Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Parable of the Toupee.

The WSSTS is a strictly secular institution, but since it's the festive season, we thought it might be fun to examine a few questions related to the theological implications of William Shatner's toupee. What if stories of the toupee survived and flourished well into the future? What if such tales were passed on from mother to daughter and father to son for hundreds of generations? A thousand or ten thousand years from now (assuming we're still here), how might such stories have evolved and what strengths will humanity draw from them? Which brings us to a story we have written especially for the the holidays. We hope you enjoy it:

The Parable of the Toupee

It was a bitterly cold Christmas Day morning. The air was chilly and damp; the sun's rays were suffocated by a thick, impenetrable gray blanket that seemed to stretch from horizon to horizon. Shatner, still half-asleep, looked out of his window, flakes of snow gently landing on the misty glass pane right in front of his eyes. He decided, without much hesitation - this being his nature, after all - that he needed to brave the cold. For he had run out of milk and if he wanted his morning coffee just the way he liked it, he really had no choice but to go out and buy some. Stuffing five dollars into his pocket, Shatner wrapped himself up thoroughly, putting on a pair of gloves, a woolly jumper and a thick coat before stepping out into the icy weather.

The streets were almost empty. Most souls were locked indoors, basking in the heat of a warm fire or a hot cup of coffee. The crunching of snow under his feet was the only sound Shatner could hear as he walked along the abandoned, eerily-quiet roads of a typical Christmas morning. There was one store he knew would be open, but it was forty-five minutes walk away. At least the walk would warm him up a little, he thought. Maintaining a brisk pace, at last he neared the small local store, his sinuses throbbing and his nose increasingly numb with cold. Stepping past a row of bare trees and then through a deserted alleyway that led to the entrance of the store, Shatner suddenly heard a sound. A cough, a he walked further down the alleyway, the sound grew louder.

Propped up against the gray brick walls of the alleyway, Shatner spotted the rumpled, disheveled figure of a homeless man. The man was motionless, evidently close to freezing to death after a night out in the cold. Where once there had been at least a shiver, now there was only apathy; where once there had been the will to seek shelter and warmth and all of those small hopes that life fights for in times of crisis, now there was only resignation. "Hey, are you alright there?" asked Shatner, gently prodding the old man. No response. Shatner studied the man's paltry figure. Worn out shoes, a dirty, thin coat and a bare head - without his help, the man would certainly die. Shatner ran inside the store and using the five bucks he had with him for the milk, instead bought the man a sandwich and a hot chocolate from the dispensing machine.

"Thank you," said the homeless man, stirring as Shatner appeared before him bearing much-needed nourishment. The man immediately, although slowly at first, ate and drank all that he received - it was clear he hadn't eaten a proper meal in a good while.

"That should keep you going for a while," replied Shatner, mustering a smile, hoping it would somehow transmit at least a little positive energy to this gaunt human being. Suddenly, as if revived from the brink of life, the man started to shiver. "Here, take this," said Shatner instinctively, removing his coat and wrapping it around the man.

"You're very kind," said the homeless man, mustering a glance at the helpful stranger. The old man's piercing, blue, weary blood-shot eyes focused on the mysterious figure that had been so kind to him. But he continued to shiver. Shatner gave him his gloves and then his jumper too, but the man still looked as if he was standing ominously near the final precipice.

"It's OK. I don't live far from here. You take it," Shatner said, already planning in his mind how he would have to walk home very briskly in order not to freeze in the bitter cold. But despite all of his efforts, the old man wouldn't stop shivering. Shatner studied the fragile figure once again. His hands were now covered, so were his arms, chest, hands and neck. But his head remained bare. It was the one weak link that could sever the entire chain.

Stirring again, the homeless man suddenly lifted up his right arm, slowly clasping his hand and pointing outward with his index finger. Shatner looked up just above his own forehead, for that is where the homeless man was now pointing. "I'm sorry, I don't have a hat," said Shatner, "I know how cold your head must be." But the homeless man continued to point. He tried to say something, producing a faint, wheezy, barely-audible whisper. Shatner moved closer, placing his ear nearer to the man's mouth.

"T---" said the man, evidently fatigued from even such minor exertion. He tried again: "T---t---p---eee.."

"What?" asked Shatner, almost in shock at the word he thought he just heard."

"Tou--pee" said the old man with one final, now clear, burst of energy. Shatner jumped back throwing a very direct glance at the homeless man.

"I don't...You mean, instead of a hat? For you? But I don't wear..."

The old man started shaking his head just as he was seized by a coughing fit. "I may have nothing...and I may not have much of a future," wheezed the old man, "but I can always tell a toupee when I see one." Shatner was startled. "Don't worry, I won't tell anyone. You've been so kind to me. Please, go now before the chill gets to you too."

"But your head. You have nothing to cover it with. I can run home, but you will surely freeze to death the way you are now." Shatner was deeply troubled. He couldn't leave this fragile man like this. "I wish I could - I know what you're asking. But then everyone will know what I am really like. I can't give you my toupee. I just can't" Almost as soon as he had said it though, Shatner began to regret his words, for he was so very moved by the plight of the man before him. And besides, deep down, he knew that unless the man could shield his head from the cold, he simply had no future.

"Yes, they will," the homeless man replied, "you'll see." Shatner didn't understand what the man was trying to say. "You'll see," the homeless man repeated confidently. Shatner stood up, looked around and took in a deep breath of the cold winter air. He had made up his mind. He had to help. The homeless man watched as the mysterious stranger, who had already helped him back from the brink, placed his hands on his head and slowly began to peel off his toupee.

A few seconds later, Shatner took the layer of hair - it almost looked like a rabbit's hide - and placed it on the homeless man's head. Within a few minutes, the man's cheeks turned a healthy shade of red, a smile returned to his face and he finally stopped shivering. He was going to make it now. He was going to be alright.

"Good luck," said Shatner, clearly delighted.

"Merry Christmas," replied the homeless man, "and thank you."

Shatner smiled at the man one last time before darting off home as fast as he could. He had never been out like this before - his head as bald as a baby's backside, as shiny as a soldier's freshly polished boots, as barren as the surface of the Moon. His heart was pounding, gripped with the terror of being seen - everyone would know what he was really like. As he turned the final street corner and saw his home only a few hundred meters away, the thing that he had dreaded the most happened: a blinding flash of a photographer's camera.

The startled Shatner barely paused to make out the figure that, he was convinced, had unintentionally been given the power to turn his life upside down. A nightmare was about to become reality.

Shatner ran home and slammed the door shut, panting, frozen in that single spot until he finally caught his breath. He didn't sleep much that night. A cold sweat coupled with a crippling terror, panic, palpitations and the boundless limits of nightmarish imaginings of what tomorrow's newspapers would bring. Huge headlines "Now We Know What Shatner is Really Like!" "This is the Real Shatner!" That picture of him bald out on Christmas morning - how could he ever return to trying to maintain that his hair was real after this? It felt awful.

The next morning, Shatner awoke, having managed perhaps an hour of sleep all night. He dreaded looking at the morning papers, but decided that there could be no avoiding it.

Reaching into the letterbox, he found his newspaper as well as a strange plastic bag. Shatner walked into the kitchen, placed the plastic bag on the table and sat down to read the paper. As he saw the headline, his heart sank: "This is the Real Shatner!"screamed the paper. It was over, he thought. He continued to read:

"This is the real Shatner, the other side that the public rarely sees. A man so taken with the plight of a homeless person that he even sacrificed his own image to make sure that a homeless man stayed warm after suffering the effects of a bitterly cold Christmas night. 'It's because of him that I made it,' said 63-year-old homeless veteran Dan J. Willard. 'I had been out all night and it was so cold I almost froze to death. But then that guy found me and gave me his coat and gloves and then even his toupee to keep me warm. I didn't know who he was at the time - that he was Captain Kirk and all - but I sensed that the toupee really meant a lot to him. For him to sacrifice that for me, that's what really warmed me up and gave me the strength to live another day.'"

The story continued:

"Willard, who has since been in contact with the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, was tracked down by our reporters yesterday afternoon, hours after a freelance photographer snapped what appeared to be a bald toupee-less Shatner running home from a store 45-minutes walk from his home. 'I don't know what made me do it, but after taking that picture - it was really a coincidence that I was even there - I followed Shatner's footsteps in the snow back to this alleyway and found this homeless guy wearing his toupee, warming himself up,' recalled freelance photographer Jason Leeson, adding: 'The old guy then told me this incredible story. It was really moving to see what Shatner had done.'"

Shatner put the paper down as a tear streamed down his cheek. He tried to contain it, but he couldn't and for the next fifteen minutes or so, he simply wept. He had expected a story that focused on his baldness, on why he had always been so reluctant to open up about his toupee-wearing; he had expected pointed criticism, perhaps even anger about some of the times he had denied wearing a toupee. And most of all, he had feared being laughed at; feared feeling like a small child with everyone pointing at him for being different, inadequate, bald...but none of that had happened. His baldness had become a footnote to a far more important story. In a million years, Shatner had never expected that such a thing could happen. He'd always feared that lifting the lid on the toupee would uncork an avalanche of inquiries. But instead, the story - and all the other ones published and broadcast that day across the world - focused on his selfless deed and how he had been so moved that he 'd even risked his personal secret to help another person.

That, the paper pronounced, was the real Shatner. That was what he was really like.

Wiping away his tears - now ones of joy - Shatner reached inside the mysterious plastic bag that had found its way inside his letterbox. He felt something furry, something very familiar. It was his toupee! Inside was a note. "This toupee saved me, but I think it also saved you too once many, many years ago. Thanks for what you did, but I can't keep it - it's yours, after all. Wear it with pride, even though everyone has now seen you otherwise, it doesn't matter. For me and for many others, you'll always be the man who wears a toupee. But at least now, it won't feel so heavy. You'll see what I mean next time you put it on. Your friend, Sgt. Dan J. Willard, Korean War veteran."

Shatner, filled with the kind of abandon he hadn't experienced in decades, slapped the toupee on his head, glue or correct placement be damned, and ran out into the streets of the city. "Merry Christmas!" he yelled into the air as neighbors peered out of windows and passers-by stopped dead in their tracks, reveling in the glow of such new-found redemption. The toupee suddenly slipped off Shatner's head and fell on to the ground. Shatner looked around, jokingly shrugged his shoulders at the gathering crowds and put the thing back on his head. "God bless you all - from the both of us!"


Happy Holidays to all our readers from the entire staff of the William Shatner School of Toupological Studies and thanks, as always, for your continued visits, comments, tips and interest in Shatner's Toupee. We'll be back in the New Year!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Perilous Voyage - a toupological analysis.

Perilous Voyage (originally titled The Revolution of Antonio DeLeon) is a TV movie starring Michael Parks, Lee Grant and William Shatner. Although filmed in 1968 (during the hiatus between Star Trek's second and third seasons), Perilous Voyage was not actually shown until eight years later in 1976, when it was finally broadcast by NBC. It is also a top contender for the most obscure film Bill Shatner has ever made.

The plot concerns Antonio DeLeon (Michael Parks), a revolutionary leader in the fictional South American country of San Cristobal (not to be confused with Mexico's San Cristóbal de las Casas municipality). He and his band of followers are determined to remove their country's new government by force, instead installing the wanted DeLeon as its leader.

A cruise ship, the Morelia, is about to leave port headed to Ecuador.

DeLeon and his men trick the crew into smuggling several barrels of arms aboard. These, they intend, will be used to takeover the ship and divert it to a port from where they will launch their revolution.

Suddenly, a group of military men escort the deposed former leader of the country, General Enrique Salazar (Frank Silvera) and his daughter Alicia (Louise Sorel) to the ship.

They are to board at once, exiled from San Cristobal by its new leaders. Will this derail DeLeon's plans?

Meanwhile, on-board the ship, Virginia Monroe (Lee Grant) is missing her playboy husband Steve (William Shatner). The vessel finally leaves without him.

Thankfully, Steve manages to catch up with it just in time...

DeLeon is traveling under a fake identity - Antonio Moralez. Now on-board, he and his gang begin to plot their takeover.

The various passengers sit down together for a meal, eventually joined by DeLeon.

Will he (now clean-shaven) be recognized by the very silent General Salazar?

DeLeon and Monroe are both hopeless drunks and find a genuine rapport.

As DeLeon gets increasingly plastered, his lips become looser and he lets slip his revolutionary thoughts.

While Virginia evidently has a soft-spot for the mysterious fiery traveler...

...which doesn't make her husband too happy.

Shatner - not happy.

The crew of the Morelia change course to avert a hurricane...

Not long after, the ship is taken over. The hijackers want to go to a place called Ponte Negritia. They order the captain to change course, hurricane be damned.

It also increasingly appears that the cool and calculated Reynaldo Solis (Michael Tolan), DeLeon's assistant, is the one calling the shots. Who is he? What is to be his role in the revolution?

Meanwhile, the passengers, led by Monroe, try to figure out a way of taking back the ship.

But Monroe's role isn't straightforward either. It turns out he's an arms smuggler, with the Morelia actually carrying a shipment of arms to fuel another separate revolution in Ecuador. Now these arms have fallen into the hands of DeLeon.

Will the passengers manage to take back the ship? Will DeLeon succeed in launching his revolution? Will Monroe persuade (somewhat Kirk-like) DeLeon to stop?

That's where we'll leave it...

So what to make of this movie? Not great, but no bad either, we thought. Certainly entertaining, certainly watchable and certainly much food for thought contained therein. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Perilous Voyage is the lack of clear-cut protagonists and antagonists. Who exactly are the good guys and who are the bad guys? Here, there are many shades of gray. Nothing is clear cut, despite initial appearances.

On the one hand, DeLeon is a crazed, drunken, firebrand left-wing Latin American revolutionary. On the other, he is portrayed as genuinely caring deeply for the neglected poor in his country. Hijacking and heated passions aside, he ultimately comes across as surprisingly well-intentioned, rejecting the more insidious path taken by Solis.

Then there is General Salazar. In his case, he is a deposed right-wing dictator, blood on his hands, evidently a ruthless rule which most are glad to see over. But he too has a likable side, a love for his daughter and a concern about what DeLeon might do to his country. Both of these men have been left isolated by the new government (here too, no firm judgments are made as to this new government's credibility - is it popular or is its stated popularity mere propaganda?).

Steve Monroe, meanwhile, is a drunken, opportunist arms smuggler - possibly even employed by the CIA as part of covert efforts to prevent communism spreading into Latin America. It is he who leads the charge to regain the ship and also to reason and even empathize with DeLeon. His wife Virginia, meanwhile, is the archetypal naïve 60s hippie, enamored with DeLeon's cause and blind to the darker sides of the potential revolution - in the movie she goes so far as to warn DeLeon of plans underway to retake the ship and instead ends up being raped by DeLeon's assistant Solis.

So Perilous Voyage manages to play out a drama in which the four chief characters embody various key political permutations taking place in Latin America and in the US's relationship towards this region during the Cold War: The anti-communist dictators (for example General Pinochet) often favored by the US versus the left-wing dictators (for example Fidel Castro) who often started out as legitimate anti-imperialists, but soon morphed into tyrants; the covert US interference (embodied by Shatner's character) and also the often naïve hippies looking on from afar (embodied by Grant's character) blind to the nefarious aspects of well-meaning revolutions.

"In our revolutions, dictators are always succeeded by dictators," says Solis at one point, rejecting any comparisons to the very different North American example of the Revolutionary War. "The trouble with revolutions is that they can never produce the promised results," points out a peripheral character - underscoring how so many Latin American revolutions during this period often needed to be corrected by counter-revolutions, which then too needed to be...etc. etc... Is DeLeon to be just another "etc."? He says he wants a real revolution, truly of the people, but why should it be any different to previous revolutions?

It's a scenario of a swinging pendulum in which there is no real correct answer, only alliances; only the enemy of my enemy temporarily becoming my friend. And that is what Perilous Voyage manages to examine with surprising effectiveness. Rather commendable for 1960s TV! And certainly far more mature and less stereotypical than many other dramatic efforts along the same lines.

Watching this movie, we couldn't help but wonder why it sat on a shelf for eight years. A network or studio eating the approximately quarter-million dollar production costs of such a drama by refusing to air it would indicate that Perilous Voyage was a complete unmitigated disaster. But it wasn't.

Actress Lee Grant

There were and continue to be TV movies ten times worse that still end up being shown in graveyard slots during the summer months. So what happened? 1968 was one of the most tumultuous times in modern American history - could that, coupled with the controversial and variegated politics explored in this TV movie have been too hot to handle? We don't know, but it may be a possibility. Or was it the fact that the character of Victoria Monroe was raped - could that have been considered too unsuitable for 60s TV? Again, we just don't know. Or did some executive simply not like the unusual absence of a clear protagonist in this drama?

The fact that Perilous Voyage was finally shown in 1976 was possibly down to Star Trek's growing popularity and the fact that Bill Shatner featured in this project. Otherwise, it may never have been seen at all.

As a purely dramatic piece, Perilous Voyage is certainly far more cohesive than, for example, the disastrous Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. ST:V also concerned the hijacking of a ship by enemy forces and also followed a trip to a "Promised Land" sought by hijackers. But ST:V arguably failed because the journey of the hijacked ship was far less interesting than the perceived promise of the destination (a similar weakness dogs the first Trek movie too).

With Perilous Voyage, fortunately the reverse is the case - the real drama takes place on the hijacked ship, the perceived payoff of reaching the final destination is wisely kept as little more than a footnote. If only ST:V had been more like Perilous Voyage it might have actually been a far better film.

This TV movie isn't without it's flaws, however. 60s TV production-values aside, there's a tendency towards over-the-top characterization at times, such as the depictions of alcoholism or Bill Shatner surrounded by women at the start (telegraphed meaning indicating he's a playboy), while DeLeon too comes across as a little over-the-top. This latter point was addressed by Bill Shatner in his autobiography Up Till Now:

"The whole plot hinged on the fact that this guerrilla leader, Antonio DeLeon, was so handsome, so charismatic that several woman passengers couldn't resist falling in love with him [not entirely accurate -ST]. Supposedly he was a Che Guevara type. A talented, handsome young actor named Michael Parks was hired to play that role...On the first day of filming, he arrived on the set made up to look like a sixty-year-old Mexican bandit out of a 1940s B-movie Western...It couldn't have been more wrong if he had been made up as Santa Claus. The director tried to convince him to play it differently but he was adamant: 'This is the way I'm going to play it.'" It's certainly a fair point - Parks' performance could have been a little less clichéd.

Let's move swiftly to the hair...

William Shatner in Perilous Voyage.

As we've noted before, Perilous Voyage was likely just one of two dramatic screen projects undertaken by Bill Shatner during Star Trek's 1966-1969 run. The first, during the season 1-2 hiatus was White Comanche; Perilous Voyage was filmed during the season 2-3 hiatus. Surprisingly, both times Bill Shatner shunned his usual "Jim Kirk lace" for the first time in years (outside of overtly costumed projects like Alexander the Great).

We can only speculate as to why this was the case. Perhaps Bill Shatner or the producers of these two projects sought to distance the actor from the familiar James T. Kirk image. Or perhaps it was just a matter or practicality - the "Jim Kirk lace" required constant attention to make sure it was styled properly and to avoid the lace line showing on the forehead. In Perilous Voyage, Bill Shatner wears more of a typical and durable hairpiece, attached to the scalp instead of the forehead. It's similar, though considerably shorter than the later "Lost Years" toups of the 1970s.

As for toupological moments, there are a few. About twenty minutes in, Bill Shatner's character makes an awkward joke about a barber - it is met with incredulity:

A "Real Hair Reflex" is also evident as Bill Shatner makes a hair-cutting gesture during this sequence. Sub-consciously, the actor points to an area of real hair at the back, rather than to an area of his toupee.

There's also some windiness as the actor makes his entrance in the movie (see the very first clip above). Could the "Jim Kirk lace" have survived such wind?

Perilous Voyage manages to be both hokey and thoughtful entertainment. Certainly worth watching. Unfortunately, not only is it commercially unavailable on VHS or DVD, but it hasn't been shown on TV for years either. TCM apparently own the rights, and you can vote (here) on their website for this movie to be released on DVD. The movie was recently digitized from a highly degraded video recording (we cleaned up the audio for the clips here) by someone, enabling this analysis and review (thanks to whoever you are) and can be found out there on the Internet - until a proper release or re-broadcast, that's the only option for anyone who wants to see it.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Wile E. Coyote moment...

Regular readers of Shatner's Toupee will know that the institution to which we belong, The William Shatner School of Toupological Studies, takes its mission to learn all that can be learned about William Shatner's hair very seriously. As part of our efforts, the WSSTS has a network of global listening stations that scan all forms of publicly disseminated media twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week - anything related to "Shatner" and "hair" or "toupee" or "bald" or several other special words is instantly flagged and sent along to the relevant analyst to be triaged and assessed.

One of the latest reports to find its way to our analysts noted Bill Shatner mentioning somebody else's hair. Unusual. Uncommon. Interesting...

The incident is related to a May 2010 appearance by Bill Shatner on the late-night talk show Lopez Tonight. During his interview, Bill Shatner engages in some joking and platonic flattery of host George Lopez. "I've never noticed how cute you are," Bill Shatner says, before adding and gesturing, "You've got the little eyes and the little mouth and the little nose and the little hair atop up there..."

Lopez laughs along, but as Bill Shatner reaches the hair part, he evidently realizes that he is having something of a Wile E. Coyote moment. In the Warner Bros. series Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner, the poor Coyote would sometimes get so enthusiastic in his futile chasing of the Road Runner, that he would suddenly realize he'd run right of a cliff.

Sometimes he'd hang in the air for a while; it wasn't until his mind had fully digested the gravity of the situation that actual gravity finally took over and he began to fall.

A similar moment is evident in the Lopez interview. Bill Shatner is going at full speed until he apparently and very suddenly realizes and digests two simple truths: Wile E. Coyote should probably give up chasing the Road Runner, and he probably shouldn't publicly dwell on other people's hair too much. The sound of brakes screeching can almost be heard...but, thankfully, within a second or even less, Bill Shatner has recomposed himself and quickly shifted to another topic.

A clip of the moment can be watched below, with the full interview viewable here.

Lopez and Bill Shatner evidently get on very well. Perhaps if Lopez were a little quicker and a little more daring, we could have witnessed some witty toupological banter: "I'm glad you like my hair, Bill. I like yours too. Could I borrow it sometime?"

Bill Shatner then goes on to perform a duet of "Total Eclipse of the Heart" with Taiwanese singer Lin Yu Chun - clip here. Two unique hairstyles, two unique talents - it seems like a match made in heaven!