Thursday, July 21, 2005

Scotty Journeys to His Final Frontier

James Doohan, best known for playing Lt. Commander Montgomery Scott on Star Trek, died yesterday of pneumonia at the age of 85. Doohan had suffered from Parkinson's disease for many years and had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease last August.

James Doohan was born in Vancouver, British Columbia on March 3, 1920. At age 19 he enlisted in the Canadian military, eventually rising to the rank of Captain in the Royal Canadian Artillery. During World War II he led forces at D-Day, where he was wounded in the leg and finger. Following World War II, Doohan attended the veteran's school in London, Ontario. He won a scholarship to the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York City. Among his classmates were Richard Boone (later famous for Have Gun--Will Travel), Tony Randall (best known for the TV series The Odd Couple), and fellow Canadian Leslie Nielsen.

Doohan's gift for dialects and voices made him very much in demand as an actor. He appeared in films, radio, and television in both Canada and the United States. Perhaps fittingly, his first significant television appearance was on a science fiction series, appearing in an episode of Tales of Tomorrow in 1952. Also perhaps fittingly, his first regular role was on a science fiction series; he played Phil Mitchell on Space Command. Doohan's first film role was in the 1957 Canadian film Strike in Town.

James Doohan made many guest appearances in television before receiving the role of Scotty on Star Trek. Among the shows he appeared on were Bonanza, The Twilight Zone, The Viriginian, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and Bewitched. He appeared in the films The Wheeler Dealers, Jigsaw, and Pretty Maids All in a Row.

In 1966 James Doohan auditioned for Gene Roddenberry for the role of the engineer on Star Trek. Doohan did several different dialects for Roddenberry, including a Scottish brogue. Roddenberry asked Doohan which dialect he preferred and Doohan said that he always thought that all the world's greatest engineers had been Scottish. The character of Lt. Commander Montogery Scott, also known as "Scotty," was then born. Initially, Scotty was conceived as a semi-regular. This changed very soon when it became apparent that many of the series' plots required action on the part of the Chief Engineer. Scotty not only became a regular, but third in command of the starship Enterprise. Doohan not only played Scotty on the original run of Star Trek, but in the animated series and seven of the movies based on the show. On the animated version of Star Trek, Doohan not only provided Scotty's voice, but many other voices as well.

Following the original run of Star Trek, Doohan continued to make guest apperances on television, including a memorable appearance as Scotty on Star Trek: the Next Generation. He was a regular on the Saturday morning TV series Jason of Star Command. On August 31, 2004, James Doohan received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

I am very, very sad to hear of James Doohan's death. I have alwyas thought it was regrettable that following Star Trek he was somewhat typecast as the Scottish engineer. Before playing Scotty on Star Trek, he was a guest star on many TV series, playing a variety of roles. He even played heavies and played them well. There can be little doubt that much of the reason Scotty was such an interesting and three dimensional character was due to the talent of Doohan. Doohan portrayed Scotty as a fantastic enginner, yet at the same time very eccentric and very human. Besides McCoy, Scotty was always my favourite charaacter on Star Trek. Quite simply, James Doohan was one of the most gifted character actors on televison.

Doohan's last wish was for his ashes to be sent into space. Space Services Inc. will be sending Doohan's ashes into Earth's orbits aboard a Falcon I rocket. Given that Doohan was most famous for playing the engineer of a starship and his devotion to space exploration, I find this very fitting. At any rate, James Doohan will most certainly be missed.

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