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!


  1. Combover Beethoven
    And tell Bill Shatner the news!

  2. Shats is rockin the Elvis look in the Bio photo.

    how the hell did such a great head of hair betray him so? he mustve been devestated when it started thinning..(as a fellow hairloss sufferer - although not to the extent of the shat - i know the pain it causes and the confidence that fades away)

    one might wonder what wouldve happened had Shats never lost his hair.....would his confidence have been sky high and hed had managed to bag a leading movie role turning him into a big star like a Paul Newman or Robert Redford? (who like shats started out in stuff like Twilight Zone)...did his JK lace lose him any roles?...i.e. a movie role couldve come up that wouldve made shat a star in the late 1950s or early 60s but his name was thrown out early after it was known he wore a piece?

    obviously things worked out great for shatner as he became an icon with star trek - but even so he didnt hit movie star paydirt until his late 40s with ST TMP.

    if his hair hadnt gone maybe wed have stuff like "Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid" starring Shatner and Redford or "Bonnie & Clyde" with Shatner and Dunaway etc or the "Towering Inferno" starring Shatner or a shatner starring "Bulliett" or "Dirty Harry"

  3. "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."

    thats exactly what i used to do - in my teens my hair was uber thick it was virtually impossible to run a comb or brush through...i regulaly used to run a blow drier over it to straighten it out. it was quite a big deal to me back then to get rid of the curls. I actually used to style my hair in various Kirk ways - i could do em all! getting the quiff of the season 1/2 JK lace with a blow drier and gel and the bushier season 3 do (minues the gel) - to the early movie style when i let the hair dry naturally. i even once attempted a TJ Curly/Trek III style which required the sides to grow abit longer to get them nice and bushy - so much so it actually looked like the sides werent attached to the wasnt a bad likeness..

    then in my early 20s the hairline started to receed very slightly (not really noticable to anyone other than me ) and each year it went back a little bit until now about 15 years on i got the jude law hairline going on...the rest behind it still quite thick (although not as thick as in my teens) so i guess i should count my blessings i didnt go the shatner route....

    about 10 years ago i began to use approved hairloss drugs finestride and minoxidill in an attempt to offset further lose and maybe it has maybe it hasnt - its difficult to say. its probably slowed it down abit but the hairline is definatly worse than 10 years ago

    i'm not looking foward to the future and losing more hair though. ive looked into transplants but dont like the idea of surgery..i cant imagine the pain shatner went through not only to lose his locks but to have it possibly affect his career too..the ultimate betrayal

    hopefully they will bring out a cure for hairloss soon (stem cell stuff)

  4. Not only the hair is different. Mr. Shatner seem to have his nose and teeth fixed too.

  5. Perhaps we will yet see Bill Shatner with real hair atop his head:


  6. STB

    i hope so too.

    Men no longer need die bald or with some misshapen hairline. Men can live and go on to achieve greater things than toupological fact-finding and dying for folicular harmony, which is neither ours to give or to take!

  7. going back to the first comment i made about how the hair loss mustve affected shatners confidence when he was starting out etc...really in him overcoming that and eventually wearing a toup we can clearly see parallels to Kirk and his refusal to accept the no win scenario

    Shatner would be damned if his hairloss was gonna prevent him from taking his place as an in demand leading kirk wouldnt have it any other way than being captain of the enterprise

  8. Toupee or not toupee!February 18, 2011 at 11:50 AM

    LOL! This segment would make a great and fascinating tv programme.

    Joking aside, Shatner is not the only star to wear a wig. There are so many out there! Just that Shatner was bold (bald) enough to throw caution to the wind with a variety of so VERY obvious and different wigs.

    The sly ones wear the same 'hair' their whole career with maybe a touch of added gray or slight receding, giving the impression it's their real hair.

    The Shat should have kept the Jim Kirk lace his entire career and we'd be none the wiser!

  9. It looks more like a high portrait than a promotional pic. But when you look at the hairline you think: "this guy is gonna have a lot of problems in the hair department".

  10. Travolta caught without hairpiece. Hopefully a Shatner pic is not too far off.

  11. It tells a lot about our society and values when a man's success or failure depends on a bunch of hair.More power to the Shat you used our stupidity to his advantage.....