'Scotty" was the one character in the cult 1960s American television series Star Trek whom no one could be allowed to forget. "Beam me up, Scotty" became a catchphrase absorbed into the myth surrounding a programme that spawned four television spin-offs, one cartoon series and 10 feature films.
It was an apocryphal quote, never actually said in those exact words by Scotty's commander Captain James T. Kirk. But it did ensure fame for the Canadian actor James Doohan, who played the chief engineer, Montgomery Scott, aboard the USS Enterprise and 10 of its successor craft through 79 episodes of the original series (1966-69) and the first seven films. Scotty was known to his comrades Kirk (William Shatner) and the pointy-eared Vulcan Mr Spock (Leonard Nimoy) as "the miracle worker" who frequently saved the starships from destruction.
The character, of Scottish ancestry, was proud to wear ceremonial kilts with his dress uniform, play the bagpipes and drink Scotch, and once referred to himself as "an old Aberdeen pub-crawler". This background was built up from Doohan's own idea, expressed to Star Trek's creator, Gene Roddenberry, when he was auditioning for the role. "I did about eight different accents for him and he asked me which one I liked the most," recalled the actor:
I said: "Well, if you want an engineer, he better be a Scotsman because, in my experience, all the world's best engineers have been Scottish." I gave Scotty an Aberdeen accent and I learned that when I was sent over to Catterick camp in England during World War Two. While I was there, I met this fellow from Aberdeen - and I couldn't understand a word he said! But I learned that accent from him and that was the one I used for Scotty. Scotty is 99 per cent James Doohan and 1 per cent accent.
Born in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1920, Doohan moved with his family as a child to Sarnia, Ontario, where he attended Sarnia Collegiate Institute and Technical School. During the Second World War, he served with the Royal Canadian Artillery as a captain and, while leading his troops in the D-Day invasion, was wounded in the leg and hand, eventually losing a finger. (He later took trouble to hide his disability on screen.) He spent the rest of the war as a pilot observer.
In 1946, Doohan was awarded a two-year scholarship to the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York after being heard performing on Canadian radio. He subsequently worked on radio in both the United States and Canada. He made his television début in the "Plague from Space" episode of Tales of Tomorrow (1952) in the US and shortly afterwards acted Phil Mitchell in the Canadian sci-fi series Space Command (1953), about an organisation exploring and colonising space.
This was followed by endless character parts in popular American programmes that reached international audiences, such as Bonanza (1962, 1963), The Twilight Zone (1963), The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1964, 1966), The Fugitive (1965) and Bewitched (1965), before Doohan was cast as Scotty in Star Trek in 1966.
In the role, he rose from lieutenant-commander to commander, then captain, with Scotty's technical skills inspiring many students to take engineering courses. As a result, the Milwaukee School of Engineering presented Doohan with an honorary degree. The actor provided the voice of Scotty in the cartoon series Star Trek (1973-75) and revived the part for one episode of the first television spin-off, Star Trek: the next generation (1992).
Doohan also devised the language of the tombstone-like aliens the Klingons, which was introduced in the first film, Star Trek: the motion picture (1979), and later refined by others. The Bible and some Shakespeare plays have since been translated into Klingon, and the language has featured in episodes of The Simpsons and E.R.
Leaving his Star Trek role behind proved difficult for Doohan. He played Commander Canarvin in the American serial Jason of Star Command and had a cameo role as "Scotty" in the film spoof Loaded Weapon 1 (1993). One producer told him: "I'm sorry, but we don't have a part for a Scotsman." Doohan recalled, ruefully:
I only did a Scottish accent once before Star Trek - and that included 450 live television shows and 4,000 radio shows. But, by 1972, I had been typecast and was flat broke! Fortunately, I was able to make a living out of personal appearances.
Doohan spoke regularly at colleges and Star Trek fan conventions, although ill-health caused by Parkinson's disease, diabetes and fibrosis (the last a result of exposure to chemicals during the war) meant that he took little acting work after his final film as Scotty, Star Trek: generations (1994). One of a handful of his new roles was Pippen in the American series Homeboys in Outer Space (1996), a parody of screen science fiction.
The actor's autobiography, Beam Me Up, Scotty, was published in 1996 and, with the author S.M. Stirling, Doohan wrote the science-fiction novels The Rising (1996), The Privateer (1999) and The Independent Command (2000).
Last August, shortly after Doohan was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, he was honoured with a Star Trek convention titled "Beam Me Up, Scotty . . . One Last Time", held in Hollywood. Almost all the survivors of the original Star Trek cast were there alongside him: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Grace Lee Whitney, Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig and Majel Barrett. It was followed by the unveiling of Doohan's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Doohan's family have arranged for his remains to be shot into space on board a rocket later this year.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies