts. He said he didn't know. When Kennedy came down, the doorman whispered to me, 'Is this guy a senator?'"
Two soon-to-be icons found themselves in the same car. Neither of them could've predicted how much their cultural cachet would grow through the 1960s. So, what would you have heard as a fly-on-the-wall as that cab left the Bel Air Hotel?
"As Kennedy got in the cab, I said, 'How are things up in Massachusetts, Senator?' He perked up. He said, 'Are you from Massachusetts?' He asked me so many questions — he was so socially oriented — he asked me why I was in California, where my folks came from, why they came to America, and what they thought of [me] being an actor."
Naturally, the conversation turned to politics. "I asked him about Stevenson's chances," said Nimoy. "And he said, 'You meet a lot of people, what do you think?" It seems the then-senator was already trained to tread carefully when discussing political opponents. "I asked him what would happen if Stevenson won the nomination but lost the election. He said, 'He'd be finished politically.' That was the one flat statement he made about politics."
As all cab rides do, that fateful one eventually ended. When it did, it became immediately clear that JFK was not carrying any cash. After dropping Kennedy off at the Beverly Hilton, Leonard Nimoy had to follow the president-to-be into the hotel's lobby to collect his $1.25 fare from someone JFK knew. Not only was Nimoy reimbursed, but he also got a $1.75 tip!