Monday, July 5, 2010

"Tell me why I bid on Shatner's old toupee..."

Many of you will know the above line from the "Weird Al" Yankovic song "eBay". Well, now we really do have an auction of something which the sellers claim is Bill Shatner's toupee. The wig is being sold by Heritage Auction Galleries - read the Wikipedia entry for the company here, while startrekpropauthority has more on the various Trek items being sold in this auction.

Normally, something purporting to be "William Shatner's Star Trek TV Series Costume Wig" turning up in an auction would make a good number of folks at the William Shatner School of Toupological Studies pretty excited - but, sadly, that is not the case here. Why? In part, because of the somewhat dishonest way the item is advertised. The headline of the sale is unequivocal:

"William Shatner's Star Trek TV Series Costume Wig" (UPDATE: The folks at Heritage Auction Galleries have since changed the listing of the toupee to "William Shatner's Costume Wig")

No ifs ands or buts - this is undoubtedly a William Shatner Star Trek toupee! But then the very first sentence of the item description begins back-pedalling faster than a politician who suddenly realises he or she has promised far more than they can actually deliver:

"A brown hairpiece made for him for an unspecified production." (emphasis ours)

Wait a minute. The sellers seemed so unequivocally sure in the headline that it was a Star Trek wig. So how did we get from "William Shatner's Star Trek TV Series Costume Wig" to "A brown hairpiece made for him for an unspecified production"? Either it's from Star Trek or it's from an unspecified production - you can't have it both ways.

"Excuse me...why does Paramount/Desilu need a one week wig rental from MGM?"

The next sentence takes the slide from confident assertion to wishy-washy conditional sentences to an even greater level:

"Possibly worn by Shatner during the third season of the groundbreaking science fiction series Star Trek..." (emphasis ours)

So we've gone from Bill Shatner's Star Trek wig being on sale to a wig that might have been worn on Star Trek and might possibly have been worn by Bill Shatner. Here's the full item description:

"William Shatner's Star Trek TV Series Costume Wig. A brown hairpiece made for him for an unspecified production. Possibly worn by Shatner during the third season of the groundbreaking science fiction series Star Trek, which spawned the mega-successful franchise. Hand-tied and made from human hair, the wig includes the original MGM wig stock record card, reading "Stock No. 1244, Date 6-7-68, Original Player: William Shatner, Description: Brown - 1850" with the added notation: "Rented to F. Phillips - Paramount Studios 6-7-68/6-17-68." Fred Phillips was the make-up department head for the entire Star Trek series from 1966-1969, and he rented the wig for Shatner from MGM Studios (most likely from William Tuttle, who was the make-up department head of MGM). The wig has been restyled for photography, and is in Excellent condition. From The MGM Wig Archive. Estimate: $2,000 - up."

Freddie Phillips was indeed Star Trek's makeup man with ultimate responsibility for Bill Shatner's toupees on the show. But Bill Shatner wore a lace front hairpiece, not a full wig. We know from observation that in the third season of Star Trek, the actor's toupee became a little thicker and heavier than in previous years - but were they as thick as this wig? We don't believe so.

Why would a Bill Shatner toup for the Desilu (later Paramount) show be made at MGM? And why would you rent a toup from another studio that would be used for a little over a week? Doesn't make sense. Besides, Bill Shatner's toupees were custom made. "The hairpieces were made for Bill; he was the only one they fit," Star Trek producer Bob Justman once recalled. That is a very important point: you don't rent something that you have had custom made. Besides, Bill Shatner allegedly tended to help himself to his toups anyway, so how would one end up at auction more than forty years later?

Could the wig have been for another project? The only other screen project Bill Shatner did in that year was Perilous Voyage and the hair style there is very different. If anything, the style of the wig more closely resembles (but still not very closely) that worn by Bill Shatner in White Comanche a year earlier (see here for more on both films). As for the color - in the third season, the toup color was a darker shade of brown - could the toup have faded that badly over the years?

So, unsurprisingly, we believe that there is almost no chance that this wig is a screen-worn "Jim Kirk lace" from Star Trek for the reasons we've iterated above, and for many more: the contours of the hair don't appear to resemble the "Jim Kirk" style; the hair at the back seems too thick and goes far beyond Bill Shatner's real hair line at the base of the neck; the hair on the "Jim Kirk" toup was far longer and more "cap-like" as is went over the crown area; the wig's hair at the sides goes right down to the ears - Bill Shatner's Kirk lace went slightly down the sides, but nowhere near that far down or back behind the ears etc. etc...

Thus, the only viable explanation we can think of is that the MGM wig was an experiment/test of some kind. Perhaps before the third season, a wig was ordered from MGM by Freddie Phillips as he was in the midst of altering Bill Shatner's toupee style. The wig was then rejected. Or perhaps there was an accident, and Bill Shatner's usual two Trek toups were damaged or went missing, so for some reason a call went out to MGM. What was delivered proved to be unusable for Bill Shatner. Or could the wig have been used by a guest character during Star Trek's Season 3? Perhaps - but we can't think where.

Interestingly, the date given 6-7-68/6-17-68 is just as the season's third episode "The Paradise Syndrome" was being filmed. A test alternative "Kirok" toup perhaps? Or was it a discarded test for the following episode where Kirk dressed up as a Romulan? We think there may be something to that...

Thanks to the folks at the Bill Shatner fansite "lookathisbutt" for the tip.

UPDATE: A reader asks if the wig may have been from Bill Shatner's role in Alexander the Great - a TV movie filmed in 1964 but not broadcast until early 1968. Possibly (though it too appears to be a top-piece only) - it was an MGM project, after all, and the colors are a perfect match.

Bill Shatner in Alexander the Great (1964/68) - the actor's appearance in the TV movie can be watched on YouTube here

A theoretical scenario - a phone call between Freddie Phillips and an MGM makeup guy:

FP: Hi, I'm doing an episode of Star Trek where I need to change the look of Bill Shatner's hair - maybe even dye it. I don't want to risk damaging the two expensive toups we have for Bill as the budgets are tighter than ever - any chance you may have something that you made for Shatner during his time there?

An hour later...

MGM: Yeah, I looked and we've got an old piece we had made for Alexander, a full wig - not sure if we actually used it or went with a modified version. I'll send it over, do whatever you want with it.

A few days later...

FP: Thanks, but...well, Bill's a little sensitive about his hair, and he really doesn't want to be seen in this wig - besides it didn't really work that well anyway - we'll probably just stick with the usual lace. Thanks!

UPDATE II: The folks at Heritage Auction Galleries have now changed the listing of the toupee to "William Shatner's Costume Wig". Laudable.


  1. where did you get that rugJuly 5, 2010 at 12:04 PM

    Spot on analysis! Is it possible that this horror is from Alexandar? From the few pics that exist from that production, there appears to have been a kind of strawberry blonde thing going on atop......

  2. where did you get that rugJuly 5, 2010 at 2:48 PM

    OMG bingo that's got to be it surely!!!

  3. Thanks. You've performed an outstanding public service and possibly saved your readers, like me, from throwing away a thousand dollars.

  4. Yeah, if it was a first season toupee... Shame, my thousand bucks will go to charity!

  5. somekindof.....creatureJuly 5, 2010 at 8:14 PM

    It's so wrong it's right. Sorry folks, I like
    Bill as a blonde. Maybe that's why the TOS JK lace from season 1 is my fave.

  6. As I looked at that Wig listing and photo in 360 deg. I noticed that it fades to blond at the front crown. That would seem to indicate being under a focused beam for long periods. It's likely from the ST exhibit at the Movieland Wax Museum in Buena Park, CA that closed in 2005. Couldn't find a close-up of the Shatner figure but there may be one out there and if you look at exhibit photos, you can get a good idea of the lighting. So, am I obsessing or what?

  7. I think our leader Footstep should bid on this. That would be a great item to do a toupological analyses!

  8. Shatner does not wear a toupee.

  9. Rostropovich had his cello, Galway his flute, Julian Bream his guitar, and Shatner his toupee. All virtuosos of their respective instruments.

  10. I'll bet it was for a stuntman/double who had different color hair than Bill. That would explain the short-term rental AND the full piece.

  11. The rugs on my floor look better.

  12. I hate to say this folks--but isn't this site just another form of bullying? I'm sure you all have flaws that you either deny or don't disclose. Imagine a whole web site devoted to it. I understand the hint of affection also for Bill Shatner----but maybe you should also take a look in the mirror.