In Remembrance: James Doohan
James Doohan, the character actor best known for his role as the engineering officer of the starship Enterprise on the original Star Trek television and subsequent film series, has passed away on June 20, 2005 in Redmond, Washington. He was 85.
Born on March 3, 1920 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Doohan joined the Canadian army at age 19, rising to the rank of lieutenant in the artillery. Participating in the D-Day invasion at Juno Beach, he was shot six times, one shot taking off middle finger of his right hand.
After the war, Doohan enrolled in a Toronto acting class on a whim. Impressing his teachers, Doohan won a scholarship to New York’s Neighborhood Playhouse, where he studied alongside Leslie Nielsen and Tony Randall. Doohan soon began receiving work first on radio and then in front of television and movie cameras.
Doohan made his initial film appearances in a series of short films – Strike In Town (1955), The Cage (1956), The Test Pilot (1957) – produced by the National Film Board of Canada. He moved to Hollywood in the early 60s and began guest starring on numerous television series such as Gunsmoke, The Twilight Zone, The Virginian, Bonanza, The Outer Limits, Voyage To The Bottom Of the Sea, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and Bewitched. He also appeared in small roles in such films as the germ-warfare thriller The Satan Bug (1965) and the comedy One Of Our Spies Is Missing (1966).
When called upon to audition for Star Trek for the role of the as-yet-unnamed ship’s engineer, Doohan called upon his radio training and read lines for the producers in seven different accents. Doohan and series creator gene Roddenberry agreed that Doohan’s Scottish accent was best for the role and the character of Lt. Commander Montgomery “Scotty” Scott was defined on the spot. Doohan At fan convention appearances over the ensuing years, Doohan would often tell the story of his audition, exaggerating the other accents he had used for comedic effect. He would also reminisce that he told Roddenberry that “all the world’s best engineers were Scottish.”
Doohan appeared in all three seasons of the original Star Trek series which ran between 1966 and 1969. For the Saturday morning cartoon show that ran from 1973 to 1975, he reprised his role of Scotty as well as contributed the voice for Lt. Arex and numerous other incidental characters. He also played Scotty in the first seven Star Trek films, from 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture to 1994’s Star Trek: Generations as well as appeared on a 1992 episode of the first Trek spin-off series Star Trek: The Next Generation.
The success of Star Trek in its many forms would limit the amount of roles Doohan would be offered for the rest of his career. The infrequent parts he did get – such as the 1979 live-action Saturday morning series Jason Of Star Command or the failed 1996 comedy series Homeboys in Outer Space – would play upon his Star Trek connection. However, Doohan embraced the fame that series brought him, stating that he never got tired of being greeted with the one of the show’s memorable phrases “Beam me up, Scotty,” which he even used as the title to his 1996 autobiography. He was rewarded an honrary degree in Engineering from the Milwaukee School of Engineering after a poll of students showed that more than half were inspired to study engineering by Star Trek’s Scotty.
His health failing due to Alzheimer’s disease, Doohan made his last public appearances at the end of August 2004 at a special convention. Here he was joined by the rest of his still living Star Trek castmates – DeForest “Dr. ‘Bones’ McCoy” Kelley had passed away in June 1999 – and other guests including astronaut Neil Armstrong. He was also awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame.