The day God nearly beamed Scotty up.

Posted: February 17, 2016 in Popular Culture et al

scottyCame across an interesting story about actor James Doohan, who played Scotty in the original TV series Star Trek, and some of the films that spun off from the show.

Doohan was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, the youngest of four children of William and Sarah Doohan, who emigrated from Bangor, County Down, Northern Ireland. His father was a pharmacist, veterinarian, and dentist – and an alcoholic – and his mother was a homemaker.

Doohan enrolled in the 102nd Royal Canadian Army Cadet Corps in 1938. At the beginning of the Second World War, Doohan joined the Royal Canadian Artillery. He was commissioned a lieutenant in the 13th Field Artillery Regiment of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division and went to England in 1940 for training. His first combat was the invasion of Normandy at Juno Beach on D-Day where the Candians suffered losses of 340 killed, 574 wounded and 47 taken prisoner.

Shooting two snipers, Doohan led his men to higher ground through a field of anti-tank mines, where they took up defensive positions for the night. Crossing between command posts at 11:30 that night, Doohan was hit by six rounds fired from a Bren gun by a nervous Canadian sentry:  four in his leg, one in the chest, and one through his right middle finger. Incredibly (and thankfully, for his legions of fans) the bullet to his chest was stopped by a silver cigarette case.

Juno landingHis right middle finger had to be amputated, something he would conceal during his career as an actor.

Doohan trained as a pilot (graduating from Air Observation Pilot Course 40 with 11 other Canadian artillery officers), and flew Taylorcraft Auster Mark V aircraft for 666 (AOP) Squadron, RCAF, as a Royal Canadian Artillery officer in support of 1st Army Group Royal Canadian Artillery.

All three Canadian (AOP) RCAF Squadrons were manned by Artillery Officer-pilots and accompanied by non-commissioned RCA and RCAF personnel serving as observers.

Although never actually a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force, Doohan was once labelled the “craziest pilot in the Canadian Air Force”. A well-known story from his flying years tells of Doohan slaloming a plane – variously cited as a Hurricane or a jet trainer – between mountainside telegraph poles to prove it could be done, which earned him a serious reprimand. In actual fact the stunt was performed in a Mark IV Auster on the Salisbury Plain north of RAF Andover in the late spring of 1945.

How did this hero end up in Star Trek? 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. When chosen to play crusty old engineer Scotty he became an instant fan favourite.

Doohan was cast as the Enterprise engineer for the second Star Trek pilot,
“Where No Man Has Gonescotty older Before” (1966) on the recommendation of that episode’s director, James Goldstone, who had worked with him before. The character almost did not make it to the show after series creator Gene Roddenberry sent Doohan a letter informing him, “We don’t think we need an engineer in the series”. Only through the intervention of Doohan’s agent did the character remain.

Doohan tried a variety of accents for the part and decided to use a Scottish accent on the basis that he thought Scottish people make the best engineers. Doohan himself chose Scotty’s first name of Montgomery in honour of his maternal grandfather, James Montgomery. In a third-season production memo, Roddenberry said Doohan “is capable of handling anything we throw at him” and that the “dour Scot” works better when being protective of the ship’s engines. Hence, no doubt, his immortal catchphrase “She canna take it, Captain!” which still appears in common argot to this day. Other memorable and oft-repeated moments included “You canna change to the laws of physics!”, usually to Captain Kirk when he demanded the impossible.

Of course Scotty also forms a key part of another commonly repeated phrase. Scotty’s operation of the Enterprise transporter system inspired the catchphrase “Beam me up, Scotty”, which gained currency in popular culture way beyond Star Trek fans, even though – trivia alert! – the exact phrase is not spoken in that way in the original series, although it is used frequently in the animated series. In Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Kirk actually says, “Scotty, beam me up.”

Anyhow. Quite a guy. One can only imagine that if people knew of his D Day heroics he would have been even more loved.

  1. underwriiter505 says:

    The late Charles Durning (American) was at Omaha Beach on D-Day, and knowing it certainly made him more loved by me. Like (the late) Ossie Davis he was a fixture until his death at what our public broadcasting calls “The National Memorial Day Concert” each year. It’s generally, at least to me, more memorable for the stories of veterans and families which are story-told by actors in the actual words of the people whose stories are being told (who are, if living, present as guests of honor, and greeted by the actors after the presentation with copious handshakes and more hugs.) I’ve gone way off topic, sorry. I always loved Scotty – but I loved all the cast of the original Star Trek, individually and collectively (the chemistry!)


  2. gwpj says:

    Thanks for this post, Yolly. Brings back many hours of good memories related to the series and, especially, the character of Scotty. I believe James Doohan died in Western Washington sometime in the late 1980s. A good actor and a good man.


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