The Big Dig (09/02/1955)

Oh shit! Shatner’s dreams hit a big snag…

Shatner, Toby Robins & John Bethune

As I stated in my last post, after the Stratford Shakespeare Festival wrapped up its 1955 season, Shatner headed back to Toronto to work another TV season at the CBC. But that wasn’t Shatner’s original idea at all. In fact, his plan was to finish out the Stratford season and then leave Canada altogether for the bright lights of Broadway. So what happened? Well, fucking Lorne Greene happened.

William Shatner has never had many (really any) close male friends over his lifetime for whatever reason. He has had many friendly acquaintances though, and one of those early on was Lorne Greene. Lorne was about 20 years older than Shatner, and had already made a name for himself as a broadcast newsreader and then later as a professional actor. His age and experience would have been attractive to young Shatner, who was just starting out in the business.

According to his autobiography, Up Till Now, Shatner says that he hung out a bit with Lorne and some “other actor” during the summer of 1955, which was the Stratford season when they were appearing in Julius Caesar and The Merchant of Venice together. Lorne and his friend would spend a lot of time during the week day-trading at a stock broker’s office, speculating in commodities. Shatner writes that, “All the two of them did was make money.” Understandably, Shatner wanted in. He had about 500 dollars, money he had been scrupulously saving for what he hoped would be the upcoming move to New York City. But he now he saw a way to turn that 500 bucks into maybe 1000, enough to really catapult himself towards Broadway in a major way. So he decided to take his savings and follow Lorne Greene’s lead.

Shatner, in Up Till Now:

In the summer of 1955 the hot commodity was uranium. Apparently it was the necessary material for atomic power, so naturally it was very valuable. So on a Thursday I went with my friend Lorne and this other actor to the stockbroker’s office and spent my entire life savings buying uranium futures. And I heard the voice of God, Lorne Greene, tell me, “You’re going to make a lot of money, Bill.”

I thought, wow, I’m going to make a lot of money.

And then…disaster. At Stratford the very next evening, Greene approached Shatner with some bad news. Apparently, the Prime Minister of Canada was going to give a speech stating that the country had stockpiled enough uranium to meet its needs, and would no longer need to purchase any more of this “hot” commodity. Shatner was terrified, spending the entire weekend at Stratford worrying about what was going to happen to his investment come Monday morning when the markets opened. And his fears were confirmed. The price of uranium duly plummeted, and Shatner lost his entire nest egg. His grand dreams of heading to Broadway after Stratford’s season were dashed. Instead it was back to Toronto for another season of scraping enough work together to get by followed by at least one more year at Stratford in 1956 to rebuild his savings.

Shatner wasted little time coming up with his first job, landing a role in The Big Dig just about a week after Stratford finished. As with many programs of this era, I have very little information on this. In fact, I don’t even know if this was an episode of an anthology series, a one-off TV movie or some other kind of specially produced TV show. My investigations lead me to believe that it was not an episode of one of the many anthology series that Shatner appeared on from 1954-56, but there certainly could be other series that I don’t know about.

The Big Dig does look interesting though, just going by the pictures that I’ve been able to dig up (get it?) It looks to be some kind of strange science fiction story replete with spacemen, at least one confirmed space-bachelor™, a 50’s housewife, mannequins and aliens.

Shatner and Toby Robins, with a mannequin in The Big Dig
Your guess is as good as mine…

Now, the mannequins I see in the pictures are probably placeholders for actors. The photos are all from the set of “The Big Dig” and were taken prior to actual filming. Still, even if the mannequins are not part of the actual story, this thing does look pretty interesting.

But alas, this program is most likely lost forever to the deep and merciless seas of time. Almost certainly a live recording, the program was probably not preserved in any way, shape or form. I would love to be proven wrong, though. This thing looks trippy as all fuck.

Shatner, Toby Robins and Murray Matheson with some aliens?
Aliens! Or mole people? I give up.

UPDATE: As you can see in the comments below, one of my readers has unearthed a little more information on this program: “According to a bio of Canadian composer Louis Applebaum, “The Big Dig” was a script by humorist Eric Nicol. It was about the funny speculations and conclusions drawn by archaeologists far in the future who unearth mid-20th century Toronto.”

That certainly jives with some of the images I’ve seen for this program. I still don’t quite understand the strange alien-like creatures in the picture above, but let’s chalk that one up to a mystery for another time!

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Shatner’s Web

It’s time to detail all of the connections between The Big Dig and other Shatner appearances! 

This was the fourth and final time that Toby Robins (the woman in the pictures above) would appear with Shatner. She had first been in Measure for Measure with The Shat during the 1954 Stratford season, and then in a couple of episodes of television, Scope’s “Antiquity 1954” and General Motors Theatre’s “Never Say No.”

John Bethune had previously appeared with Shatner in the aforementioned episode of Scope, “Antiquity 1954.” This was the last time he would ever be seen with Shatner, to my knowledge.

Veteran character actor Murray Matheson also appeared in Scope’s “Antiquity 1954.” He would have one more role alongside Shatner in 1960, an episode of Moment of Fear entitled “A Touch of Guilt.”

Finally, Tommy Tweed was also in “Antiquity 1954”, apparently as the host.

UPDATE: Eric Nicole was apparently the writer for this particular production; he had previously been a writer for Scope’s “Antiquity 1954” which also featured William Shatner.

There are other actors in this production, but I have no information on who they are so can’t confirm or deny that they ever appeared with Shatner in any other capacity. Damn you, seas of time and incomplete records!

Further Studies

Read up on uranium and commodity speculating.

Buy Shatner’s autobiography already.



Author: Shatner

I give myself to him, William Shatner.

3 thoughts on “The Big Dig (09/02/1955)”

  1. According to a bio of Canadian composer Louis Applebaum, “The Big Dig” was a script by humorist Eric Nicol. It was about the funny speculations and conclusions drawn by archaeologist far in the future who unearth mid-20th century Toronto. It actually appears to have been broadcast January 1, 1955, according to a chapter footnote.

    1. Thanks for the info on it! I’ll add that writer to my database and the little summation as well. However, the date is almost certainly incorrect…at least according to the records at the CBC. All pictures of the production are annotated by them with show a broadcast date of September 2, 1955, which makes more sense to me. Every time I’ve seen a date in those archives that doesn’t jive with something I see elsewhere I find that they have been the correct date…but of course, the possibility exists that they are wrong!

      1. Could be the January footnote date was not the date of broadcast, then, but the date the final script was submitted, or something.

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