Wednesday, June 24, 2015


Several months ago, I was approached by someone in the prop and costume collecting world who had, in turn, been contacted regarding three Star Trek tunics that had recently been unearthed and are now being sold by Julien's Auction House. The three shirts – a command gold with captain's stripes, a science blue with commander's stripes, and a short-sleeved medical version – were touted as having been given to a relative (now deceased) of the current owner sometime back in the early seventies. The owner also claimed that the three pieces were hero costumes worn by the main cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley. Since this kind of thing is extremely rare – and it's not like you can look up an expert by Googling – I was contacted in hopes that I might know someone who could shed some light on the true nature of the three pieces.

Let me be clear. I was not contacted as an expert myself, but rather, for any contacts I might have. My experience with these pieces is strictly academic, meaning that, while I know more about these things than most people would, my knowledge is limited to research and conversations. I have never owned a true production-made TOS tunic and make no claims to expertise.

Gold TOS Tunic being sold by Julien's
As it so happened, I did know some folks who might have been able to help and I thought I could probably find some others as well, so I agreed to help. The possibility that these three shirts might actually be what they claimed to be – no matter how unlikely – was too great an opportunity for me to say no to. But before I moved to contact anyone else, I knew that the chances of these being true TOS pieces was not great. Tons of fake TOS props have shown up over the years and while fake costumes are a different thing, I felt that they were just as likely to be fakes as would be a "real" phaser or tricorder that suddenly surfaced after decades of being "lost". The odds were against it. So with that in mind, I first checked out the photos I was sent to see what I could determine, even with my limited insight. It's not that I thought I could authenticate them, but rather, I knew I could spot obvious fakes and the matter might end there. I knew many of the key "tells" of a true piece (and I knew some of the bogus claims that were made about the topic) so I figured I'd at least be able to tell if it was worth going any further. And the more I looked, the more excited I got. On the surface, these appeared to be accurate first and second season TOS tunics (third season tunics changed to a different polyester material).

Blue TOS Tunic being sold by Julien's
To be blunt, I couldn't find anything wrong with them. Usually there's obvious stuff – the wrong zippers, wrong collar material, wrong basic construction, etc. But I wasn't getting any of the easy red flags. The color couldn't be used as a tell because color changes so easily with different cameras and lighting and so it can only be used in person. But with that said, the color was not obviously wrong. Based on my examination, I deemed it worth going to the next step – to true experts.

I sent out some feelers and ended up in touch with four people that had been exposed to TOS tunics, either through ownership of acknowledged TOS pieces or through handling of said pieces. I sent them the various shots I had and got more taken to satisfy requests for different kinds of things. The shots weren't great, frankly, but they weren't terrible either.

What they showed were three pieces that looked like they had been rolled up in a ball and thrown into a box for years and were basically forgotten. And, while that goes along with the basic claims of the owner, in and of itself it meant little except that the pieces looked like crap.

Medical TOS Tunic being sold by Julien's
But, crap or not, the final consensus was that these were probably real production-made tunics. But some of the stitching did not match other, known hero pieces. It seemed to be cruder, less exact. The materials all checked out, but the braid was an unknown quantity. There were too many ways for real or fake braid to be added to shirts after the fact that the presence of braid was meaningless. The braid also presented a bit of a mystery. The science blue showed commander rank (corresponding to Spock) but the braid use was incorrect to second season use. It showed a mix of first and second season braid as evidenced by the different direction of the slant of the design. This was definitely a red flag, but it was not a conclusive detail as, again, the braid could have been added after the shirts were removed from the lot. With all this mind, however, it's important to remember this: while everyone I spoke with thought they were real based on the photos, they could not truly authenticate them without holding them in their hands, and unfortunately due to lack of proximity, that wasn't possible. To my knowledge, Julian's never had that done, and that's a big deal.

And now we come to the most important aspect of this situation: the claim that these were worn by the three stars of the show – Shatner, Nimoy and Kelley. To that end, the only overt evidence of that use is a label on the command gold that says "BILL", handwritten in ink. As far as I know, that type of label has never been seen on TOS shirts before. It could be real or fake. I could make one that looked just like it in about a minute. It's worth noting that the other two shirts contain no such label.

So what other evidence is there regarding proof of "hero" use? As mentioned earlier, the braid can't be relied upon, so we have to take the shirts ONLY and discount anything sewed onto them. What does that leave us with, then? In my opinion, not much.

Here's the problem, in a nutshell. Dozens and dozens of these shirts were made and while Shatner, Nimoy and Kelley got the lion's share of screen time, there were dozens of times these same types of shirts would have been worn by supporting cast – George Takei and Walter Koenig both wore command gold shirts in every scene they were in – and by background and stuntmen as well. A gold tunic with captain's braid would have been worn by every stunt double who ever stood in for Shatner. Same with Nimoy's science blue shirt.  And, while the short-sleeved medical tunic is more unique than the normal uniform shirts, DeForest Kelley was not the only wearer, as he, too had stunt doubles. There was also another doctor on board the Enterprise who we only saw in two episodes: Dr. M'Benga, a specialist on Vulcan physiology. Dr. M'Benga also wore the telltale surgeon's tunic in his various scenes, the same type worn by Dr. McCoy. So there's no exclusivity to these shirts whatsoever. Contrary to other claims, there's there are no construction details that are "Shatner-exclusive".

So, the only way to substantiate these shirts as hero versions is through the unlikely process of screen-matching, which means, find some unique detail on each shirt being offered and match that to a corresponding scene from an original episode. While this is incredibly hard, it can be done. But it can take a huge amount of time and, of course, if these aren't really hero pieces but only background or stunts, a screen-match to a main cast character would be impossible. So you could spend hundreds of hours scouring screen caps for something that simply doesn't exist. And even if these pieces are real heroes, there still might not be a way to match them as it's incredibly difficult due to the lack of unique details on a TOS uniform shirt. It's really a tough, tough thing to pull off.

So if there's no actual proof that these are hero shirts (or any confirmed hand's-on inspection  authenticating these as true TOS production pieces. hero use aside – see my earlier statements about that, above), why are they selling at such high prices? Because Julian's want you to think that they are indeed not just real production pieces but authentic main cast pieces, despite not showing one shred of evidence in support of that theory. They know that many collectors are gullible and will believe what they want to believe – that these are the real deal. Please, please don't be one of those people. An unproven "Kirk" shirt that starts at $50,000 ($62,500 with the buyer premium!!) is a bad buy in my opinion. A LOUSY buy!! A normal background/stunt tunic would normally fetch between 4,000 and $8,000 and there is no proof offered that these pieces are anything but backgrounds at best. Julian's is hoping you're dumb enough to believe otherwise. If they have any additional information beyond what I supplied they'd say so as it could help substantiate the claim. That they have not done so tells us there's nothing to tell.

I sincerely wish I had better news about this, I really do. Unearthed TOS pieces are always exciting and three shirts worn by the main cast would be amazing! But without far more proof than the shirt colors and some general screen frames, any claim about these being heroes claim is unconfirmed and, in my opinion, invalid.

As always with such things, caveat emptor.



Monday, June 8, 2015


On Saturday, June 6, 2015, My son, John, was married to his beautiful bride Molly and a great time was had by all. Here's the happy couple at the end of the evening about to embark in their sweet ride:

Though there were many, many high points during the weekend, one of the greatest occurred on the evening before the wedding, during the rehearsal dinner when John presented my wife, Paula, and I some gifts. One of them was a pair of embroidered handkerchiefs:

If you're reading this blog then you undoubtedly recognize the sentiment as being paraphrased from Spock's funeral scene in "Wrath of Khan" when Kirk delivers a eulogy for his lost friend. (If you don't recognize it, go watch "Wrath of Khan" for God's sake! Your education is sorely lacking!)

Growing up in a house with me, naturally my son was exposed to Star Trek from the start. He was born during TNG's first season so he literally grew up with Star Trek! When he was about 12, I took him to a local midnight showing of "Wrath of Khan" so that he could experience it as it was meant to be seen – on the big screen! It was a very old and scratchy print which kind of made the experience a bit more special, though there was at least one down side. When Kirk went to deliver his immortal "Khan!!!" scream, the soundtrack jumped and all we got was kind of a gulp instead of one of the defining moments of the movie! But it kind of made it more memorable, so what the hell.

Star Trek has always occupied a special place in my heart and it was awesome for me to receive this insider accolade from the person most dear to me.

It told me that not only did that night in the dark theater hold some true magic in the moment for both of us, but that it also resonated forward to this specific and most important time in all our lives.

So to my son I can only say, "I have been – and always shall be – your friend".

Live long and prosper, John and Molly.