Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Beam Scotty Up!

[[O B I T]] * I was sorry to hear about the death early this morning of James Doohan, the Canadian-born character actor who was certainly most famous for his role as chief engineer Montgomery Scott, aka "Scotty," on the original (1965-69) Star Trek TV series. He was 85 years old and had been living in Redmond, Washington (just east of Seattle), with his wife of 28 years, Wende.

Much to my parents’ dismay, I became an enthusiastic Trek fan sometime in the early 1970s, after NBC had pulled the plug on the show because of low ratings, but before it became the basis for a popular succession of movies, the inspiration for four additional TV series (including Star Trek: The Next Generation and the recently cancelled Star Trek: Enterprise), and the seed from which an ever-growing abundance of novels was born. I also had the chance, in 1997 to meet the actor himself, following that year’s publication of The Rising, Doohan’s introductory volume in what would be a trio of “Flight Engineer” novels, science-fiction tales (written with S.M. Stirling) that followed the adventures of Peter Raeder, a former ace space pilot who, after losing a hand, signs on as the flight engineer aboard the carrier Invincible. Doohan was then 77, but still evidently robust with life and, I remember, humble as hell, more than pleased to hear from an aging fan who had enjoyed his performances over the years. As I write this obit, my own copy of The Rising rests at my elbow.

Born in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1920, Doohan (whose real middle name, it turns out, was Montgomery), escaped at age 19 from his heavy-drinking pharmacist father and unhappy childhood home, and joined the Royal Canadian Artillery during World War II. He lost the middle finger of his right hand amid the bloody D-Day invasion of France’s Normandy coast in June 1944--a fact that anyone who ever shook hands with him would know. After the war, Doohan moved to Toronto, Canada, where he took drama classes and eventually won a two-year scholarship to New York’s renowned Neighborhood Playhouse. Interestingly, his first TV series, Space Command (1953), was another SF odyssey, that one about “an international organization working to explore and colonize space.” According to the Internet Movie Database, he went on to appear in a number of movies, including the 1963 James Garner flick The Wheeler Dealers, before landing the role of Mr. Scott, the resourceful Scottish starship engineer, in the Gene Roddenberry-created Star Trek. After that, though, Doohan found himself terminally typecast--a truth that it took him some while to accept, but that he finally did, even using a memorable line from the original Trek series--Beam Me Up, Scotty--as the title of his 1996 autobiography. Asked in 1998 whether he ever wearied of hearing that same line pronounced repeatedly over the decades, Doohan replied with good humor, “I’m not tired of it at all. Good gracious, it’s been said to me for just about 31 years. It’s been said to me at 70 miles an hour across four lanes on the freeway. I hear it from just about everybody. It’s been fun.”

His most recent on-screen movie role was in the 1999 fantasy The Duke, although he is said to appear in a not-yet-released film called Actors in War. Doohan was awarded a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame in 2004. I hadn’t realized until reading more about this performer-novelist today that 2004 was also the year in which James Doohan pretty much disappeared from public sight, after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. His death is attributed to a combination of that and pneumonia.

Doohan’s face and familiar (if feigned) Scottish burr will be much missed in the world.

INTERESTING COINCIDENCE: It was exactly 36 years ago today that Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong earned his place in history as the first man to set foot on Earth’s moon.


Anonymous said...

Remember when we met him at Third Place Books years ago? I do...and I still have his signature in my Star Trek Encyclopedia, which he graciously did despite the fact that I didn't buy his book. I remember his finger too.

I seem to remember him officially ending his public appearances about a year ago (at his last convention, in California), when he decided that the struggles with Alzheimers and Parkinson's was just too much. He'll really be missed.

Anonymous said...

This is Amie-June, by the way.