Thursday, June 23, 2011

The toups of happy chance...

Image sourced via eBay.

An interesting outlier toupee (toupees outside of the major categories such as the "Jim Kirk lace" or "Lost Years") from an original television play called The Skirts of Happy Chance starring William Shatner and Elizabeth Ashley. The play was televised on Wednesday May 28th 1969, five months after Bill Shatner filmed his last ever original series episode of Star Trek.

We couldn't find much out there on this particular project. doesn't list Bill Shatner among the stars for some reason. Time magazine's archives note that: "Workers on the committee of an antipoverty project include a war hero (William Shatner) and a poor girl (Elizabeth Ashley) who fall in love while dealing with politics and urban responsibility. The play's title: '... The Skirts of Happy Chance...' ".

Elizabeth Ashley in 1969 - image via eBay.

While this website notes that: "On NBC’s Wednesday night movie this week - William Shatner and Elizabeth Ashley in 'The Skirts of Happy Chance.' 'She’s an uncompromising rebel who thinks a woman’s place is on the picket line. He’s a well-meaning liberal who feels that her place, if not in the home, is across a table of a restaurant.' " Google's news archives have some more detailed (negative) reviews, for example here and here.

The toup seems at little gnawed-at at the front, but other than that it doesn't look too bad. It is rather similar in appearance to the one in the previous year's TV movie Perilous Voyage.

Perilous Voyage (1968).

Is it the very same toup? We think it is possible. Time and time again, we see a toupee premiering on one project then returning for another (did this one make a brief comeback as late as 1977?). The implications? What do we all often do with hotel towels? Enough said...

UPDATE: Reader "tintorera" observed (and linked to the below picture) that the above toup may have also been used in 1969's CBS Playhouse: "Shadow Game", which aired just a few weeks before The Skirts of Happy Chance. Our thanks to tintorera for this important toupological info!

William Shatner in "Shadow Game" (1969).


Peter Falk (1927-2011).

With love and respect from all of us at Shatner's Toupee. Rest in peace...

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Poll result and "What Are Little Costumes Made Of?" (toupee tape).

Our latest poll asked for your take on the most important factor for Bill Shatner when choosing a new toupee. 3% suggested it was that the toupee be as thick as possible; 5% thought that it may have once bee affordability, but now it's ease of use; 7% thought it was the "wow!" factor - a toupee that gets people talking and 12% thought it was keeping up with the fashions and trends of the times. In joint position at 18% are a secure attachment to the scalp and age-appropriate believability. The most votes, 33%, went to the notion that the hair not look like a toupee.

Thanks for voting!

Sugar and lace and toupee tape.

Now, on to something else entirely. We doubt we'll get much argument in stating that Sherry Jackson is one of the sexiest guest stars to have appeared in any incarnation of Star Trek. Her infamous costume, as worn in the episode "What Are Little Girls Made Of?", didn't just raise eyebrows on television screens, but also on set, as documented in many of the behind-the-scenes books on the series.

Star Trek producer Bob Justman.

In the book Inside Star Trek: The Real Story producer Bob Justman recalled:

"Sherry was petite, but her body was perfect. The tunic that [costume designer William Ware] Theiss designed for her was open on both sides, and there was no way she could wear a bra without it being seen - as if she had any need for one. The top of her costume concealed very little. Gene [Roddenberry] felt that the garment could be 'improved' by making some 'hands-on' adjustments.

"...Bill Shatner was in the projection room with us and tried to get into the act. 'I think Bob's right. Maybe if you...' he volunteered and moved to help. But Gene shouldered him aside too."

Sherry Jackson's appearance in "What Are Little Girls Made Of?" caused temperatures to solidly rise on the set.

But now the actress joins another (perhaps more prestigious) club already populated by the likes of Bob Justman, James Doohan, Robin Curtis, Yvonne Craig, Tanya Lemani, Harlan Ellison and William Campbell (others including Clint Howard, George Takei and even Leonard Nimoy have also made references) - Star Trek cast and crew members who have openly talked about William Shatner's toupee!

Sherry Jackson in May 2011 (looking great for her age).

At the recent convention Phoenix Comicon, Jackson described her experiences on the show with stories of how her dress managed to stay in position leading directly to a tale related to Bill Shatner's toupee-wearing:

"It was interesting meeting Shatner. He wasn’t as tall as I thought he would be. He’s not all that tall – I mean, by my standards…" (Bill Shatner wore lifts on the series to increase his height).

Jackson then describes how she remarked to Bill Shatner that he was wearing unflattering clothing before returning to the issue of his hair and her dress:

"…And also everyone knew he came onto the set each day without his hairpiece on. So it was no big secret that he wore a hairpiece even then. So the reason that I prefaced that is that people often ask me about my outfit. And I have to say that I had to act well enough to overcome my outfit. I didn’t want my outfit to be the star."

"And then one of the problems is that…in those days there were a lot of censorship rules. And one of the rules they had then was that you could see cleavage in the front [but] no cleavage on the side. So…we had to make sure that there was no gaping anything on the side. So we went and took Shatner’s toupee double-sided tape that he wore for his hairpiece and we taped my outfit, just my sides, and that’s how we fixed that problem."

What's toupee tape? It looks like this and would have helped to keep Bill Shatner's toupee secure on the top of his head, easing the load on the lace anchoring on his forehead.

Our thanks to reader "Shat down a mine" for the tip. The full audio clip can be heard here, including an interesting new theory on Bill Shatner's dramatic pauses being caused by deliberate breathing techniques!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Playhouse 90: "A Town Has Turned to Dust" - a toupological analysis.

"A Town Has Turned to Dust" is an episode of the 1950s television anthology series Playhouse 90 that aired on aired on June 19th 1958. Once again, William Shatner finds himself among illustrious company: legendary director John Frankenheimer is behind the camera for this installment, while The Twilight Zone's Rod Serling serves as its writer.

James Gregory

Hannify (James Gregory - a future guest-star in Star Trek), a reporter from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, is in the small fictional southwest US border town of Dempseyville doing a story about life in the area. But instead, he finds himself at the center of a lynching. Dempseyville is gripped by an eternal drought and economic hardships; the community is a simmering cauldron of resentments - easy fodder for bitterness and demagogues like store-owner Jerry Paul (William Shatner).

Paul claims that a nineteen-year-old Mexican lad tried to violently rob his hardware store. The accused has been arrested, but the town sheriff (Rod Steiger) all but gives up his prisoner to the angry citizens of the town - a lynching mob - determined to carry out a far simpler and swifter form of justice.

The boy is then publicly hanged.

Celebrations, led by Paul, consume the town. For a while, Dempseyville's pent-up frustrations have been relieved - but only for a while.

Hannify refuses to toast the killing, informing the mob that he intends to write about the "whole thing". The cries of a small boy traumatized by witnessing the hanging ring through the bar. And that isn't all: the sheriff is in no mood to celebrate either, slowly consumed by the guilt of surrendering his prisoner.

He spills out his real feelings about the killing to the reporter: "We didn't know he was guilty - we just strung him up to satisfy the mood."

The sheriff's regrets explode in full public view as he further quashes the celebrations by recalling a previous and thoroughly brutal lynching that took place in the town sixteen years ago - that of an elderly migrant worker. Twenty men with hoods came and put him into a gunny sack, tied it to a horse-wagon and tortured the man to death.

As the funeral for the young victim takes place, Jerry Paul pretends to play nice with the Mexican community, but the dividing lines have been drawn.

The family of the lynched boy are distraught. There is a festering atmosphere in this place; a powder-keg of conflict and emotions.

Back with his wife, Jerry Paul reveals himself to be a tyrant at home too.

Paul literally putting the boot to his wife's face.

But there's more - a humiliating secret. The lynched Mexican was actually innocent of the crime of which he was accused. Instead, the contorted charges were retribution for Paul's frustrated, unloved wife having an affair with the man (see miscegenation).

Like the archetypal overcompensating villain, Paul then makes a show of proving that his store is friendly to the Mexican community.

But when they reject his superficial advances (he offers a boy some candy), he turns on them, publicly releasing a torrent of racist abuse and celebrating the segregation that keeps "muchachos" out of white bars.

The abuse leads to violence as Paul violently clashes with the lynched boy's bereaved brother.

Paul, brandishing a whip, ends up being beaten up by the man, who is then arrested.

Now, it seems, the brother is set to be lynched too...

But the sheriff has developed not just a conscience, but an inquisitive mind that threatens to unravel Paul's lies.

And he is also determined that under his watch, real justice will be done - and if the mob doesn't understand that, then they will be the ones in the firing line...

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

So what to make of all this? Regular readers of this site and general Bill Shatner fans alike may no doubt think to themselves that all of this sounds awfully familiar. The echoes of Bill Shatner's infamous racist rabble-rouser Adam Cramer in The Intruder made just three year's later are unmistakable. As to which character, Cramer or Paul, is the bigger bastard, we'll leave that to you!

William Shatner in The Intruder (1962).

"A Town Has Turned to Dust" is precisely what it was intended to be: a powerful, hard-hitting drama. It's more atmosphere and tone than anything else (probably best watched more than once). The plot is simple, perhaps even a little ponderous, but the story of justice and moral force overcoming the mob mentality as told through the various characters is both powerful and involving.

John Frankenheimer fills the episode with some particularly creative shot compositions.

What's most remarkable is that it pulls no punches in its condemnation of racism as the result of scapegoats and straw-men and also economic hardships that lead to easy resentments of a comfortable "other". Complex stuff for TV.

Today, such a project would barely raise an eyebrow, but this was 1958, still six years before racial segregation, thanks to the Civil Rights Act, was to come to an end in the American South (Hispanics, though not treated the same way as blacks, were still considered "colored"). That this subject made its way into mainstream TV of the time is remarkable in and of itself.

Rope imagery...

A glowing contemporary New York Times review of the broadcast notes that Rod Serling "...made his point that hate for a fellow being leads only to the ultimate self-destruction of the bigoted. It was a theme that hardly can be restated amply enough and last night Mr. Serling expressed it with inspiration and fine determination."

Other superlatives in the review include "excellent" and "effective", while a young Bill Shatner also gets a mention too: "Mr. Shatner gave one of the best TV performances of his career. As the town bully and ringleader of the lynching party, he was the embodiment of hate and blind physical passion. Mr. Shatner's attention to detail in putting together the picture of an ignorant and evil social force was remarkable."

There are, we felt, some echoes in the story with Star Trek's "The Devil in the Dark" - the sheriff's 180 degree shift - towards the defense of the perceived aggressor - is rather reminiscent of Kirk's similar "The first man that fires is dead" ultimate defense of the Horta.'s entry for this broadcast notes that Rod Serling was disappointed and angered by the way his script was re-written prior to broadcast: "By the time the censors had gotten to it, my script had turned to dust. We're developing a new citizenry, one that will be very selective about cereals and automobiles, but won't be able to think." Nonetheless, despite whatever mollification of the material may have been undertaken by the censors, the punch is undoubtedly still there.

If there is one weak point, then it is an aspect of the cinematography. The short (wide-angle) lenses of the TV cameras used for this production mean that close-ups could only be attained by having performers literally centimeters away from the lenses (close enough to bump into them!).

Almost bumping into the camera!

At times, the framing and lighting forced upon the production by these lenses (and the necessities of a live production) leads to awkward results. Had the same actors, the same sets, the same director been given the time and opportunity of recording this project on film, with better lenses, some of this visual clunkiness could have been avoided. But it is a minor gripe...John Frankenheimer certainly does a fine job framing and staging the action.

Let's move swiftly to the hair...

Before our toupologists set about properly watching this episode, a number of them had previously seen a few snippets. Most were convinced that what they were seeing was an early, often shaggy-looking, toupee.

Upon further inspection, however, we believe that those initial impressions were dead wrong! "A Town Has Turned to Dust" is, we now strongly believe, a toup-less performance - one of the last. Let's try to explain. The aforementioned lens issue, means that we get some rather unusual close-ups of Bill Shatner's head:

What emerges, we believe, is a picture of a very carefully grown, combed and sprayed (lots and lots of hairspray) hairstyle, designed to create a thicker shell than would appear naturally.

At the rear, the unmistakable smooth arch of the "Jim Kirk lace" is absent.

Instead, we have careful combing concealing a bald patch at the rear. Occasionally, this bald patch peaks through just a little:

Sometimes the "shell" is disrupted, revealing its fragility:

While the "surely this is a rug" scenes (pictured below) are, we think, the result of flattening down hair that is absolutely loaded with hairspray, creating a kind of sticky, sweaty helmet:

Bill Shatner's hair is noticeably "unnatural-looking" in this episode, likely the result of this increasingly intricate procedure designed to bulk up his thinning locks. But when properly combed, it's remarkable how much the hairstyle resembles the "Jim Kirk lace" which at this period the actor was about to turn to full-time.

See here for a similar 1958 "shell" and here for a very early 1958 "Jim Kirk lace".

Asides from the above toupology, twice in this episode Bill Shatner picks up someone by the hair (underscoring the savagery of Paul's character). It's always remarkable to see Bill Shatner interacting with hair in any way - especially when one considers that pretty soon after this, the mechanics of his own toupee-wearing would have made a reverse scene (with someone pulling at Bill Shatner's "hair") all but impossible. Remarkable stuff, indeed...

And there you have it. A powerful piece of early TV - one well-worth watching. "A Town Has Turned to Dust" isn't available on DVD, but can be found online.