A BIRTHDAY SALUTE: If you thought Shatner hammed it up in Star Trek, just wait…
NOTE FROM DAN: William Shatner, one of my all-time favorite actors, was born 92 years ago! This year, we take a different look at the Shat’s career — when he starred in the 1970s comedic adventure show The Barbary Coast. It’s groovy stuff but we can’t leave James T. Kirk in Spacedock, so click here for 13 GREAT CAPTAIN KIRK MOMENTS, as well. Right on. — DG
By WALT GROGAN
William Shatner was born 92 years ago, on March 22, 1931. His portrayal of Captain Kirk in Star Trek was a turning point in my life. As much as I loved Adam West’s Batman, it was Shatner’s Captain Kirk who demonstrated what heroism, leadership, teamwork, charm, and charisma were all about. And that’s all down to Bill’s acting chops.
Even at the young age of 6 years old in 1966, I wanted to meet the man — and I eventually got my chance.
After Star Trek ended and between guest-star gigs on other TV series, Bill would appear at car shows (the precursor to the autograph conventions of today). One of his stops was Chicago’s World of Wheels in the early 1980s. It’s a custom car show held annually at McCormick Place Convention Center along Chicago’s lakefront.
Back then, after paying the price of admission, you could walk around and take in the custom cars, sometimes including the 1966 Batmobile and K.I.T.T. from Knight Rider. To sweeten the draw, the promoters would bring in celebrities. So after seeing the cars, you could wait in line to meet the featured star and get an autograph or photo, if you brought your own Instamatic camera, at no extra charge (unlike today’s autograph shows). So my friend, Mike Elsey, and my younger brother, John, decided to attend the show just to meet Bill Shatner!
At that time, I had already heard stories about Mr. Shatner being somewhat of a curmudgeon but to cut the ice, my friend and I decided that we would not say how much we loved him as Captain Kirk in Star Trek because we knew that’s what everybody was going to tell him. Rather, Mike was going to say how great Bill was in the 1958 movie, The Brothers Karamazov. I was going to tell him how much I loved his starring turn on the short-lived 1975 TV series The Barbary Coast, his first series following Star Trek.
When it was our turn to meet Bill, Mike greeted him first and I took their picture together. After I stumbled over telling Bill how much I liked him in The Barbary Coast, Mike took our picture in return. And then something strange happened. Bill said, “That’s going to be a bad picture.” He then directed Mike to move in a little closer and even though a banquet table separated us, he told me and my brother John to squeeze in closer to him! Bill grabbed John’s hand in a firm handshake and placed his left hand on my arm and told Mike, “Take the photo now.” He congratulated himself by saying, “Now that’s going to be a great picture,” and added to John, “It was nice meeting you.”
I was stunned by Bill’s thoughtfulness and I’ll never forget how absolutely nice and charming he was to my little brother.
So, for Bill Shatner’s birthday, I think it’s only fitting to celebrate his time as 19th century Special Agent Jeff Cable in The Barbary Coast. The show was based in the red light district of San Francisco and was filled with crime and corruption. Shatner’s government agent character was essentially a combination of The Wild, Wild West’s James West, and West’s sidekick Artemis Gordon.
Cable was a master of disguise and that figured into the plots of all the episodes. It’s important to remember that Barbary Coast is nearly 50 years old, so some of his disguises would likely not fly today as they tended to be ethnically and regionally stereotypical, some of which I’ve avoided including here. But what they did afford was to allow Shatner to showcase his acting prowess by portraying lots of different characters.
The show also starred Dennis Cole as casino owner and Cable’s confidant, Cash Conover, in the pilot, and then the effervescent Doug McClure, who took over the role in the remaining 13 episodes.
The series also featured Richard Kiel as Conover’s barker and bouncer, Moose, as well as guest stars of the era like Linda Day George, William Daniels, Pat Hingle, Joan Van Ark, Michael Ansara, Gretchen Corbett, Judy Strangis, Lloyd Bochner and James Cromwell!
So Happy Birthday, Bill, and here are 13 of his disguises from The Barbary Coast:
— 13 GREAT CAPTAIN KIRK MOMENTS: A WILLIAM SHATNER Birthday Celebration. Click here.
— 13 COVERS: A WILLIAM SHATNER Birthday Celebration. Click here.
A 10-year-old Walt Grogan fell in love with the Big Red Cheese thanks to essays written by Dick Lupoff and Don Thompson in the paperback edition of All in Color for a Dime, released in 1970 and bought for him by his father off a paperback spinner rack in a liquor store on the South Side of Chicago. Walt runs The Marvel Family Web Facebook page devoted to all incarnations of the Fawcett/DC Captain Marvel and blogs about Captain Marvel at shazamshistorama.com.