Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Why did the "Jim Kirk" toupee look die as soon as Star Trek ended?

Shatner in The Intruder (1962) - an outstanding film.

By the time Star Trek entered his life, Bill Shatner had settled in on a particular style of toupee. Let's call it the "Jim Kirk" look. It is a style that had served him well for almost a decade as his hair grew increasingly thin. So why did that look die as soon as Star Trek ended in 1969?

Shatner in 1969 - soon after the cancellation of Star Trek. The quality lace has been replaced with a cheap-looking personal "rug".

Here is a recollection from film journalist Steve Vertlieb (pictured left in above picture) that helps shed some light:

"During the summer months of 1969, while NBC Television was airing the final reruns of the original Star Trek series on Thursday nights, William Shatner took to the road in order to do a succession of stage appearances in Summer Stock around the country. One of these appearances was scheduled for the now defunct Playhouse in the Park in Philadelphia. I suggested a possible interview with Jim Kirk to the editors of England’s L’Incroyable Cinema Magazine, and they jumped at the possibility. I telephoned the local press representation for the theatre in the round, and they arranged for an interview. Shatner was going through a bad period at this stage of his career. By his own admission, it was the worst period of his life.

Star Trek had ended with few new offers on the horizon. He feared being permanently type cast in science fiction, and his wife had begun divorce proceedings. He was literally living out of his van, and traveling cross country with his two pet Doberman Pinschers. He seemed wary of strangers as the interview began, but quickly warmed up to us."

By late 1969, the days of expensive studio toupees, like the one Shatner is wearing in this picture, seemed a distant memory.

Shatner himself has alluded to this awful time in his books. He was suddenly no longer a major television star. In fact, he was barely scraping by at all. He was sad, lonely and out of money. Mostly he worked in the theater, and occasionally he would land a TV role.

William Shatner in the TV movie Sole Survivor (1970)

So the simple answer to the toupee question is that Shatner could probably no longer afford to wear the expensive lace that he had worn throughout Star Trek and before. There isn't really much of a distinction between Shatner's personal usage and his on-screen toups during this phase. Many of these low-budget productions evidently didn't have much money to be spending on expensive hairpieces for one of their actors.

Shatner in the acclaimed 1970 television production of The Andersonville Trial

Bill Shatner may have kept his expensive Trek-era studio toups, but they required considerable maintenance and were prone to wear and tear. And therein lies a simpler explanation: The "studio laces" were tricky to apply, needing to be glued to the front of the forehead. Whereas some laces glue right under the hairline, Shatner, because he had a little hair on his own head that he didn't want to tear out, had worn a lace that had a "skin" that extended slightly forward onto the forehead. On the set, this required constant attention from a make-up artist in order not to show (yet it is still visible in higher resolution copies of Star Trek). So rather than go through this terribly finicky procedure, he gave up on having a "convincing" frontal hairline altogether and instead wore a much simpler "rug".

Thus, during the lean years of TV gameshows and so forth, the rugs Shatner wore were very bad indeed as we have explored here before. But the upside was that they required very little effort to apply.

Captain Kirk could no longer afford his quality hairpiece. Here Bill Shatner is with his Star Trek cast-mates for a 1973 publicity photo for the short-lived Star Trek animated series.

Another issue with regards to the expensive lace is underlined in the above picture. During the lean years, Shatner in fact became less-than-lean himself. And as we all know, Shatner's handsome features seemed to evaporate with every additional pound that he was overweight. Thus, the old-style lace might have looked quite terrible on an out-of-shape Shats.

And then, when money and success started to return, the curly look was born (as we explored in our previous post)...

A 1976 issue of the magazine Crawdaddy


  1. I read awhile back that the toupees they had in the early 70's required the user to part the hair in a severe, artificial way, with the bulk of the hair combed to one side. Later, they developed better rugs that didn't require that kind of styling. Shat seems to have enthusiastically embraced these new toupees as the severe part is gone by the late 70's.

  2. The world would have been a better place if Shatner had been cast in Zardoz and wore Sean Connery's costume and wig.

  3. It's ok Mr Shatner, we love you anyway. The spaceship wasn't real, Spock wasn't really a Vucan, Bones wasn't really a doctor, Scotty wasn't really an engineer (or a Scotsman). So some of your hair wasn't real, that is ok, i would just say thanks for the exciting childhood memories of the 1960's which I fondly remember when I am watching you in the digitally enhanced original series in 2010.

  4. That particular piece he's wearing in the photo with Nimoy and Kelley is probably the worst piece I've every seen on Shatner. He didn't fit it well, looks like he just rolled out of his camp bed and plopped it right on. The same with the rug he wore during his performance of 'Rocket Man' in 1978. That style of rug he was wearing i think he started using in 1975 and was to be his preferred style he used right up until the late 90's.

    I wonder if him and Patrick Stewart have ever discussed the subject of Baldness? and If they will in his new "Captains" documentary.

  5. Captain James T Kirk is still the man!!! We will boldly go where no man has gone before!!