Friday, June 26, 2009


The Scottish Community has long celebrated its folk heroes, real and imagined. The TV character that seems to have best personified that idol worship is Lt. Montgomery Scott, Scotty to the minions. And that’s one of the purposes of this post - to recognize Scotty as one of the seminal characters of Scottish folklore.

Never taking a back seat to Robert the Bruce, Rob Roy MacGregor, William Wallace, Robinson Crusoe, Peter Pan or even Fionn of Nifty Comics fame, James Doohan gave soul and spirit to the Star Trek Scotty character and brought a great sense of pride in self and country to Scots the world over.

James Montgomery Doohan (March 3, 1920 - July 20, 2005) was Irish-conceived and born in Vancouver, British Columbia. He was the youngest of four children of Catholics William and Sarah Doohan who, courtesy of the Irish War of Independence, immigrated (while his mother was pregnant with him) from Northern Ireland and the predominantly Protestant town of Bangor
[1] located immediately south of Belfast.

Doohan’s family later moved to Sarnia, Ontario where he attended high school at the Sarnia Collegiate Institute and Technical School where he excelled in mathematics and science. In addition to his school work, Doohan enrolled in the Royal Canadian Army Cadet Corps in Sarnia.

Scotty left home at age 19 to join the Canadian Forces at the outbreak of World War II. Posted in England, he served through the duration of the war, eventually commissioned as a lieutenant and rose through the ranks, but without seeing actual combat until June 6, 1944 — D-Day — where he led a unit of 33 men onto Juno Beach at Normandy, France.

Shooting two snipers along the way, Doohan led his unit to higher ground through a field of anti-tank mines and took defensive positions for the night. Crossing between Allied command posts at 11:30 that night, Doohan took six rounds from a Bren
[2] light machine gun apparently fired by a nervous Canadian sentry (several accounts conflict): four rounds in his leg, one in the chest, and one through his right middle finger. The bullet to his chest was halted by the silver cigarette case he carried, and his wounded finger was amputated. He kept that cigarette case for the rest of his life and even continued using it (with the dent slightly taken out) until he quit smoking in the 1970's.

Doohan trained as a pilot and flew an artillery observation plane for the remainder of the war and though never actually a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force, received the dubious distinction of being called the "craziest pilot in the Canadian Air Forces." One of the many legendary (true?) stories of his flying years tells of Doohan slaloming a plane — variously cited as a Hurricane or a jet trainer — between mountainside telegraph poles to prove it could be done, earning him a serious reprimand.

Doohan enjoyed a career in radio and television and demonstrated his versatility in a variety of roles. Interestingly Doohan played the role of forest ranger Timber Tom (the northern counterpart of Buffalo Bob) in the Canadian version of Howdy Doody. Coincidentally, fellow Canadian and Star Trek cast member William Shatner, with whom Scotty felt no real rapport, appeared simultaneously as Ranger Bill in the American version.

In 1965 Star Trek casting director James Goldstone suggested that the burly, booming-voiced Doohan audition for the supporting role of chief engineer of the U.S.S. Enterprise. That character was not yet fully developed and Doohan, after trying out a variety of accents during the audition, offered the character with a Scottish burr impressing Trek producer Gene Roddenberry. Queried about his choice Doohan responded, "If this character is going to be an engineer, you'd better make him a Scotsman." Insinuating that all the world's best engineers have been Scottish (we agree), Doohan picked the Aberdonian (Aberdeen) accent he learned from his bunkmates in WWII.

Thusly, Lt. Commander Montgomery Scott’s plaintive Scots declaration, "I dinna ken if she can tak any more, Captain!" - rang through the outer edges of the cosmos as Captain James T. Kirk urged even more power out of the craft. Despite his protestations Scotty always managed to give those warp engines the extra boost required to desperately maneuver the Starship Enterprise out of life-threatening situations. The sound bite “Beam me up, Scotty!" will certainly continue to resonate until the great Yellowstone caldera once again erupts or the sun goes super nova.

The actor remained in the role until Star Trek's cancellation in 1969, subsequently reviving the character for the 1974 cartoon series and the many theatrical films. Scotty, one of the few characters in the annals of TV pop culture to rise to lofty iconic heights, was able to parlay his Star Trek character into a continuing career that saw him making personal appearances and speeches all around the world.

Though born a Canadian of Irish descent we look suspiciously at his Montgomery middle name and suspect an underlying Scottish pedigree. There are others, however, that have taken their quest to imprint a Scottish identity on Montgomery Scott to almost absurd lengths.

In a head-long rush to recognize and validate Scotty’s pedigree Linlithgow, Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Elgin, Scotland have all proclaimed that they are the real (future) birthplace of Lt. Commander Montgomery Scott. Plaques abound in all these cities though we honestly have to admit that pursuit of the almighty Pound, Euro and Dollar may have more to do with this genealogical epiphany.

It certainly appears that Linlithgow has satisfied itself that it has the inside track especially given the support of the Doohan Family who unveiled a plaque memorializing Scotty’s 2222 CE future birth in Linlithgow in 2007. The new "James Doohan Memorial Exhibition" which opened its doors in the Annet House Museum on August 3rd tells the story of Doohan and his critical role in the cult sci-fi series. The Doohan Family has cooperated righteously in this endeavor by providing photographs, his original Star Trek costume, Star Trek models and other personal memorabilia.

Of course, Scotty had been heard many times proudly proclaiming his status as an Aberdonian pub crawler and we of Might of Right concede that he can be both.

As a partial if not tongue-in-cheek validation of this presumed Scottish Heritage good Friend George Takei (Star Trek helmsman Hikaru Sulu) has confessed that Doohan loved his Scotch. That aside, after having totally immersed himself in his Scottish persona, Doohan said that he had, “Imbibed enough of the libation of Scotland to qualify him as a Scotsman.” Doohan, however, was eventually told by his doctor to quit drinking Scotch. He dutifully complied and demonstrating his craftiness, switched to vodka invoking memories of Humphrey Bogart who having survived the same regimen complained and bemoaned, “I should never have switched from Scotch to Martinis.”

An aside: Scotty was no amateur to the wonders of alcohol and was also a major fan of the southern Rhone Chateauneuf du Pape considered by many (including this writer) to be the pricey epitome (and, yes, the royalty) of the great French Reds.

Doohan tragically suffered from the quadruple whammy of Parkinson's disease, diabetes, lung fibrosis and in later life - Alzheimer's disease. Doohan sought his final refuge in 2005 and joined fellow Trekkies, Gene Roddenberry, DeForest Kelley, Ray Walston, John Colicos, Persis Khambatta, Mark Lenard, Bibi Besch, Merrit Butrick, Jeffry Hunter and Lee Bergbere in the Cosmos.

Reminiscent of Gene Roddenberry’s final journey, on April 28, 2007 a symbolic portion of James Doohan’s remains were shot into space via Houston-based Space Services’ Celestis along with remnants of astronaut Gordon Cooper and 201 other participants including some 911 ashes from New York City. The intent was to achieve a suborbital altitude and then parachute the payload of ashes and experiments back to Earth and then return the remains to Family members for final burial.

Well, it seems that the SpaceLoft XL rocket and its payload did blast into suborbital space with chutes deploying as programmed, though like the proverbial arrow, it fell to Earth, they knew not where? The booster was successfully located quickly on the side of a mountain some 30 miles away from Spaceport America and within the White Sands Missile Range. Rough, dense terrain and windy conditions, however, slowed the overall recovery effort. It took twenty days and the concerted efforts of both land and helicopter crews to finally locate the ashes of their distinguished passengers much to the relief of the recently chagrined and formerly-elated, almost euphoric Family members.

We are reminded of the attempt of the famous Scots/Norse Kingdome of Räknar to deliver the ashes of one Gude King Hägar the Horrible (aka the iconic Robert A. Swanson) of that same Kingdome of Räknar via a burning Viking longship into the depths of the Barren River Lake in Kentucky on one terribly cold winter day in 1994, so we are throwing no stones. Like the tormented though well-intended and motivated choreographers of that ceremony, we suspect that the Space Services folks did not pay proper homage to the Norse god Freyr. Goes around, comes around.

Despite the almost comedic denouement of the Space Services flight our fond memories of Scotty, Gordon Cooper and all 911 victims continue to reverberate throughout the universe. We give special thanks to James Montgomery Doohan – a Scotsman at heart - for making us a little more appreciative of our origins and our sure future. Yes, they should have beamed Scotty up.


Ned Buxton

[1] Bangor was the new home of many loyalists, mostly Protestant Scottish planters during the Plantation of Ulster in the early 1600’s. Even today, 83% of Bangor is Protestant and heavily identified with the Ulster-Scot community. We have noted that the Montgomeries have been integral to the history of Northern Ireland. While Doohan’s Catholic upbringing might initially confound us, the chances are greater than not that he has Scottish connections.

[2] The Bren was a light machine gun manufactured by the Royal Small Arms Factory, Enfield, UK used by UK forces from 1938 until 1991 (Regulars) and until 2006 by Irish Reserve Defense Forces. This surely once and for all time eliminates any of the reports that Doohan’s wounds came from German sources. Wikipedia and Graves, Donald E. (2005). Century of Service. New York: Midpoint Trade Books Inc., p.244. ISBN 1896941435.

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