In March of 2016, a man named Peter Sloan filed a $170 million lawsuit in Florida federal court against one Mr. William Shatner. Sloan, given up for adoption in New York City just five days after his birth in December of 1956, began searching for his birth parents in the early 1980’s at the urging of his first adoptive father. He eventually tracked his birth mother down in Toronto and discovered that she had been (in the mid-1950’s) a minor Canadian actress named Kathy McNeil (at the time Kathy Burt, her maiden name.) McNeil later told Sloan in a letter that his birth father was either a law student from Montreal whose name she could not recall, or William F. Shatner.
Sloan then alleges that Kathy McNeil told him personally that she was convinced that Shatner was the father, not the law student from Montreal. In early 1956 she had just suffered a breakup from her first boyfriend and, feeling emotionally vulnerable, ended up having two one-night stands in close proximity; the first, a night with William Shatner, and the second with the law student some days later. Immediately after that second one-night stand, McNeil “knew” that she was pregnant.
McNeil flew to NYC for an (illegal at the time) abortion but changed her mind once arriving due to a potentially dangerous medical issue. She stayed in New York during the pregnancy, and gave the baby up for adoption in December of 1956. She told the Children’s Aid Society that the father was a law student, which Sloan just chalks up to his mother picking one of the two men who might have been the father at random.
McNeil admitted that she never contacted Shatner or the other man about her pregnancy at the time, but did assert that she later met Shatner in 1962 when he was on Broadway and told him that “I gave a away a baby in 1956, just thought you should know.” What Shatner thought of this information (if this conversation did indeed occur) is unknown, and even McNeil sort of admits that she didn’t come right out and say that it was his child.
Sloan even managed to contact his mother’s old roommate from their acting days in Toronto, who moved out suddenly in 1956 under some unusual circumstances. When Sloan asked her why she left abruptly she answered:
Well it was all rather embarrassing you see. Kathy and I lived together and one day I walked in on her and William Shatner having sex on our living room couch.
In November of 1984, armed with a connection from his first adoptive father and the certainty that William Shatner was his biological dad (and a comment from another person saying he “Well you do have his dumpy ass”) Sloan met with Shatner at the studio in California where T.J. Hooker was being filmed. According to Sloan, after filming he was invited to Shatner’s trailer.
“I introduced myself and he pointed at me and said, ‘You’re the one,’ ” Sloan said. “We talked for 90 minutes and he asked me what I wanted out of this. I started crying and said, ‘I just want to hug my father’ and we hugged.”
Sloan said he was invited to watch filming on Monday, in downtown Los Angeles, and Shatner introduced him to the cast and crew as Peter with no mention of their relationship.
Sloan has no proof of this encounter, however. He said he took no photos or mementos.
Sloan then flew back to New Jersey where he lived at the time. He says that he called Shatner a few weeks later to talk to him, but was personally told that “he (Shatner) could not publicly admit he was his father and asked Sloan to stop calling.” To top it all off, Sloan says that one of Shatner’s friends called him a few days after this to “say news of an illegitimate son could damage Shatner’s acting career.”
Fast forward to 2009, when Peter Sloan was attempting to publish a book about his search for his parents. To help stand out he began calling himself Peter Shatner. “That name is my birthright. I have no problems using it. I believe he owes me at least that much.” Despite some warnings about using that name from Shatner’s camp, Sloan continued billing himself as Peter Shatner on his Tampa, Florida based radio show, for publicity and charity appearances and for his eventually published book.
From 2009, when he began to get some notoriety from the Shatner name, up to 2016 when he filed the lawsuit, Sloan insisted that he was not looking for money from Shatner. All he wanted, he claimed, was for Shatner to take a paternity test and acknowledge that he was Sloan’s biological father. Even though Sloan’s half-brother (and eventually Sloan personally) received confirmation from James Doohan that Shatner and Kathy McNeil knew each other in Toronto in 1956, Shatner’s publicist in 2015 denied that Sloan was Shatner’s son, and stated that she “was not aware” of any information to suggest that Shatner ever actually knew Kathy Burt-McNeil.
Which brings us (finally!) back to this General Motors Theatre episode from December 1955, “Forever Galatea.” It looks like Shatner was the star of this episode, although any and all plot details are lost once again to Father Time, also known as Grim Death and Foul Consumer of precious Shatner appearances. His main co-star in the episode seems to have been Deborah Turnbull, but guess what other Canadian actress was in this program?
You got it in one, my friend: Kathy McNeil.
This episode aired a full 4 months prior to the alleged incident of a sexual nature between Shatner and McNeil, and to my knowledge these are some of the only photos of McNeil and Shatner together. So what do we make of the rest of this story? True? Untrue? Half true? Let’s break it down just a bit.
By Shatner’s own admission in his autobiography Up Till Now, there were very few professional actors in Toronto at the time. It makes complete sense that he would have known Kathy Burt-McNeil and therefore may have associated with her. The timeline given by McNeil also seems to check out: Shatner would have been back in Toronto in March of 1956 after his short Broadway stint in Tamburlaine the Great, and could certainly have had an intimate evening with a rebounding McNeil that led to Sloan’s conception. We know as well (from the above photos on the set of “Forever Galatea”) that Shatner and McNeil worked together at least once while in Toronto. And McNeil’s story of meeting Shatner on Broadway in 1962 also checks out (timing wise, at least); he was co-starring in A Shot in the Dark during that period.
But there is a lot of circumstantial evidence and hearsay coming from Peter Sloan that really can’t be corroborated. James Doohan’s assertion that Shatner and McNeil were acquainted (Doohan is now dead and he hated Shatner more than almost any other human alive,) the meeting between Sloan and Shatner in 1984 (there is no photographic or other evidence that this occurred) and Shatner’s subsequent tacit admission to Sloan that he was his father (no one witnessed this) among many other things. And reading the entire account from Sloan’s book does make it seem like Shatner was being a little more guarded about whether he actually was his father. He (unsurprisingly) had no recollection of Kathy Burt, was wary when James Doohan’s name was brought up (man, those two hated each other) and kept telling Peter that “it doesn’t matter who your father is, Peter.”
Also, there may be some revisionist history and confirmation bias. In his book, Sloan says that his mother always thought that the other man was his father and not Shatner. It was only after meeting Sloan, and saw some of Shatner’s “mannerisms” in Peter that she became convinced that Shatner was the actual father. But at other times, we hear that Kathy Burt-McNeil always thought Shatner was the father…a contradiction. And really, there is a lot of cherry-picking in his book. He touts as fact that Kathy McNeil “knew” she was pregnant, and that she wrote to him and said that it was very possible that Shatner was the father. But if you read the whole letter (and I have,) the very next line she writes that the other guy could very well be the actual father instead.
Even if we take all of Sloan’s (and McNeil’s) story at face value, there is still only a 50/50 chance that Shatner is the father. The law student from Montreal has never been identified and it seems entirely possible that he is, in fact, Peter Sloan’s biological father. I mean, I ain’t no woman and I ain’t no scientist, but I don’t think it it is 100% accurate to say that you can tell that you’re pregnant just a few days after sex…let alone identify the father with certainty between two possible men.
Sloan’s $170 million lawsuit is also a bit of a red flag to me. After years of asserting that he wanted nothing more from Shatner than an admission that he was his father, he suddenly turns around and files a lawsuit against the man with a ridiculous price tag attached. My educated guess is that Sloan was using the high dollar value of the lawsuit to compel Shatner to take a paternity test in exchange for dropping the suit or vastly reducing the damages requested, but who knows. He heavily implies in his book that he did it because he was tired of Shatner’s camp saying publicly that Sloan was not Shatner’s son, and that they were pressuring him to drop the Shatner name.
Also, at the end of his book, Sloan throws out a completely unfounded theory: that Shatner knew McNeil was pregnant and thought that she had gone to New York for an abortion. In other words, Shatner and McNeil had a pact where he accidentally got her pregnant and she agreed to go get an abortion. This is not supported by any of the “evidence” presented, including everything his birth mother told him and wrote to him, and makes Sloan look just a tad bit wackadoodle to me. I think Sloan has convinced himself that he is Shatner’s son (and he may be right!) but he puts out a lot of evidence as proof when it is nothing of the sort.
In February of 2017, a federal judge in Florida dismissed Sloan’s case, calling it “a rambling recitation of various alleged meetings, letters, articles, radio transcripts and internet posts. (The) complaint, even liberally construed, fails to comply with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and fails to assert any discernible basis for the relief sought against the named defendants.” Peter Sloan refiled the case just a few weeks later, so we’ll see where this goes. My guess? Nowhere.
For what it’s worth, I happen to believe most of Peter Sloan’s story…right up until we get to his “certainty” that he is Shatner’s son and some of his conjecture and conspiracy theories. I do think that there may be a 50/50 chance that he is Shatner’s, but also a 50/50 chance that he is not. I’m pretty certain that that is certainly not a certainty. But again, I ain’t no mathematician, so what do I know?
This was Shatner’s eighth and final appearance on CBC/General Motors Theatre, all within a two year time frame. After this, he was off to the bright lights of Broadway for the very first (but not the last) time, and to Tyrone Guthrie’s Tamburlaine the Great (and from there, on to fathering an illegitimate son in early 1956? We’ll probably never know.)
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It’s time to detail all of the connections between General Motors Theater’s “Forever Galatea” and other Shatner appearances!
Bruno Gerussi was at Stratford for all three years that Shatner was there, appearing in The Taming of the Shrew, Oedipus Rex, Julius Caesar, King Oedipus, The Merchant of Venice, Henry V and The Merry Wives of Windsor with him. He would also appear in the 1957 film version of Oedipus Rex, and the 1960 episode of Festival, “Julius Caesar.”
Jack Creley previously appeared with Shatner in the General Motors Theater episodes “The Big Leap” and “The Black Eye,” as well as Scope’s “The Verdict Was Treason.” This was the fourth and final time he would appear with Le Shat.
This was the only time (that I can find) that Kathy Burt-McNeil worked with Shatner, unless you count their work between the sheets that may have transpired in March of 1956. Hey-O! But James Doohan, speaking to Peter Sloan, did say that McNeil had appeared on The Canadian Howdy Doody Show as the character “Sunny Bluster,” so she may have worked with Shatner then as well.
The above actors are the only ones I know for sure were in “Forever Galatea.” There are two more listed on IMDB that may have been in the episode. If they were, then:
Jane Graham was in another General Motors Theatre episode with Shatner, “The Coming Out of Ellie Swan.”
Norman Renault would appear with Shatner one more time, for the 1960 television movie, Point of Departure.
The director, writer and producer of this episode, Leo Orenstein, also did all three of those things for “The Big Leap,” another earlier episode of General Motors Theatre.
Basil Coleman was also a producer on “The Big Leap.”
Sydney Newman, future creator of Doctor Who, acted as producer or supervising producer in the Shatner-featuring CBC/General Motors‘ episodes “The Man Who Ran Away,” “I Like It Here,” “The Black Eye,” “Never Say No,” “The Coming Out of Ellie Swan” and “Billy Budd” as well as for The Canadian Howdy Doody Show.
Ronald Weyman, another producer credited on this episode, had previously produced “The Big Leap” and had apparently directed Shatner just a few days previously for the On Camera episode, “On a Streetcar.”
You can buy and read Peter Sloan/Shatner’s book, The Search. It looks self-published, with lots of grammatical errors and repetitive passages. For example, Sloan will tell the whole story of his mother, then retell it when someone else confirms it. The book is short, but could have been even shorter. Still, there’s some good stuff in there, especially Doohan telling Sloan about how much of an asshole he thought Shatner was.
Here is that Tampa Bay Times article about Peter Sloan from 2015, prior to his filing the lawsuit. It has a pretty good recap of his story.