Wednesday, July 20, 2005

James Doohan - 1920-2005

James Doohan, probably best remembered for playing the chief engineer of the original starship Enterprise died today at age 85 of complications from Alzheimer's Disease and Pneumonia. He also suffered from Pulmonary Fibrosis, probably related to exposure to chemicals his service during World War II. Reportedly he will be cremated and his ashes will be sent into orbit.

Born in Vancouver, Doohan grew up in Sarnia Ontario. He attended Sarnia Collegiate and Technical School where he excelled in math and science. He joined the army during World War II. As a Captain in the Royal Canadian Artillery he participated in the D-Day landing at Juno Beach. At 11:30 on June 6, 1944 he was wounded by machine gun fire. He took four wounds to the legs, one to his right hand (which shot off his middle finger) and a bullet to the chest. In the sort of event that is usually thought to be a Hollywood cliche, the bullet that hit him in the chest was stopped by his silver cigarette case. After recovering from his wounds he returned to active service this time as a pilot of an artillery observation plane - he was labelled " the craziest pilot in the Canadian Air Forces."

Following the war Doohan became an actor. His first radio appearance was in January 1946, and he soon became a popular performer. He attended Lorne Greene's legendary Academy of Radio Arts, and along with another Academy student named Leslie Nielsen he won a scholarship to the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York where among his fellow students were Tony Randall and Richard Boone. The immediate postwar period is considered the "Golden Age" of Canadian radio drama, and Doohan was in the middle of it. He appeared in over 4,000 radio programs, which meant working with such actors as Greene, Tommy Tweed, and John Drainie, writer Lister Sinclair, and producer Andrew Allan (trust me these were extremely important people in Canadian radio). In fact Doohan was one of the stars of the notorious CBC drama The Investigator (available from Scenario Productions), written by Allan and starring Drainie and Barry Morse. He was also a mainstay in early Canadian TV. In fact he was one of the stars of one of the first Canadian TV series, 1952's Space Command (of which only one episode apparently survives) and was hired to play "Timber Tom" the equivalent of "Buffalo Bob" in the Canadian version of Howdy Doody; Doohan's agent wanted more money for the role and CBC refused to pay it - the role went to another actor. Before the debut of Star Trek he appeared in over 400 TV parts although only a fraction of those are mentioned in his IMDB filmography. One of the most famous was as the former Spitfire pilot who has to land a commercial airliner in Flight Into Danger by Arthur Hailey. This was later remade as the Hollywood movie Zero Hour with Dana Andrews as Ted Stryker and eventually satirized as Airplane! in 1980.

It was of course for Star Trek that Doohan was best known. When auditioning for Gene Roddenberry Doohan did seven accents and which asked which he thought was best suggested that the ship's engineer should be a Scot. The show reunited him with another actor from the CBC, William Shatner. Doohan and Shatner appeared together in at least one episode of Star Command, and when Doohan was fired from the "Timber Tom" role and Peter Mews, who was supposed to take the part, wasn't available for the first week of the show William Shatner as "Ranger Bob". Much of the rest of his life was involved with Star Trek related projects - one way or another. He did some of the earliest fan conventions, and with his talent for accents and radio training provided many of the voices for the Star Trek animated series. He appeared in all of the "original cast" movies including Star Trek: Generations and also did an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Even his character of "Pippin" in Homeboys From Outer Space was a satire on Star Trek and his relationship with the captain, although he did balk at an appearance in a 2002 episode of the animated series Futurama, the only living cast member who refused to do it. One little known thing is that while Doohan is not credited with it he developed the Vulcan and Klingon languages used in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, with the Vulcan words actually being made to fit the lip movements of the scene which had already been shot in English for the Kolinahr scene. Later, linguist Dr. Marc Okrand who was serving as a dialogue coach on the movie developed the rules of syntax and grammar and added more words to the Klingon language.

Doohan's relationship with Shatner was never good. In his autobiography, Beam me up, Scotty: Star Trek's "Scotty"- in his own words Doohan states that "I have to admit, I just don't like the man. And, as has been well-documented elsewhere, he didn't exactly have a knack for generating good feelings about him." This clearly relates to the various memoirs put out by other cast members, but Doohan had known him longer than any of the others. He added "I like Captain Kirk, but I sure don't like Bill. He's so insecure that all he can think about is himself." If the chapter on Shatner in Knowlton Nash's Cue the Elephant: Backstage Tales at the CBC is to be believed there were a lot of people that he worked with in Canada who didn't care for him either.

James Doohan was married three times (although the IMDB only lists two), first to Judy Doohan with whom he had four children, then to Anita Yagel. His third marriage in 1974 to Wende Braunberger who was 37 years his junior, produced three children including his youngest daughter Sarah, who was born in April 2000, when Doohan was 80. He received an honorary degree in Engineering from the Milwaukee School of Engineering, and many of the students at the school - and indeed at other institutions - stated that they had been inspired to go into the field by "Scotty". He received his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in August 2004, shortly after it was revealed that he was suffering from Alzheimers. At the "James Doohan Farewell Star Trek Convention" Neil Armstrong, first man to walk on the moon revealed that he was a Star Trek fan, and a fan of Commander Montgomery Scott.

Fare thee well Mr. Scott.

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