There was definitely at least one wig on the bridge of the starship Enterprise. But the real reason why wigs and hairpieces were mandated for some of the cast members may be unexpected. Chances are, you’ve heard legends of Shatner’s wig, or seen the beautifully crafted wigs made for some of the female cast, such as Janice Rand, played by Grace Lee Whitney. But the story of how Walter Koenig came to wear a wig to play Ensign Pavel Chekov has a uniquely 1960s twist.
Chekov’s Wig Was Supposed to Appeal to the Teens of the 60s
On page 393 of Inside Star Trek, there is a quote from a 1966 internal production memo that sheds light on the origins of Chekov.
That memo, from Roddenberry to his casting director, revealed exactly what Roddenberry was hoping a youthful character could bring to the show.
“Keeping our teenage audience in mind, also keeping aware of current trends, let’s watch for a young…Beatles type,” Roddenberry wrote. “Like the smallish fellow who looks to be a hit on The Monkees.”
That “smallish fellow” is likely a reference to Monkees member Davy Jones. CNN notes the former teen idol was variously reported as being 5’3″ or 5’4″ over the course of his career.
The Mission Log Podcast site has obtained an extensive 1968 production memo that states Chekov “might give us our best entre [sic] to youth,” meaning that the character was resonating with younger viewers, something producers were able to gauge based on the volume of fan mail Koenig received.
In a 2016 interview with TV Insider, Koenig confirmed that fans of the show “liked his groovy haircut”.
In the same interview, he revealed that the wig he wore as Chekov wasn’t actually designed for men.
“They put me in a lady’s wig for my first six or seven episodes,” he explained. “My hair was already starting to thin, so they had to spray it and comb it forward. It took a little work to make me appealing to the preteen crowd.”
Koenig Wasn’t the Only One Wearing a Hairpiece on Set
In the video above, actress Robin Curtis recounts the day she spent looking for evidence of Shatner’s rumored hair piece on set. Curtis appeared onscreen with Shatner in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, but she did not appear on the original series.
While entire blogs have been dedicated to the question of Shatner’s hair on Star Trek, it’s worth noting that production memos have surfaced, potentially laying groundwork to prove that Shatner did wear hairpieces while playing Captain Kirk.
One memo, dated February 5, 1968, alleges that Shatner “borrowed” four Kirk hairpieces from the set, valued around $600 in total. According to one inflation calculator, that’s roughly $4,400 worth of fake hair Shatner wandered off with in 2019 dollars, which explains why there was a production memo about the issue in the first place.
That being said, Shatner clapped back at one fan who asked him about the infamous “wig memo” on Twitter.
@aherrmann350 How about doing some basic research into the date on the memo & Desilu and then hang your head in shame for behind duped?
— William Shatner (@WilliamShatner) November 17, 2015
For what it’s worth, the New York Times reported the sale of Desilu Productions to Gulf and Western in 1967, which is before the date listed on the wig memo.
The wig memo is housed at the UCLA Library. The Online Archive of California notes that UCLA’s collection of Star Trek materials spans a whopping 36 storage boxes, taking up 18 linear feet of storage space. The collection includes other memos, as well as things like story outlines, shooting schedules, cast lists, budget reports, and more.
In email correspondence with an assistant at the UCLA Library Special Collections, Heavy was able to confirm that the “wig memo” appears to have been donated directly to UCLA by Roddenberry himself in 1969.
While Shatner may not want to come out and talk about his hairy history, it’s worth noting that actor Burt Reynolds called out Shatner by name as the man who introduced him to celebrity wig expert Edward Katz. A 2013 LA Times article mentions that Shatner was a client of Katz.
According to Katz’s website, his custom wigs for men can cost up to $3,500. However, Katz also requires his clients to purchase a minimum of two wigs, which increases the total cost of working with the legendary hair designer. Katz’s website states that two wigs are ideal, so one can be worn while the other is being refurbished.
It’s also notable that Shatner’s former T.J. Hooker co-star Molly Cheek has weighed in on Shatner’s hair. In a 1996 article from the Tallahassee Democrat, Cheek didn’t pull any punches.
“Shatner is the luckiest man in show business,” she told reporters. “Who couldn’t play Captain Kirk? …And he wears a girdle and a terrible hairpiece and is the male counterpart to a grand dame.”
The same article references an incident two years prior, during which Shatner was doing press at a local radio station.
When asked by the radio host whether he wore a hairpiece, Shatner got upset.
“I don’t wear a hairpiece. That’s the stupidest question I’ve ever heard.”
Shatner reportedly hung up the phone shortly after making that response to the host.
More About the Iconic Wigs of Star Trek
— Star Trek (@StarTrek) April 1, 2016
While the men of Star Trek have gotten a lot of attention for wearing wigs on set, it is worth noting that one of the most iconic and elaborate wigs featured on Star Trek was actually worn by a female cast member.
In a 1966 North Adams, Massachusetts newspaper interview, actress Grace Lee Whitney gushed about her hairstyle for the show. The “basket weave” beehive even merited its own subheading in the paper’s report, it was so buzzworthy.
In another passage from 1996’s Inside Star Trek, on page 157, it was revealed that Gene Roddenberry wanted elaborate hair to sell the futuristic setting. As the book’s co-author Robert “Bob” Justman explains in that passage, the final look was so lacquered in hair product that “You could hit it with a sledgehammer and never make a dent.”
Whitney clarified that the elaborate hairdo was a wig on page 77 of her 1998 book, The Longest Trek: My Tour of the Galaxy. In the passage, she explains the look was so massive, two Max Factor-brand wigs had to be wound around a cone to create the necessary volume and height. Whitney added that the final piece was “heavier than a NASA space helmet.”