William Shatner and Adam West reflect on their toga days

Aug. 03, 2011 | 2:19 p.m.
westshatner2 William Shatner and Adam West reflect on their toga days

Adam West and William Shatner (Los Angeles Times archive, left; Paramount Pictures, right)

Capt. Kirk and Bruce Wayne together – and in togas?

Yes, before they took on their iconic roles on “Star Trek” and “Batman,” actors William Shatner and Adam West worked together on a buddy project called “Alexander the Great” that never aired – maybe no show was big enough to hold those outsized on-screen personas.

“It was so long ago,” Shatner said of the fizzled project, which started life as a 1964 television pilot but was shelved before it reached the air. “It was great fun to make. It was a pilot that was monumental for ABC just before I went and did ‘Star Trek.’ And I was deeply, deeply, horrendously disappointed when this series didn’t sell and then the following year or so I started work on ‘Star Trek.’”

The pilot depicted the Battle of Issus with a then-unknown Shatner as Alexander leading his Macedonian army in triumph and less-than-famous West as his compatriot, Cleander, who enjoyed a good party as much as a good fight.

“Bill was a very good Alexander and as the general Cleander I was the wine, women and song, Errol Flynn kind of guy,” West said. “However, just between us, it turned out to be one of the worst scripts I have ever read and it was one of the worst things I’ve ever done. We had wonderful people involved like John Cassavetes and Joseph Cotten and Simon Oakland in the cast.”

Shatner said he had high hopes that the show would find an audience for its spirit of adventure – it was made just eight years after Richard Burton’s big-screen turn in writer-director-producer Robert Rossen’s “Alexander the Great” – but it was destined to occupy a far different place in pop culture.

“Every piece of entertainment is made with the idea that it will be terrific but then it hits the public and then that’s when you find out if it’s really good or not,” said Shatner, whose current pursuits include the just-premiered documentary “The Captains,” an upcoming album called “Seeking Major Tom” and an October book titled “The Shatner Rules.”

“Alexander the Great” did make a comeback of sorts – it was aired as a television movie in 1968 to capitalize on the surge in fame by both Shatner and West, who was a sensation as the star of the campy “Batman” series that aired from January 1966 to March 1968.

West, who just staged a Gotham City reunion at San Diego’s Comic-Con International last month with Burt Ward and Julie Newmar, has new generations of fans with his work on “The Family Guy,” so he doesn’t look back toward Macedonia with much regret. He said it’s still fun to think about what could have been, though, especially with the format the producers had in mind for the aborted series.

“Bill and I were supposed to alternate every week with the lead part,” West said. “We did the pilot and Bill was the lead as Alexander and I was the kind of sidekick guy and I was going to have the next episode and it was supposed to go like that from there. Bill had a lot more in that first episode than I did, of course.”

The 80-year-old Shatner has called the show “‘Combat!’ in drag,” referring to the World War II series that was made by the same producer, Selig J. Seligman, and noted that West was “a neat guy to work with,” but he wasn’t especially interested in speaking more extensively about the long-gone endeavor. West, now 82, however, offered a vivid snapshot of the forgotten toga days.

“Four o’clock in the morning out in the desert of St. George, Utah, where it was mighty cold, they were putting body makeup on us so we could wear our little thongs and ride around on Arabian studs and fight the Persians,” West said with melodramatic vibrato. “You had to see this thing. It was like ‘Land of the Lost.’ But Bill was remarkably effective. I think he’s always good. If you’re one of those people who have presence and poise and that aura, whatever you want to call it, things work and it entertains people. Like me, let me check — oh, look, I’m a national treasure.”

— Geoff Boucher


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23 Responses to William Shatner and Adam West reflect on their toga days

  1. malagacove says:

    a pairing of Titans!

  2. Ricky says:

    I remember seeing this when I was a little kid in the 60's. Never heard of it again, but I never forgot it. Didn't know Adam West was in it. It's cool seeing those two together, they have a real chemistry. I saw it in b & w, didn't know it was in color. Not everyone had color TV in the 60's. For some reason, that bath scene is what I remember most. West & Shatner are legends, but Will probably wouldn't want West's name in front of his. I'm glad to learn the history of it and that I really did see this. It didn't take much to impress little kids in the 60's, I probably thought I was watching something for grown ups.

  3. Henry says:

    Oh dear god somebody find a copy of this and make it available.

  4. Jealousblues says:

    What the hell kind of fight was that?

    I didnt see one knee to the stomach-double hand pound to the back combination at all

  5. Batfiend says:

    Wasn't Alexander the Great gay? What a great Shatner-West subtext.

  6. Laudon says:

    Great article. One nitpick. They’re not wearing togas, they’re wearing tunicas.

  7. Laudon says:

    Great article. Just one nitpick. They aren't wearing togas. They're wearing tunicas.

  8. Don't dis the Shat! says:

    "The pilot depicted the Battle of Issus with a then-unknown Shatner as Alexander leading his Macedonian army in triumph and less-than-famous West as his compatriot, Cleander, who enjoyed a good party as much as a good fight."
    Incorrect. William Shatner was hardly unknown in '64. He had had numerous supporting and staring roles in several TV series and he had a major supporting role in the movie "Judgement at Nuremberg" in '61.

  9. Lars2k says:

    @Don't dis the Shat- You are absolutely correct. Mr. Shatner was hardly an unknown in 1964.

  10. tvsweeney says:

    Perhaps the pilot didn't air but I also remember seeing something with Shatner as Alexander. I specifically remember the "Gordian Knot" scene were he chopped it in half rather than try to untie it. I also remember being disappointed it didn't become a series. I'm assuming I saw the television movie.

  11. Chris Lee says:

    Wow, this stokes my desire for an alternate Universe wherein Adam West played the role of Captain James T Kirk and William Shatner landed the part of Batman!

  12. Roger Ffolkes says:

    I remember the film also. It was bad. Somehow the Bath scene where Shatner has boiling hot water poured all over him was strange. The retooled pilot was worse than Shatner's other project: Barbary Coast.

  13. george miller says:

    Alexander the great was shown as a failed pilot on the wizard of oz show as previously mentioned I not only saw it myself I had recorded it on reel to reel tape as i was a big Star trek william shatner fan before there were dvds vcrs….and it was a good pilot however I was only 14 at the time so what did i know…..

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