The Taming of the Shrew (06/29/1954)

Introducing…Mr. William Shatner!

William Shatner is often introduced or referred to as being a “classically trained” actor, referring to those actors who have had formal training in Shakespearean theater. Indeed, when Shatner was hired for Star Trek, one of the (many, many) selling points was that he came from just such a classical training background. And when people criticize his acting for being a bit too broad, defenders (and critics alike) point to his classical background as being the main culprit for that style. But there is one person who makes a point of never referring to William Shatner as being classically trained, and that person is William Shatner himself.

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Measure for Measure (06/28/1954)

Shatner meets the Bard…and his first big break.

In my 1953 – Shatner Year in Review post, I gave a brief overview of the history of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival and noted that it was an almost instant sensation in its first year. I also mentioned that Shatner was, according to him, approached to join the inaugural company but turned it down, thinking that the festival was a dubious prospect that would most likely fail. He was, of course, extremely wrong.

If the first year was a success beyond most people’s wildest dreams, the second season of the festival, in 1954, was even more blockbuster and truly cemented the Stratford Festival as one of the premiere theaters in North America and around the world. Artistic Director Tyrone Guthrie, in collaboration with Tanya Moiseiwitsch, continued to revolutionize Shakespearean theater (and theater in general) with the “thrust stage.” For the second season, capacity in the theater was increased greatly simply by moving the tent poles (yes, the theater was under a big tent) from the inside of the theater to the outside. The tickets sold almost doubled, from an astounding 68,599 in 1953 to 125,155 the following year. Another play was added, bringing the total number to three, and that added third play (Oedipus Rex) wasn’t even written by Shakespeare! The season doubled to 9 weeks, and by the second weekend they were basically sold out for the remaining 1954 run.

This, all before the internet made it incredibly simple for people to buy tickets to just about anything from just about anywhere. Seriously, think about it…to get tickets to a performance (or performances) of the Stratford Festival in 1954, one had to travel by car, bus or train to Stratford directly (which was not exactly a destination in and of itself) and wait in a line at the box office to purchase tickets. Then, you would return home (usually a journey of at least an hour) and then come back on the day or days that your purchased tickets were good for. The failing town of Stratford, propped up by the hope and money of its citizens in an effort to save their hometown, transformed literally almost overnight from a train hub and manufacturing depot into a thriving artistic tourist destination.

Shatner was invited once again to join the company, and this time he jumped at the chance.

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CBC Theatre – “The Man Who Ran Away” (04/06/1954)

Let’s play catch-up!

As I warned you all in my post on Space Command, we’re entering a very hazy period of time regarding any concrete information on a lot of Shatner’s appearances. This “haze” doesn’t really start to clear until about 1960 or so, when things definitely get more pinned down. In the meantime, new information has come to light that forces me to deviate from my plan to talk about Shatner’s appearance in The Taming of the Shrew for Stratford, and backtrack just a few months to discuss a TV appearance instead.

While doing some research for my next few posts, I ran across an article and radio program about William Shatner for the CBC. The images shown were for a number of productions I had never heard of. I did some more digging, and found a bit more information on these shows on IMDB.

And then I noticed that there were about 8-10 other shows that were also appearing on IMDB that hadn’t been there when I was building my initial Shatner database. So, I spent several hours this morning slotting in all of the information that I could find regarding these appearances. And that information was really, really sparse, but I’ve done what I could. After this post, my next tasks will be to update some of the information in previous reviews, because even little changes can affect the whole of Shatner’s web.

So let’s dive into the CBC Theatre’s, “The Man Who Ran Away” from early April 1954, shall we?

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Space Command (1954)

Shatner heads into outer space for the first time! Probably.

All right, folks…we’re about to enter a rather misty period as it relates to Mr. Shatner. For various productions over the next several years (really until about 1960 or so) I’m going to do my level best to present accurate information, with a whole heaping spoonful of informed guesswork on the side.

In doing my research, I’ve found a lot of conflicting information, wrong information, vague information and/or just plain no information regarding some of Shatner’s appearances, his life and the timeline of events in general surrounding Le Shat. When there is uncertainty in the information that I am providing, I will try and call that out as best I can during our journey together.

Case in point, Space Command, a show that I believe did actually exist but beyond that have very little information about other than tantalizing “facts” gleaned from the internet and Wikipedia. Hell, I’m not even sure if the picture above is from Space Command, because the site it was attached to was inaccessible while I was writing this.

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1953 – Shatner Year in Review

Welcome to the 1953 edition of the “Shatner Year In Review.” At the end of each year covered in the review posts I will provide a summary as it relates to Shatner and his career, as well as display some key entertainment statistics.

1953 has the distinction of being, at least for this blog, the last relatively uneventful year in the life of Mr. William Shatner. Early in the year, he would have been performing with the Canadian National Repertory Theatre in Ottawa, and in the summer he was right back to the Mountain Playhouse…then back to the Canadian National Rep for their winter program. In other words, Shatner’s working world of 1953 was little different than what I related in my 1952 Shatner Year in Review post.

Meanwhile, about 350 miles southwest of Ottawa, something was happening that would soon prove to be of enormous consequence to young Bill’s life…

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1952 – Shatner Year In Review

Le Shat graduates!

Welcome to the 1952 edition of the “Shatner Year In Review.” At the end of each year covered in the review posts I will provide a summary as it relates to Shatner and his career, as well as display some key entertainment statistics.

In 1952, Shatner graduated from McGill University (although he missed his convocation due to failing one of his math classes) with a Commerce degree. That summer, he was hired to be the assistant manager of a summer theater, the Mountain Playhouse. This theater put on a number of plays that depended on little scenery or sets. This meant usually “light comedies featuring a young guy…”

According to Shatner’s autobiography Up Till Now:

I was a terrible assistant manager. A disgrace to my commerce degree. I kept losing tickets and mixing up reservations, which were basically the only responsibilities I had. Actors were easily replaceable, but the survival of the theater depended on getting the ticket sales right. Most actors get hired; to save the theater I was fired into the cast. I began playing all those happy young man roles.

Shatner credits acting in these light comedies with helping him learn “how to act.” In fact he credits the audience with teaching him timing and other mannerisms (he had to wait for laughter to subside, he would learn to repeat things the audience seemed to like, etc.) associated with acting. Since he never had any formal acting lessons, he used this time and these experiences to build up his acting chops instead.

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1951 – Shatner Year In Review

Welcome to the 1951 edition of the “Shatner Year In Review.” At the end of each year covered in the review posts I will provide a summary as it relates to Shatner and his career, as well as display some key entertainment statistics.

1951 was an understandably quiet year in the history of Shatner, as he continued his Junior year at McGill University, and then began his Senior year in the fall. He made no on-screen appearances during 1951 while attending school, but he has admitted that he ignored most of his actual schoolwork to focus on extracurricular theater and acting opportunities.

Shatner was president of McGill’s Radio Workshop, and acted in, directed and produced the Red and White Review/Revue for three of his four years at the university.

Shatner working and hamming it up!

There was, however, one very momentous event that happened in 1951…

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1950 – Shatner Year In Review

Photograph | William Shatner and musicians, Open Air Playhouse

Welcome to the first edition of the “Shatner Year In Review.” At the end of each year covered in the review posts I will provide a summary of the year as it relates to Shatner and his career, as well as display some key entertainment statistics.

1950 was a momentous year in the history of Shatner, as he made his very first appearance in the subsequently unreleased film The Butler’s Night OffAt the time, he was most likely entering his Junior year at McGill University in his hometown of Montreal, Quebec. At the university, he was majoring in Business (Commerce) ostensibly to follow in his father’s footsteps in the clothing business. Go read my review of The Butler’s Night Off for a little bit more information on this.

Other than that performance, Shatner made no other on-screen appearance in 1950. But in just a few short years, his career would begin to take a remarkably prolific upturn…stay tuned.

Best Shatner Appearance of 1950: The Butler’s Night Off
Worst Shatner Appearance of 1950: The Butler’s Night Off

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Go Ask Alice (01/24/1973)

You can’t ask Alice anything anymore…

Although I will usually be reviewing Shatner appearances in chronological order, an exception is made in this case for Go Ask Alice to celebrate the launch of the website. This will probably be the only time I break my chronological rule. Probably.

In 1971, Go Ask Alice, a young girl’s real life diary was published. This anonymous girl (the title is not, as is frequently thought, the diarist’s name but is instead a line from a 1967 Jefferson Airplane song, “White Rabbit”, a thinly veiled drug song about Alice In Wonderland) detailed in the diary her addiction to drugs starting at the age of 15. This addiction soon spiraled out of control and led to her running away from home, becoming a prostitute, and eventually dying of a drug overdose at 17. The book was a sensation, read by a generation of kids and their parents alike and often read in schools for its anti-drug message.

In January 1973, this diary was made into a television movie and shown as part of ABC’s very popular “Movie of the Week” series. The film starred Jamie Smith-Jackson as the now-titular Alice (it was just easier to name the girl Alice for the movie, which both causes and alleviates confusion depending on how you want to look at it) and William Shatner as her oblivious father. This TV movie helped to solidify and magnify the success of the book, reaching an ever-wider audience of parents, teachers and kids with its harrowing true story of teen drug addiction.

Several friends of mine, who could give a shit about Shatner, knew exactly what I was talking about when I mentioned Go Ask Alice the TV movie. They had vivid memories of watching the film in the 1970’s and early 80’s, as it was often re-aired to good ratings and shown in high schools as a cautionary tale. At the beginning of the film, the following text is shown:

This motion picture is based on the authentic diary of a 15 year old American girl. The only alterations have been those necessitated by considerations of length and acceptability for family viewing.

In the immortal words of Simon & Garfunkel, “Hello bullshit, my old friend.”

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The Butler’s Night Off (1950)

In the beginning, there was Le Shat

If there is one thing that I think we can all agree on, it is that William Shatner is the greatest actor who has ever lived, or will ever live.

We would then reasonably expect that the very first appearance of this god made flesh, this indomitable future titan of the stage, TV and silver screen would be in a role that showcased his incredible talent. Oh, we shouldn’t expect some huge leading man performance for a first timer, but something more along the lines of a small but essential part that clearly displayed his fiery range, that made him stand out above all the others in the production. A role that would make manifest to all watching that this actor, this almost otherworldly figure on the screen before them, had firmly claimed the throne that was so rightly his.

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