The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.

It’s not just an axiom for dating. As I discovered, it’s also a very good rule to insure smooth sailing.

Back at the end of the summer in 1991, I got hired to direct actor William Shatner in a series of 48 stand-ups (30-second spiels said directly to camera) for a television history series, This Was America, produced and repackaged by WCVB, Channel 5, Boston. I was told I had only two days to do this, that he was coming to Boston from L.A. and then flying to his old hometown of Montreal in time for the Labor Day weekend. We were going to do the whole shoot as exteriors in Woods Hole — one day at what’s called The Airplane House on Juniper Point and one day at the old Quissett Harbor mansion that is the conference center for the National Academy of Sciences. 

I was told Shatner was the Captain Kirk of egos who ate directors for lunch. Did someone say lunch? That would become my a-ha moment. What you are about to read is a life lesson I have since used to teach would-be directors and producers. If someone has the reputation of being a monster, there’s a fairly good chance he is that way because he’s been treated that way. But what if he were treated as a human being? Better yet, as a friend?

I don’t know what possessed me, but the angel of common sense must have landed on my shoulder. I asked to speak to Shatner’s L.A. assistant and asked her if he had favorite foods and dishes. She faxed me a list of “Bill’s very particular tastes,” which I put out to bid among caterers on the Cape. A Falmouth group responded they could indeed provide those especially bedeviled eggs, that honey-spiced chicken, that crispy broccoli, that French cheese, that herbal tea, etc. At the Airplane House we set aside a room as the buffet area. While the camera crew set up outside, I picked up a slightly disgruntled Shatner (“Tell me again why am I here”) from a Falmouth inn and drove him to our location.

I forgot to mention something critical. Before Bill got to the Cape, Bob got there. Hurricane Bob. Ten days before our shoot, all the summery greenery of Woods Hole had turned the shades of nuclear winter, or the final frontier. All my wonderful choices of backdrops were dead brown. On the first morning of the shoot I dispatched an intern to the local florist to bring back colorful stand-ins for the vegetation that used to be.

The Airplane House, a classic example of the Prairie School-style associated with Frank Lloyd Wright, got its nickname because of what it looks like flying over it. That’s exactly where I wished I was — flying over it — once Shatner found his position in front of the camera. Ready for the first take, he looked at the teleprompter and laughed: “I’m 60 years old. You think I can read that teeny type?”

Now we had to wait an hour for the arrival of the largest teleprompter that could be found. To cool his heels, I ushered Shatner into the room of food. One dish at a time, he realized what I had done for him. Eyes flushed with joy. Shock pinched his face.

“That’s my favorite egg. Oh, my favorite chicken. My tea!”

You’d think I had led him to a smorgasbord of catnip. He threw his arms around me and kissed me. Beaming, he said he was willing to memorize all the stand-ups. The thorn had been removed from the lion’s paw.

“Forget the prompter. Full-speed ahead!”

This admirable exhibit of work ethic was no mean feat considering we were up against more than teleprompter issues — the one with large type did finally arrive, displaying print big enough for Shatner. But now we had the aftermath of Bob. And I don’t just mean the color change.

“What’s that horrible noise?,” yelled my sound engineer.

It was clean-up time in the Falmouth area and the sound of wood chippers replaced the birds. Our bucolic setting seemed to be in the midst of a dental convention demonstration. Every time there was a pause, a willing Shatner snuck in a stand-up. Once the din started again, he began to laugh. We all laughed. I took all the money I didn’t spend on flowers, a collection of $50 bills, and instructed our intern to bribe all those with tree-clearing equipment to beg them to take a break, to go get coffee, to watch William Shatner waiting around, whatever.

For expedience’s sake, for each stand-up I turned Shatner in place, like dialing a knob, so a slightly different backdrop appeared. He was totally amenable. He was my best pal. He took the whole crew to dinner. We knocked off the 48 stand-ups in a day and a half. Shatner went from the tight-lipped skipper of the Enterprise to the super-cool Priceline promoter.

And so in my job as a director of talent I succeeded to boldly go where no impatient director had gone before, with a little help from some food for thought and vice versa.

Arnie Reisman and his wife, Paula Lyons, regularly appear on the weekly NPR comedy quiz show, Says You! He also writes for the Huffington Post.