Monday, March 28, 2011

Hair application footage.

Occasionally, Bill Shatner's YouTube page posts some behind-the-scenes footage of the actor's various projects - from Boston Legal, to $#*! My Dad Says, to the ongoing Priceline commercials. The latest one, ironically titled "Master of Disguises" takes us inside the filming of the latter:

The clip features a shot of Bill Shatner having a fake beard applied (we don't believe that the actor would claim that this particular hair was real).

Any such moment involving Bill Shatner and hair is, of course, extremely important for toupologists seeking to understand the actor's relationship to his beloved filamentous biomaterial. We likely won't ever see behind-the-scenes footage of toupee application, so this is really as close as we may get to seeing fake hair applied to Bill Shatner's head. And for that reason, we must savor it...

More here on this 1992 image.

If we turn the footage upside-down, we can at least pretend that the beard is scalp hair - but admittedly, this proves to be a poor substitute for the real thing:

This isn't the first time we've seen these YouTube clips providing a brief glimpse into the secret and certainly irresistible world of Bill Shatner's hair preparations. A while back, a behind-the-scenes clip from $#*! My Dad Says! showed a make-up lady combing Bill Shatner's toupee (or was it the real bit at the back?):

So is the actor taunting us? Or is he cognizant of the fact that his toupees have their own fan-base and thus keeping those followers happy/intrigued with such brief footage? Or, as a reader suggested not long ago, is it all just a carefully crafted front designed to make it seem like hair issues don't phase the actor at all: "I'll show them this as it will help make it seem that I don't wear a toupee, because if I did, I might be hesitant to allow such footage - which I am not."

Deciphering all this, one can't help but feel that Bill Shatner is something of a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma, underneath a toupee - to paraphrase the famous Churchill quote!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


The entire staff of The William Shatner School of Toupological Studies would like to wish one William (Alan?) Shatner a very, very happy 80th birthday!

How can Bill Shatner be 80? In Star Trek VI, the line was that the Enterprise crew were already getting too old - "Go to hell!" was Spock's witty response. And that was twenty years ago! Thankfully, Bill Shatner continues to savor life in a way that makes men half his age feel old and lazy. And that's really, we think, the essence of the man.

Icon is a word that is often bandied around, but we certainly believe William Shatner has earned that title.

Icons are complicated, often insecure, often have dark sides and some even wear toupees (we wish we had an official "toupee day" to celebrate too)...check to all that. But it's really the sheer volume of stuff that the actor/singer/writer/horse-rider/charity campaigner/voice-over artist etc. etc. has done that makes the word "icon" so valid.

In all of this, Shatner was always Shatner - for better or worse (or just plain kitsch), the guy never stopped. There were times in every decade of Bill Shatner's life when it seemed that the best days may have already been behind him, but he always found a way to step up, take the work (whatever it was), give everything his COM-PLETE FULL EN-ER-GY!!! and hope that better days lay ahead. He can't look back; he can't stop, even at 80; he can't feel contented or that he's done enough - that just wouldn't be Shatner!

His father would be very, very proud of him.

"Second star to the right, and straight on till morning..."

We won't end by saying "Live long and prosper" because that's trite and the other guy's catchphrase (he turns 80 later this week!), and besides, you've already prospered, so just live long. And never stop (except for a dramatic pause)...

Friday, March 18, 2011

Assignment: Toupee!

A reader sent us a tip regarding a very interesting high-definition image from's ever expanding collection of Trek screencaps. Upon first glance, the above image from the Star Trek episode "Operation: Annihilate!" seems to show that all is well in the fictional Bill Shatner kingdom of "Hairopolis". But that's where the beauty of high-definition comes in...

As we move in closer, we begin to clearly see a slightly detached lace line on the upper-right side of Bill Shatner's forehead (image left)...

As we move closer still, this material becomes even more apparent.

And then, when our toupologists used their touposcopes to try to move in to the sub-atomic level, something truly odd occurred!:

Our toupologists are still trying to figure out exactly what happened!

As to why in some cases, the lace line seems to be higher and in others lower... possible explanation (only a theory at this point) may be related to Bill Shatner's willingness to shave what remaining hair he had on his head. Assuming he looked somewhat like Harry Mudd in the late 1960s without his toupee...

...there may have been an initial reluctance to shave the remaining hair above the forehead in order to allow the lace to be applied (lace glued onto hair, even a few strands, would undermine the illusion and prove somewhat painful).

Lace mesh visible (click for larger image) in the episode "Shore Leave".

Perhaps in the early episodes, the anchoring provided by the lace had to be shifted far down onto the forehead in light of this reluctance. Only later, did Bill Shatner perhaps agree to shave a bit of his real hair in order for the lace line to be fixed higher and be less prominent - and also help make it seem that the toupee hair was truly sprouting naturally from the scalp:

It's only a hypothesis at this point, but one we hope to prove (or disprove) as more empirical evidence is assessed.

Friday, March 11, 2011

General Motors Theatre: "Billy Budd" - a toupological analysis.

"Billy Budd" is an episode of the Canadian anthology series General Motors Theatre (known as Encounter in the US). The live telecast, which aired May 3rd 1955, starred a host of familiar names, including Basil Rathbone as Captain Edward Fairfax "Starry" Vere of the British naval warship HMS Indomitable, Douglas Campbell as the Master-at-Arms Claggart (note: some sites, including incorrectly credit Rathbone as playing Claggart), Patrick Macnee as officer Lt. Seymore and William Shatner as a young seaman.

The story is set in 1798 amidst the background of British concerns at militarism stemming from revolution-era France and is an adaptation of an unfinished novella of the same name by Herman Melville. There are evidently some minor differences and truncations between that work and this TV adaptation (for example, the ship is called the Bellipotent in correct later drafts of the book), but the stories are essentially the same.

Young seaman Billy Budd transfers from the homeward bound merchant vessel Rights-of-Man onto the Indomitable as it monitors waters off the southern English coast.

His indomitably (the names in Billy Budd often seem to underscore traits and emotions - Captain Vere: virtue, truth...) happy and innocent spirit and all round enthusiasm brings Budd the immediate friendship of his fellow seamen.

That is, all except the paranoid and sadistic Master-at-Arms Claggart. There's a goodness in Budd that evidently threatens Claggart's world-view - one of ruthless discipline that has no place for such souls as young Budd.

Captain Vere, meanwhile, runs a firm but fair ship and is respected by his crew.

He too comes to admire Budd's enthusiasm. The ship could use some cheering up, as the British Navy has been rocked by a series of mutinies, and tempers have become frayed.

Budd is soon promoted to the post of foretopman...

But all is not well on the good ship. Rumors of Claggart's brutality have reached the captain. Should a firm hand be welcomed to prevent the risk of further mutinies or is the Master-at-Arms a potential dangerous tyrant?

Claggart's obsession with Budd escalates. Surely someone so inherently good and decent must harbor a secret, destructive agenda, lest Claggart's comfortably miserable world be shaken to its core by a person so unlike himself.

The situation comes to a head when Budd catches an officer about to commit an act of supreme mutiny: attempting to kill Claggart.

Budd, eternally decent, disarms his shipmate in order to save Claggart's life.

Claggart is correct that mutinies against him are being hatched...

But he then decides, without any evidence at all, that the man to blame is none other than the innocent Budd - the man who saved his life.

Claggart invents a tale of mutineering against the lad, who, suffering from a speech impediment, is unable to defend himself properly. Claggart's lies and Budd's sense of honor lead him to momentarily snap and strike the ship's head of security.

But Budd's brief temper fit results in some very serious consequences: Claggart is dead...

The Captain convenes an extraordinary drumhead court-martial to determine how to deal with Budd's murderous act.

An amoral and universally loathed man who falsely accused a good man is dead. Can't Budd's deed just be forgotten?

Or must the law be respected above all else?

At stake is Billy Budd's life, as he faces the death penalty for the murder of a superior officer. What will the court decide?

And that's where we'll leave the story...

So what to make of all this? On the negative side, this 1955 production of "Billy Budd" is a little clunky, with occasional wobbly, awkward camera-work, less-than-polished sound and actors sometimes slightly flubbing their lines - no doubt a result of the fact that this was live TV in its very earliest days. Should television compete with (and try to be more like) theater or cinema? In the mid 1950s, these answers were still being addressed, in part through trial and error...

But asides from these technical flaws, we found "Billy Budd" to be thoroughly enjoyable. A very simple story focused on the exploration of consequences and the epic dilemmas that extraordinary events can bring about - very, very Star Trek-like! At play is the notion of vigilantism - if a person breaks the law in order to correct an injustice and do an ultimate good, should the breaking of the law be overlooked? Or is the law the law - period. That is the very simple conundrum presented by Melville's story.

It's no surprise to find that Billy Budd has been adapted numerous times for both the small and large screens. And this 1955 effort, one of the earliest of the screen adaptations, largely succeeds in conveying the strength of this epic tale.

Avengers star Patrick Macnee (left).

Rathbone and Campbell give particularly strong performances, while young Bill Shatner, with his faux Irish accent (contrasting with the otherwise authentically British cast), doesn't quite match the nuanced expressiveness of his illustrious, and at this point far more experienced, on-screen colleagues.

At times, Billy Budd's (Finnegan-esque) perkiness seems just a little affected and strained, perhaps partly due to the restrictive shackles of Bill Shatner having to perform with a heavy accent. That said, the actor certainly has a memorable and distinct on-screen presence (deliberately designed to contrast as much as possible with his weary, gloomy shipmates) and for a young performer, getting noticed is what it's all about. It's not, we think, a dull of poor performance at all - and it is most definitely, unarguably Shatner!

Let's move swiftly to the hair...

The initial thought that we will try to put into words is one many of you readers are likely having too, glancing at Bill Shatner's hair in "Billy Budd". Wow! We've explored toupees, we've explored that brief period in the late 1950s when Bill Shatner was trying his best to spruce up his ever-thinning hair - but who would have ever imagined this?

A major performance in which Bill Shatner has (real) thick, long, curly hair flailing in the wind and not a toupee or careful combing technique in sight! And there's more yet. This is the only example we have of Bill Shatner altering the color of not only the sides but also the top of his own real hair. At this point, he still had plenty and experiments such as bleaching evidently presented no problems at all!

In one scene, Bill Shatner's hair is ruffled considerably, and he even runs his hand through it with the kind of careless abandon that would be unthinkable in only a few short years...

Here's the clip:

The ruffling in this scene is caused by a rather energetic fight in which, at one point, Budd's opponent actually places his foot on Bill Shatner's hair!:

Comparing this fight to Captain Kirk's escapades in Star Trek, one can see a key difference. In Star Trek, free flowing fights could only go so far before hairsylists had to jump in and correct excessive imperfections in Bill Shatner's lace...

...but in "Billy Budd" there are no such concerns evident. There's an almost ballet-like freedom visible in Bill Shatner as he fights in the scene - no concerns about hair being dislodged, no need to protect the toupee from a fall, no concerns about lids flipping, bald patches showing, lace lines peeling. In that sense, what we have here is truly remarkable in its uniqueness.

But as thick as Bill Shatner's hair is in "Billy Budd", there are some very slight clues on display that suggest the hair may not be on as firm a footing as the young actor may have hoped for (in light of the fact that his father was bald).

Even at this point, the hair at the sides of the twenty-four-year-old actor's head is noticeably thicker than that at the top. It's all there still...

...but sometimes the shape gives off unmistakable signals of what is to come:

Yet, despite such warning signs - ones that may be easy to spot with hindsight - what we can surely savor most in this 1955 TV drama is a major Bill Shatner performance in which matters of the the toupee or of concealing thinning are entirely absent. That in itself makes "Billy Budd" a "must-see".

Sadly, "Billy Budd" isn't available to purchase commercially, but a time-coded copy can be found on-line (note: we've undertaken significant sound enhancement for the clips in our review). A simple, yet powerful and entertaining story aided by a strong cast - we certainly recommend it.

Note: We know we have readers in Japan, and are thoughts and prayers are with you and all the people of your country as you cope with the tragedy unfolding there...