When you watch Star Trek reruns for decades, you start to obsessively notice some things. (“You don’t say!” says every Star Trek fan.)
When The Next Generation started, Dr. Crusher’s hair was Gates McFadden’s natural hair (although I seem to remember reading it had been dyed red because of a play she had been in).
McFadden was fired at the end of season one because Maurice Hurley, who had taken over the writing–showrunner duties from Gene Roddenberry, hated her character and hated her personally. Diana Muldaur was brought in as Dr. Pulaski, but at the end of season two, Hurley left, and for a bunch of reasons, so did Muldaur, and the show re-hired McFadden as Crusher.
When Crusher returned, she was sporting shorter hair—which was a wig over her real bangs:
It is not uncommon for actresses to wear wigs in roles, because long natural hair can require a lot of maintenance under the hot set lights and over long filming days to keep consistent for continuity. Julianna Marguiles wore a wig on The Good Wife for that reason.
Also note, in the above pic, the early third season version of Crusher’s medical jacket, with the collar. Pretty soon, the jacket would be replaced with a collarless version:
...and Crusher’s hair got longer, via a new wig that she wore throughout the rest of seasons three, four and five. Curiously, this wig was pretty much the same as her real hair, “three pounds” of which, she has joked, was tucked under the wig.
This must be her real hair in her brief appearance at the beginning of The Hunt for Red October:
It’s also her real hair in this flashback from season five’s memory-rape episode, “Violations.”
For seasons six and seven, she returned to her real hair, which looks a lot like the wig, but a little finer and more natural:
And this is how I know all of the above, as she freely jokes about all the wigs and hair shenanigans on Twitter. “1 season my hair 3,4,5 wigs, 6 and 7 my own hair again..movies my hair and throughout various shades of red and blonde color on my own darker hair.”
BUT! There’s one episode in the middle where I think it’s her real hair. Season three, episode seven, “The Enemy,” the great one where Worf lets a Romulan die rather than save his life with a blood transfusion:
This was the one episode between the short wig (beginning of season three) and the regular wig (the rest of seasons three, four and five), where Crusher’s hair gets inexplicably much longer—then immediately shortens again in the next episode.
My guess is it was a one-time shot to let her use her real hair, but they didn’t like it and gave her the new wig for the next episode, with this classic moment that quite profoundly fails the Bechdel test:
I can’t believe I wrote a whole column about a Star Trek character’s hair. At least it wasn’t Shatner’s.