Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Touperica meets Shatnerica.

Today, we have a very special guest post from Robert Schnakenberg, who will be familiar to many of you as the author of The Encyclopedia Shatnerica, an A-Z guide to everything and anything Shatner. You can read the book's toupee entry here.

We were recently touched by the author's kind words about our "superb blog" so we asked him if he would be willing to write a guest post for us and share some of his thoughts on Bill Shatner and the field of toupology. And here is the result:

The Rug Is Father of the Man?

by Robert Schnakenberg

I was intrigued by this blog’s recent post on Toupee Dating—the notion that old photographs of Shatner can be precisely dated based on the weave he is sporting in the picture. But I wonder if there might be also be a correlation between the quality of Shatner’s hair helmet and the state of his acting career. First, if you’ll permit me a little background…

I’ve always been fascinated by hairpieces. I especially enjoy seeing how they change over time. One of the pleasures of watching the early James Bond movies for me lies in taking note of the decline in quality of Sean Connery’s toupee over a nine-year period. From Dr. No in 1962—when Connery’s wig was tight, natural-seeming, and unobtrusive—to 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever—by which point the Scotsman’s piece had become a mangy monstrosity apparently colored with shoe black—the evolution of 007’s rug correlates almost perfectly with the entertainment value of each successive film. (The Goldfinger toupee is much better than the You Only Live Twice toupee, for example.)

"The Menagerie"

The same principle, I contend, can be applied to Shatner. In fact, it’s fair to say that if you show me the hairpiece Shatner was wearing at any given point in his career, I can tell you what state his career was in when he wore it. Take, for instance, the wig he wore on Star Trek. In the show’s first two seasons, it was flawless: perfect honey brown color, verging on blonde depending on how he was lit. You couldn’t have spotted the join with an electron microscope [a touposcope is another matter, see here -ST]. And how many classic episodes did we see that rug in? “The Menagerie,” “The Devil in the Dark,” “The City on the Edge of Forever”—the list goes on and on. When Star Trek entered its third season, however, the quality of the writing, acting, and direction dropped precipitously. The roll call of stinkers includes abortions like “Spock’s Brain,” “The Savage Curtain,” and “The Way to Eden”—the infamous “hippies in space” epic that may rank as the venerable sci-fi franchise’s Worst Episode Ever. And guess what else declined in quality during Star Trek’s 1968-1969 swan song season? That’s right. Shatner returned for his final go-round in Captain Kirk’s command chair sporting a noticeably darker, more protuberant hair hat. (He also put on about thirty pounds and was perceptibly popping out of his wraparound tunic, but that’s beside the point…)

The Andersonville Trial (1970)

The arc of Shatner’s post-Star Trek “solo career” follows a similar trajectory. In one of his rare early 1970s successes, 1970’s Emmy-winning television film The Andersonville Trial, Shatner delivers a commanding performance—and wears a rug that, while way too dark and thick to be convincing—is at least of a caliber one might expect on an A-list TV actor. By contrast, as the actor descended into his so-called “Lost Years”—that dismal period marked by frenetic game show appearances during which Shatner was literally living out of a van—his toupee deteriorated, no doubt from lack of adequate maintenance.

By the 1980s, T.J. Hooker and the Star Trek movie series, Shatner had become a camp icon, derided as much for his tacky, curly hairpiece as his ever-ballooning waistline and over-the-top acting style. Once again, the appalling condition of his weave eerily tracked with the state of his public image. And when Shatner re-emerged in the 1990s as the multiple Emmy-winning star of TV’s Boston Legal, his more subdued, age-appropriate hairpiece [likely a transplant - ST] was almost as convincing as his portrayal of unapologetically abrasive lawyer Denny Crane. I say “almost as convincing,” because no one will ever mistake Shatner’s rug—no matter how much he pays to have it upgraded—with his real hair. But then no one will ever mistake Shatner for Ian McKellen or Marlon Brando either.

Of course, it could just be that Shatner springs for a spiffy new lid whenever he feels the urgency to kick start his career—the same way one of us mortals might buy a fresh suit of clothes before starting a new job (in defiance of Thoreau’s oft-quoted admonition). But I prefer to see a karmic hand at work here. The quality of Shatner’s rug may be a signal from the pop culture gods—to him and to us—about where the wheel of fate is taking him at any given moment. Or else someone—ex-wife Marcy Lafferty, perhaps?—has got a tiny, bewigged voodoo doll squirreled away somewhere, to be pulled out and screwed with whenever Bill’s feeling a bit too big for his britches.

Robert Schnakenberg is the author of The Encyclopedia Shatnerica, the world’s first A-to-Z guide to the life and career of William Shatner. Visit him on the web at www.robertschnakenberg.com, or on Facebook at facebook.com/Schnakenberg.


  1. Hey, Schnaky, some good observations there, but Bill generally hasn't needed a toupee for almost nine years now. Hair transplants have come a long way in the last 10-12 years with some formerly touped-up people like Elton John going the natural path.

  2. Good post overall, but I take issue with a couple of points.

    Robert maligns episodes like ‘Spock’s Brain’ and ‘The Savage Curtain’ and indications of how ‘bad’ TOS/3 was. I assert that it was TOS/2 where things actually went downhill, due to the increasingly campy tone. And while I agree that ‘The Way To Eden’ wasn’t a great episode, ‘Catspaw’ and ‘I, Mudd’ are far worse.

    Both Shatner and Nimoy have confirmed that NBC effectively cancelled the series after Season 2, only to bring it back due to the negative publicity from the fan mail and PR effort (orchestrated largely by Gene Roddenberry).

    Moreover, I believe it in TOS/2 that Shatner adopted the blonde highlights in his toupee, which only served to illustrated how fake his hair was. And the styling was really horrible in episodes like ‘Mirror, Mirror’, and ‘Obsession’.

    Granted, in TOS/3 he wore a wavier toupee, which I think borders on being called a wig. But Shatner’s acting I thought improved in TOS/3. He gave a very nuanced performance in ‘Spectre Of A Gun’ which ranks to me as one of the best in the series.

    And while I don’t think Boston Legal is a show worth watching (I don’t believe Emmy Awards are any indication of quality), I think Shatner has a look more realistic to his age now. I actually think he looks pretty good for being close to 80.

  3. One slight disagreement that I have with this post is re: Star Trek II - still the best ST movie (though I haven't seen STV), but Shat's rug was awful in it...... It's really too bad that he felt the need to go with such a heavy toup at that time.