Friday, December 19, 2014

The (not quite) Indestructible Mr. Gore


"The Indestructible Mr. Gore" is a first season episode of a short-lived 1959-60 television series called Sunday Showcase. Much like the far better known Studio One, it was an anthology series of teleplays (though it also included comedies and musicals), and often featured writing, acting and directing (including John Frankenheimer and Sidney Lumet) talents who would go on to achieve widespread fame and recognition. "The Indestructible Mr. Gore", broadcast in color, was written by celebrated American author Gore Vidal, who also appears in the episode as an on-screen narrator.

Fred Kaplan's eponymous biography Gore Vidal (available on Google books - see pages 467-468) notes that "The Indestructible Mr. Gore" was  "one of the last television dramas broadcast live..." It also adds that the program, screened on December 13, 1959 "deserved and received superb reviews".

(Click for larger view)

Asides from Vidal as narrator, the episode stars William Shatner, Inger Stevens and E.G. Marshall (who also acted alongside Bill Shatner in Vanished, 1971, and Disaster on the Coastliner, 1979). The story centers on Gore Vidal's real-life blind grandfather, Senator Thomas Gore, portrayed by William Shatner. According to IMDB:

 Senator Thomas Gore (source:Wikipedia)

"In the early 1890s, Thomas seeks employment in the office of a Texas judge. During the interview Thomas reveals that it is his life's ambition to become a United States Senator. He also informs Judge Wingate [Eg.G. Marshall] that he is completely blind."

On a side note: Thomas Gore would indeed overcome his blindness and serve as a US Senator from 1931-1937, chiefly under wheelchair-bound US president Franklin D. Roosevelt.

William Shatner's portrayal of the blind but ambitious young Gore was called "outstanding" by The New York Times. The Los Angeles Times, meanwhile, called the episode an "expertly handled hour", and lauded the performances of the three stars performing alongside Gore Vidal.


We wish we could offer our own review of this episode. But unfortunately the master tapes of this show were erased by NBC in 1973. Thus, it may have been wiped from existence. In the UK, this phenomenon has given rise to the name "Missing Believed Wiped". Basically, until as late as 1980, TV stations were wiping tapes of previously broadcast programs to free-up space. Reruns? VHS? DVD? Historical value? No-one seemed to give a hoot.

A brief detour: Perhaps the most publicized wiping and subsequent re-locating of lost elements surrounds the BBC's Doctor Who series. Dedicated fans have spent years tracking down episodes believed wiped by the BBC, locating copies in places as afar as Nigeria. This also led to some fascinating restoration technologies being utilised (ever heard of "chroma dots"?). But some episodes are still missing.

Even if, like us, you have no idea what Doctor Who is supposed to be about as a dramatic presentation, the story of how so many of its episodes were lost and then re-found is certainly worth looking at by anyone interested in film and television.

Meanwhile, the website has an extensive section on the television works of Gore Vidal. It features plenty of stories of similarly lost episodes and calls for readers to help track down potential kinescope (a film camera recording video footage off a TV) recordings that may or may not still exist somewhere. Its section on "The Indestructible Mr. Gore" notes:

"This is one of the most sought-after of all lost television programs [emphasis ours]. There MUST be copies around somewhere, and whoever has them probably doesn’t realize that they’re anything special.."

"That is what happened to the 2 inch color quad. There is the possibility, of course, that other 2 inch color quad copies, recorded by stations that wished to delay the broadcast, might still exist. The chances, though, are vanishingly small. It is more likely that a kinescope, probably b&w, would still survive somewhere...If you have any leads, any leads at all, on where this program might be located, please contact me IMMEDIATELY. It is of utmost importance that this program be found, rescued, restored, and released."

We contacted "rj" and confirm that he is still very much interested in tracking down this episode...

Fortunately for us, the story does not end there. Two images of "The Indestructible Mr. Gore" do survive - one of which we believe to be of major toupological interest.

The first, reprinted at rjbuffalo, is from a Variety TV listing of the broadcast (full image atop this post). Obviously, magazines cannot show pictures from live broadcasts that have not yet aired. So the image is possibly from a dress rehearsal or publicity shoot. It shows Bill Shatner very likely wearing his easily identifiable "Jim Kirk lace". (Note the lush and rounded, rather than v-shaped, hairline at the side of the forehead.)

By 1959, this toup was one the actor was, we believe, wearing full-time for TV broadcasts. The first hitherto identified usage is back in May 1958's Suspicion: "The Protégé".

William Shatner in "The Protégé" (1958)

But as we noted in our analysis of Kraft Mystery Theater: "The Man Who Didn't Fly", which aired later in July 1958, lengthening, clever combing and heavy spraying could still at this point yield a viable (from the standpoint of concealing thinning hair) toupless performance.

But to the keen observer, the clues that Bill Shatner's hair was rapidly thinning, in particular in the crown area and moving up towards the front of the head, were evident as far back as 1956:

Goodyear Television Playhouse:"All Summer Long" (1956)

And even more so by 1957:

Alfred Hitchcock Presents:"The Glass Eye" (1957)

All of which brings us to the second available photo of "The Indestructible Mr. Gore". We spotted a low resolution version on the rjbuffalo site, taken from a 1994 book written by Gore Vidal entitled Screening History. Our staff immediately set about locating a copy of the book and subjecting the photograph in question to the full range of our latest touposcopical equipment.

The conclusion reached by the Department of Toupological Determinations, and subsequently affirmed by the Toupological Review Board, was a startling one: this was Bill Shatner in 1959 without his toupee. That would date this picture as the last toupless image we have come across thus far. Previously, the last likely toupless picture we had was a mid-1959 rehearsal image from a TV series called Tactic.

(Bill Shatner rehearses Tactic. See here for more)

Before we get into the details of how the call was made, there is the question of why this photo differs from the first one, which is most certainly one in which Bill Shatner is touped-up. Obviously, we can't say for sure. Is it possible that Bill Shatner went toupless for the actual broadcast? It's possible (though given the actor's thinning hair, we suspect only external circumstances, like a damaged lace, would have forced such a decision upon Bill Shatner). The other, perhaps more viable option is that this is some kind of unofficial rehearsal picture. Unlike the first image, it is not necessarily intended for public release. We can only speculate...

But what is evident is that Bill Shatner's hair is very different between the two pictures. In the second image, the characteristic curve that follows the upper sides of the hairline is absent. Instead, we have not only a normal v-shaped recession, but also a line indicating a parting of the hair. Along the parting line, we see an area of Bill Shatner's scalp that is usually fully concealed (and certainly not visible if wearing a "Jim Kirk lace").

Overall, our team divided the image into four specific Areas of Toupological Interest (ATI). This yielded ATI 01, ATI 02, ATI 03, and ATI 04.These areas were then studied and compared with available images of Bill Shatner both touped-up and toupless. Staff recorded the following observations:

ATI 01 - this suggests long, thinning hair.

Side-parted and quite compressed - perhaps as a result of wearing a toupee on top or hair treated with hair oil or other product.

ATI 02 - (the area we discussed a little earlier).

Side-parting. V-shape. No rounded strands of "Jim Kirk lace" sprouting up from this area. Scalp visible, extending towards mid-section of head.

(Jim Kirk lace "rounded" side of hairline. Source: Trekcore.)

ATI 03 - observable thinning.

Hair of notably different density than that visible at the sides of Bill Shatner's head. Shortening effect at rear, thinning "comb-back" clump.

("All Summer Long". Note lightened, thinning "comb-back" at rear. Beyond is "missing" section - see ATI 04)

ATI 04 - characteristic "Jim Kirk lace" smooth curve of hair arching around back/crown of head absent. Something "missing".

The "Jim Kirk lace" creates a very particular smooth, curved look to the back of the head.

(images from Judgment at Nuremberg, 1961)

Conversely, later-stage toupless performances show this curve to have the "missing" area, in which the combed-down hair was not sufficient to maintain the fluidity of this arch.

It's a sort of "hen peck" effect. Something has been "gnawing" at the back, leaving an area of disruption.

A similar effect was observed in the "The Indestructible Mr. Gore" image. The rear area does not appear to follow the smooth, thick curve indicative of a "Jim Kirk lace". Something at the back is noticeably missing.

Thus, for the above reasons, as well as due to some more detailed sub-toupular readings detected by our touposcopes...

...the William Shatner School of Toupological Studies (WSSTS) "felt that enough evidence exists to conclude that the image in question is very likely one in which William Shatner is not wearing a toupee, or in the modern vernacular, is 'toupless'". The full 567-page report can be obtained by writing to the WSSTS.

Toupee delivery delight? Via Twitter.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Allusions or illusions?

"Yes, allusions. Not illusions. Allusions..." the character of Dale Harding insisted during a tense therapy session in the iconic movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975).

Of course, students of Bill Shatner's toupee-wearing will know that these two easily confused words can actually mean one and the same. And with this in mind, we bring you two such allusions (via our readers' tips) about the illusion that is the actor's lush, plentiful hair.

In the first, a March 2014 interview with the UK tabloid Metro, Bill Shatner is asked about his role as General Shanker in the star-studded 2013 Canadian computer-animated film Escape From Planet Earth.

General Shanker - is this the first time that Bill Shatner has portrayed a truly bald character?

"It’s all for my grandkids," he replies. "And they loved it. I was trying to do something with my voice. I disguised it a little but they recognised me immediately, so it was a waste of time. I can put on a nose, a beard, a wig but that doesn’t do any good. It all fails and they’ve just got good ol’ me [emphasis ours]."

An interesting statement for a number of reasons. If the "they" is expanded to also mean us, namely the general public, then the inference appears to be that any kind of artifice or pretense presented in our direction by this actor is futile. Why bother? What's the point? The audience is smart enough to see through all that. Instead, what we really have is the real thing - "good ol’ me". No pretense. Nothing false...
Some good ol' apple pie.

Finally, the statement also carries a curious tone of almost whimsical resignation. "It all fails," Bill Shatner notes. It is as if he is suggesting that: "Oh, I tried the toupee for a while back in '73. But what's the point? It all fails, so why bother? It is better to be real..." Some powerful lessons there from the master of illusion - or is that allusions?
Secondly, we have a piece of audio to analyze  - one in much the same spirit as the above item. Back in December 2012, Bill Shatner posted "A Holiday Message to You from Shanta" on his YouTube account:

"Hi, I'd like to wish you all a Happy Holiday [sic]. I want you to let the hair grow as part of the celebration. You know...I mean...let the hair grow, wherever hair grows. Let it grow. And worship it. And...and...and...cultivate it. And admire it. This [points to beard] is not me. This is applied. But it still means Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and Season's Greeting to all of you."

Let it grow...

Some rather stunning, quasi-coded wordplay there, seemingly directed, at least in part, at students and fans of the toupee. A Christmas nod. A wink. A brazen one at that. Risky to pull off. Ostensibly, Bill Shatner points and refers to his beard only - but he knows that we know, and we know that he knows that we know...

Dare we say this act is also something of a thrill for Bill Shatner, like horse or motorcycle riding, or mountain climbing? Why do it? Because it is there...

But if we delve a little deeper, there is yet more to uncover. The first part of Bill Shatner's statement is bubbling with confidence. He's in on the joke and wants the audience to know it:

But then comes the second part. This is far trickier to say. More personal. More of a gateway into the soul. More of a potentially direct statement. His voice drops considerably. The nerves grow. The waveform representation provides a visual demonstration of this trepidation.

Then the unthinkable: "This is not me. This is...applied." He said it! But, of course, being Bill Shatner, he hasn't really said what some of us might think and hope he just said - at least not in the way it could be interpreted. Or has he? Is it an illusion or an allusion?

With such a complicated individual, one can never really be sure. The subsequent non sequitur "But it still means Merry Christmas," only serves to underscore the potential power of the previous moment. The code and the subtext become as important, if not more, than the overt superficial meaning. And that is why toupology has become such a globally respected science...

Technology developed by the WSSTS [pictured right] helps NASA scientists study [pictured left] a curious patch on Saturn's moon Titan.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

But is it Jim...?

Back in 1980, music legend Paul McCartney released a song on his McCartney II album called "Coming Up". The video featured the singer dressing up as a variety of characters, one of whom was a kind of "Beatlemania Paul" throwback.

 Paul McCartney in 1980, dressed up as his 1964 Beatles self.

McCartney adopted the suit, mannerisms (lots of laughing and smiling), and also the hairstyle of his younger self, circa 1964.

It's very rare for celebrities of an iconic caliber to do this kind of thing for a variety of reasons - after all, no-one wants to risk cheapening past achievements, or blurring the lines between what was and what is. But there's probably a big difference between the likes of a McCartney or a Shatner going retro (fun), and some washed-up celebrity doing it because they haven't done anything since (a bit sad).

And so when Bill Shatner has donned his Captain Kirk costume a number of times outside of official Trek canon, we would say it too is better categorized as fun, rather than sad.

But unlike McCartney's eerily perfect recreation, something has almost always been amiss with Bill Shatner's retro-Trek moments. A kind of cognitive toupological dissonance stemming from a notable mismatch between the era of the Kirk costume he has worn and the era of the toup.

In February 2013, the actor made an appearance, via video (he was also in the audience), for a comedy sketch at the 85th Academy Awards. Bill Shatner was dressed up as the movie-era Kirk (unmistakably associated with the "TJ Curly" era of toupee), apparently coming from the future to warn host Seth Macfarlane about his "disastrous" upcoming performance.

Given the Oscars folks ultra-protectiveness of their videos, we present only the very briefest of clips:

We may be wrong, but we think this is only the second time Bill Shatner has donned his movie-era Star Trek costume since his final performance as Captain Kirk in the 1994 movie Star Trek: Generations.

The first, in 2006, was a DirecTV commercial that combined new footage with that taken from 1991's Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Given that in this case footage from past and present was being blended, an attempt had to be made to "TJ-up" the "Denny Katz" - at least as much as modern technology and the actor himself might permit.

A 2006 commercial for DirecTV.

But in 2013, the toup was not changed at all - it was an unabashed, unadulterated "Denny Katz", causing shock-waves to reverberate throughout the audience - and beyond.

 Stunned - guests left speechless at the 2013 Oscars.

Even "Jimming-up" the toup a little with a slight frontal quiff (or "swoosh") - something the "Denny Katz" could easily accomodate...

...was rejected. For many Star Trek fans, it appeared to be a devastating act of "tough love" on the part of their idol.

The key question regards this latest "Kirk" appearance is: has the long-absent character successfully been brought to life? Or does the fact that there is a toupological mismatch really thwart viewers' ability to experience a complete immersion in this retro-recreation?

Our resident Professor of Shatnero-Folicular Interpretative Sciences explains:

"Star Trek fans have always had an uneasy relationship with the 'Denny Katz' toupee [worn since around 2000]. On the one hand, most of them accept that this is the perhaps final major hair choice that Bill Shatner will make - and that it is is not at all a bad one. But they also have no frame of reference for this toupee as regards to it relating to the world of Star Trek. They almost feel a sense of alienation; that this toup represents the definitive ending of an era, and that so long as Bill Shatner wears it, the original Captain Kirk cannot and will not return. Smaller, more militant factions even blame the toupee for preventing a viable Bill Shatner cameo in the new Trek movies."

Toupological distrust? - Bill Shatner and Star Trek fans.

Is such an assessment fair? Via a very crude "Touposhop", several staff at the William Shatner School of Toupological Studies' "Division of Toupological Approximations" decided to see what would happen if a "TJ Curly" era toup replaced the "Denny Katz" in the 2013 Oscars appearance. Would the real Captain Kirk, absent for twenty years now, suddenly come alive?

Surprisingly, we would say that the answer is yes!

He looks a little more squashed (shorter and wider) than since we last saw him properly - but is this not the Captain Kirk we know and love?

In the TV series, Kirk was the "Jim Kirk lace" and vice versa. Eventually, fans reluctantly adjusted to the "TJ Curly" for the James T. Kirk of the movies. But perhaps the professor we quoted above is right: the "Denny Katz" and Captain Kirk are simply of different worlds...

UPDATE: Rather coincidentally, shortly after we published this story, media reports came out regarding Bill Shatner possibly appearing in the next Star Trek movie. So let's talk toup: just to be clear, no-one has contacted us regarding what kind of toupee we think Bill Shatner should wear if he does appear in this movie.


Finally, a sincere thanks for all your very warm welcome back messages (and tips)! We weren't really going to "waste" a post explaining where the hell we've been. But for those of you who are interested: one of the key staff members at Shatner's Toupee (which serves as the public information service of the "William Shatner School of Toupological Studies") apparently seemed to so enjoy writing our two annual Christmastime stories and much of the other content here at this site, that he decided to disappear and go write a novel.

For some reason that may not be entirely efficient (we are undertaking an internal review), our overwhelming loyalty to this one staff member, publishing his book under the name "Dominik James" (which we suspect is a pseudonym) led to the thousands of other staff at the WSSTS insisting that we would wait till he was done. No pressure, right?

Writing and self-publishing a novel is a bit like taking a wee into a lake. You either need a lot of wee or a very small lake. Not convinced that either of these is the case here, but either way, two years later his debut tome Eryll and the Arbutus is now avaliable a downloadable e-book and is also available as an e-book at outlets such as Amazon and iTunes. We're told it has nothing at all to do with Bill Shatner and toupees, and in fact is a kind of political-psychological allegorical tale set in modern day America (though there is one mention of Star Trek).

We thought we would mention this to our readers here just this once (maybe we'll allow the author a small link at the side column of the site), and then leave it at that. If any of you do take the plunge, do let us know (even if it was not liked), and if any of you reviewers/bloggers out there who are into fiction, politics etc. would like a free copy, just email us...

Our next post will not be entitled: "Where the hell have you been?"