Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Trouble with Toupees...

It is perhaps ironic that the image related to Shats' toup that has most transcended into popular culture actually has nothing to do with Bill Shatner's toup at all - or does it? We are of course referring to a famous still of Captain Kirk buried in Tribbles in the second season Star Trek episode "The Trouble with Tribbles". This is an image that just begs to have a funny caption attached, and if you do a Google image search for "Shatner toupee" you'll find that many people have indeed done just that. Below (and the above image) are just a few examples we pulled of the net (some with a few spelling mistakes):

So if the public easily caught on to the apparent underlying toupee-related vibes of the image, then surely the Star Trek crew did too back when they made the episode.

Indeed, if we look closely at "The Trouble with Tribbles", we see that there is a great deal of subtle fun apparently being poked at Shats. James Doohan (Scotty) almost salivates with glee as he recounts to Kirk (Shatner) how a Klingon called him a "tin-plated, overbearing, swaggering dictator with delusions of godhood". And he appears even happier to tell the captain that he only started a fight with the Klingons after they insulted the Enterprise and not its captain. James Doohan was perhaps Bill Shatner's biggest ever detractor, so a chance to be mean to Bill probably made him feel like he was letting off a little steam.

This episode was written by David Gerrold and directed by Trek regular Joseph Pevney. Both men were already very familiar with the internal dynamics of the Star Trek cast and crew. Gerrold's earliest outline of the story (sourced here), then entitled "The Fuzzies" contains the basic premise of the later Tribble storage compartment scene:

"Kirk and Spock stare at the empty bins, both think the same thing at the same time... 'The warehouse of grain!' Kirk pries the granary doors open. Fuzzies roll out. The worst has happened. They have devoured the grain. Spock quotes the number of fuzzies exactly, and Kirk issues an order. 'First, close that door! Second, capture Cyrano Smith!' "

But let's take a step back. What exactly are the underlying vibes of the famous image beyond the obvious "toupee cupboard" type stuff? In the book Inside Star Trek: The Real Story, producer Bob Justman relayed a story about how Shats' toups had a tendency to go missing:

"We had always planned to have two Shatner pieces at the start of each season, and we expected to have the same two when the season ended. Somehow, there was only one left when Fred Phillips, our makeup man, took inventory after the last episode [of the first season] was filmed.

"The hairpieces were made for Bill; he was the only one they fit. The missing toupee had been left in the makeup room. It didn't just get up and walk out by itself. I was sure the cleaning lady wasn't guilty; she already had a wig. Who could have taken it? And why?

"I couldn't resist: 'Ever find that missing toup, Bill?'

" 'Who, me? Nope. It was in the makeup room when I left that night. I told you, ask Fred. Surely you don't think that I...?' He was the very soul of innocence. But I had made my point. He knew that I knew."

So one possible interpretation for the Tribbles scene is that it is a subtle inside reference to Shats being forced to open the locker of his dressing-room and being caught red-handed in possession of an entire mountain of missing toupees. Notice the staging and notice that the director has put one Tribble in Bill Shatner's hand:

Roddenberry, Justman and Solow confronting Bill Shatner in his dressing room?

Of course, this is just a theory and it could indeed be that the apparent toupee metaphors are only in the minds of certain viewers (and blogs) and that the producers really did not intend any similarities to Shats' toup at all. We may never know. But whether intended or not, a great deal of viewers think about one thing when they see that scene, and it isn't Tribbles!

Image sourced here.


  1. Well that certainly is one possible interpretation. Honestly I never really thought of it in that sense. At least not so much toupee-based as just a way of various elements (writers, producers, directors, actors, etc) acting out, over all the internal squabbles going on.

    That so many would go to such trouble to poke someone by way of the character that he plays does speak volumes though.

    Though if true (both the interpretation and Shatner taking toupees for personal use), I imagine he'd take them home, rather than leave it in a studio locker room. After all, if they really were better than his own, then from his perspective, it would make sense to wear the studio ones outside work, to encourage more business his way, so-to-speak.

  2. One thing about that scene that never made sense was that the compartment was supposed to be filled with grain and yet Shats opens the door while standing directly underneath. Why would he do such a thing? A literal interpretation of the scene defies any rational explanation. The answer was that they were filming an allegory about Shatner's toupees and his tendencies to horde them all to himself.

  3. The grain might have been in bags.