12 wonderful William Shatner television performances beyond Star Trek

Shatner has played everything from a drug lord to an astronaut who can talk with dolphins.

Who doesn't love William Shatner? Few actors so boldly go for it on camera. Yet the Star Trek legend is far more than Captain Kirk. The 90-year-old has a massive resumé with as much range as his acting.

Shatner has played villain and hero, sophisticated and deranged. He has played a fisherman's son and an astronaut who can talk to dolphins. He nabbed a few more leading roles, as in Barbary Coast and T.J. Hooker. We are going to focus on his guest spots.

To celebrate his birthday, here are a dozen spellbinding performances by Shatner both before and after Star Trek — and before his leap to the big screen in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Which was your favorite?

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1. Alfred Hitchcock Presents, "The Glass Eye"


Stirling Silliphant (Route 66) penned this wonderful script, which casts Shatner as the storyteller. Our man plays a young husband who is cleaning out the apartment of his deceased cousin when he comes across a glass eye. The tale that ensues is both eerie and sad. Jessica Tandy stars.

2. Kraft Theater, "The Man Who Didn't Fly"


Shatner delivers his lines with a snobbish, WASP-y accent in this devilish crime tale of a man who fakes his death via airplane crash (an interesting theme, considering his famous Twilight Zone episode to come). Based on an acclaimed mystery novel of the mid-'50s, this episode also features Jonathan Harris (Dr. Smith of Lost in Space). Yes, two notable space travelers of 1960s television together!

3. Thriller, "The Grim Reaper"


In this deliciously chilling installment of the Boris Karloff anthology series, Shatner portrays Paul Graves, the nephew of a mystery novelist — Gilligan's Island's Natalie Schafer! — who has recently purchased a cursed painting of the Grim Reaper. His howl in the screen grab says it all. This is one of the better horror episodes of the era.

4. Naked City, "Without Stick or Sword"


Sporting an unflattering hairpiece and a hard-to-swallow backstory (he plays a bloodthirsty Burmese Buddhist named Maung Tun), Shatner nonetheless captivates as a man torn by revenge during an existential crisis.

5. Route 66, "Build Your Houses with Their Backs to the Sea"


This being the ponderous and poetic Route 66 (just dig that episode title, man), Shatner is Menemsha Faxon, a melancholy and smooth-tongued son of a lobster fisherman in Maine. Here you can find Shatner at his moodiest.

6. The Twilight Zone, "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet"


In his second appearance on Rod Serling's serial, following 1960's "Nick of Time," Shatner stole the show as a man who slowly grows unhinged on an airplane after spotting a strange creature tearing apart the wing. It is arguably the most referenced and widely known scenario from the classic series, having been often remade. A lot of that success is due to Shatner's sweat-beading mania.

7. The Man from U.N.C.L.E., "The Project Strigas Affair"


Two years before the Enterprise took flight, Shatner shared the bill with Leonard Nimoy in this delightful season one entry of the spy series. (Werner Klemperer is also in this!) Shatner is a chemist with a pest control company who aids Napolean Solo in a plot to discredit an Eastern Bloc diplomat. In an upscale party scene, the actor gets to really lay it on thick as a lush.

8. The Fugitive, "Stranger in the Mirror"


Richard Kimble, the fugitive, goes to work for Shatner, a former policeman who runs a camp. After some cops are killed, suspicion falls on the drifter, but it turns out Shatner's character has a dark side. The viewer gets the full range of good and evil Shatner here.

9. The F.B.I., "Antennae of Death"


As the mutton-chop sideburns announce, we are now in the 1970s, just after the demise of Star Trek. Perhaps seeking to break from his heroic captain role, Shatner began an interesting streak of bad-guy roles. Here, he is a drug runner in the crosshairs of both the F.B.I. and a narcotics syndicate.

10. Mission: Impossible, "Encore" and "Cocaine"

1971, 1972

The villainous streak continued in these two outings, in subsequent seasons. In the first, Shatner plays an elder gangster who the IMF team tricks into thinking he has traveled back in time. In the latter, Bill is Joseph Conrad (not the author), an underling to a drug lord who the IMF tricks into believing there is a machine for manufacturing synthetic cocaine. Alas, Leonard Nimoy was not in these episodes.

11. Mannix, "Search for a Whisper"


Perhaps due to a threatened writers' strike, this later episode recycles a script from Mannix's first season, "Skid Marks On A Dry Run." Interestingly, the character Shatner plays, a politician who hires Mannix to dig up dirt on his own career, was earlier filled by Charles Drake, another Trek alum. Drake was Commodore Stocker in "The Deadly Years."

12. The Six Million Dollar Man, "Burning Bright"


Ah, there's that joyously wild Shatner acting we love. After becoming exposed to electrical fields during a spacewalk, astronaut Josh Lang (Shatner) gains the ability to communicate with dolphins. Amusingly loony, Shatner then attempts to take a dolphin into space on a rocket. This is candy for lovers of over-the-top Shatner.

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Mirramanee 20 days ago
Wow--there are so many appearances by William Shatner over the years. One I particularly liked was when he played Professor Bayer in a Little Women mini-series from the '70's. He played the man who would eventually become Jo's husband. He also played a doctor in a TV movie (also from the '70's) called "The People". It was about a village in an obscure/isolated area where the rather strange inhabitants never seemed to get sick. He mainly tended to their animals actually. Another favorite is another TV movie called "Sole Survivor" where he leads a team trying to recover the bodies of deceased airmen from a remote desert area. Interestingly, one of the co-stars of that movie was Lou Antonio, who also played Lokai on a Star Trek episode called "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield".
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15inchBlackandWhite 27 days ago
Bill Shatner as a Burmese Buddhist is even less believable than that episode of Hawaii Five-O where Ricardo Montalban played a Chinese villain.
FestusFan2312 28 days ago
Forgotten is a short lived series he starred in called Barbary Coast. Set around San Francisco in the 1800’s he played a lawman who used disguises to get next to the bad guys. He portrayed everything from old men to pirates and did so really well. I really like the show but I think I was the only one watching.
Make that two. Had a really catchy theme tune
scott 28 days ago
Seeing him opposite Mrs. Thurston Howell lll (aka Lovey, aka the wonderful Natalie Shafer) on “Thriller” was simply great acting on his part; a good script made great via S & S as well as the cinematography. Genius.
JayMichaelJones 28 days ago
He also played the father in the teen drug addiction movie "Go Ask Alice."
MrsPhilHarris 28 days ago
He was also in Russell Peters’ Indian Detective. If I recall correctly he was a drug dealer.
retired2019 28 days ago
Oops! I’m pooped. I meant Columbo
stephaniestavropoulos 28 days ago
The question posed: "Who doesn't love William Shatner? I don't love William Shatner, he's alright. So he's a nonagenarian now, big deal. He's not the only one. When he turns into a centenarian, then lets talk!
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Catman harlow1313 20 days ago
I think the "freak flag" lyric is from the Crosby Stills and Nash song "Almost Cut My Hair" and not from Jimi.
harlow1313 Catman 20 days ago
"If Six was Nine."
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lynngdance 28 days ago
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lynngdance lynngdance 28 days ago

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srrainwater 28 days ago
Don't forget his album when he sang "Rocket Man"
Stoney 28 days ago
He also did an episode of "The Outer Limits." The title was "Cold Hands, Warm Heart."

Not the best example of either that series or of his work, but there is an interesting pre-Star Trek irony: He was an astronaut involved in a mission called Project Vulcan.
WS was in the pilot ep of Man From U.N.C.L.E. called The "Vulcan Affair". Both he and Leonard Nimoy guest starred in another 1st season episode: "the Project Strigas Affair.
Just back from watching my DVD of the UNCLE pilot, "The Vulcan Affair".
Shatner isn't in that one.
I think you're mixing him up with Fritz Weaver.
retired2019 28 days ago
They should have included his appearance on Columbia. He did an excellent job portraying a conceited creep.
Columbia?!?! He did an acting role on a tv show in Columbia?!?!
Andybandit 28 days ago
Cool story. I like him in Star Trek and TJ Hooker. He still looks good for his age at 90 years old.
HopeChinWah 28 days ago
I think he guessed star in an Episode of Bananza.
You went bananas, when you typed the title for B-O-N-A-N-Z-A!
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