Parts of actor James Doohan — the man who played chief engineer Montgomery Scott in Star Trek’s original series — float somewhere in space. Little could he or his parents have known the impact Doohan would deliver both on stage and off.
Few people realize James Doohan led a heroic life — and nearly died from friendly combat fire — before assuming his stage career.
Doohan was born 98 years ago today in Vancouver, British Columbia, to a pair of Irish immigrants. He spent his formative years in Vancouver and Toronto and joined the Royal Canadian Artillery at the outbreak of World War II.
You can get the full account on Wikipedia, but D-Day nearly cost Doohan is life. He and his squad landed at Juno Beach. They quickly moved deep into German territory with Doohan dispatching two enemy snipers along the way.
After a day of fierce combat, Doohan and his troops attempted to pass between two Canadian units. A nervous sentry unloaded six bullets into the future TV star. A silver cigarette case stopped a bullet heading for his chest, but overall, Doohan received four shots in his legs and lost the middle finger on this right hand.
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According to Stephen Whitfield in The Making of Star Trek, Doohan went on to take flying lessons and earned the title as the “craziest pilot in the Canadian Air Force.”
After the war Doohan earned a scholarship to a Canadian acting school. He eventually moved to study in New York where his classmates, according to Wikipedia, included the Odd Couple’s Tony Randall, Airplane’s Leslie Neilsen and Have Gun, Will Travel star Richard Boone.
Doohan eventually auditioned for the role of Scotty and displayed a wide-range of accents for producer Gene Roddenberry. When asked which accent he’d prefer, Doohan told Scott Pierce of the Desert News:
"“I did about seven or eight different accents for them, and they asked me what I preferred,” he said. “And I named the character. I told them, `If you want an engineer, in my experience the best engineers are Scotsmen. And they said, `Well, we rather like that one too.’“And I just came right out and said, `Good. I’ll call him Montgomery Scott.’ “"
Doohan’s legacy created interest in Scotland and inspired a generation of Star Trek fans to pursue careers in engineering. Mr. Scott’s ability to deliver under pressure and ahead of schedule serves as a reminder that even the most dire crisis can be solved.
Doohan passed away in 2005 (age 85) from lung issues apparently picked up from his time in World War II.
After several failed attempts, a portion of Doohan’s ashes were launched into space aboard a Falcon 9 rocket in 2012. The rest of his ashes were scattered into Puget Sound off the coast of Washington state.
We raise a glass of single malt scotch to a hero and great actor: James Doohan.