Thursday, July 28, 2011

Poll result and You Decide 2011.

Our most recent poll asked for your take on whether Bill Shatner will likely return to the issue of his toupee-wearing in his upcoming book Shatner Rules: Your Guide to Understanding the Shatnerverse and the World at Large.

6% said "yes" the author began the discussion in Up Till Now, and will likely now continue it; 11% said "no" the "do I wear a toupee?" line in that book was the final word; 17% chose the joke option - that the entire book will be a point-by-point denial of every single toupee-wearing allegation ever levelled against Bill Shatner! The greatest number, 38%, believed that there may indeed be some subtle coded language for toupee-buffs, but nothing overt.

Thanks for voting!

Incidentally, an examination of the cover of the book (set for release in October) reveals some potential coded toupological imagery. Notice the angle at which Bill Shatner's head is tilted. Exactly the same as the globe he is holding. At the same relative position where Bill Shatner's toupee is, on the globe we find the white patch of the North Pole.

Is Bill Shatner using the power of his toupee to underscore the receding ice line of the Arctic region as caused by climate change? Or the reverse? Who knows...?

Now for some news on our newest poll. In a brief change of format, we're going to give our readers the deciding voice on a question that many of you have been asking, namely "When are you going to do a full toupological analysis of the Trek movies?"

Inexplicably, our toupologists have been dragging their feet, unable to decide (chronologically may seem a little too obvious). So whatever our readers choose, that's the one we'll look at first! Just to note, it's not a poll about which Trek movie is your favorite, but rather of which one you would most like to see a toupological analysis (the wind in III; the water in IV; the newness of the "TJ" in I; the grayness in VI - so many factors to sway your choice!). Happy voting!

Bill Shatner tests if Star Trek movie director Nicholas Meyer's hair is real.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Bill Shatner says "bushy toupee".

As human beings, we share countless common experiences. One such example is the simple act of waking up after a night of sleep. Will today bring something positive, or new, or even astounding? The promise of each day is a never-ending cycle in our lives. But how often do we wake up and imagine that this day will yield an audio recording of Bill Shatner saying the phrase "bushy toupee"? Today is such a day...

The phrase in question is found in the audio version of Bill Shatner's 1993 book Star Trek Memories. Of course, Bill Shatner is not referring to his own toupee, but rather relating the story of how actor Walter Koenig was cast in Star Trek (The Monkees similarity, Pravda myths. bringing in a younger audience etc.) as the Russian ensign Pavel Chekov:

The key part in context:

In reality, the true motivating factor behind
Star Trek's second season cast addition was The Monkees. You see, at the time Star Trek was beginning to amass its small but rather loyal following, The Monkees were exploding onto the television sets. These imitation Beatles quickly became a national phenomenon and fans of the Prefab Four were generally young, vocal and enthusiastic. Gene [Roddenberry] conjured up the character of Pavel Chekov as a close approximation of Monkees front man Davy Jones. Sure, Gene slapped a Soviet accent onto our new ensign, but one look at Chekov’s first episodes, and the bushy toupee he was forced to wear [until his real hair grew long enough], will illustrate the Monkee-mimicry point. Still, despite the silly coiffure, Walter eased his way onto the Enterprise bridge with a minimum of difficulty and his performances were full of life, energy and a remarkable sense of fun." [emphasis ours]

Now, to focus on the crucial phrase...

What's interesting here is that Bill Shatner wasn't forced to say "bushy toupee". It was his book, after all! He could have ignored or downplayed the hair point or just said something like "large wig". But instead he chose "bushy toupee" - a phrase that was certain to raise eyebrows across the globe. And only seconds later, he piles on with "silly coiffure" too.

Undertaking some toupological analysis of the key section of the audio recording, we find that Bill Shatner appears to say "bushy toupee" as matter-of-factly as he can. Fast, clinical, no stress, no emotion - "nothing to see here," he appears to be subconsciously saying. Indeed, the word "toupee" quickly morphs into "he" as in "toupee he was forced to wear" - another subtle sign that the author wants to zoom past this particular place as quickly and inconspicuously as possible.

Yet, the above is revealing in itself. One of the top toupologists at our Department of Psychotoupular Linguistics explains:

"The determined effort to not emote creates an unwitting subconscious tension in the words. Try saying matter-of-factly, 'today I cleaned up the house, went shopping, ran over the cat, returned a book to the library'. No matter how hard one tries to say 'ran over the cat' with a mundane intonation, there is an unavoidable tension in the words, because your brain simply knows how unusual that phrase is within the above matter-of-fact context."

Our staff using a specially designed touposcope to analyze the "bushy toupee" voice recording.

The toupologist continued: "Thus, Bill Shatner can't really say 'bushy toupee' matter-of-factly, because for him the toupee is such a hugely important object. But, he can pretend to say it matter-of-factly. Yet, in so doing, a tension dynamic is created that is itself revealing - and that is really what toupology is about!"

Star Trek Memories abridged audio version is widely available for purchase.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Shock and awe!

As many of you will know, the staff at the William Shatner School of Toupological Studies devotes an extraordinary amount of time and energy to the important subject of William Shatner's toupees. And we suspect the same is true of our readers. Whether its hourly, daily or weekly, your professional and personal lives must also be balanced against the need to undertake your own toupological studies as well as assessing and critiquing ours. "Honey, dinner's ready!"

"Just a minute! I'm studying whether a 1958 photo of Bill Shatner is or is not toupless."

But just once, we wanted to provide readers with something that requires no academic or scholastic endeavor - only awe and wonder. It's entirely fake, of course (like Bill Shatner's hair). Yet one can't help but wonder if the words in the clips below really had been spoken, would the world's economies still be so sluggish? Would the Arab Springs still be taking so long? Would the Space Shuttle still have been retired? Listen and be inspired...

And one more...

Audio sourced here and here. Any other ideas for creative splicing, let us know!

UPDATE: A new two-part making of... video of Bill Shatner's upcoming album Seeking Major Tom has been uploaded by the album's producers featuring the first ever audio clips of some of the songs. Could be the event of the decade!

From "Bohemian Rhapsody":

...easy come, easy go,
A little high, little low,
Anyway the wind blows, doesn't really matter to me, to me.

Is this a song about Bill Shatner coming to terms with the potential pitfalls of toupee-wearing?

UPDATE II: From a new The Atlantic interview on Bill Shatner being voted the undisputed King of Canada:

[Q:] If you were to become King of Canada, what are the first five commands you would issue to your Canadian subjects and why?

SHATNER: Off with his head, and his, and his, and his, and his.

Might another monarch say off with his toupee?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Columbo: "Butterflies in Shades of Grey" - a toupological analysis (and Columbo tribute).

"Butterflies in Shades of Grey" is a 1994 episode of the revived post-70s run of Columbo. William Shatner serves as the special guest star, appearing in the series for the second time - the first being in the classic 1976 episode "Fade in to Murder".

Fielding Chase (William Shatner) is a suave but ruthless right-wing radio talk show host and also the head of a mini L.A-based media empire.

His adopted daughter Victoria (Molly Hagan), of whom Chase is extremely possessive, is an aspiring novelist - though she is keeping those aspirations secret from her father.

Gerry Winters (Jack Laufer), an investigative reporter working for Chase, meets secretly with New York literary agent Lou Cates (Richard Kline), who appears interested in one of Victoria's manuscripts. Winters' motivations in bringing fame to his friend aren't romantic (turns out he's gay), but rather he wants to free Victoria from her father's domination, and in so doing, cause his boss some grief.

The ongoing professional animosity between Chase and Winters explodes after an investigative assignment yields nothing; the boss, certain a potential story was missed, fires his unruly subordinate.

Victoria finally tells Chase her secret - that she has written a novel and that Winters is helping her get it published. Chase pretends to be delighted and offers assistance to his daughter. But in reality, he is deeply perturbed.

Literary agent Cates calls Winters and tells him that his publisher actually ended up hating the manuscript - but that the man is also an acquaintance of Chase's. Coincidence? Could the father have intervened to disrupt his daughter's budding career?

Winters confronts Chase with this accusation. Chase dismisses this as a lie, calling his daughter's ambitions nothing but a "pipe dream". Winters then accuses Chase of having a less than fatherly attitude; Chase slaps and threatens to kill him - in front of witnesses.

Victoria learns what her father did, but he persuades her that his intentions were not to possess her, but rather to help her career.

Meanwhile, Chase devises a plan to kill his nemesis. Arranging for Winters to telephone him at precisely 4pm, Chase's answering machine records the entire murder - a masterful alibi.

Chase is pretending to be at home listening in as gunshots are fired by an unknown assailant. In truth, he is killing Winters himself, while meters away on the other phone in Winters' house.

Chase then plants some evidence framing a former lover of Winters' as the murderer.

Enter Columbo...

That's where we'll leave the plot.

In a break from custom, we'll move straight to the hair next before we review this episode.

Star Trek: Generations (1994).

Considering the excessive thickness on display in Star Trek: Generations (1994), the TJ Curly seen in this episode (made around the same time) is something of an outlier. It's less dark, less curly, less long, less thick, the hairline less harsh - far more akin to latter stages of the TJ Curly around 1999, when it began to gradually morph into the "Denny Katz" style (more on this gradual morphing in a future post).

The toupee cliché about a dark rug betrayed by greying hair around the sides appears reversed here.

Unusually, here the toupee is actually greyer and lighter than Bill Shatner's real hair at the sides.

Evident in the background in several shots is the notorious "peeling toupee" photograph.

In this case, it is altered to include a mustache.

But perhaps most fascinating of all is another piece of artificial hair on display - a false mustache.

Not only is the mustache in question occasionally crooked, but it also seems to drastically change color during the episode.

Very light:

Very dark:

The toup too appears to change at times. Sometimes a little longer, sometimes shorter.

And in perhaps the only example of interesting direction in the entire episode, there is a brief shot that appears loaded with subtle toupological symbolism.

The spikes of hair represented by the glass - Bill Shatner is between these spikes; the real-haired Columbo is behind. Toupological symbolism?

So, what to make of the overall episode? The story, though rather convoluted, is not too bad; the murder and Columbo's solving of it is not too bad either. But the whole thing is frankly average at best. Nothing special. Rather unremarkable. Why? Something crucial is missing...

1970s Columbo.

Many of us at WSSTS are unabashed fans of the original 70s Columbo and regard it, without hesitation, as one of the greatest TV shows of all time. It was intelligent; it was non-violent; it was occasionally funny and it broke many accepted rules. This from a great article on how the series was formed, written by the series' creators:

Martin Landau with Peter Falk.

Our first scripts made their way to the network, and the response was not effusive: NBC had major "conceptual concerns" with our approach. How could we have made the terrible blunder of keeping our leading man offstage until twenty minutes into the show? Didn't we realize that Peter Falk was our star? The audience would expect to see him at once, and here we were perversely delaying his appearance. One of the executives called it, with considerable heat, "the longest stage wait in television history."

There were other complaints. What about this business about an unseen wife? And why a wife at all? Columbo should be free of any marital encumbrances so that he could have romantic interludes on occasion. Why hadn't we given him a traditional "family" of regulars? At the very least he should have a young and appealing cop as his assistant and confidante. And worst of all, the scripts were talkative. They should be enlivened by frequent doses of adrenalin in the form of "jeopardy."

There are only four responses a writer-producer can make to network suggestions: He can ignore them, he can cave in, he can argue, or he can threaten to quit. We opted for the last of these multiple choices.

Columbo keeps accidentally annoying an innocent old lady.

The above demonstrates that the fight to make something truly unique was at the heart of Columbo's greatness. But in addition to all of the above considerations of content, there was also a crucial aesthetic component. The 70s cinematography - sharp and very high-contrast film stock requiring a lot of light, with its very particular color relationships; this, plus the overall 70s aesthetic - the era of orange and yellow seat covers and minty green paint and still clean-looking post-war concrete architecture. That part made the city of Los Angeles itself seem strangely sleek and alluring (deliberately "mythical" according to Link and Levinson, the series' creators, as noted in the above article).

The airport, the hospital, the store, the chilli stand - Lt. Columbo inhabited a highly stylized and inviting 70s world. Even a trip to the supermarket seemed pretty cool...

There was also the direction - bold and distinct.

Often, murders would be filmed in highly abstract and stylized ways. Add to that the tremendous music (sadly, the series' soundtracks have never been released), full of recurring leitmotifs and diverse and distinctive instruments. Overall, Columbo's intellectual, wordy drama was balanced out by this aesthetic onslaught. Memorable. Re-watchable. Full of classic moments. Much like the original Star Trek.

A chess match with the great Tomlin Dudek brings nightmares.

So what if you took away the bold cinematography, direction, music and the overall awesome background of 1970s L.A. in addition to having an unremarkable script? You'd pretty much get "Butterflies in Shades of Grey." Some of the components are still there (though it is hardly believable that the great Columbo would not have been promoted or retired by the 1990s; his old battered car is also arguably a stretch too far), but these other crucial elements are missing.

Visually dull compared to the original series - "Butterflies in Shades of Grey".

Aesthetically speaking, the late 80s/early 90s were a pretty dire time for American television drama. Soft, pink-hued, red-biased cinematography, coupled with the styles of the times - shoulder pads, bad perms and all the rest of it. The era of lots of bad TV movies with names like Why Did She Die? The Jennifer O'Brady Story (we made that one up). Sometimes, old-fashioned stylistic boldness was even punished (see our piece on composer Ron Jones). TV, thankfully, eventually largely recovered from this aesthetic lull, with series like NYPD Blue and The X-Files leading the way.

Anne Baxter as actress Nora Chandler.

As for the content part (crucial - much 70s TV drama was pretty awful too), Columbo's drama harked back to the 1940s and its focus on the woes and wants of a post-revolution American aristocracy that had somehow managed to survive into the latter part of the 20th century. And what was Lt. Columbo in all of this? Disheveled, unpretentious, Zen-like - a stark contrast to all of that highly-strung decadence.

Columbo eats chilli.

On a more metaphysical level (yikes!!), Columbo perhaps also represented the human conscience itself. The murderers had committed terrible crimes. At that moment Columbo appeared, gnawing away at their repressed and self-destructive guilt - "just one more thing," he'd say, innocently irritating them beyond breaking point.

"Murder by the Book" directed by a young Steven Spielberg.

No matter how perfectly they planned their murders, how much they pretended to actually be helping Columbo find the real killer, how hard they tried to explain away his endless questions, their lives could never be normal again. And when they finally confessed, very stoically, in most cases their relief was palpable. The conscience, thankfully, won. Often the murderers were even likeable, charming people. Columbo, gallant as ever, would insist to the arresting cops that the handcuffs weren't necessary.

Ruth Gordon in Columbo.

70s Columbo had endless classic episodes (and only a handful of stinkers): the one with the twin brothers; the Nimoy one with the sutures; the chess one; Robert Vaughn on the cruise ship; Jackie Cooper as the senate candidate; the one with the sweet old lady (Ruth Gordon); the one with Ann Baxter as the archetypal diva; three episodes each for arguably the best villains Jack Cassidy and Robert Culp; the one where Columbo actually goes after his own boss; the one with Johnny Cash! The list goes on...

...and certainly includes Bill Shatner's classic role in "Fade in to Murder". But in that role, Shatner's character was tragic and complex, in need of salvation and forgiveness. Much more suited to Bill Shatner's acting and character. In "Butterflies in Shades of Grey" the murderer is really without any redeeming or even interesting qualities, and frankly, so is the episode.

Bill Shatner in 1976's classic "Fade in to Murder".

Irrespective of the merits of the revived Columbo (which ran sporadically between 1989-2003 and certainly had some strong episodes), the original series is undoubtedly iconic and was also a comfortable home for many equally iconic stars, including The Prisoner's Patrick McGoohan. Its star, Peter Falk, with his deep and unerring Leonard Nimoy-like protectiveness about the series' quality, passed away at the end of June after battling for several years with Alzheimer's disease. Falk had a varied career as an actor, but like Bill Shatner's Captain Kirk, he will always be remembered for his most famous role - that of the legendary Lt. Columbo.

Peter Falk (1927-2011).

Friday, July 8, 2011

Poll result and thank toup it's Friday!

After numerous multiple choice polls, we thought it was time for something simple. Two questions. Two choices. Is it fair to say that Bill Shatner has never admitted to wearing a toupee?

The poll seemed very close as voting began, but in the end one option moved to a significant lead. 34% thought that no, it was not fair to say that. 64%, a clear majority, thought that it was fair and that Bill Shatner's various jokes and hints on the subject over the years do not in and of themselves qualify as clear admissions of toupee-wearing.

Thanks for voting!

Now, one rather extraordinary toupological item via the Shatnerologists at More Shat, Less Shame: In September 1981, Bill Shatner made a guest appearance on the short-lived late night comedy series Fridays. Inexplicably, in one sketch Bill Shatner's "hair" is combed forward in a hitherto unseen style.

Watch the scene, which refers to an air traffic controller's strike taking place at the time, below:

For the rest of the show, Bill Shatner's toupee is standard in style for the time, meaning the cap-like first phase of the "TJ Curly" (around 1983, this toupee style was replaced with one that also went down to the sides - see here for more).

This obviously begs the question: why was the hair changed for this one sketch? You've probably all seen that classic scene in a number of movies where someone says something so shocking that everyone in the room instantly stops talking and the music playing in the background screeches to a halt. Is that what happened here? Did some unknowing creative at Fridays say to Bill Shatner "Hey, why don't we comb your hair forward for this sketch?"

Silence. The entire production team stares at the guy. He begins to sweat and blush.

"What did I say?" The poor guy knows nothing about how sensitive this subject actually is.

Bill Shatner finally calms the situation, putting his arm around the now trembling producer.

"Sure. Sounds like a great idea." A huge sigh of relief is heard from everyone else. Only later is the producer informed of just what kind of a minefield he inadvertently trod on.

"I had no idea! I thought it the hair was real. Otherwise, I would never have made such a suggestion."

We'll have a new - and we think timely - toupological analysis for you early next week! Oh, and want to join in on "The Long Khan"?