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James Doohan

James Doohan

James Doohan was a Canadian character and voice actor best known for his portrayal of Scotty in the television and movie series Star Trek. His characterization made him one of the most popular characters in the Star Trek franchise universe.

Life and career

Doohan was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, youngest of four children of William and Sarah Doohan, recent Catholic refugees from mainly Protestant Belfast during the Anglo-Irish War. His family later moved to Sarnia, Ontario where he attended high school at the Sarnia Collegiate Institute and Technical School (SCITS) where he excelled in mathematics and science. Doohan's father, who worked at times as a dentist, pharmacist, and veterinarian, is said to have invented a high-octane gasoline in 1923, but according to Doohan's autobiography, was an alcoholic who tormented his family.

At the outbreak of World War II, aged 19, Jimmy Doohan joined the Royal Canadian Artillery, and was eventually commissioned as a lieutenant in the Winnipeg Rifles, 13th Field Regiment, D Company, part of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division sent to England in 1940 for what became years of training in beach assault tactics. His first combat assignment was the invasion of Normandy at Juno Beach on D-Day. Shooting two snipers along the way, Doohan led his unit to higher ground through a field of tank mines and took defensive positions for the night. Crossing between command posts at 11:30 that night, Doohan took six hits from a German machine gun: four in his leg, one in the chest, and one through his middle right finger. The chest bullet was stopped by his silver cigarette case; the shot finger was amputated, and on screen he would generally conceal this. Despite his wounds, Doohan remained in the military, trained as a pilot for the Royal Canadian Air Force, and flew an artillery observation plane, though he was once labeled the craziest pilot in the Canadian Air Forces.

After the war, Doohan started his acting career after being disheartened by the laughable quality of a radio drama, leading him to bone up on Shakespeare, and with his first work a CBC radio show appearance on January 12, 1946. He took a drama class in Toronto, and later won a two-year scholarship to the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York City, where classmates included Leslie Nielsen, Tony Randall and Richard Boone. For several years he would shuttle between Toronto and New York as work demanded. During this period Doohan appeared on some 4000 radio programs and 400 television programs, and earned a reputation for his versatility. His credits included The Twilight Zone, Outer Limits and Fantasy Island.

Star Trek

Doohan always had a gift for using foreign accents. Auditioning for the role of Montgomery Scott, Chief Engineer of the USS Enterprise, before Gene Roddenberry (the creator of Star Trek), Doohan did several different accents. Roddenberry asked which he preferred, and Doohan reportedly replied "If you're going to have an engineer, you'd better make him Scottish (or All the world's best engineers have been Scottish"). In later years he would revisit this casting process at Star Trek conventions, demonstrating a variety of possible voices and characters. When Roddenberry produced Star Trek: The Animated Series in the early 1970s, Doohan's ability to perform different voices was utilized by having him perform most guest star male roles in the series, including Robert April, conjectured first captain of the Enterprise.

The Scott character, as conceived, would have been a semi-regular, but just as fellow cast members Leonard Nimoy, as the alien science officer Spock, and DeForest Kelley, as the irascible medical officer Dr. McCoy, were elevated in importance to leads alongside William Shatner's Capt. James T. Kirk, it was made clear that Lt. Cmdr. Scott was the third-in-command of the Enterprise and at times the ship was left in his care. Scott was frequently used in subplots regarding disabled ship components (such as the dilithium crystals which powered the warp drive, the transporter teleportation device, or just fiddling in the Jeffries tubes) and as a foil for Kirk's ambitious tactical approaches, which were said to strain the propulsion and defenses of the starship. In the end, many fans saw the Enterprise itself as the show's star, leaving Scott in an enviable position as her defender.

Using his considerable vocal skills, Doohan devised the Vulcan and Klingon language dialogue heard in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Later, professional linguists, particularly Marc Okrand, expanded Klingon into a fully constructed language with a working grammar.

After the series ended, Doohan found himself typecast and had a hard time getting other acting roles. After a conversation with his dentist, he realized that he would always be Scotty, and he was able to support himself with income from personal appearances. Otherwise, he had minor, fleeting parts, often trading on his Trek fame, such as the Captain in the short-lived Saturday morning live-action kids' show, Jason of Star Command, or a cameo in the made-for-TV movie Knight Rider 2000 as "Jimmy Doohan, the guy who played Scotty on Star Trek". When the Star Trek franchise was revived, Doohan reprised his role of Scotty in seven Star Trek films and made a guest appearance on Star Trek: The Next Generation, all of which left him financially comfortable. Even so, he would never return to the busy, versatile career he once had.

Later life and death

Scotty's exploits as the redoubtable Chief Engineer aboard the Enterprise inspired many students to pursue a career in engineering. Because of this the Milwaukee School of Engineering granted Doohan an honorary degree in engineering. He was immortalised with a star in Hollywood's Walk of Fame on August 31, 2004.

Doohan was married three times. He had four children, Larkin, Deirdre, and twins Christopher and Montgomery, with first wife Janet Young before a 1964 divorce. A marriage to Anita Yagel from 1967 to 1972 produced no children. In 1974 he was introduced to 19-year-old fan Wende Braunberger at a party, and they married the next year; their children were Eric, Thomas and Sarah, who was born in 2000, when Doohan was 80.

He suffered from Parkinson's disease, diabetes, and lung fibrosis in later life. In 2004, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. On July 20, 2005, at 5:30 in the morning, he died at his home in Redmond, Washington with his wife Wende and long-time friend (and agent) Steve Stevens at his side. His agent identified the cause as pneumonia and Alzheimer's disease.

Doohan's ashes are to be sent into space at his request. Space burial firm Space Services, Inc. confirmed that he had arranged for his cremated ashes to be released into Earth orbit, and they could be on a Falcon 1 rocket launching from California's Vandenberg Air Force Base, tentatively scheduled for September. It is planned that the ashes of Star Trek writer John Meredyth Lucas, who died in 2002, will also be on the flight.

In Star Trek lore, Scotty was born in the town of Linlithgow, Scotland in the year 2222. In memory of James Doohan, West Lothian Council plan to place a commemorative plaque in the town.

As a writer

Doohan, with the assistance of longtime Star Trek author Peter David, wrote an autobiography entitled Beam Me Up, Scotty: Star Trek's Scotty in his own words (1996, ISBN 0671520563)

He collaborated on a series of three science fiction novels with S.M. Stirling:

  • The Rising (1996, ISBN 0671877585)
  • The Privateer (1999, ISBN 0671578324)
  • The Independent Command (2000, ISBN 0671319515)

Note: This profile was written in or before 2005.
Read earlier biographies on this page.

James Doohan Facts

Birth NameJames Montgomery Doohan
BirthdayMarch 3, 1920
BirthplaceVancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Date of deathJuly 20, 2005 (Redmond, Washington, USA, age 85)
Height5' 11" (1m80)  How tall is James Doohan compared to you?

Selected Filmography

Not available.