James T. Kirk is the captain and arguably mythic hero of the starship Enterprise in the American science fiction TV program Star Trek: The Original Series.

Kirk in a strange dimension in the episode, The Tholian Web

After the show’s early demise in 1969 and before its resurrection on film in 1979, William Shatner, the Canadian-born actor portraying Kirk, found employment in various film and TV spots, including supermarket ads for a Canadian supermarket chain.

Since then, Star Trek and its various spin-offs have taken on the status of a global mythology. It has also become a lucrative franchise. Among other things, Captain James Tiberius Kirk embodies the supremacy of human free will over various tyrants and their oppressive demands for slavish obedience.

Kirk was always the ladies man and the original series seems sexist from a contemporary standpoint. But creator Gene Roddenberry did make efforts to overcome this pitfall in the pilot, which included a woman first officer (Majel Barrett) beside the original captain, Captain Christopher Pike (played by Jeffrey Hunter).

Vina (left), Pike (center) and Number One (right)

After watching the pilot, network brass were not convinced and made some changes. They brought in Shatner to play Kirk because Jeffrey Hunter didn’t want to film another pilot for the Pike character. They also moved to a less significant female presence on the set. Majel Barrett now played the character of Nurse Chapel instead of Number One to (the departed) Captain Pike.

More recently, Shatner played a befuddled lawyer in the TV program, Boston Legal (2004-2008). He coauthored and acted in the less commercially successful but innovative TV series, Tek War (1994-1996). And he starred in the 1980’s TV program T. J. Hooker.

While many actors quietly disappear in their golden years, Shatner remains in the spotlight. He is still doing ads – some funny, some hokey – and spoke at the 2010 Olympics closing ceremonies. He is also the host of the Discovery Channel television series Weird or What? and can be seen on his own show, “Shatner’s Raw Nerve” on BIO.

His continued success might come from his not taking himself too seriously, and from the same charisma that landed him the role as Kirk back in the 60s.

Last I checked Shatner can be found on Twitter, disseminating entertainment biz wisdom, cracking jokes, announcing his appearances, and promoting merch.

Chris Pine plays a convincing younger Kirk in film

Related » Sargon, Spock, Star Trek: Enterprise