Sunday, February 6, 2011

Kraft Mystery Theater: "The Man Who Didn't Fly" - a toupological analysis.



"The Man Who Didn't Fly" is an episode of Kraft Mystery Theater, a long-running anthology series that ran on US TV under various permutations between 1947 and 1958. This episode aired in July 1958 and stars William Shatner, Patricia Bosworth, Walter Brook and Jonathan Harris (Dr. Zachary Smith of Lost in Space fame).

The hour-long pre-recorded episode (i.e. not performed live) is an adaptation of a 1955 novel of the same name by writer Margot Bennet.


The story (it's a little complicated, so bear with us) begins with a private plane traveling from Devon, south-west England to the city of Liverpool, crashing into the sea near Bristol. Three passengers are believed to have been on-board: self-declared young poet playboy Harry Walters (Shatner), entrepreneur Joe Ferguson (Harris) and wealthy artist Morgan Price (Milton Selzer).

Cor blimey, guv'na!

But a mechanic at the airport from which the trio took off turns up and is sure only two men boarded the flight. Inspector Jack Lewis (Brook) begins an investigation. Which of the men survived? Why hasn't the apparent survivor shown up anywhere?

Inspector Harris and former girlfriend Hester Wade.

The Inspector then interviews young Hester Wade (Bosworth), a former girlfriend of his - and now the fiancée of missing Harry. She's devastated at news of the crash, but desperately hopes that somehow her love of only one month was the one that made it.


We then go into flashback as Hester tells the story of how she first met Harry: he was a guest at the hotel owned by her father Charlie (Louis Hector).


Harry swept the young woman off her feet. This, despite their relationship meeting with strong disapproval from her father and most of the other hotel guests. Not surprising as his first introduction to the other guests went down like a lead balloon:

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Enter Mrs Ferguson, wife of Joe. Artist? What a load of bull. The only artist that Harry is is a con-artist! How does she know? Because Harry had been blackmailing her!

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But things are even more complicated! Neither Harry, nor the other two passengers seem to be all that they seem. Perhaps Ferguson is the conman or perhaps it is Morgan Price (whom Harry insinuates may have murdered his own mother to inherit her fortune).

The hotel staff and guests - from left to right: Morgan Price, Charlie Wade, Mrs Ferguson, Joe Ferguson and Hester Wade.

Hotel owner Charlie Wade insists on making an £850 investment in one of Ferguson's business schemes. Ferguson is hiring a private plane and flying to Liverpool to complete the transaction. Hester is concerned about a potential scam (by Ferguson) and so her father sends Harry along to make sure the investment is safe; also along for the ride is the mysterious Morgan Price.

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So which of the three survived? Is there foul play afoot? Did someone steal all that money? Whodunit? That's where we'll leave it...


So what to make of all this? Despite the complicated plot, we found this to be a very neatly structured, rather engaging piece of drama. A great hook right from the outset and an unraveling mystery - the multiple points-of-view of Rashomon, the paranoia of Suspicion and just a twist of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels!

The three missing passengers.

The drama is set in England, with most of the American actors, including Bill Shatner, making only restrained efforts at creating convincing British accents. That part is a little odd, but overall we found "The Man Who Didn't Fly" to be pretty entertaining - no great emotional weight or huge drama, but certainly a decent execution on an undoubtedly intriguing idea.


Once again, in direct contrast to his later Shatner-esque staccato...dramatic...pause image, Bill Shatner gives a remarkably understated and restrained performance as a manipulative con-man. He's mean and deceitful, but also very charming, rather like the actor's performance as Adam Cramer in The Intruder (1961).

And Star Trek meeting Lost in Space (Bill Shatner and Jonathan Harris together on-screen) is something we'd never thought we'd see!

"Oh, the pain!" Kirk and Smith finally have it out!

Let's move swiftly to the hair...

There's only a couple of toupological moments in "The Man Who Didn't Fly" - the first being a rather indirect one at that - a joke about a bald actor losing his wig told by Inspector Lewis to Hester:

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Also, during the blackmail scene with Mrs Ferguson (see clip above), Bill Shatner leans down and we see the light reflecting off his scalp.


But that isn't to say there isn't much of toupological interest here. Indeed, our team of toupologists confessed to having a very difficult time making a call as to whether Bill Shatner was or was not wearing a toupee in this appearance.


Was it real hair, heavily sprayed and thickened or was it an early "Jim Kirk lace"? Ultimately, we were forced to study several other Bill Shatner performances from this time...

1957's Studio One: "The Defender" we called as toup-less:


1958's Suspicion: "The Protégé" we called as wearing a toupee:


Even in 1958, we're sure Bill Shatner still had a relatively strong frontal hairline. The lace front toupee - when it was used - would have been placed on top of it, its "skin" glued onto the forehead. Doing this would have left Bill Shatner's real hair squashed by the toupee - evidence of which we find in a likely toup-less behind-the-scenes picture from 1960 (more here):


Incidentally, the above is the last, in terms of dates, toup-less picture of Bill Shatner we've managed to locate.

"The Committee for Toupological Evaluations" hard at work in the William Shatner School of Toupolgical Studies' "Situation Room".

An obvious question is: why use a front lace at all when you still have your own frontal hairline? Bill Shatner's balding started at the rear crown, with a bald patch evident as far back as 1956. He evidently began receding at the front in the early 1960s, but the hair atop was thin all round since the mid 1950s - especially under the heavy lights of a studio production. And that's likely the reason why: as the actor's hair was increasingly having to be sprayed and styled into a heavily bulked-up, fragile immovable shell. The toupee solved that problem pretty easily.

But back to "The Man Who Didn't Fly". The final 634 page report of the "The Committee for Toupological Evaluations" is equivocal in it's language, but leans heavily towards a conclusion that this is indeed a toup-less performance.


"The fragile, bulked-up nature of the hair leads us to conclude that this was likely a performance in which the front lace toupee was not used...several permutations of the lace were beginning to be used around this time, one of which was extremely light (''It was a lace hairpiece and he had less hair on it, so it looked more natural." source here) - it's possible that this is what we are seeing here, but upon consideration, we believe that this is unlikely."


Let's examine the evidence: The rounded front hairline appears far more in line with Bill Shatner's real hair than with the more pointed, heavy look of the toupee.

A likely toup-less picture from around the same time - notice the naturally curly hair.

By 1958, we have a look where the thinning is becoming increasingly evident...

Studio One: "No Deadly Medicine" (1958).

There's also this 1958 MGM publicity picture - the style is identical to that in "The Man Who Didn't Fly" Can spray do this much? We believe so:


It's a little confusing as the style in "The Man Who Didn't Fly" is so similar to the "Jim Kirk lace".

Definitely a front lace, but a very light one.

Let's look for clues at the back - the smooth, rounded "Jim Kirk lace" crescent appears absent - no toup?


Or is there evidence of a cap-piece, similar to that worn by Ted Danson in Cheers - clip here? It's possible. In some stills there is an unusual smoothness visible at the back of the head. Confused?


What we know is that in 1957, Bill Shatner began to grow his hair quite long at the top - this was then used to help create the illusion of bulk with careful styling. But the hair at the back was not always uniformly smoothly covered:

Fully toup-less in Studio One: "The Defender" (1957).

Evidence of a hitherto undocumented potential crown cap only phase can possibly be inferred from a picture of the play The World of Suzie Wong (more here), but it's something we haven't fully been able to confirm:


And of course the very same year, Bill Shatner (this time we're sure) wore a full lace in Suspicion: "The Protégé". So why one performance and not the other?

Notice the bulkiness of the hair at the front and the curvature at the back -it's a toup.

The style in "The Man Who Didn't Fly" so mimics the "Jim Kirk lace" one wonders (and marvels) at the planning that went into the transition from non-toup to toup - seamless!


In summary, we lean towards fully toup-less in "The Man Who Didn't Fly" but it took some painstaking comparison work and it wasn't at all an easy call to make! Let us know your thoughts!

"The Man Who Didn't Fly" is an entertaining little drama right from the heart of the Golden Age of TV drama. Certainly worth watching. Sadly, the show is unavailable commercially - it was up at museum.tv but can now only be found at online file sharing sites.

10 comments:

  1. Really confusing. But Bill looks good, anyway.

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  2. Great post ST, thank you. I'm glad to see some real in-depth frontal hairline analysis.

    However I disagree with your overall assertion.

    I think that scalp picture above is a real indicator of where his frontal hairline was heading by 1958, and also captures a malfunction in what was likely an early incarnation of the Jim Kirk lace front toupee.

    This isn't to say this hairline was now up there on the patchy top of the visible scalp. My guess is, toupee technology was not fully perfected, so he had problems combing his own hair underneath such that it wouldn't affect the overall final look, with the toupee.

    My thinking is, after this production, Shatner paid a lot more attention to his visible appearance, and less on his acting.

    Note that in some of the pictures where it's fairly certain he isn't wearing a toupee, he's got pretty much the same Jim Kirk style. I think was by design, as to dissuade anyone (at the time) from really noticing his hair loss and toupee use.

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  3. It doesn't look like the Jim Kirk lace, yet it's inconceivable that he would be balding enough to require an elaborate (and possibly expensive) lace toupee in Suspicion: "The Protégé", which aired two months earlier, but not this. Also of note: In June 1958 (one month earlier), he performed live in "Playhouse 90: A Town Has Turned to Dust" (mentioned in previous threads). In that one, he appears to be sporting either a patchy, shiny wig, or perhaps a combover.

    Is it possible that this was prerecorded in 1957, before the other 1958 shows (and most of the hair loss)? (Incidentally, why the certainty that his frontal hairline was intact at this time? Some of the toupless photos from 1957 seem to show a receding frontal hairline.)

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  4. Yeah, I think this is either a toupee from 1958 or it had to been filmed earlier.

    I lean towards the former - the hairline and frontal hair is just too thick to be natural - even if you compare to the 1957 The Defender picture, where is frontal hair is long, but light and thin compared the hair on his sides.

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  5. I'm thinking it's probably not a toupee. Around 4:40-5:00 it seems there's been an attempt made to brush the hair back from the sides and the top to cover the balding thin spot at the back. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a0C_ulklRFw

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  6. Here's something fascinating:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_lzNcefgVGY

    It's Sci-Fi Channel extras from the Star Trek episode "What Are Little Girls Made Of". Starting at 2:50, Sherry Jackson (who played the android girl with the revealing costume) describes how "toupee tape" was used to prevent a sideboob "wardrobe malfunction"! I wonder why toupee tape was lying around?

    Also, at 7:20, she describes Shatner's displeasure at having his chest shaved - he simply couldn't let go of more hair from his body.

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  7. Shatner complained about shaving? Maybe he was joking. He had been shaving his chest for years and appeared repeatedly shirtless on camera long before Star Trek.

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  8. @adidas -

    While I agree with the possibility (I had watched his Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode which was I think filmed in 1957, and I'm thinking that's his real hair. His frontal hairline looked solid), consider the many combing malfunctions from TOS. You can search this site to find one from a Season 3 episode where you can see parts of the back of his bald head.

    @Clayton & tintorera -

    That may be true - though I'm certain his chest was hairy in 'Where No Man Has Gone Before' (at least from one can see from his ripped shirt at the end).

    Consider though, just because a hairless chest may have been required for a movie or television part, doesn't mean Shatner liked doing it.

    Still, I wonder what impact this had on his toupee-wearing. I'm sure at some point he must have wished he could've transplanted usuable chest hairs onto his scalp.

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  9. this is his last toupless, ever on screen. He may well have gone, another year, or so on stage, toupless but he was rapidly, losing the battle with his rapidly receeding hairline. The bald patch atop, shows that even a combover, would not work, for much longer.

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  10. after watching, the clip a few times on youtube, i really do believe it is absolutely toupless. His head, is showing, a bald spot, near the top of his head. That and the balding taking place, at the back, also at this point the bulking combover, is coming fom more then, one point. Its begining to look like, its being combed, at all pionts of the compass.

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