Friday, January 28, 2011

A boy, a dog and a toupee...

In his autobiography Up Till Now, Bill Shatner describes a pivotal moment in his early life that directly led to his career as an actor - it is a moment that may also be crucial in understanding the toupee (more on that later):

The first time I stood on a stage I made the audience cry...I was six years old, attending Rabin's Camp, a summer camp for Jewish welfare cases run by my aunt in the mountains north of Montreal. I wanted to box at that camp - hitting people seemed like fun - but my aunt instead put me in a play named Winterset. My role was that of a young boy forced to leave his home because the Nazis were coming. In the climactic scene I had to say good-bye to my dog, knowing I probably would never see him again. My dog was played by another camper, costumed in painted newspaper. We performed the play on parents' weekend to an audience consisting primarily of people who had escaped the Nazis, many of whom still had family members trapped in Hitler's Europe. So many of them had left everything they knew or owned behind-and there I was, saying good-bye to my little doggie.

I cried, the audience cried, everybody cried. I remember taking my bow and seeing people wiping away their tears. I remember the warmth of my father holding me as people told him what a wonderful son he had. Just imagine the impact that had on a six-year-old child. I had the ability to move people to tears. And I could get approval. Something in me always wanted to perform, always wanted the attention that came from pleasing an audience...

A very young William Shatner.

The unauthorized 1995 William Shatner biography Captain Quirk also describes this moment:

William Shatner discovered the power of acting when he was only six years old. It happened at summer camp in 1937. Camp in depression-era Quebec was not some privileged kids' retreat to Camp Coddle-Me. Summer camp meant fifty or so kids spending several weeks on a real farm, working hard at chores and playing hard in the outdoors. This particular farm was owned by Shatner's aunt and was located in the Laurentian Mountains, ninety miles north of Montreal.

Every Sunday, the campers would put on a play for visiting parents. In one of the amateur productions, Billy was chosen to play a little Jewish boy in Nazi Germany. To escape persecution, the child's family was abandoning their home, and the little boy had to leave behind his pet dog, who was played by another young camper. During the scene where Billy was saying goodbye to his dog, tears welled up in his eyes and he started to cry. The audience was profoundly moved by the portrayal of the sacrifices being made by their friends and families in Germany at the time. Many joined the boy and started sobbing openly.

From left to right: William Shatner, sister Joy, father Joe and mother Anne.

What the audience did not know was that little Billy was crying because he really wanted a dog of his own, not because he had any comprehension of the events in far-away Europe. He just wanted a puppy, but his parents would never allow it.

"All I remember was people were trying to take me away from my dog," Shatner said many years later. "I always wanted one, and my parents' argument was, in the muddy streets of Montreal, the dog would run around outside, come in, and dirty up the carpets and furniture. They'd say, 'You can have a hobby horse, but you can't have a dog!' ... and so I remember my crying on stage as a kid, 'Don't take my dog away from me!!!'"

"I didn't realize how powerful that play was. At the end, I looked up and saw everyone crying. At that moment, I had a firm feeling of being able to get hold of people's emotions. So from that moment on, I wasn't interested in anything other than acting."

The incident is also briefly mentioned in an E! True Hollywood Story profile of William Shatner:

So what we have here is a young boy who gains the approval and love of an audience - and his father, with whom he apparently didn't have the warmest of relationships - via a theatrical performance that was actually very real for Bill Shatner.

He wanted a dog, a furry friend, but his parents wouldn't allow him to have one. The boy then finally found a venue to express his pent-up emotions on the subject, one that was elevated outside of the everyday reality - a theatrical performance (Trek fans note: the play contains a character called Miriamne, rather similar to Kirk's big love Miramanee).

If we apply some rather deep Freudian psychoanalysis to this 1937 event, then we can perhaps find some important clues to understanding the toupee here: A young boy and parents who apparently don't understand his need for a dog; a representation of a dog (another boy wrapped in newspapers pretending to be a dog) and "I remember the warmth of my father holding me as people told him what a wonderful son he had". For a six-year-old mind, some important associations may have been formed that day: about love and where and how it could be found; about expression and about approval.

Joseph Shatner

Years later, as Bill Shatner's hair began to fall out, did the fear of potentially losing the love of the all-important audience bring back memories of this moment? "All I remember was people were trying to take me away from my dog," said Shatner of the tears he shed during the play. The loss of hair during his twenties may well have brought back this dog-related trauma: "Not this time - you won't take my hair away from me! Without it, I may not be able to move an audience anymore!"

Bill Shatner had defied his bald father who wanted him to take over the family clothing business, and instead decided to become an actor. But hair loss suddenly threatened to end the dream. The fear of returning home a failure, not the star he had dreamed of becoming, must have been overwhelming.

Young Bill with his father.

Many of you will have wondered, particularly during the very thick "TJ Curly" years, how Bill Shatner could have believed that we could think that his hair was real.

Are there actually two dogs in this picture?

But what if we're missing the point? What if at all times during his post-baldness life, Bill Shatner needed that dog that never was, that furry friend and companion, that close physical warmth he received the day of his emotional outburst, nearby (on his head)? Could it be that in some sub-conscious way, Bill Shatner's toupees are a complex memorial to a furry childhood friend?

Clues about a mythical dog in Star Trek: Generations (1994).

Since those days, Bill Shatner has been an avid dog-owner, particularly of his beloved and fiercely protective Dobermans. But that first love, that formative love, only ever occurred within the fictitious context of the stage. And the moment changed Bill Shatner's life.

If all this is indeed the case, then Bill Shatner could no more ditch the toupee than any of us could ditch our beloved pets. His first dog, with him throughout his entire life, providing warmth, love, approval and much, much more. Perhaps, every once in a while, late at night, Bill Shatner takes off the toup, strokes it, gives it a gentle kiss and whispers to it: "We made it. You and me. Always and forever together. I won't ever be separated from you again!"

Futurama - "Jurassic Bark"

UPDATE: A reader correctly notes that the play Winterset (published in 1935, well before Hitler's most egregious anti-Jewish acts) is neither about Nazism, nor does it feature a boy and his dog. However, an adaptation to be performed by young children may have altered the original story of the Sacco and Vanzetti case into a highly simplified allegorical tale about the persecution of Jews in 1930s Europe. Anyone who has followed Bill Shatner will know that his bad memory is almost legendary, but his book had the benefit of numerous researchers and fact-checkers, so it would be quite something for the incorrect play to be referenced - but it isn't impossible, of course. Read about the play here.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Poll result and some fun with Touposhop.

Our most recent poll gauged your views on what Bill Shatner thinks the lay public knows or suspects about his toupee-wearing. 44%, the largest share, believed that Bill Shatner still thinks he can persuade people that his hair is real. 18% thought that Bill Shatner thinks that the general public knows everything; 12% thought that he thinks most people don't believe he wears a toupee; 13% thought that Bill Shatner thinks that maybe the public only suspects he started wearing a toupee in the late 1970s or early 1980s and only 11% of you thought that Bill Shatner thinks that the public has heard some rumors, but aren't fully convinced.

Thanks for voting!

"The Shroud of Toupin" - some believe this cloth once wrapped one of William Shatner's toupees. However, the WSSTS has been unable to verify this claim.

On a different note, you may be surprised to learn that our "Department of Internal Toupological Satire" has no permanent staff. Rather, it serves as an outlet for staff in all of our other 736 departments at the WSSTS.

Here's how it works: Occasionally, one of our hard-working toupologists understandably feels the need to have a break and let off a little steam. Sometimes this is done by creating some toupological satire (well-meaning, not cruel, of course), which our toupologists may then choose to send to the aforementioned department. Once a month, a panel of five randomly-selected department heads chair a meeting of the "DITS" to go through these submissions. One such submission they received last month particularly stood out. It is a photograph that has been doctored (via the addition of a sign) with our proprietary program Touposhop:

Amidst a background of high tension, a celebrity will, very rarely, have a moment of madness. Who can forget actor Hugh Grant's moment of infamy?:

Imagine Bill Shatner driving home late one night. Suddenly, he spots a toupee factory out of his car window. He sees red; reason and rational behavior go out of the window. He breaks into the factory and, filled with reckless glee, rolls around in a huge heap of toupees, trying on one after another. But the police, receiving reports of a disturbance in the area, are soon on the scene. The resulting media storm is the biggest since, well, the last huge celebrity scandal...

All utterly ridiculous and entirely made up, of course!

Sourced via this 2006 Esquire interview, recently uploaded at More Shat, Less Shame.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Dead Man's Island - a toupological analysis.

Dead Man's Island is a 1996 TV movie starring Barbara Eden (of I Dream Of Jeanie fame) and William Shatner. Also along for the ride are a host of relatively well-known faces including Roddy McDowell (Cornelius in the Planet of the Apes film series) and Don Most (Ralph Malph in Happy Days). The TV movie is an adaptation by (Columbo writer) Peter S. Fischer of an eponymous book by mystery writer Carolyn Hart.

Ralph Malph himself, alias Don Most.

Henrietta O'Dwyer Collins (Barbara Eden), known simply as "Henrie O.", is a renowned investigative journalist turned biographer. She is summoned to a mysterious island, home to the reclusive millionaire Chase Prescott (William Shatner).

But even before she arrives, a local Native American Indian warns that "Dead Man's Island" is cursed - all who go there are in great danger.

Chase is the head of a huge communications empire. Henrie O. is a former lover of his and tensions remain between the two - but he has set that aside to ask for her help. Someone, he says, is trying to kill him.

Recently, he claims he discovered some of his food was laced with cyanide. One of the small group of people living with him on the island must be the culprit.

Henrie O., pretending to research a new biography of Chase sets about trying to figure out who the guilty party might be. No-one on the island appears to have any nice worlds to say about Chase.

Not long after, and now in Henrie O.'s presence, someone apparently tries to take a shot at the businessman.

After the shots are fired, the investigation takes on a far less covert nature.

A slew of characters, in typical Agatha Christie-like fashion...

...are stuck on the island, from the butler and maid, to a young son and stepson of Chase's, to an actress promised a role by Shatner's character (Valerie St. Vincent, played by Morgan Fairchild), to a young lover, to various employees of the company. All are potential suspects.

Morgan Fairchild

Chase's luxury yacht then explodes...

...with accusations flying even more fervently about who the culprit may be.

[Minor SPOILER warning for this paragraph] Not long after, Chase is electrocuted while swimming. The would-be murderer has evidently succeeded.

Henrie O. interviews everyone on the island learning of inheritances, business dealings and all manner of potentially suspicious affairs.

Meanwhile, a storm is gathering and with the yacht destroyed, there's no way for anyone to leave. And that's where we'll leave it.

So what to make of all this? Having previously seen a rather tacky-looking [minor SPOILER warning for link and below image] "death scene" clip of Dead Man's Island up on YouTube, we, quite frankly, expected this movie to be an amateurish disaster, barely acceptable production values and all the rest of it.

But we found the sample to be mis-representative. Dead Man's Island was indeed a properly-budgeted professional production, shot on 35mm film (not video), properly lit, with decent camera-work, sound and all other technical matters up to standard.

Is the director subtly using the toupee in the shot to suggest that beneath the surface, all is not as it seems?

The writing is OK (not great, but not too bad either). It's a standard whodunit with a twist or two - nothing amazing, but passable. The acting, from a varied ensemble, is pretty good with the most credit undoubtedly due to star Barbara Eden. Her disarming, warm and eminently lovely Southern charm radiates through this entire production; it really is impossible not to like this woman - and that is worth an entire review point in our view!

Barbara Eden

Bill Shatner gives a decent enough performance, and the entire film flows along in reasonably entertaining fashion.

But...something happened in post-production! Something that someone (probably a network "suit") evidently thought was a good idea. It wasn't. It was a disastrously ill-conceived act of poor judgment: the addition of a relentless, annoying, redundant and counter-dramatic voice-over by Henrie. O. at every possible opportunity from the beginning to the end of the movie.

The most inane voice-over ever recorded.

There's no way something like this could have been in the script. The telegraphing of each and every event and motivation that the director is supposed to visualize rendered utterly meaningless by having it said rather than (or usually as well as) shown to the audience via the oldest cheat in the book. After a while, the viewer can't help but feel both patronized and numbed. Almost nothing is revealed in these voice-overs that is of any consequence (one paraphrased example: Chase seemed angry - Deanna Troi would be proud!). Thus, without them, Dead Man's Island might actually be a half-decent film. With them, unfortunately, the same cannot be said.

Add to that a pretty awful, cheap-sounding synthesizer music score, and post-production, which is meant to improve filmed material, has actually ended up almost destroying it. A shame.

Let's move swiftly to the hair...

Bill Shatner is wearing a typical-for-the-time "TJ Curly"; by 1996, this particular style was slowly ebbing towards the end of an era. Yet, Bill Shatner's hair arguably looks very slightly better here than it did in 1994's Star Trek: Generations.

Perhaps this is because Bill Shatner looks in better shape in Dead Man's Island than he looked in Generations. The correlation between weight and toupee believability is something we'll look into in a more detailed post in the future...

Dead Man's Island is indeed replete with moments of toupological note. Interestingly, they are usually bunched up together:

In the above segment, we have a head scratch...

We also have a slightly misshapen toup, unusually rectangular on top, with the hairline also not quite right...

And we also have Bill Shatner's character revealing his suspicions about Henrie O.'s son: "He' got my eyes; my coloring..." Wouldn't the normal thing to say be: " eyes, my hair"? The "my eyes" surely makes the "my coloring" part redundant if the character is talking about eye, not hair color. We're not sure what to make of this, but in the clip, after he has said "my coloring", Bill Shatner drops his eyes, as if to suggest the original "my hair" line might have been changed - no-one has Bill Shatner's hair!

My eyes, my coloring...

There are also considerable underwater antics in the movie, with Bill Shatner setting out to top his previous toupological underwater special-effects extravaganza from Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (see above link in this paragraph).

In the above scene, Bill Shatner dives, head first towards the camera:

His toupee, Jaws-like, moving closer and closer...

And the actor's toupological confidence doesn't end there. He does some laps too:

We also get to see Bill Shatner's toupee wet outside of the water:

And we even get to see something rather unusual - the actor's hair in a semi-wet, slowly drying state, with harsh hairlines reappearing:

Was the strange swimming costume a distraction from the toupee, or was it deliberately combined with the toupee for an increased "wow" factor?

Dead Man's Island, though replete with poor choices, is still pretty far from a complete disaster. Worth watching? On the whole, we'd say yes.

To paraphrase John Lennon: Above us only toupee...

Unfortunately, Dead Man's Island is not available to buy commercially, though it probably airs from time to time on CBS-affiliated networks in the US. Other than that, it can be found online [note: we did some rather severe hiss reduction on a heavily sound-degraded home video copy we obtained for this review, lest the material would have been almost inaudible. Despite our best efforts, some residual electrical hum remains in the above clips].

Friday, January 14, 2011

A "TJ furry" and the side hairline.

Recently, a reader pointed to an interesting image (above - sourced here) of Bill Shatner wearing a "TJ Curly" toupee in the 1980s. The picture underscores just how extraordinarily thick this particular kind of hairpiece was.

As we've noted before, the "TJ Curly" very likely had several sub-phases, the most prominent of which was a division into a mere top-piece era (circa 1976-1983)...

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

...and a fuller era in which the toupee also went down to the sides...

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)

This expansion of the toupee into hitherto untoupeed areas likely had a lot to do with stability. A top-weave is less stable and given Bill Shatner's physical antics in T.J. Hooker, extending the toupee down to the sides of the temples likely created a more durable look, with fears over seams showing or even an unfortunate disconnection reduced - but other problems could arise (see here for more):

The change can essentially be characterized as this:

Instead of this:

But did the toupee at the sides reduce believability?

The toupee going all the way down the temples is something that has evidently continued ever since this switch. Yet, arguably, this harsh line at the sides is even more of a giveaway that Bill Shatner's hair isn't real than what has been going on on top.

It's been with us for years...

...changing in intensity depending on the given style:

When this change occurred, the thin strip of toupee was likely attached just in front of Bill Shatner's real hair at the sides. But at some point, probably coinciding with the later circa-2000 transition into the "Denny Katz" look, the sides may have been completely shaved to accommodate the new shorter hair - the old principle of placing a strip of toupee in front of existing hair at the sides was no longer a viable option.

Bill Shatner at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver - the Canadian Maple Leaf: a strategically placed symbol suggesting that new foliage can continue to sprout?

The toupee was growing and consuming areas of the head that had previously remained off-limits!

The conclusion we can draw from all of this is that Bill Shatner has been concealing an entirely real hairline (at the sides) for almost thirty years. Deciphering where fake ends and real begins - or if any real is left at all - is not a job for the faint-hearted!

See zaini666's large Bill Shatner picture album here.