Grab your red shirts without fear today, folks, and follow me down to the warp core. Today, on what would have been his 102nd birthday, we remember James Doohan, best known to sci fi fans and laymen alike as Lieutenant Commander Montgomery “Scotty” Scott, the chief engineer of the original USS Enterprise from the original Star Trek series. While this was the role that made him a household name and a figurehead that inspired a new generation of scientists and engineers, alongside co-stars like Nichelle Nichols, Doohan was an incredible man who contributed more than his trademark Scottish brogue to the series. In addition to his influences on Star Trek, Doohan was a veteran, a proud Canadian, and a contemporary of some of Hollywood’s most beloved legends.
So pull up a chair, pour yourself a glass of Romulan ale, and let’s get started.
Born on March 3, 1920, in Vancouver, British Columbia, James Montgomery Doohan was the son of immigrant parents from Northern Ireland, and the youngest of four children. Though he developed a talent for accents as a child, he was also very skilled technically and intellectually. Doohan excelled in math and science throughout high school, and at the age of eighteen enrolled in the 102nd Royal Canadian Army Cadet Corps. Subsequently, as World War II began, he joined the Royal Canadian Artillery to serve his country. He later also served as a pilot, and while he was not technically a member of the Air Force, he was billed by some as a Royal Canadian Air Force “bad boy” for pulling crazy stunts in his plane that got him severely reprimanded, and all done just for the laughs!
Comissioned as a lieutenant after his initial training, Doohan’s first combat landing during the war was at Juno Beach on D-Day, where he shot two snipers and led his men to higher ground to take defensive positions for the night. To his misfortune, while crossing command posts near midnight, a nervous Canadian sentry shot him six times. One of those bullets was stopped from piercing his chest by a silver cigarette case given to him by his brother, but one bullet hit the middle finger of his right hand, which had to be amputated. Doohan hid this injury on screen for most of his professional acting career, however there are moments during his tenure on Star Trek where the missing digit can be seen.
After the war, Doohan continued his technical studies, but after listening to a radio show decided he could do far better. Starting by enrolling at a drama school in Toronto, Doohan later earned a two year scholarship to the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York City, where he studied alongside legends such as Tony Randall, Leslie Nielsen, and Richard Boone. Plying his new trade mostly in his native Canada, Doohan also appeared in many well known shows such as The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, and Bonanza – notable for the fact that he starred alongside Nurse Chapel and the future Mrs. Roddenberry, Majel Barrett, in the episode Gift Of Water.
When Star Trek was being cast, Doohan auditioned for the role of the chief engineer, and founded the character at that very audition with the use of a Scottish accent that Gene Roddenberry fell in love with. His casting even named the character, taking Doohan’s middle name, and graduated from semi-regular to a supporting cast regular on the series. Doohan was often quoted as saying that the role was “ninety nine percent James Doohan and one percent accent.”
He wasn’t wrong, as Doohan’s heavily accented lines such as “I’m givin’ her all she’s got, Captain!” turned him into a pop culture icon. Scotty also became an inspiration for countless young people who later got into engineering and the sciences, citing him as a primary influence. In the 1997 documentary Trekkies, Doohan even recounts a story of a fan struggling with thoughts of suicide. Convincing her to come to his next convention appearance and then the next, and so on, he later learned after noticing her absence from several conventions that not only had his encouragement and kind treatment helped her mental health, but she had been absent due to returning to school to become an engineer herself.
While James Doohan went on to reprise his role as Scotty in the animated Star Trek series in the 70’s and later in seven motion pictures as well as subsequent iterations of the franchise, his contributions to the series didn’t end with his acting abilities. Doohan is also credited as having conceived the first iteration of the Klingon and Vulcan languages. Though the Klingon language was refined and further developed by others for its use in publishing and the creation of educational language media teaching its use, he was responsible for conceiving both the Klingon as well as Vulcan dialogue in the original Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
Doohan would remain a presence in the Star Trek community and Hollywood at large for the remainder of his life, often guest starring in roles that referenced his portrayal of Scotty. Though he did decline to participate in certain projects, such as the Star Trek reunion on Futurama episode “Where No Fan Has Gone Before,” as well as projects headed by William Shatner due to a strained relationship between the pair, he continued making personal appearances until illness forced him to withdraw from public life in 2004 due to Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. He would pass away roughly one year later on July 20, 2005, due to pulmonary fibrosis at the age of eighty five.
Even in death, Doohan reached for the heavens, as multiple times portions of his ashes have attempted to be sent into space – and were even successfully smuggled aboard the International Space Station by Richard Garriott. The rest were scattered over Puget Sound in Washington state.
However, his partial interment among the stars is a temporary thing compared to the legacy he leaves behind. Not only did his military service help to end a terrible and prolific global conflict, but his portrayal of a lovable and fatherly Scottish scoundrel continues to leave an impression on the public consciousness that will last for countless generations to come. What’s more, his clever representation of a skilled engineer helped create a new wave of scientists that have brought our world the technological advances we enjoy today.
James Doohan, today we raise a glass in your honor, and for all that you have contributed to those who still love you and the world that you have affected, we remember you, we thank you for all you’ve given us, and like your mighty Enterprise, we go forward into the world, givin’ her all she’s got.
Liz Carlie (she/her/he/him) is a regular book, TV, and film reviewer for SCIFI.radio and has previously been a guest on ‘The Event Horizon’. In addition to being an active member of the traditional fandom community, she’s also an active participant in online fan culture, pro wrestling journalism, and spreading the gospel of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. She resides in Southern California with her aspiring superhero dog, Junior, enjoying life one hyperfixation at a time.