Friday, February 25, 2011

BREAKING: Walter Koenig interviewed without toupee in Shatner show.

As some of you will no doubt have heard, Bill Shatner recently conducted an interview with Star Trek co-star Walter Koenig for his show Shatner's Raw Nerve.

An image of the upcoming show has just been released (above) - confirming that Koenig appears without his toupee! A while back, we asked "Where Walter Koenig leads, will Bill Shatner follow?" - Koenig (or his staff) then upped the stakes by linking to our post on the actor's website (it's not there anymore) - very telling! Seemingly, Koenig is as eager as anyone else for Bill Shatner to at least admit he wears a toupee.

Bill Shatner previously interviewed Trek co-star Leonard Nimoy on Raw Nerve.

Two men: one who has recently ditched the toupee and one who has not. Will the interview touch on this subject? Will Bill Shatner ask about Koenig's hair? Will Koenig then make inevitable comparisons to Bill Shatner? Bill Shatner, being who he is, may well talk about Koenig's hair and yet still pretend that his own hair is nothing but 100% organic and home-grown. Will Koenig push? Will Shatner retreat? All things said, this could well be the biggest interview since Martin Bashir interviewed Princess Diana in 1995.

A little context: Walter Koenig has, along with the other members of Star Trek's "gang of four", previously expressed criticism of what he perceived as Bill Shatner's frequent ego-centric conduct on-set. But unlike James Doohan and George Takei, Koenig has, to our knowledge, always been measured, reflective and diplomatic in his critiques rather than resorting to pettiness and vitriol. Bill Shatner, for his part, has acknowledged that he may have unwittingly acted in an insensitive manner but has also occasionally underscored his view that Star Trek had three main stars (Shatner, Nimoy, Kelley) and was never an ensemble of seven characters. Certainly some tension between these two viewpoints remains.

But the two men have much in common too. Both have suffered an unimaginable and deeply tragic loss in their lives: Bill Shatner's third wife Nerine drowned after an alcohol overdose in 1999; last year, Walter Koenig's son Andrew committed suicide after suffering from severe depression. Koenig and Shatner are also both the children of Jewish immigrants from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe (Lithuania and Ukraine, Poland and Austro-Hungaria respectively).

On a far lighter (or heavier) note, both men also share the common experience of the toupee. Koenig apparently turned to the toup in the early 1970s and only recently decided to ditch the rug. Unlike Bill Shatner, he's been open about his toupological exploits, mentioning his baldness (beginning to thin as far back as during the original Star Trek series) in his autobiography Warped Factors. Bill Shatner, of course, is nowhere near this stage yet.

Where Bill Shatner hasn't gone before...

We've dispatched staff to the White House,...

...Canadian parliament (Bill Shatner is a Canadian),...

...and the Kremlin (Koenig's Trek character Chekov was a Russian)... order to monitor reactions to this breaking news. Stay tuned!

One note: Shatner's Raw Nerve is heavily edited in order to fit interviews into the show's short thirty-minute time-slot (including commercials). Unlike The Daily Show (as one example), Raw Nerve does not make available online extended uncut versions of its interviews (which can often be three or four times longer than the finished edited version). We think that this is not only a shame, but also a mistake from a publicity and marketing point-of-view. Could toupee discussions be edited out and locked away in a vault for fifty years? We hope not.

Anyway, we'll post a full analysis after the show airs - on the Biography Channel in the US March 14th - and keep our fingers crossed until then that matters of the toupee will be addressed by the two actors.

More info here. Thanks to several (very excited) readers for the tip.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Clifford paradox...

What exactly is the "Clifford paradox" and how does it relate to Bill Shatner's toupee? We'll try to explain. Clifford is a truly bizarre (but we think hilarious) 1994 movie starring Martin Short and the master of deadpan Charles Grodin. The movie features a number of references to toupees:

Including a toupee being thrown out of a window:

What's noteworthy about these moments is that not only is actor Dabney Coleman wearing a toupee, but so is Charles Grodin. The former within the fiction of the movie, the latter as part of the reality of the movie (ie. within the reality of the movie, Grodin's hair is real).

Grodin has spent most of his movie career wearing a toupee, but - and this is crucial - there have also been a few movies where he hasn't. Now, as we know, all it takes is one appearance without the toupee (in front of the camera or not) and the dynamics of the hairpiece are fundamentally changed forever.

In the (often unfairly overlooked) Steve Martin movie, The Lonely Guy (1984), Grodin plays a middle-aged man struggling to find love.

Not only does he appear without his usual toupee, but Grodin's character actually overtly discusses baldness in the movie:

And therein lie the seeds of the "Clifford paradox". We've often discussed how Bill Shatner's career as a young actor was helped by his toupee-wearing - in the fickle world of movie stardom, a leading man who was bald (with some exceptions) faced a steep climb in the 1950s and 1960s. If Bill Shatner insisted on being bald on-screen, roles would undoubtedly have been lost.

But what of the later years? Imagine that the producers of Clifford thought that Bill Shatner was perfect for the role that ultimately went to Grodin. But there's a problem - the toupee jokes (notice how in the first clip above, Grodin has some subtle fun expressing shock about the "rug"). A meeting is convened by the film-makers.

Crucially, in the fictional projected world in which we are asked to believe that Bill Shatner's hair is real, there should be no discomfort. Wanna play a role where there's a scene involving a toupee? Why not? Your hair is real, after all.

But the problem is that very few people occupy that paradox-filled world: Your hair is real, you claim, so if it is real then why are we uncomfortable? Why would we even mention a non-existent toupee-related issue or discomfort because, as you claim, your hair is real? The toupee is not supposed to look like a toupee, after all, rather it is supposed to project an image of real hair. So if the hair is real, then why are we even mentioning the word "toupee"? And if we know your hair is not real, and you know we know, then why wear a toupee in the first place? Why would you wear a toupee unless you were trying to present it as real hair? If the point comes when everyone knows it is a toupee, then are you wearing a toupee that looks like a toupee?

The whole thing brings to mind this scene from Star Trek's "I, Mudd":

Our toupologists tried to present the dilemma as an equation, and came up with this almost indecipherable mass of numbers:

More likely than not, the producers of Clifford would know that Bill Shatner wears a toupee and would likely be uncomfortable playing such a scene. Thus, the role would lost before it had even been offered. As for appearing bald in The Lonely Guy and openly discussing baldness - forget it. Another potential role lost. But then why wear a toupee to improve one's career if the opposite occurs, even once? A price that must be paid? Would the children be disappointed to find out that Captain Kirk was bald?

So against the improvement in the career that was brought about by the toupee, we must also factor in a potential negative component - lost roles in which baldness and hair issues are a integral factor:

And if all this isn't mind-boggling enough, there's more yet. Rather than discussing two polar opposites - toupee-wearing or baldness - a third alternative, one that appears to resolve the paradox, must also be examined. This option is the one selected by Grodin (and other actors such as Jack Klugman). It involves wearing a toupee on screen, but not as an absolute - meaning a toupee-less public appearance of some kind, just once. This has the effect of de-linking the toupee with personal issues (vanity, demons, image of self) etc. and rather presents it as a mere actor's tool or costume.

I am not Quincy.

We couldn't find any empirical evidence that the "on-screen, off otherwise" option had any negative impact on any actor's career - Sean Connery naturally springs to mind. Bond is bald? Who cares, right?

The toupee can still remain a preference, like a hat or shades, but the removal of the absolute opens up a fresh world of possibilities, such as those enjoyed by Grodin. When leading man roles demand hair (that's the fickle Hollywood factor), then actors such as Grodin oblige. But when other roles overtly call for baldness, that's not a problem either.

What's key is that the paradox which challenges the nature of reality (if a toupee is supposed to be real hair and we know it isn't, what does the toupee become?) itself is removed. And it tends to dissipate with remarkable speed. As a reader recently pointed out, John Travolta was recently spotted without his toupee:

It's interesting for about five seconds and then we all move on. The paradox has gone. The absolute has been swept away. Now there are choices. Now a potentially awkward elephant in the room has been banished. Now producers don't have to worry about whether they can or cannot offer certain scripts. Now, perhaps, an actor even gains an additional palette of vulnerability to explore now that this metaphorical wall has fallen...

Of course, for Bill Shatner, the toupee may be worth more than all of this. As a symbol of resistance to the passage of time, it has certainly performed admirably - in a few weeks, Bill Shatner will turn 80 and he's still going strong and his "hair" is as thick as ever!

As we truly and finally begin to enter the 21st century, humanity may find that the philosophical complexities surrounding William Shatner's toupee become the defining issue of our age; surely, that isn't a bad thing. The toupee adventure continues...

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A pre-toupular combover.

Bill Shatner aged 25.

An interesting picture via a reader's tip from a program for the 1956 Stratford Shakespeare Festival (note: we've done some perspective correction, original via eBay here). At this festival, Christopher Plummer starred in Henry V with a young Bill Shatner performing a small role in the play and also serving as the actor's understudy. At three hours notice, Bill Shatner had to take over the title role when Plummer became ill, suffering from the effects of a kidney stone.

The actor recalls the incident in his biography Up Till Now:

"Could I go on that night? Replace Plummer in one of the greatest roles written for the stage? Absolutely. Without doubt. Of course. Clearly I was insane. I had never even said the lines out loud...It never occurred to me that I was risking my career - not that I actually had a career, of course - but if this turned out to be a debacle I was the one who was going to get the blame for it."

Bill Shatner's performance, full of highly original searching pauses (the actor was trying to remember his lines), won rave reviews. And the rest is history...

Christopher Plummer is deliberately photographed showing the contours of his scalp - a subtle message to his friend and colleague Bill Shatner?

Christopher Plummer and William Shatner would, of course, later be reunited in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991).

Although a wig was already designed, Plummer insisted on appearing bald in ST:VI - another signal to his friend?

But back to the hair. The image underscores the thinning that appeared to kick in with great rapidity in 1956. We see the beginnings of a combover - fortunately, this style was not maintained as the hair began to really go in the ensuing years.

With a collation of empirical evidence, we can try to put together a time-line of toupular events:

-Up to the mid 1950s: Bill Shatner's hair is thick and plush. The young aspiring actor frequently takes to straightening out his curly hair.

-1955-66: The hair begins to thin rapidly. A bald patch becomes visible at the rear.

"All Summer Long" (1956).

Clever combing techniques begin to be used:

-1957: On-screen performances now require considerable intervention from hairstylists to bulk up the remaining hair. Roles that demand deviations from this - such as The Brothers Karamazov (1958, filmed 1957) - require wigs....

Underneath is this:

...Bill Shatner then grows his hair long in order to bulk up what remains.

"The Glass Eye" (1957)

-1958: The thinning reaches the point where hairstyling efforts become increasingly intricate and insufficient. Bill Shatner gradually and then decisively turns to the lace frontal hairpiece aka the "Jim Kirk lace".

"The Protégé" (1958).

-1958-1969: This single toupee style then sustains the actor for more than a decade.

As we discussed in our latest toupological analysis, there are still a few mysteries to do with the transition, but by in large, we think the time-line holds up.

Thanks to several readers for tips and pictures!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Poll result and a "Real Hair Reflex".

In our latest poll, we sought to guage your opinions on a potential causal relationship between Bill Shatner's relative recent easing up about his toupee denials and the fact that others, via jokes, Trek books etc. have made revelations about his toupee-wearing.

Only 2% thought that Bill Shatner believed on his own that it was time to loosen up a little; similarly only 2% believed that such non-Shatner-originated revelations actually slowed down the actor's own revelatory time-line. 16% believed that these factors forced his hand; 36% believed that he wouldn't have chosen to ease up, but is actually kind of grateful that his hand was forced. The largest share of the vote, 40%, went to those who believe (still) that Bill Shatner would rather there were no references to his hair, comedic or otherwise, at all - be it by him or anyone else!

Thanks for voting!

Bill Shatner wears an artificial covering on his head (the actor is also wearing a blindfold).

Thanks to a reader's kind tip, we also have an interesting "Real Hair Reflex" from a 1965 appearance on the quiz show What's My Line?. The guest panelist removes his blindfold - with the secret celebrity having been identified as actor Jack Lemmon - and then proceeds to pat down his toup to make sure that no major disruption occurred during the procedure:

Of course, if this was the only evidence available that Bill Shatner wore a toupee, the case (The People versus The Toupee) would likely be thrown out of court, as a real-haired person could just as easily make this kind of a quick hair check/pat down.

But the move - patting down the rear of the toup to make sure the lid is down - is remarkably similar to Ted Danson's toupee replacement and readjustment in one of the last ever episodes of Cheers:

Watch the full What's My Line? clip here and another Bill Shatner segment here.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Kraft Mystery Theater: "The Man Who Didn't Fly" - a toupological analysis.

"The Man Who Didn't Fly" is an episode of Kraft Mystery Theater, a long-running anthology series that ran on US TV under various permutations between 1947 and 1958. This episode aired in July 1958 and stars William Shatner, Patricia Bosworth, Walter Brook and Jonathan Harris (Dr. Zachary Smith of Lost in Space fame).

The hour-long pre-recorded episode (i.e. not performed live) is an adaptation of a 1955 novel of the same name by writer Margot Bennet.

The story (it's a little complicated, so bear with us) begins with a private plane traveling from Devon, south-west England to the city of Liverpool, crashing into the sea near Bristol. Three passengers are believed to have been on-board: self-declared young poet playboy Harry Walters (Shatner), entrepreneur Joe Ferguson (Harris) and wealthy artist Morgan Price (Milton Selzer).

Cor blimey, guv'na!

But a mechanic at the airport from which the trio took off turns up and is sure only two men boarded the flight. Inspector Jack Lewis (Brook) begins an investigation. Which of the men survived? Why hasn't the apparent survivor shown up anywhere?

Inspector Harris and former girlfriend Hester Wade.

The Inspector then interviews young Hester Wade (Bosworth), a former girlfriend of his - and now the fiancée of missing Harry. She's devastated at news of the crash, but desperately hopes that somehow her love of only one month was the one that made it.

We then go into flashback as Hester tells the story of how she first met Harry: he was a guest at the hotel owned by her father Charlie (Louis Hector).

Harry swept the young woman off her feet. This, despite their relationship meeting with strong disapproval from her father and most of the other hotel guests. Not surprising as his first introduction to the other guests went down like a lead balloon:

Enter Mrs Ferguson, wife of Joe. Artist? What a load of bull. The only artist that Harry is is a con-artist! How does she know? Because Harry had been blackmailing her!

But things are even more complicated! Neither Harry, nor the other two passengers seem to be all that they seem. Perhaps Ferguson is the conman or perhaps it is Morgan Price (whom Harry insinuates may have murdered his own mother to inherit her fortune).

The hotel staff and guests - from left to right: Morgan Price, Charlie Wade, Mrs Ferguson, Joe Ferguson and Hester Wade.

Hotel owner Charlie Wade insists on making an £850 investment in one of Ferguson's business schemes. Ferguson is hiring a private plane and flying to Liverpool to complete the transaction. Hester is concerned about a potential scam (by Ferguson) and so her father sends Harry along to make sure the investment is safe; also along for the ride is the mysterious Morgan Price.

So which of the three survived? Is there foul play afoot? Did someone steal all that money? Whodunit? That's where we'll leave it...

So what to make of all this? Despite the complicated plot, we found this to be a very neatly structured, rather engaging piece of drama. A great hook right from the outset and an unraveling mystery - the multiple points-of-view of Rashomon, the paranoia of Suspicion and just a twist of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels!

The three missing passengers.

The drama is set in England, with most of the American actors, including Bill Shatner, making only restrained efforts at creating convincing British accents. That part is a little odd, but overall we found "The Man Who Didn't Fly" to be pretty entertaining - no great emotional weight or huge drama, but certainly a decent execution on an undoubtedly intriguing idea.

Once again, in direct contrast to his later Shatner-esque staccato...dramatic...pause image, Bill Shatner gives a remarkably understated and restrained performance as a manipulative con-man. He's mean and deceitful, but also very charming, rather like the actor's performance as Adam Cramer in The Intruder (1961).

And Star Trek meeting Lost in Space (Bill Shatner and Jonathan Harris together on-screen) is something we'd never thought we'd see!

"Oh, the pain!" Kirk and Smith finally have it out!

Let's move swiftly to the hair...

There's only a couple of toupological moments in "The Man Who Didn't Fly" - the first being a rather indirect one at that - a joke about a bald actor losing his wig told by Inspector Lewis to Hester:

Also, during the blackmail scene with Mrs Ferguson (see clip above), Bill Shatner leans down and we see the light reflecting off his scalp.

But that isn't to say there isn't much of toupological interest here. Indeed, our team of toupologists confessed to having a very difficult time making a call as to whether Bill Shatner was or was not wearing a toupee in this appearance.

Was it real hair, heavily sprayed and thickened or was it an early "Jim Kirk lace"? Ultimately, we were forced to study several other Bill Shatner performances from this time...

1957's Studio One: "The Defender" we called as toup-less:

1958's Suspicion: "The Protégé" we called as wearing a toupee:

Even in 1958, we're sure Bill Shatner still had a relatively strong frontal hairline. The lace front toupee - when it was used - would have been placed on top of it, its "skin" glued onto the forehead. Doing this would have left Bill Shatner's real hair squashed by the toupee - evidence of which we find in a likely toup-less behind-the-scenes picture from 1960 (more here):

Incidentally, the above is the last, in terms of dates, toup-less picture of Bill Shatner we've managed to locate.

"The Committee for Toupological Evaluations" hard at work in the William Shatner School of Toupolgical Studies' "Situation Room".

An obvious question is: why use a front lace at all when you still have your own frontal hairline? Bill Shatner's balding started at the rear crown, with a bald patch evident as far back as 1956. He evidently began receding at the front in the early 1960s, but the hair atop was thin all round since the mid 1950s - especially under the heavy lights of a studio production. And that's likely the reason why: as the actor's hair was increasingly having to be sprayed and styled into a heavily bulked-up, fragile immovable shell. The toupee solved that problem pretty easily.

But back to "The Man Who Didn't Fly". The final 634 page report of the "The Committee for Toupological Evaluations" is equivocal in it's language, but leans heavily towards a conclusion that this is indeed a toup-less performance.

"The fragile, bulked-up nature of the hair leads us to conclude that this was likely a performance in which the front lace toupee was not used...several permutations of the lace were beginning to be used around this time, one of which was extremely light (''It was a lace hairpiece and he had less hair on it, so it looked more natural." source here) - it's possible that this is what we are seeing here, but upon consideration, we believe that this is unlikely."

Let's examine the evidence: The rounded front hairline appears far more in line with Bill Shatner's real hair than with the more pointed, heavy look of the toupee.

A likely toup-less picture from around the same time - notice the naturally curly hair.

By 1958, we have a look where the thinning is becoming increasingly evident...

Studio One: "No Deadly Medicine" (1958).

There's also this 1958 MGM publicity picture - the style is identical to that in "The Man Who Didn't Fly" Can spray do this much? We believe so:

It's a little confusing as the style in "The Man Who Didn't Fly" is so similar to the "Jim Kirk lace".

Definitely a front lace, but a very light one.

Let's look for clues at the back - the smooth, rounded "Jim Kirk lace" crescent appears absent - no toup?

Or is there evidence of a cap-piece, similar to that worn by Ted Danson in Cheers - clip here? It's possible. In some stills there is an unusual smoothness visible at the back of the head. Confused?

What we know is that in 1957, Bill Shatner began to grow his hair quite long at the top - this was then used to help create the illusion of bulk with careful styling. But the hair at the back was not always uniformly smoothly covered:

Fully toup-less in Studio One: "The Defender" (1957).

Evidence of a hitherto undocumented potential crown cap only phase can possibly be inferred from a picture of the play The World of Suzie Wong (more here), but it's something we haven't fully been able to confirm:

And of course the very same year, Bill Shatner (this time we're sure) wore a full lace in Suspicion: "The Protégé". So why one performance and not the other?

Notice the bulkiness of the hair at the front and the curvature at the back -it's a toup.

The style in "The Man Who Didn't Fly" so mimics the "Jim Kirk lace" one wonders (and marvels) at the planning that went into the transition from non-toup to toup - seamless!

In summary, we lean towards fully toup-less in "The Man Who Didn't Fly" but it took some painstaking comparison work and it wasn't at all an easy call to make! Let us know your thoughts!

"The Man Who Didn't Fly" is an entertaining little drama right from the heart of the Golden Age of TV drama. Certainly worth watching. Sadly, the show is unavailable commercially - it was up at but can now only be found at online file sharing sites.