Thursday, January 7, 2010

The World of Suzie Wong - a toupological analysis.

Normally, when the William Shatner School of Toupological Studies conducts a full toupological analysis, we watch the movie or TV episode that we are studying. In the case of the 1958-59 Broadway production of The World of Suzie Wong, that is sadly impossible. But instead, the folks at "The Department of Transfollicular and Metatoupular Archeology" (located in Building 35C, Floor 24, Unit 7, Section R, rooms 1123-2275 of the WSSTS) have provided us with the next best thing - some exclusive pictures from the production to help guide us. The images are from an original program of the production - and many have possibly never been presented on the Internet before.

First, a little background on the production from Bill Shatner himself, courtesy of his autobiography Up Till Now: "[My wife] Gloria and I moved back to New York and we bought a little house in Hastings-on-Hudson for nineteen-thousand dollars. This was an amazing step for me, this was roots...I was confident I could afford it, I was going to be paid $750 a week to star in a Broadway show. That was a tremendous amount of money in 1958."

Explaining the plot of that Broadway show, Bill Shatner recalls: "The World of Suzie Wong was a love story set in Hong Kong. I played a Canadian artist who falls in love with a Chinese prostitute and tries to reform her."

Bill Shatner sits (center-left) opposite France Nuyen.

But excitement soon turned to despair: "I don't remember precisely when I knew The World of Suzie Wong was going to be a complete disaster...We opened to universally tepid reviews. If theater groups hadn't been invented we would have closed the next morning, but we were sold out for three months..."

Members of the audience would leave mid-show, while behind-the-scenes, co-star France Nuyen threatened to stop speaking mid-performance should she catch sight of the play's director, whom she detested. It wasn't long before she carried out her threat. A desperate Bill Shatner had an idea: "I began to speed up lines. I changed the intonation and emotion. Just by speaking faster and putting emphasis on different words I shortened the play by fifteen minutes - and people began to laugh. I love you, had become, I love you? We were making fun of this turgid melodrama. We turned it into a lighthearted comedy. The show became a hit."

The World of Suzie Wong ultimately ran for fourteen months.

By the way, some have speculated that the birth of Bill Shatner's unique pause-based acting style can be traced to the moment when, through altering his pace and intonation, the actor single-handedly saved the sinking production.

Now, to the hair...

As we've noted previously, Bill Shatner's frontal hairline was very likely still his own at this point - its' round contours are distinctly different from the frontal lace that he started to wear soon after.

We should also add that a lot may have changed from the opening to the close of the play more than a year later. Even from studying the pictures here, it is pretty evident that this was a period of great turbulence and change for Bill Shatner's hair, which was thinning very fast at the front while a bald patch had appeared at the top of the crown. We previously posted a picture from the play, which we believe is a rare example of being able to see a Bill Shatner bald patch:

Yet, this problem is not evident in the pictures within the official program. Perhaps knowing that a photo-shoot was taking place, additional toupological measures were taken. Our guess is that Bill Shatner is indeed wearing a rear-only cap-like toupee in all of the official photos (click here to see a clip from the TV show Cheers to see how these toupees worked).

Similarly, in the below picture, we again see a back-of-the-head style that is too smooth, too full and very much in keeping with the rear component of the later "Jim Kirk lace":

...which looked like this:

Back in Febuary 1957, the rear of Bill Shatner's head was already very, very thin:

Studio One: "The Defender" - click here for more.

Compare that crown area with Bill Shatner in Suzie Wong - it's simply too thick:

Interestingly, one of the genial things about the frontal "Jim Kirk lace" is how much it mirrored Bill Shatner's own swooshy style at the front (while he still had it).

Maybe the frontal lace was also used at some point later in the play's run (or is even used in one or two photos here too) - we don't know. What we do know is that it was soon to become a staple of the more probing scrutiny of TV appearances. And by 1962, the frontal lace was also in use onstage:

A Shot in the Dark

Here's a few more pictures from Suzie Wong (see if you can spot Bill Shatner):

Click on the images below for a profile of Bill Shatner:

An officially sanctioned review of rehearsals for the play:

And a poster:

Click here and here for some other pictures from the production that we previously posted.

And let's end with a gratuitous picture of the very beautiful France Nuyen:


  1. This is an amazing post - thanks! I loved the pictures.

    Do you think it's possible that in The Shot in the Dark, Shat was still not wearing a frontal toupee, but instead his hairline had simply receded back?

  2. I read that the play Suzie Wong was originally much different and more provocative and explicitly sexual. It was toned down and became just an empty shell of what it was intended to be.

    According to Shat's autobiography, "A Shot in the Dark" was just about as bad for Shatner, with the director constantly asking him rhetorically, "How long have you been acting"?

    Shatner's plan to be the greatest stage actor of his generation didn't work out as he expected.

  3. Sarah Marshall is mentioned in the review. Is this the same Sarah Marshall who played one of Kirk's old flames in The Deadly Years?

  4. And of course, France Nuyen also starred with Shatner in the STAR TREK episode "Elaan of Troyius".

  5. She was so stinking gorgeous in that ep! That Egyptian wig was way sexier than it should have been.

  6. We need to put the focus back on these wonderful toupees, not the thinning hair. Lots of men lose hair and its no crime. It's the coverup that gets you into trouble. Let's get this page back to his "roots", that is, these wonderful rats nests that have been sitting on Shat's head for almost 50 years

  7. Yes, it might be best for this blog to focus on Shatner's toupee and develop a sister blog to deal with his hair transplant.

  8. Best of Montreal 2009
    Shatner makes two lists.

  9. Well, part of understanding Shatner's toupee evolution involves understanding how he got to the stage where he needed to start wearing them.

    And looking at the Suzie Wong pictures, I'm of the belief he's wearing a toupee. His frontal hairline looks too thick. I almost believe it's a theater wig.

    I'm suspecting that Shatner himself liked the look because in future TV shows, movies and such (with exceptions of course), this Suzie Wong look pretty much evolved into the 'Jim Kirk' (i.e. Star Trek TOS) look.

  10. A Shatner interview on the Dick Clark Beechnut Show in 1959 where he talks about The World of Suzy Wong. Looks like a very early appearance for the Jim Kirk Lace-