TAMPA — Benz Model and Talent Agency has a reputation for discovering Hollywood A-listers.
The Tampa agency got actor Channing Tatum his first big gig, for example, in a Ricky Martin video.
Benz also booked Brittany Snow a few projects when the actress was still a little-known Tampa girl.
But last week, the agency signed a talent who came with an A-list name already — Shatner.
Not the one who played Capt. Kirk, T.J. Hooker and Denny Crane on “Boston Legal.” This is Peter Shatner, who introduces himself as the son of the 84-year-old campy actor William Shatner.
“I am William Shatner’s son,” said 58-year-old Peter Sloan, his legal name. “I wish my father would acknowledge me, but I cannot force him to.”
He used his stage name Peter Shatner as a local radio show host and uses it still emceeing charity events.
William Shatner’s publicist denies the connection and Sloan admits there is little concrete proof of his claim. No DNA test has been done, and anyone who ever saw his mother with the famous actor is dead.
Still, Sloan — a native of New York City who has lived in Tampa since 2010 — remains steadfast.
He claims to be the product of a one-night stand in March 1956, born without Shatner’s knowledge and given up for adoption by his mother — the late Kathy Burt, a Canadian actress who worked largely in Canada. Shatner is Canadian, too.
When Sloan reconnected with her in 1984, he said, she told him Shatner was his biological father and had been made aware of his birth. Later that year, Sloan said, he and Shatner met.
Initially, the actor agreed he was the father, according to Sloan, but he later renounced the idea.
“Mr. Shatner has 3 lovely daughters but NO son,” Shatner’s publicist Cherry Hepburn told the Tribune in an email. “This person has fraudulently portrayed himself as Mr. Shatner’s son for years.”
Asked if Shatner knew Sloan’s mother, Hepburn replied, “Not that I am aware of.”
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In 1987, Sloan’s mother wrote a letter to him answering his questions about Shatner.
Sloan shared it with the Tribune.
It reads, “the possibility exists that Bill Shatner may be your father.”
The possibility also exists, she wrote, that it is another man she slept with days after her affair with Shatner. She only remembers the second man as “Chick,” a law student from Montreal.
Later, she told Sloan that Chick wasn’t even his name, just something she remembers him by because he resembled a former boyfriend of hers by that name. She could not remember the man’s real name.
Sloan insists his mother also told him she was certain the father was Shatner.
Moments after the second one-night stand ended, she wrote, she already knew she was pregnant.
“My mom was very clear that she was sure William Shatner was the dad and not the other man,” Sloan said. “She realized you don’t instantly feel pregnant but rather it takes a few days.”
Charles McNeil, Sloan’s half brother through his birth mother, also believes Shatner is Sloan’s biological father.
“My mother had no reason to lie,” McNeil said. “If anything, she was ashamed of it so kept it very private. She could have tried to make money off her story but never did, even when times were tough.”
McNeil said the mother’s one-time friendship with Shatner was confirmed to him by James Doohan, the Canadian actor of Scottish descent who played Scotty in “Star Trek.” Doohan and Burt were acquaintances, McNeil said. Doohan died in 2005.
McNeil could not confirm that the letter was written by his mother. The story she told in the letter, though, is consistent with what she told him, he said.
Still, only a DNA test could provide proof positive, and Shatner refused to take one after he and Sloan met in 1984, Sloan said.
Shatner’s publicist did not answer an email question about whether that meeting happened.
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Regardless, based on his story alone, Sloan has convinced many people that Shatner is indeed his father.
He has hosted fundraisers as “Peter Shatner, the son of William Shatner,” for organizations including the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts and the Akilah Institute for Women.
From April 2011 through August 2012 he hosted “The Hungover Show” on 1010 AM radio as William Shatner’s son. He placed billboards throughout the city promoting the show as hosted by Peter Shatner.
“Trekkies,” hardcore fans of the “Star Trek” franchise, post on Sloan’s Peter Shatner Facebook page, asking him to wish his father happy birthday.
Shatner fan websites list Sloan as Shatner’s son.
In 2012, in The Wall Street Journal’s coverage the Republican National Convention in Tampa, a reporter made note of meeting Shatner’s son Peter.
Shatner’s attorneys have warned Sloan not to use the name.
“All of your actions (including the use of my client’s valuable name and likeness without his approval) are at your own risk,” reads one letter dated Nov. 7, 2011.
“I have continued to use the name and they have not tried to stop me,” Sloan said. “You know why? If they wanted to take legal action they may have to take a DNA test and they know what it would say.”
Sloan, an estate planner and life insurance broker, realizes some people may think he’s out to extort money from Shatner.
Not true, he insists.
“I have not pestered him over the years,” Sloan said. “I have been nothing but courteous. Have I gotten some recognition? Yes, and it has been fun. But it’s not like I have gotten rich off of it.”
Of all the charity events he has emceed as Peter Shatner, only one was a paid gig — for $300, he said.
The radio show actually cost him money, he said.
“It was just something I did for fun. I never expected it to make me rich.”
Nor was his signing by the Benz Agency based on any possible Shatner connection.
“That didn’t mean anything to me,” said Steve Benz, owner of the agency that has represented models and voice-over talent nationwide for over 17 years.
Sloan has a good look and voice, Benz said, and his head shot and résumé will read Peter Sloan.
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Still, Sloan has projects in the works that could trade on the Shatner name.
He is looking for a publisher for a book he wrote about his search for his biological parents and is shopping a screenplay based on his experiences as a kid growing up in New York City.
Both are marketed as written by Peter Shatner.
“That name is my birthright,” Sloan said. “I have no problem using it. I believe he owes me at least that much.”
Shatner and Burt were young thespians in their native Canada at the time they met, Sloan said.
They both appeared on the Canadian version of “Howdy Doody,” although not on the same episodes.
They ran in the same social circle, Sloan said.
“Hollywood was such a close-knit community during those studio system days,” he said. “Think of Toronto as a total microcosm of that with a tenth of the players. Everybody knew everybody.”
In the letter she wrote Sloan in 1987, Burt said she had her heart broken in early 1956 by her first love, Chick, and was emotionally fragile when she invited Shatner to her apartment in March of that year, then with the man she calls “Chick” a few days later.
Burt said she flew to New York City to meet with a doctor for an abortion, illegal at the time, but changed her mind and remained in New York throughout the pregnancy.
Sloan was born Dec. 9, 1956, and given up for adoption five days later.
Burt later married Leonard McNeil, a U.S. treasury agent, and moved to Toronto. The returned briefly to New York in early 1962.
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While in New York, according to the letter, Burt bumped into Shatner while he was performing in the play “A Shot in the Dark.” During a short conversation, she told him, “I gave a baby away in 1956, just thought you should know,” according to the letter.
She said this was her way of “telling Bill that he was your father.”
A Playbill for “A Shot in the Dark” in 1962 shows Shatner was there then.
Sloan was adopted through the Children’s Aid Society by photojournalist George Tilden Orick with Time-Life publications and his wife, Barbara.
They later divorced and his adoptive mother married John Sloan.
“I had a great childhood,” Sloan said. “No complaints. I was well loved and loved my parents.”
He said he never had much desire to seek out his birth parents.
Then in 1980, his first daughter was born while he was living in New Jersey. It struck him that the girl was the only biological relative he had ever met.
He felt the need to find more.
By law, the Children’s Aid Society could not give him the names of his birth parents, Sloan said, but it was allowed to provide him some details about them.
He still has the letter the society wrote to him.
It describes his mother as a singer and actress who appeared on Canadian television, 5-foot-4, with a fair complexion. The letter says she had her tonsils removed as a young girl.
But the letter’s description of the father said he was a law student who belonged to “one of the old respected families in Canada.”
That describes the other one-night-stand, not Shatner.
Sloan said his mother randomly chose one.
“She was embarrassed by the whole situation,” Sloan said. “I understand.”
His first adoptive father,Orick, used his investigative journalism skills and connections throughout the world to help Sloan track down his birth mother. He and Burt met in Canada in 1984.
A few months later, she stayed with Sloan and his family in New Jersey.
During this visit, Burt told her son that Shatner was his father.
“I thought, ‘Wow,’ ” Sloan recalled. “It was a lot to take in.”
Sloan reached out again to Orick, who knew Shatner’s manager Larry Thompson and arranged for a meeting in Los Angeles.
Thompson did not respond to a Tribune request for comment, and Orick has passed away.
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Sloan said he met with Shatner on a Friday in November 1984 at the studio set of Shatner’s TV police series “T.J. Hooker.”
When filming for the day was over, Sloan said, he was directed to Shatner’s trailer.
“I introduced myself and he pointed at me and said, ‘You’re the one,’ ” Sloan said. “We talked for 90 minutes and he asked me what I wanted out of this. I started crying and said, ‘I just want to hug my father’ and we hugged.”
Sloan said he was invited to watch filming on Monday, in downtown Los Angeles, and Shatner introduced him to the cast and crew as Peter with no mention of their relationship.
Sloan has no proof of this encounter, however. He said he took no photos or mementos.
He said he returned to New Jersey and called Shatner a few weeks later.
Shatner told him he could not publicly admit he was his father and asked Sloan to stop calling, Sloan said.
A day later, one of Shatner’s friends called to say news of an illegitimate son could damage Shatner’s acting career.
“I didn’t understand how, but I said when my father feels his career is waning he can reach back out to me and I will be here,” Sloan said, then laughed. “And it never did wane.”
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Sloan stayed away from Shatner and told only close friends of their connection.
Meantime, his birth mother’s longtime husband took a DNA test to prove he was not the father. Still, Sloan said, “he treated me like a son.”
Sloan said he also tracked down the man who had broken his mother’s heart and asked him to take a DNA test. There was no match, Sloan said.
He started using the name Peter Shatner to promote himself in 2009, when he wrote a book that remains unpublished.
There are fewer Peter Shatners than Peter Sloans and he wanted to stand out as a writer, he rationalized.
In March 2011, Sloan’s youngest daughter Ann, 14 at the time, learned Shatner was to be a guest at a comic convention in Orlando and fans could attend a birthday party for him at a cost of $500.
“I have always known my grandpa was William Shatner but it was never real significant,” Ann Sloan said. “But he was at an event near us so I figured why not see what happens if we show up.”
“I couldn’t say no to her. It seemed important to her,” Sloan said. “Of course, I wanted to see him too.”
Still, Sloan stayed mostly in background at first, he said, a bit afraid to confront Shatner again.
His daughter was bolder. As Shatner worked the room, introducing himself to fans, he put his arm around the girl. She said she took the opportunity to whisper, “I am your granddaughter.”
“He didn’t have much of a reaction,” Ann Sloan said. “He smiled and brushed it off.”
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Later in the event, when fans were seated at individual tables, Shatner walked right up to Sloan and shook his hand, said Belle Reve, also of Tampa, who met the Sloans at the convention and now is a family friend.
“If he was bothered by Peter he did not appear to be,” Reve said. “He seemed happy to see him.”
Shatner later gave Sloan a model of the starship Enterprise from atop the birthday cake, Sloan said. He still has it.
Shatneralsoposed for a picture with the Sloans, as he did for many fans. But Shatner also went out of his way to give Ann Sloan one final embrace and Sloan a handshake, Sloan said. Sloan recorded the moment on his mobile phone.
Shortly after, Sloan sent Shatner a letter asking that they get together.
One of Sloan’s friends, he said, then suggested he publicly promote himself as Shatner’s son to boost his radio show audience.
In November, Sloan received the letter from Los Angeles attorney Erik Hyman asking he stop using the name.
The letter also said Shatner is not his father and is not interested in discussing the matter “with you or with any such individuals.”
The letter added, “There have been many people over the years who have claimed to be his children or other relatives.”
That may be, Sloan said, but he believes Shatner knows this is the real deal.
“He knows how to find me. I hope someday he wants to. I just want to know my birth father. That’s all. And if he wants a DNA test, I’ll take it privately. I know what it will say.”