James Doohan Biography

Actor, Television Actor, Film Actor (1920–2005)
Actor James Doohan will forever be remembered as the Scottish chief engineer Scotty in the popular science fiction television and film series Star Trek.


James Doohan was born on March 3, 1920, in Vancouver, Canada. In 1966, he landed the role of Scotty on the science fiction television show Star Trek. While the original series only ran for three years, Star Trek became hugely popular in syndication. In 1979, he started playing Scotty on the big screen. He also played Scotty on some of the TV sequels. On July 20, 2005, he died in Redmond, Washington.


Early Life

Actor James Doohan was born on March 3, 1920, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Doohan will forever be remembered as the Scottish chief engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott on the popular science fiction television and film series Star Trek. Born to an Irish couple that immigrated to Canada, he was the youngest of four children. His youth was a difficult time because his father was an abusive alcoholic.

At the age of 19, Doohan joined the Canadian Army and saw action during World War II. He fought on the beach at Normandy on D-Day. While leading a group of soldiers, Doohan was shot several times, injuring him in the leg and chest. The chest wound could have proved fatal had it not been for a cigarette case in his shirt pocket. Doohan also lost one of his fingers.

After the war, Doohan returned to Canada. He worked in radio before making his way to New York City. Joining the Neighborhood Playhouse in 1946, Doohan studied with Sanford Meisner and performed with the likes of Tony Randall, Lee Marvin, and Leslie Nielsen. Commuting between the United States and Canada, he reportedly did more than 4,000 Canadian radio programs and appeared some Canadian and American programs during the 1950s.

Like many other actors, Doohan headed to Hollywood in the early 1960s. He landed a few small film roles and made guest appearances on such shows as Gunsmoke, The Twilight Zone and Bonanza, before landing his most famous part. While meeting with Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, Doohan tried out a bunch of different accents before the two decided that his character should be Scottish, according to an article on startrek.com.

Playing Scotty

Premiering on September 8, 1966, Star Trek offered viewers a science fiction fantasy of the future. It was set in the twenty-third century and followed the exploits of the U.S.S. Enterprise, a starship helmed by Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner). Leonard Nimoy played his first officer Mr. Spock and DeForest Kelley played the ship’s medical officer, Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy. Kirk and the rest of his crew encountered all sorts of challenges and different life forms as they traveled through space.

As part of the supporting cast, Doohan played Montgomery “Scotty” Scott who ran the ship’s engineering division and kept the spaceship going in even the most challenging situations. He often operated the transporter that allowed crew members to travel to different places in an instant. The request to return the ship, “Beam me up, Scotty,” became a popular catchphrase.

While the original series only ran for three years, Star Trek became hugely popular in syndication. But Doohan felt typecast as he had difficulty landing new roles. Taking on another Star Trek project, he voiced Scotty for an animated version of the show that ran on Saturday mornings from 1973 to 1975. Doohan returned to series television in 1978 as Commander Canarvin in Jason of Star Command, a science fiction adventure program.

In 1979, Doohan and much of the original television cast had an opportunity to play their Star Trek characters on the big screen. While Star Trek: The Motion Picture was a box office disappointment, its sequel Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) did well—so well in fact that several more sequels followed. Doohan also played Scotty on some of the television sequels as well, including Star Trek: The Next Generation.

In addition to his Star Trek-related projects, Doohan appeared on such shows as Hotel, Fantasy Island, Magnum P.I., and MacGyver. He also had a recurring role on the soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful in mid-1990s. In 1996, Doohan became an author with the publication of his autobiography, Beam Me Up, Scotty: Star Trek’s “Scotty”—in His Own Words, written with Peter David, and his first work of science fiction, Rising (1996), done in collaboration with S. M. Stirling. He collaborated on two additional books in the series with Stirling, The Privateer (1999) and The Independent Command (2000).

Still Doohan was never too far from Scotty. He was known to appear at numerous Star Trek conventions over the years. While some stars have tried to step away from previous roles, Doohan embraced Scotty and the devoted fans of the series. His agent Steven Stevens told The New York Times that “Some people might think, 'Ugh, that poor guy’s got to sit and sign autographs.’ [Doohan would] have done it for free.”

Later Years

In his later years, Doohan's health began to decline. He developed Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, and lung fibrosis. Around 2004, Doohan was also experiencing symptoms of Alzheimer’s as his short-term memory began to deteriorate. He was, however, able to attend the ceremony held in his honor as he received his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on August 31, 2004.

On July 20, 2005, Doohan died at his home in Redmond, Washington. He was survived by third wife Wende, their three children, sons Eric and Thomas and daughter Sarah who was only five years old at the time. Doohan also had four adult children from his first marriage, Larkin, Deidre, Chris and Montgomery as well as several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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