Monday, July 20, 2009

"Most Jerk" asks Shatner the question...

Some time back in 1994 (source here), Tampa Bay area DJs "MJ Kelli" (real name Todd Schnitt) and "BJ Harris" (not Michigan-based radio hosts "Drew & Mike" as we previously and mistakenly wrote) conducted an interview with William Shatner that ended up making the guest very angry. They asked him point-blank if he wore a toupee and were possibly the first people to ever do so in a public forum.

Now, Bill Shatner had three not-so-secret secrets about how he physically portrayed the dashing captain of the Starship Enterprise during the 1960s. The first was that he wore lifts. That secret vanished when it was integrated into the plotline of the 1976 Columbo episode "Fade in to Murder". The murderer was shorter than Ward Fowler (Shatner), but then we learnt that the character (and thus Shatner) wore lifts to increase his advertised height. The second secret was that when he became a little chubby early to mid-second season of Star Trek and again early third season, Shats wore something akin to a corset to squash him back into shape. These two things combined gave the man a somewhat odd sway-backed appearance - the lifts threw off his posture and the corset made his chest protrude out as if he were holding in his breath. The third secret was the toupee...

"Columbo: Fade in to Murder" (1976)

Now, whether Bill Shatner believed that no-one knew or suspected is debatable. Nonetheless, it was not something that was really discussed openly. Then came 1996's book Inside Star Trek: The Real Story in which producer Bob Justman and James Doohan openly talked about the toupee issue. It was also mentioned in 1994's Star Trek Creator: The Authorized Biography of Gene Roddenberry by David Alexander, in which a memo by Bob Justman discussing Shatner's toup was reprinted. Both of these books addressed what some felt were general non-toup related inconsistencies in some recollections contained within Shatner's own Star Trek Memories published in 1993. Anyway, Bill Shatner would have understood that his toup wearing was now officially confirmed by Trek insiders.

By the time that George Takei confronted Shatner about his toupee in 2006's Comedy Central Roast of William Shatner all Shats could do is smile, while his former co-star made fun of his hair in front of everyone. By 2008, Shatner addressed the issue obliquely in his autobiography Up Till Now asking "Do I wear a toupee?". It still wasn't an admission, but it was at least a self-deprecating (that is what Shats does best) question.

"Tak-ei" as in "toup-ee" George Takei told Shatner only half-jokingly.

But back when "MJ Kelli" asked the question, the issue was still relatively taboo. Thus, the response by Shatner was one of anger and denial. We only have a small sound clip of the reaction for you via a "Drew & Mike" fan site (the original is here stupidquestion.wav or listen below) but you will get the idea. "That is a stupid question by a rather stupid person," says a clearly irritated Shats.

We'll do our best to try to get hold of the entire exchange for you and thanks to a reader for finding this audio clip.

UPDATE: A poster at (user "Snake" post number 103. see here) has what he/she claims is a rough transcript of said conversation. We reprint below, but caution that this is entirely unverified at present:

MJ – So, Bill…

BS – Yep...

MJ – I have to ask…the hairpiece…it is the best I’ve ever seen…

BS – ...well..uh..I don’t wear a hairpiece…

MJ – No?

BS – No…

MJ – That's funny 'cause I was under the impression that you did…

BS – You know what?…That is a very stupid question from a very stupid person..

MJ – Oh, now i’ve gone and made you mad…

BS – No, no, no, no..not at all..

MJ – Yeah, I have..

BS – No, no. MJ...MJ? I mean what does that stand for anyway? Most Jerk?

MJ – Oh yeah, I’ve made you mad at me…

BS – No,'re just a stupid man and other people like your listeners will come to understand that in time…*hangs up*

This account appears to be corroborated by a purported St. Petersburg Times report on the affair re-printed here, which says:

Power Pig duo to appear on TV Series
December 30, 1994 - St. Petersburg Times

Tampa Bay area disc jockeys MJ Kelli and BJ Harris will get their 15 minutes of fame tonight on, of all places, A Current Affair. Seems the pair got into a tiff with Star Trek hero himself William Shatner a few weeks ago during an on-air interview on their morning program, The MJ and BJ Show (WFLZ-FM 93.3, the Power Pig). At the end of the otherwise civil interview, Kelli said, he asked Shatner a question about his hairpiece.

"I said it was the best hairpiece I'd ever seen," Kelli said.

The actor fumed, insisting he does not wear a hairpiece.

"He called me a dope, a jerk," Kelli said. "He asked me if MJ stood for the Most Jerk."

The blowup, coming at the heels of Burt Reynolds publicized feud with a San Francisco newspaper reporter, made several tabloid newspapers before catching the eyes of A Current Affair producers. They sent a film crew to the Tampa station Thursday. A spokeswoman from the program, which airs locally on WFTS-Ch. 28 at 7:30 p.m., confirmed the segment would be on today, unless bumped by a breaking news.


  1. Couple more early Shat photos at Getty Images

  2. By the late 80's to early 90's there was a proliferation of jokes on TV (mostly David Letterman) regarding Shatner's hairpiece. There was a show called Night Court that had the bald bailiff put on a new toupee called The Shatner Turbo 2000. This widespread recognition was probably what gave the morning show DJs the confidence to broach the subject with the man himself. Whether or not Shatner liked it, by 1994 his toupee had already become a pop culture icon.