World War II veteran lost his middle finger during the war, but kept it out of sight during his career
One of the bright lights in the universe has dimmed forever. Actor James Doohan has died at age 85 from complications of pneumonia and Alzheimer’s disease. While his show business career spanned more than 40 years, he is best known for one role, that of Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott of the Starship Enterprise. He will be missed and mourned by many.
Although his accent on the famed television program was that of a Scotsman, Doohan was actually an Irish-Canadian man, who had been an artillery officer during World War II, who was wounded during D-Day and lost the middle finger of his right hand. Clever camera work on Star Trek: The Original Series kept this from being seen throughout the entire run of the series with only two exceptions. He was a larger-than-life type of man, who fathered seven children, the last when he was 80 years old. He claimed that he had imbibed enough Scottish libations to be Scottish and no one would dispute that claim, so accurate was his brogue. He was a master of accents and a gifted actor.
He left the Royal Canadian Armed Forces after the end of World War II and took classes at a Toronto drama school and his career as an actor was off and running. Prophetically, his first credited work came in 1953 in the CBC television series,Space Command. In 1966 when he auditioned for Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry listened to Doohan doing several different accents and fell in love with his Scottish brogue and immediately cast him as the U.S.S. Enterprise’s chief engineer, who had not been previously given a name. The two cobbled together the name “Montgomery Scott” from Doohan’s middle name of Montgomery and the last name of Scott from the Scottish accent.
George Takei, who played “Sulu” on Star Trek was interviewed on talk radio in Los Angeles the day after Doohan’s death, and told an interesting anecdote from their days together filming that 60s sci-fi classic. “One night after filming we were going out to dinner and Jimmy asked me where I wanted to go,” he said. “I suggested that we go to a sushi restaurant and he asked me what sushi was. I told him that it was raw fish and he said, ‘let’s go.’ So we went to Little Tokyo and it was wonderful. The thing was, he wanted to try every single kind of sushi, and so he did, and it was fun watching him try it all.”
That anecdote gives you a sense of the man, someone who wanted to taste all of what life had to offer. He was the quiet hero of the series, the kind who always found a way to make the engines work, no matter what difficulty the command crew had gotten the ship into. If the crystals weren’t working right, he’d fix them. If the engines couldn’t start in a cold state theoretically, he’d find a solution that didn’t fit into theory, but worked. When James Doohan was given an honorary degree in Engineering by the Milwaukee School of Engineering, half of the students attending at the time were polled and claimed to have been inspired to choose that as a career by his performance on Star Trek.
Tail Slate contacted actor Michael Bofshever, who is one of only 32 actors/actresses who have appeared on Star Trek or one of movies featuring the original cast, as well as one of the spin-offs. We asked him for a comment on James Doohan.
“Anyone who had the type of career he had and who is being honored and mourned the way that he is was a great success indeed,” he said.
Bofshever played the engineer on the U.S.S. Excelsior in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
Perhaps the best tribute that will be paid to James Doohan will come later on this year. A portion of his ashes will be launched on board a rocket into outer space, to join the ashes of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. While Doohan has crossed into the Final Frontier, his body of work will live among us on Earth forever.