March 3, 1920 - July 20, 2005
Actor who achieved immortality as Scotty in Star Trek
THE actor James Doohan achieved cult status as the chief engineer “Scotty” in Star Trek, the 1960s TV series.
Although the famous order, “Beam me up, Scotty”, was never given on the show, Doohan’s character, Montgomery Scott, became one of the most familiar, and most parodied, characters in TV history.
Whenever the USS Enterprise was pushed to the limits, he would famously cry: “The engines canna’ take it.” Reliable to the end, however, he ensured that they actually could take it.
Fearless, loyal and industrious as engineer of the USS Enterprise, Scotty was meant to be the stereotypical Scotsman. However, as a Canadian by birth and Irish by descent, Doohan elicited mockery from genuine Scots for his attempt at mimickry, and not least his unlikely phrases, such as “Have a bonny trip!” and “That’ll put the haggis in the fire!”
James Montgomery Doohan was born in 1920 in Vancouver, the youngest of four children of William Doohan, a veterinarian, pharmacist and dentist. He displayed an early interest in acting, playing Robin Hood in a school production, but the outbreak of war took him to the Royal Canadian Artillery, with which he served gallantly on D-Day.
On June 6, 1944, Lieutenant Doohan of the Winnipeg Rifles, 13th Field Regiment, took part in D Company’s landing on Juno beach. The company disembarked from landing craft at 7.30am, and dashed through rifle and machinegun fire to reach the shelter of the sand dunes. Doohan silenced a German machinegun post with a few shots but was wounded later that day. He was hit eight times, four times in his left leg, and one round hit him in the chest — only the cigarette case in his breast pocket saved him from a mortal wound.
Otherwise, his company came off fairly lightly. The middle finger from his right hand had to be amputated, and whenever there were close-up shots of Scotty operating the transporter in Star Trek, a “stunt hand” was employed.
After the war Doohan began acting in earnest. He spent two years at the Neighbourhood Playhouse in New York. He made his TV debut as a detective on the show Martin Kane, Private Eye, and went on to do many voiceovers on radio.
He returned to Canada in 1953 and spent the next eight years in Toronto, appearing on television, film, stage and radio productions. In the early 1960s he moved to Hollywood and concentrated on TV work, appearing in such shows as Bonanza, Blue Light, The Gallant Man and The Virginian.
In 1965 he auditioned for Gene Roddenberry’s intergalactic adventure, Star Trek. Being a renowned mimic, he auditioned for the part of the ship’s engineer in eight different accents. Roddenberry was particularly impressed with his Scottish brogue, and Doohan was given the part — and the luxury of choosing his character’s name. “I named him Montgomery Scott, right off the top of my head,” Doohan said, “in honour of my grandfather, my mother’s father, James Montgomery.”
Star Trek first appeared on US TV screens in 1966. As the engineer from the 23rd century, Doohan appeared in 79 episodes in the TV series, and later in seven full-length films. But NBC was not satisfied with audience ratings, and Star Trek’s warp-busting, infinitive-splitting adventures were put to an end in 1969. Yet this seemed merely to increase its popularity, and when it was syndicated around the world in 1972, it became one of the world’s best-loved sci-fi series.
Television audiences became fond of William Shatner’s hammy portrayal of Captain Kirk, Leonard Nimoy’s phlegmatic Vulcan, Mr Spock, and the USS Enterprise’s tempestuous doctor, DeForest Kelley’s “Bones” McCoy. Throughout their bold exploration of strange new worlds populated by exotic creatures who lived in unrealistic scenery, they could always rely on the man in the transporter room who, with a shake of his head and anguished look on his face, would holler through the intercom: “A’m tellin’ ya cap’n! A’ve got nay more power!” Such was the appeal of his character that when Elvis Presley once drove past him, the King leaned out of the window and said: “Beam me up, Scotty!” A meeting with Groucho Marx elicited the same words.
In life Doohan was less keen on serving his screen superior. As with so many of those who worked on the original Star Trek series, he found Shatner a difficult colleague. Doohan regarded him as self-centred and condescending. “I wanted to thump him on more than one occasion,” he recalled. “He believes the world orbits him.”
In 1974, when Star Trek was redone as a cartoon series, Doohan did the voiceover for Scotty and for many other of the characters. Thereafter he did other work in animation, before resuming his role as Montgomery Scott in Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979).
He is also credited with devising the Klingon language that featured in that film. Although Klingon was later refined by Marc Okrand, Doohan can be credited with formulating the world’s most popular artificial language — Shakespeare and parts of the Bible have been translated into it.
Doohan appeared in the subsequent five films featuring the original cast, and in the series Star Trek: The Next Generation — his hair greyer and his waistline larger on each occasion.
From the 1970s he was a familiar presence at Star Trek conventions; by 1994 he was attending 35 a year, and earning £5,000 for an appearance.
Ill-health — a heart attack in the 1980s, followed by Parkinson’s disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s — prompted him to make an official farewell to his fans in September 2004 in a ceremony at which he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
The ravages of time did not totally wither him, however — in April 2000, at the age of 80, his seventh child was born.
His autobiography, Beam Me Up, Scotty: Star Trek’s Scotty in His Own Words, was published in 1996.
He married Janet Young in 1949. They had four children before they were divorced in 1964. He is survived by his second wife, Wende, whom he married in 1975, and by their two sons and a daughter.
James Doohan, Star Trek actor, was born on March 3, 1920. He died on July 20, 2005, aged 85.