Friday, February 26, 2010

Go Ask Alice - a toupological analysis.

Go Ask Alice is a 1973 TV movie based on a book of the same name published two years earlier. The book, written by "anonymous" purports to comprise of extracts from a fifteen-year-old girl's diary that chronicles a horrifying descent into drug addiction and prostitution. Bill Shatner, in a relatively small role (though curiously receiving top-billing), portrays Alice's father.

The plot goes thus: Alice is a middle-class girl in a middle-class family living in a middle-class neighborhood. For no reason that is explained in the movie, a chance puff of a joint leads to a monumental spiral of drug addiction.

The whole Pandora's box is opened: marijuana, LSD, cocaine, uppers, downers, heroin, which leads to dropping out of school, homelessness and even prostitution. Those "damn dirty hippies" do nothing but force an endless array of drugs upon this poor girl.

It isn't long before Alice is quite literally eating out of a dustbin and walking around with a tear in her shirt (a sign that, you know, she's become a bum...).

Fortunately, Alice encounters a "with it" Catholic priest (played by Andy Griffith), who "digs where the girl is at". As a result, Alice decides to go clean.

She then meets a non-hippie - a Jock whose straight, clean ways also offer a way out.

However, while babysitting for a junkie friend, Alice drinks soda that has been spiked with LSD. The hell from which she had thought she escaped returns. She locks herself in a cupboard and almost cuts her fingers off.

By the end, Alice has again gone clean, but remains just one pill away from returning to the old life. At the end of the movie, we learn that she died of a drug overdose anyway for some reason - probably designed to try to make the movie feel really powerful.

The way that this girl's story is told in the movie is so crass, so shallow, so two-dimensional, that we were immediately reminded of the classic 1936 anti-drug movie Reefer Madness. We don't doubt that fifteen-year-old girls could meet such a fate, but rather it is how this story is told here that led to instant doubts among our team of toupologists as to the veracity of the "real life" diary on which this tale was based.

So it came as no surprise to learn that the authenticity of the original book has been seriously questioned. Apparently, it is actually (and we most certainly agree) a work of fiction, written by a zealot, barely capable of concealing some deep-seated personal issues (or simple profit motive, or need to proselytise) that led them to pass off such work as being real. The real author is one Beatrice Sparks about whom you can read here.

Go Ask Alice comes off as being written by "adults" - a caricature of teenage drug abuse, designed to be watched by youngsters to terrify them into just saying "no". In truth, the movie is so shallow, it's likely to actually serve the opposite effect - making teenagers want to take drugs, if only to numb the pain of watching such condescending, patronizing nonsense.

And where are the parents in all of this? Bill Shatner and Julie Adams, who portray the girl's mother and father, are so completely detached - docile, yet well-meaning - that this instantly raises yet another red-flag about the story's authenticity. They can only watch from afar as their daughter, for no reason whatsoever, descends into a world of pushers and pimps. That is a deliberately manufactured contrivance that seems increasingly odd as the movie progresses: Alice runs away, then returns, the weak parents don't even seem that bothered. Again, we're not saying that parents can't be this bad, but rather this clichéd, in terms of how they are written. Curiously, for a movie that espouses the socio-political credo of "personal responsibility" (which would gain a strong footing in 1980s America) the idea of anyone sharing in the responsibility for what happened to Alice, particularly her parents, is entirely absent from this movie.

Similarly to Reefer Madness, Go Ask Alice has attained a kind of cult following for its sheer kitsch value.

On the plus side, the movie contains a decent soundtrack of contemporary-era music (as the late comedian Bill Hicks would no doubt point out, all written by musicians that were very high at the time).

Now, to the hair...

Neither Bill Shatner, nor his hair, really have very much to do in this TV movie. The way these wishy-washy parents are written, all they really do is watch events unfold, completely powerless as their daughter is possessed.

Interestingly, Bill Shatner, apart from the usual toup, wears not only a mustache, but also glasses.

The hair round the back and sides is particularly long for Shats, while conversely, the toup at the top is relatively light for this era:

Meanwhile, the actor's performance as a weak, bumbling father, is (again) deliberately understated and pretty effective considering what he was being asked to portray. At one point, the hair moves a little as Bill Shatner removes his glasses:

And that's about it. Perhaps the toup was telling the audience that it likely won't be moved much by Go Ask Alice - or was the actor trying to underscore, via the toupee, a weakening of his character's rigidity?

Due to both its awfulness and a music rights clearance nightmare akin to The Wonder Years, one shouldn't expect Go Ask Alice to be released on DVD any time soon. However, it is pretty easy to find on the Internet - Go Ask Alice really has to be seen to be believed, and by "believed" we certainly don't mean that it should be believed in any way!

Alice is hated by the junkie majority for going straight.

On a separate note, we at Shatner's Toupee express our heartfelt condolences to Walter and Judith Koenig for the tragic death of their son Andrew (1968-2010).

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Poll result.

What would Bill Shatner say to this? A whopping 61% of voters believe that Bill Shatner's toupee (not as "real" hair, but actually knowing that it's a toup) is actually a crucial part of the actor's iconic appeal. Only 4% of voters have a lesser opinion of Shats now that they know the extent of his toupological machinations, while a third say the knowledge makes no difference.

Perhaps Bill Shatner wants to go bald but is fearful of disappointing toupee fans...actually, that doesn't really seem very likely - he probably remains as fearful as ever of his baldness being exposed.

Thanks for voting!

Monday, February 22, 2010

A special anniversary "Real Hair Reflex".

An interesting "Real Hair Reflex" from a 1992 joint convention appearance of Bill Shatner and Leonard Nimoy in Sacramento, California to promote Star Trek's 25th anniversary. The event was filmed and released on VHS as The Twenty-Five Year Mission.

Perhaps giving toupee fans a special treat to mark Star Trek's anniversary, Bill Shatner starts by trying to scratch his head (buried underneath the somewhat thick toupee); he then moves to a mini pat-down of the toup, before apparently giving the toupee a scratch of its own (seemingly making no effort to reach down to the scalp). We call this rare confluence of actions "The Triple" - a definite treat.

The Twenty-Five Year Mission is presently up on YouTube in its entirety. Shatner + Nimoy is always a fun double-act to watch.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

An early "Jim".

Not long ago, as part of our toupological analysis, we presented a series of photos from Bill Shatner's appearance in the 1958-59 play The World of Suzie Wong. Our conclusion was that in some of these pictures, Bill Shatner was either toup-less or only wearing a rear cap-like piece. Meanwhile, in other pictures, Bill Shatner looked like he was wearing a full frontal piece. Since the play ran for fourteen months, our (speculative) conclusion was that early publicity photos showed Bill Shatner's real frontal hairline, while later pictures did not - it was evidently a time of great toupological experimentation for young Bill.

Now, thanks to the good folks at My Star Trek Scrapbook, we have another picture of Bill Shatner's performance in the play - and in this case, the actor almost certainly appears to be wearing a full early version of the "Jim Kirk lace". Since most decent theaters had and have large collections of hairpieces for both men and women, it is possible that this early "Jim" is not custom-made for the actor, but rather a hastily-chosen stage wig. The excessive thickness of the frontal hairline, along with a generally awkward, bulky shape suggest a cheaper piece. Whether this was, instead, Bill Shatner's own recently-purchased very first toupee, we can't say...

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Andersonville Trial - a toupological analysis.

The Andersonville Trial is a television play, which dramatizes the 1865 trial of Henry Wirz, commander of the notorious American Civil War Confederate-run prisoner-of-war camp known as Camp Sumter or Andersonville Prison. In that camp, amidst appalling conditions, thousands of captured Union soldiers perished during the war - upon the war's end, many of those that survived were found malnourished, diseased and distressed from the conditions there.

William Shatner's character interrogates a witness at Henry Wirz's trial.

Following the defeat of the secessionist Confederate army and the Union's liberation of the prison in May 1865, Wirz was arrested and tried by a military commission in Washington D.C.'s Capitol building on charges of conspiracy and murder. Wirz argued that he was simply following orders and that he had tried his best to keep conditions at the prison as favorable as possible.

Richard Basehart as Henry Wirz.

Nonetheless, he was found guilty and executed in November 1865. The trial was controversial for a number of reasons, with some echoing Wirz's own defense and others accusing the Union of vengeance, not only for the war, but also for the recent assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

William Shatner as prosecutor Norton P. Chipman.

This trial was dramatized in 1970 with an award-winning 150 minute PBS production that starred William Shatner as Norton P. Chipman, the Union soldier and prosecutor of Wirz.

Jack Cassidy (left).

Also starring in the television play were Richard Basehart as Wirz, Jack Cassidy as Wirz's defense council (Cassidy is perhaps best remembered as one of the all-time best recurring Columbo villains) and a host of other names, including a very young Martin Sheen.

Martin Sheen.

There's little question that this is one of the most meaningful, prestigious and forceful roles that Bill Shatner has ever had. The production was filmed (on video) in three, pretty much "as-live" acts. Bill Shatner's copious experience in theater as well as live television with productions such as Studio One meant that he was perfectly prepared for the challenges presented by The Andersonville Trial.

Much like The Tenth Level, this television play deals with questions surrounding morality, obedience to authority, personal responsibility and free will. As the proceedings unfold, Shatner's character tries to prove Wirz's guilt by presenting a succession of witnesses. The trial ends with a dramatic interrogation of Wirz himself, who demands to take the stand, insistent on his innocence.

Bill Shatner is on fire in this production - anyone who has seen him passionately talking a computer to death in Star Trek, will recognize the performance given here by the actor.

Here's a clip from near the end:

If only more similar roles had been available to Shats at this time. But, alas, The Andersonville Trial was a rare prestigious high in a post-Star Trek nightmare era during the early-to-mid 1970s that was only just beginning when this production was mounted. One side-effect of this slump already visible in this production is Bill Shatner's weight - he is chubbier here than he had ever been up to this point in his entire on-screen career.

Despite running at two hours and thirty minutes, The Andersonville Trial feels neither overlong nor padded out. The drama presented is engrossing, compelling and thoroughly entertaining.

Now, to the hair...

Interestingly, Bill Shatner's hair makes an entrance before we see his face, perhaps a concession to the toup in light of the fact that it has so little to do during the rest of the production:

The style here has echoes of the recently-ditched "Jim Kirk lace" - except that the top piece is no longer attached via an old-style lace "skin". This makes the hair here more of a transition (or hybrid) toupee, representing a key step in the shift away from the laces of old towards the easier-to-apply, but not as good-looking basic hairpieces of the 70s era, which were simply glued to the scalp. Add to that the sideburns - our guess is that they aren't real either.

At one point, we see a mysterious rear patch - one that we have spotted before. Could this be a permanent scar of some kind as it's almost certainly too low to be male pattern baldness?:

We should also add that this is an extremely sweaty production - a deliberate choice by the producers to underline the hot, stuffy atmosphere of the court. All of the actors perspire profusely throughout, and in Bill Shatner's case, his toup picks up a little of that sweat too:

Indeed, a variety of toupees and hairpieces are on display in this production - but of course, none manages to upstage the king of the toupee himself: William Shatner.

The Andersonville Trial
is a great piece of drama and we highly recommend it. It is available to purchase on DVD.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The "Jim" just for Jim?

Here's a question: From the day in May 1966 that Bill Shatner reported for work on Star Trek's first production episode "The Corbomite Maneuver", until the very final day of shooting on the series on January 9th 1969, what other dramatic film or television appearances did Bill Shatner make?

Not many it turns out; the rigors of working on Star Trek evidently didn't leave too much room for other projects (Bill Shatner did however make numerous appearances on quiz, interview shows and other public events during this period). Indeed, thus far we've only found two dramatic projects: the 1968 movie White Comanche (or Comanche Blanco)...

...and the TV movie Perilous Voyage, also filmed in 1968 (but not actually broadcast until 1976). Comanche was filmed during the hiatus between Star Trek's first and second seasons, while Perilous Voyage was filmed between Star Trek's second and third seasons.

William Shatner in Perilous Voyage (1968/1976).

By the time that Bill Shatner was cast in Star Trek, the "Jim Kirk lace" had become the standard hair for almost all of the actor's appearances on film and television. Just one example, here's Bill Shatner in 1961's The Explosive Generation:

So why when Star Trek began did Bill Shatner suddenly decide to use different toupees for his other projects? Both in White Comanche and Perilous Voyage, the actor wears hairpieces lacking the famous "you can comb it back!" feature of the standard "Jim Kirk lace" - a significant shift.

There are a number of possible reasons: Perhaps Bill Shatner felt that in the character of James T. Kirk, both he and his toupee had finally found an understanding partner; thus, it was a question of fidelity - an exclusive toupee for just this role - a very noble sentiment indeed. A somewhat weaker version of this notion would have had Bill Shatner believing that audiences now strongly identified the "Jim Kirk lace" with the character that he portrayed in Star Trek - thus, the new toupees would have been a way to prevent typecasting.

Or perhaps Bill Shatner, knowing that he had, shall we say "lifted" (also see here) a few of the toupees provided to him by Star Trek, didn't want to irritate the producers by wearing them (or the same style) on other projects.

Or was it something to do with Bill Shatner's by-this-point deteriorating marriage to wife Gloria Rand? Were the new toupees a signal that the relationship was over?

Or was it legal? Did Star Trek's producers, knowing that the toupee was developing its own ever-growing fan-base, contractually stipulate that during the show's run, the "Jim Kirk lace" must not appear in any other projects?

An interesting mystery...

Note: Perilous Voyage is a movie that our toupologists have, despite our best efforts, been entirely unable to locate - it neither exists on DVD, VHS, YouTube nor any of the other Internet resources within which one can often find rare Bill Shatner appearances. So, we've decided to offer a highly prestigious honorary degree from the WSSTS to any of our valued readers that can help us track down a copy!

Update: YouTube user "Rubypearl" has posted a brief clip from this movie - watch below:

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Incident on a Dark Street - a toupological analysis.

Incident on a Dark Street is a 1973 feature-length pilot for a proposed television series that was (thankfully) never picked up. It was ultimately broadcast as a one-off TV movie instead. It is set in the annals of the District Attorney's office of Los Angeles County, focusing on several Justice Department lawyers - some freshmen - prosecuting all manner of cases.

The plot, to quote an reviewer:

...involves two law school grads (David Canary of "All My Children" and Robert Pine) who take on their first big cases as prosecutors for the federal government. David Canary's case involves convincing a marked mobster to blow the whistle on local politicians on the take from organized crime. Robert Pine's case is about whether or not to prosecute a seemingly clean cut family man of being the bag man in a drug deal.

Bill Shatner has a "guest star" role as Deaver G. Wallace, the corrupt head of the Utility Authority, making deals with the Mob for his own self-enrichment. He's under surveillance by the good guys...

The guy from Jaws talks to Bill Shatner.

How this piece of dreary garbage managed to make its way onto DVD at all remains something of a mystery.

Evidently, no-one involved in this production (NBC and/or Fox) has bothered to attend to the copyright of a low-quality print of this TV movie and so all manner of strange-looking DIY DVDs have been released, mostly with odd and deceptive packaging. There's a reason for that - the pilot is, frankly, dreadful. Years later, Bill Shatner remains its only conceivable selling point. Ironic, since the movie represents the absolute nadir of his "Lost Years" period during the mid-1970s.

There's something about bad pilots that is almost universal: the over-earnest two-dimensional characters; the cookie-cutter-constructed bland ensemble (there's even a "token black guy" that gets a few lines), with each cast member forcefully being assigned their own "interesting" quirks; the utter lack of chemistry between the performers...yes, Incident on a Dark Street serves as a textbook example of how not to put together a prospective TV series.

The direction is awful, with the actors lost as to the emotions or point of any given scene; the pacing is dreadfully slow - the movie feels far, far longer than it actually is; the script is so bad, one wonders how it was ever filmed in the first place. Add to that a lack of action, poor performances, bad dialogue and a dull story and you have Incident on a Dark Street. None of the main cast elicit any interest from the viewer. Indeed, Bill Shatner and the other guest star Richard S. Castellano manage to outshine the proposed regular cast - which isn't a good sign at all for a pilot.

Let's move quickly on to the hair...

Firstly, Bill Shatner's hair is very, very thick in this show. In fact, it is so thick that one wonders if it should be categorized as a wig (or treacle) rather than a toup. The hair-line is particularly high up on the forehead, and we also have sideburns and a mustache. The entire construction is clearly serving as a critic of this TV movie, telling us not to take it seriously.

Years before Christopher Reeve was cast a Superman, Bill Shatner wears an S-curl in one scene (another example of this can be found here):

In another scene, Shats scratches the toup:

There's also a fight with some bimbo over a bear, perhaps a there's a toupee metaphor there of some kind:

And at the end, the hair gets knocked around a little - alas the framing conceals the true extent of what is underway. Why waste a great toup moment on a bad film, right?

Incident on a Dark Street is available on DVD, but we recommend that you stay away from this deceptively-marketed turkey. It really isn't "so bad it's good" - it's just plain awful.

UPDATE: A reader correctly points out that Incident on a Dark Street's Robert Pine is the father of Chris Pine, who portrayed James T. Kirk in the recent Star Trek (2009) movie.