From Killing Nazis to Klingons: James Montgomery Doohan
From Killing Nazis to Klingons: James Montgomery Doohan

From Killing Nazis to Klingons: James Montgomery Doohan

Khalid Elhassan - September 8, 2018

From Killing Nazis to Klingons: James Montgomery Doohan
A Taylorcraft Auster plane, of the type flown by Doohan. Wikimedia

From Fighting to Fame

After recovering from his injuries, Doohan signed up for pilot training to fly an artillery observer aircraft. After getting his wings, he was assigned to fly a Taylorcraft Auster Mark V plane for No. 666 Aerial Observation Post Squadron, and served in that billet until war’s end. Although he was technically not a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force, Doohan earned a reputation as “the craziest pilot in the Canadian Air Force“. Among other things, he once got in serious trouble for slaloming his plane between telegraph posts, just “to prove it could be done“.

Back home after the war, Doohan resumed his technical education, but after hearing crappy voice acting in a radio drama, he figured he could do better. He turned out to be right, helped in no small part by a talent for doing accents that he had since childhood. So Doohan went to a drama school in Toronto, then earned a scholarship to study drama in New York City. By 1946, he had secured several radio roles with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). Over the next few years, he shuttled between Toronto and NYC as work demanded, eventually performing in what he estimated to have about 4000 radio gigs, and 450 TV ones.

By the 1960s, he was making regular appearances on TV, with credits including The Twilight Zone, Bonanza, Bewitched, The Fugitive, The Outer Limits, and Hazel. His big break came when he auditioned for the role of chief engineer in Star Trek, and producer Gene Rodenberry asked him what accent best suited the role. “If you want an engineer, in my experience the best engineers are Scottsmen“, was Doohan’s reply.

Doohan was cast as the Enterprise’s engineer in the series’ second pilot, Where No Man Has Gone Before, with the name Montgomery “Scotty” Scott, after the actor’s grandfather. Scotty spoke in an Aberdeen accent that Doohan had once heard, but he almost ended up cut from the show after Rodenberry had second thoughts, and wrote to tell him : “We don’t think we need an engineer in the series“. The character remained only after Doohan’s agent intervened.

From Killing Nazis to Klingons: James Montgomery Doohan
Doohan in later years. Star Trek

Scotty became one of Star Trek’s defining characters, with a depth of technical savvy that frequently allowed him to come up with creative and unconventional fixes to solve seemingly insurmountable problems. He frequently bridged the gap between Captain Kirk’s ambitious plans and his ship’s capabilities, encapsulated by the iconic phrases: “I’m giving it all she’s got, captain! She can’nae take any more!” Moreover, with an identity strongly connected to the Enterprise, Scotty brought the inanimate ship to life as a character in of its own right.

By the third season, Rodenberry was glad that he had kept him in the show, writing in a memo that Doohan was: “capable of handling everything we throw at him“, and praising “the dour Scott“. After the series ended, however, Doohan discovered that rather than furthering his career, his successful role as Scotty had typecast him, and he had difficulty getting different roles. He eventually accepted that he would “always be Scotty“, and made a living from personal appearances – one of the few cast members who actually enjoyed meeting fans and talking about the Star Trek days. He lived to age 85, dying in 2005 from pulmonary fibrosis, caused by exposure to harmful substances in WWII.


Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources & Further Reading

Turner Classic Movies – James Doohan

Internet Movie Database – James Doohan Biography

Star Trek – Doohan, James

War History Online – Star Trek Star Shot Two Snipers on D-Day and Was Shot Seven Times in WWII

Wikipedia – James Doohan