Monday, July 27, 2009

Australian satirist makes common Shatner toup mistake.

The noted Australian satirist and commentator Clive James makes a common mistake in a 2005 article for the UK's The Independent newspaper. Here's what he writes on the subject of William Shatner's hair:

"To finish with the hair theme for the moment, take the case of that great actor William Shatner. In real life, William Shatner is a smart, funny and delightfully ironic man. But his real life is not his public life. The public William Shatner, after he left Star Trek, found that the hair on his head was growing thin. Instead of sensibly concluding that his abundance of testosterone was eating into his thatch, he must have decided that it was being eroded for another reason, perhaps because the stimulating effect of warp engine radiation had been switched off. Whatever his reasoning, when he came back to the screen as TJ Hooker he was wearing on top of his head what is known in America as a "piece".

"Three times as big as any natural hairstyle he had ever had, the piece looked as if a live dog had been nailed to his skull. You could have thrown chunks of raw meat to that thing. Yet somewhere underneath that ludicrous construction, he still had the same sharp brain. He must have known that he looked like a man crushed by a falling fox terrier. But he also knew that he was in America, where it is sufficient to make the claim in order to fulfil
[sic] the expectation. Even unto death, an abundant head of hair is a requirement, along with a set of perfect teeth. If the hair is taken from an animal, even if it is the whole animal, and if the perfect teeth are blatantly a set of caps that jar with the tucked face like two roses of white plastic tombstones in the graveyard of a ruined church, still the requirements have been met. They are the requirements of celebrity, and to that extent millions of anonymous Americans behave as if they were famous. We must not let this happen to us." (Emphasis ours)

It should be mentioned that James and Shatner know each other - at least a little. Bill Shatner appeared on an episode of James' comedy/talk-show Saturday Night Clive in 1991. And if anyone has a screengrab of that interview, it would be well worth seeing because in that appearance, Shatner actually wears a toup that strongly resembles his straight and strawberry-blonde Star Trek: TOS lace. That is quite unusual in itself.

But anyway, firstly the point that James makes about when Shatner decided to wear a toup is one that is heard quite often: Shatner only started to wear a piece in later years - that "live dog" nailed to his skull. Not only will most Shatner fans tell you that that is wrong, but it kind of assumes that Shats completely disappeared between the end of Star Trek: TOS and the first Trek feature-film - maybe for many people he did. In fact, as we know, the pieces he wore in-between those two dates, in the lean years, are among the most noteworthy for their sheer awfulness.

Even so, ignoring the lean years, is it fair to say that the Trek movie-era toups are far worse or more obvious than Shatner's Trek: TOS toup? It would seem that there are those for whom the old toup was so convincing as to be unnoticeable. But is the curly toup really so much more noticeably bad? The latter toup for the most part concealed the lace line, wasn't prone to losing its structure at the slightest disturbance be it a fight scene or wind, didn't have that classic toup back-comb over the crown area and wasn't mismatched in terms of color. In Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home" we even saw it exposed to a lot of wind and it even went underwater! And if Shats hadn't gone bald, then it is likely that the movie-era look is the one that most closely resembles what his own hair would have looked like.

The new curly post-old-style lace and post-very-bad hairpiece era - aka "the Trek movie look". Did it begin with Shatner's 1976 appearance in Columbo?

Personally, this author finds the Trek movie-era toup far less distracting to the eye, at least until Generations, where the hairline looks very artificial all the way down to the ears. But what do you think? Maybe it will be our next poll...


  1. I remember the TJ Hooker days. they weren't pretty for any of us, man. Even less so for Shat. Egads man.... bad rug.

  2. The hairpiece he used in Star Trek the Motion Picture was pretty bad and obvious. I remember even some movie critics mentioning it at the time. Generally, the Star Trek film toupees were too curly. There was an interview with a former TOS guest star who said he couldn't believe how Shatner's toupees got progressively curlier through the film series and predicted if the films kept going, Shatner's wig would eventually be in braids.

  3. I think the main reason why a lot of people find the Movie-era toupees/wigs so obviously fake has a lot to do with the hairline view.

    In TOS (as mentioned) he wore a lace toupee that was glued right to the forehead. The 'skin' that stuck out (with its end covered via makeup) thus from a distance, made his hairline (and hair) to appear real. Of course we can see the line on the TOS DVDs today, but back in the 60's and 70's I don't a lot of people paid attention. It was convincing enough.

    But any wig, weave, or toupee that completely covers the frontal hairline draws out instant suspicion that what's up there is not real. In TMP, you can sort of see the hairline, but the hair looks so puffy. In films II-V, it's looks absolutely terrible. The hair falls over so far, I'm amazed it didn't cover his eyes.

  4. You can see the Saturday Night Clive episode here:

    The movies toups always annoyed me. I wish we'd had this rare gem instead.