Where in the world was Jimmy Doohan? You name it! That’s where you could find the beloved James Doohan, who portrayed Montgomery Scott, heroic engineer of Star Trek (now celebrating 50 years of adventure).
Maybe you met him, too. Jimmy did a ton of SF conventions in the USA (as well as Canada, Australia, England and Germany) throughout the late 1970s, ’80s, ’90s. He graced video stores and other promotional appearances, autograph shows, parades. There were hundreds of chances to meet Jimmy. He was, in part, doing it all for the money. An older man with a much younger new family, he knew he might not be able (or around) to pay for college and his kids’ other expenses unless the bucks were made today and put aside for tomorrow.
But it was more than money. Jimmy Doohan (who died in 2005) truly loved people and seemed to like nothing more than to stand around, drink in hand, surrounded by fans and talk with anyone about life, World War II (where he served heroically), and, of course, being “Scotty.” A hale fellow well met! He also discussed his career in an entertaining autobiography, Beam Me Up, Scotty (co-authored with Peter David), and numerous Starlog interviews.
We learned so much about Jimmy in those chats. “You’re part of my forum,” he quipped to Starlog‘s Kathryn M. Drennan in 1989 (issue #146) before detailing life-changing backstories. “I was wounded on D-Day,” he noted, as part of the First Wave assault on Juno Beach in 1944. After recovering, he became an Air Observation Pilot, reputedly “the craziest pilot in the Royal Canadian Artillery (not Air Force),” as sometimes erroneously reported. “There wasn’t anything that I didn’t try [as a flyer]. If it was in the air, there was no way that I didn’t absolutely adore it. And I can remember vividly everything that happened.”
In the late 1940s and ’50s, he became “Canada’s busiest actor,” racking up 4,000 radio show appearances and 400+ TV gigs. “If an actor has any pride in himself, he always wants to do more,” Jimmy told Robert Greenberger (#62, 1983).
So, he moved to Hollywood. And accents were key to his success. “I’ve been doing dialects ever since I can remember — since I was allowed to go to movies, from age six or seven,” Jimmy explained to Jim George & J. Cat McDowell (#94, 1985). “I can remember my mother telling me that I used to change accents when I would walk from one room to another.”
That’s a versatility he frequently demonstrated at conventions. He had a standard routine on stage at Trek cons where before taking audience questions he would detail in differing accents how Scotty might sound if he was another nationality (his upper-class British take was hilarious). He would also explain all the things that would occur if Scotty was in command (“Number one, I would get the girl!” Spock would stay out of his Engine Room so there would be no more star-upstaging-the-expert-engineer, last-minute, save-the-ship antics. “That really bugged me!” And “I would limit Ensign Kirk to only one woman every four months!”). And, so often, Jimmy would field the same F.A.Q.s (Frequently Asked Questions) from the audience.
Favorite TOS episode? “The Doomsday Machine.”
America’s space program? “That’s the future of the country. We have to have a good space program to advance our technology. We have to keep dreaming about what to do in space.”
More Trek films with the classic cast? “We showed our age in each of those movies, and the audiences didn’t stop coming.”
Fans? “I love them! I have so much fun with them.”
I once asked him, as we sat side-by-side at an autograph table, if he ever tired of answering the same bloody things over and over and over again. “You know, Dave,” he said, “it’s the first time they have asked me the question.” So, that latest inquirer also deserved his best answer. What a great attitude! And one I’ve taken to heart to this day.
“Actors never retire!” Jimmy announced to Randy & Jean-Marc Lofficier (#112-113, 1986). “I’m quite content to be an actor, that’s all I want. I just want to be the best actor I can possibly be. That’s what I promised God I was going to do, and He certainly hasn’t put any barriers in my way, other than typecasting me in Star Trek.”
Furthermore, “I read for many roles,” he admitted in 1985. “Some of the ‘experts’ say they can’t get rid of the picture of me as a Scotsman. So, as far as Hollywood is concerned, I will probably forever and ever play a Scotsman, and I don’t want to do that, cause I was trained for other things.”
Years later, Jimmy clarified matters for Lynne Stephens (#176, 1992). “To get me to work, people just have to ask me. Because my experiences are so varied. I’m of the opinion that there isn’t anything I don’t know how to do… I did so much.”
And again, “I know I’m Scotty and that’s it. It’s just one of those things.”
Jimmy Doohan was ubiquitous. I met him at the very first Starlog Festival, a convention held in Chicago in spring 1984. Ultimately, I did more than 200 cons as a guest — and Jimmy was at about 25 of them. Atlanta. Atlantic City. Baltimore. Buffalo. Cleveland. Denver. Philadelphia. Scranton-Wilkes Barre. Silver Spring. Etc. At least two of three Star Trek cruises on which I sailed (he helped lead the singing of “Happy Birthday” to me in an Everglades area restaurant when the date coincided with a park outing). And more.
Where in the world was Jimmy Doohan? Everywhere!
I attended a press event at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida — and a surprise guest trotted on stage to tout the first of a short-lived series of Disney-sponsored, theme park-based SF conventions. Jimmy Doohan!
My then-girlfriend and I were in NYC, at the off-Broadway version of Return to Forbidden Planet (a musical mixing Shakespeare, rock & roll songs and science fiction), and the gigantic video screen came on with pretaped footage of this production’s surprise local narrator. Jimmy Doohan!
I did another con in Chicago, more than a decade after my first there, and a fellow guest posed with most attendees (for individual photo ops) while appropriately dressed in surprising traditional Scottish garb, a kilt. Jimmy Doohan!
But my best memory of Jimmy Doohan comes from a con in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. I had been there as a kid and visited the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, a fabulous showcase of art and artifacts from the real West as well as Western movies and television. It includes the Hall of Great Westerners, the Hall of Great Western Performers (i.e. actors) and the Rodeo Hall of Fame. I suggested to con organizer Jonathan Harris that we fly to Oklahoma a day early to allow for a museum visit. So, he arranged it.
Jon, his parents and his wife Susan were in one small rental car. Jimmy had his own rental and extra space, so I ended up riding shotgun with him. Let me tell you: If you don’t know someone very well, after spending most of a day alone together in a car, you will. You have no choice but to talk to each other. He chatted about his exploits in WWII and how a “Dear Jim” letter made him want “to show her” and prompted him to become an actor. It was pretty serious stuff. And I thought, for a time, I was talking to the real Jimmy Doohan.
We got the V.I.P. tour of (what was then known as) the Cowboy Hall of Fame, complete with a personal guide — and it was great fun to have Jimmy along to ooohh and ahhh over the legends of the West. But, nonetheless, my finest time was spent alone with him in a rental car, zooming in, about and around Oklahoma City.
That and having him give me an autographed, official Jimmy Doohan caricature refrigerator magnet. It holds court forever, still Scotty, on my Frigidaire.
David McDonnell, “the maitre’d of the science fiction universe,” has dished up coverage of pop culture for more than three decades. Beginning his professional career in 1975 with the weekly “Media Report” news column in The Comic Buyers’ Guide, he joined Jim Steranko’s Mediascene Prevue in 1980. After 31 months as Starlog’s Managing Editor (beginning in October 1982), he became that pioneering SF magazine’s longtime Editor (1985-2009). He also served as Editor of its sister publications Comics Scene, Fangoria and Fantasy Worlds. At the same time, he edited numerous licensed movie one-shots (Star Trek and James Bond films, Aliens, Willow, etc.) and three ongoing official magazine series devoted to Trek TV sagas (The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager). He apparently still holds this galaxy’s record for editing more magazine pieces about Star Trek in total than any other individual, human or alien.
Copyright 2016 David McDonnell
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