Tuesday, January 26, 2010

No difference?

Star Trek's second season adventure "Obsession" (a kind of Moby Dick in space) provides us with a great example of how Bill Shatner's toupee inspired the creative forces behind the show.

Art Wallace
, writer of "Obsession" once recalled: "Gene Roddenberry called me up and asked me to write an episode of Star Trek. Enthusiastically, I agreed, but about a week later I confessed to Gene that I was really struggling to come up with a story idea."

Gene Roddenberry

The Star Trek producer's response stunned Wallace: "'Just think about the toupee,' he said. I was shocked. 'What do you mean?' I asked. 'Don't you know?' replied Gene 'All of Star Trek's stories are inspired by Bill Shatner's toupee in one way or another.' I thought he was crazy, but desperate for a story, I followed his suggestion anyway."

Wallace went home to think about what Roddenberry had said. "I turned on the TV and happened to see some footage of Sean Connery attending the premiere of the James Bond film You Only Live Twice. He wasn't wearing his toupee and no-one seemed to care. There weren't any stories, as far as I can recall, about Bond being bald and all of that kind of thing."

Sean Connery at the premiere of You Only Live Twice.

That's when a light bulb went on over the writer's head. "I thought about Bill Shatner. What if Bill found himself in the role of mentor to a young balding actor? But then, that young actor had turned his back on Bill and had decided to only wear the toupee on screen, unlike Bill who increasingly wore it at all times. Before long, I had come up with 'Obsession' - a story in which Captain Kirk is cruel and unforgiving to a young officer who reminds him of himself. It was all a metaphor, including that blood-sucking creature, which was baldness, that honey smell, which was toupee glue - it was all about a kind of toupee obsession."

Stephen Brooks (right) as Ensign Garrovick.

The most moving scene in the episode, and one in which the toupee metaphor is most striking and powerful, comes towards the end. What if, all those years ago, a young Bill Shatner (like Sean Connery) had decided to go without the toup in public and had instead only used the toupee on-screen? Would there be ridicule? Would there be humiliation? Would Bill Shatner's career have been any different? "No difference," concedes Kirk - with Bill Shatner the actor barely holding back tears as he delivers perhaps the most heartfelt line of his entire acting career - "now...or eleven years ago." (roughly when Bill Shatner had first turned to the toupee).

"Bill and I never talked about that episode," added Wallace "But I'm sure he knew that I knew how meaningful that scene was to him; it helped him get over some of his demons, even though he felt that it was too late now for him to change. Besides, he understood how much the toup was helping the creatives behind the camera." Wallace also recalled how Bill Shatner subtly showed his gratitude to the writer. "A few weeks after 'Obsession' aired, Bill sent me a package and inside was one of the Tribbles they had used in 'The Trouble with Tribbles'. There was a note inside too: 'My best, Bill' - I was really touched by that."

Disclaimer: The late Art Wallace never actually said any of the above (or did he?).


  1. Obsession is such a bad episode the BBC didn't include it in runs of ST in the UK for many years.

  2. It certainly was a bad toupee episode - Shatner had this 'wave' thing in the front that looked terrible.

    There were so many segments with that Ensign character, that I thought they were going to turn him in to a regular.