While it has long been a joke among early Star Trek fans and nerds alike, technically no one ever said “Beam me up, Scotty” on the show. Variations on a theme, surely, but not precisely that. In three seasons of Star Trek, created by Gene Roddenberry, which aired between 1966 and 1969, those iconic words were not spoken in exactly that manner. So why did they become so synonymous with Star Trek? Because Montgomery Scott, Chief Engineer of the NCC-1701 (and NCC-1701-A) Enterprise was a bloody genius. A man who literally wrote the book on Starfleet Engineering that would be followed (or wisely ignored, depending on the situation) relentlessly for over a century, Scott was known for exasperatingly solving any and all technical issues with time to spare, as well as being the founder of “buffer time”. As stated by the man himself, “Starfleet captains are like children. They want everything right now and they want it their way, but the secret is to give them only what they need, not what they want."
As wild as the exploits of Captain Montgomery Scott are, the real-life exploits of the actor that played him, James Doohan, are fantastic in that they occur in our current reality. Let us take a short moment to look at the most insane among them.
Captain Scott was actually Lieutenant Doohan of the 13th Field Regiment, Canadian 3rd Infantry Division, 22nd Field Battery
Lt. Doohan and his unit were part of the second wave at Juno Beach, Normandy, early June of 1944. Doohan successfully took out two snipers during the insertion, then led his men uphill through anti-tank mines to attack German held territory. Later that evening, while moving between command posts, Doohan was suddenly struck six times by gunfire. The commonly accepted source of these rounds was a twitchy Canadian sentry. One of the rounds severed his middle finger, another struck him in the chest, which would have killed him instantly except that it struck a silver cigarette case given to him by his brother effectively stopping it.
During his acting career years later, Doohan routinely hid his missing finger either with clever placement or with a prosthetic replacement meant to hide the stump from screen.
Doohan flew aircraft for the Royal Canadian Air Force… Like a Madman
After his recovery from his wounds at Normandy, Doohan transferred to flight school with the RCAF. From the very beginning of his instruction, he wasted no time in earning a reputation that Tom Cruise’s Maverick would be proud of. In an incident that would have been ripped straight from the movie if it hadn't happened four decades prior, Doohan bet his fellow pilots that he could successfully “thread the needle”, flying his aircraft in between the narrow space of two telephone poles. Suffice to say he nailed the maneuver, to the amazement of the other pilots and the chagrin of his superiors. Just another day in a cockpit for the young lunatic.
Doohan saved lives just by caring enough about others
Years after playing the famed engineer, Doohan routinely spent time on the convention circuit. For anybody not familiar with the convention scene, they all have a general theme. Fans of a particular genre or specific franchise gather together to celebrate their fandom. Majority of these folks are simply well intentioned enthusiasts, but some of them can get out of hand, causing issues both for their fellow fans and for the celebrities who are in attendance. Many such celebrities refuse to attend, or limit their appearances to avoid that sort of behavior.
Doohan felt that he owed a great deal of his successful acting career to his fans. He received and read hundreds if not thousands of letters, attended events, and always had his trademark mischievous smile for anyone who asked him about the transporter room or the warp core.
In one incident recounted by Doohan years later, he received a letter from a despondent fan. They told him that Captain Scott had been an amazing part of their life, but they were planning on ending their life.
Doohan called her. He said “Hey, this is Jimmy Doohan. Scotty of Star Trek. I’m doing a convention in Indianapolis, and I want to see you there.” Doohan went on to say “I saw her. Boy, I’m telling you… I couldn’t believe what I saw. It was definitely suicide. Somebody had to help her, somehow. And, obviously, she wasn’t going to the right people.”
He followed up by telling her to come see him at every convention in the area. “That went on for two or three years, maybe 18 times,” he said. “And all I did was talk positive things to her. And then all of a sudden… nothing. I didn’t hear anything, and I had no idea what was really happening to her because I never really saved her address. Eight years later, I get a letter saying, ‘I do want to thank you so much for what you did for me, I just got my master’s degree in electronic engineering.”
When retelling the story years later, Doohan said it was the greatest thing he’d ever done with his life.
We all of us wish to make an impact on the world, and some of us do. A lucky few make life a wild ride from start to finish, and James Montgomery Doohan certainly pulled that off. He passed in July of 2005 of pulmonary fibrosis, suspected to be caused by exposure to toxic chemicals from WWII. But the craziness didn’t end there. Portions of his ashes were smuggled aboard the International Space Station by Richard Garriott in 2008, and several additional portions were carried on various spacecraft both commercial and governmental.
God rest you, Captain Scott, and enjoy tinkering in that main engineering in the sky.