Book Review 36: Beam Me Up, Scotty

There will be times when a limo is scheduled to pick us [Doohan and Nichelle Nichols] up at a hotel to go to interviews and such. I'll tell her, "If you're not there on time, I'll take the limo. If you want to take a taxi, that's up to you. I won't hang around and wait fifteen or twenty minutes for you." After being left behind a couple times, the Enterprise communication officer will get the message and be much more punctual.

Page 6

Beam Me Up, Scotty, James Doohan's memoir, is one of the saddest cast memoirs I've read. Twenty-five years after Star Trek went on the air, Doohan feels ambivalent at best about his experience. Sure, he's greatful for the fan support he's gotten over the years, and not many actors become the icon he has, but Scotty forever tainted his acting career. He was never able to get past the role of the Scottish engineer.

The life Doohan relates is an exciting one, and most of the action takes place well before Star Trek. He talks about growing up in Canada, his relationship with his parents and bothers, his experience in the Canadian Army and the Normandy invasion, his experience as a dialog expert, a singing career, his time on Star Trek, and his hatred for William Shatner.

Throughout the book, Doohan writes with a faux-humble bravado. While I don't think he is making up his stories, I do think he is exaggerating quite a bit.

He spends the entire book saying, "I am so much more than Montgomery Scott."

He introduces the book by telling a time travel story. He imagines himself going back in time to the set of the original series and meeting his younger self. His younger self poses the senior Doohan a question about playing Scotty. "Would you do it again?" Doohan spends the rest of the book trying to answer that question.

Doohan's dislike for Shatner comes out in the beginning.

It's Doohan's impression that Bill operates more on instinct than anything else. He doesn't so much approach character as leap on it and wrestle it to the ground; and outside-in approach rather than the other way round. It's a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants style of acting that's not really to Doohan's taste. Then again, it's said that an actor's real job is not so much acting as it is auditioning. Well, Bill excels at getting jobs, so judged on that basis he's extremely good at his profession.

Page 4

As we learn later in the book, though, Doohan excels at getting work just as much as Shatner.

Over the next eight years, from 1950 to 1958, I think I did 450 live television shows. I did one damn near every week for eight years. I did four thousand radio shows also during that time. After only a year I was being called Canada's busiest actor.

Page 119

There are some parallels between Doohan and Shatner. Both actors hail from Canada and do their best to make their way in theater and, later, television. In fact it is easy to see how they could each have lived the other's life had they been cast differently. What if Shatner had been cast as the engineer and Doohan given the role of Captain of the Enterprise? Their acting paths could certainly have led them that way had Doohan been 10 years younger and worked with Rodenberry earlier.

They do have very different relationships with their fathers, though. Whereas Shatner had a neutral to positive relationship with his father, and would spend his entire life trying to please him, Doohan hated his.

I suppose my relationship with my father affected the way I dealt with my own kids. I was pretty tough, also. I used to give bare-bottom spankings., but even that ended over a decade ago. I believe I regard my children far more lovingly than my father ever regarded us.

Page 100

Growing up with an abusive alcoholic parent meant Doohan couldn't wait to leave home. He joined the Canadian Army and spent much of WWII training in the British Isles. He advanced through the ranks, but struggled with getting subordinates to follow orders. In time he learned that leadership is not just about authoritarian power -- rank alone does not make people follow. He developed the required skills and was eventually given his own command for the D-Day invasion of Normandy.

I had been pulled off of my own command and given a command that consisted of 120 men D Company of the Winnipeg Rifles. We were coming in at Juno which was where the majority of Canadian forces were being committed.

Page 65

But to know all this, to know the manpower involved, is one thing. To see this armed might floating all around us was something else altogether. War is never a joyous thing, but nonetheless there was a sort of beauty to it.

Page 68

One of his challenges in the invasion was dealing with a landing craft pilot who had steadfastly refused to obey him in the past. Demonstrating that he his, in fact, hard core, Doohan tells the story of how he dealt with the pilot on that history-making morning.

Without hesitation I pulled it [Doohan's side arm] and aimed it squarely at the coxswain's face. He blanched, and his eyes seemed to come together at the bridge of his nose. Sounding as calm as a headwaiter announcing a table, I said, "Look…you did not obey any order I ever gave you in all the practices we had. You better believe you are going to do it now, or I will take over the wheel."

Page 68

Obviously, Doohan survives the invasion. A few days later, he is wounded in action, loses part of a finger, and is done with combat. In certain episodes of Star Trek you can see how he is missing the digit, though careful direction often kept Doohan's injury invisible.

The fifties were a productive time for Doohan's acting, and even his singing career. Who got him singing ? That was Tony Randall's idea.

It was around that time that Tony Randall…came up with the idea that we three -- he, Johnny [Fiedler] and myself -- should pursue singing careers.

Page 110

Doohan developed a great deal of expertise with accents and dialects. This gave him tremendous versatility as an actor until he landed the role of Star Trek. After that, he would mostly be offered just roles that required a Scottish accent, and even those roles were somewhat limited.

Doohan offers up his thoughts on the Star Trek cast, and he acknowledges there was trouble. On Gene Rodenberry, he says:

Great navigator, but a lousy engineer.

Page 164

Doohan was also a fan of Leonard Nimoy:

Leonard was easy to like from the get-go, as sincere, thorough and professional an actor as one could hope to work with.

Page 133

And despite rumors that he hated Star Trek The Next Generation, Doohan says he really liked what they were doing. He writes fondly about the episode where he got to play Scotty again. And he got along with the cast.

Hell, I even went on Win, Lose, or Draw with Michael Dorn.

Page 200

But as Nichols tells Shatner in Shatner's fist book, Doohan did not like Shatner. Doohan confirms that, multiple time, in this book.

As for Bill Shatner, well…I have to admit, I just don't like the man. And, as has been well-documented elsewhere, he didn't exactly have a knack for generating good feelings about him.

Page 159

In the late seventies, rumors started to circulate about a new Star Trek movie. Doohan checked with Shatner to find out what was going on.

I finally called [Shatner], and I got right through to him, which was very unusual. He generally has someone else take the call, and then he'll decide if he'll talk to you or not. But I got right through to him and said, "Hi, Bill. This is Jimmy Doohan."

And he was furious that I had called him. "How'd you get my telephone number?!" he demanded angrily.

I immediately hung up. The hell with him.

Page 188

Doohan also disputes Nimoy's claim about Shatner as a director. Nimoy, George Takei, and Walter Koening said that Shatner did a good job running the day-to-day process of creating Star Trek IV. It was an awful movie, of course. Nimoy and the other actors blame the writing. Shatner blames the writing, the budget, and the effects limitations. Doohan blames Shatner.

No one was particularly enthused about being directed by Bill. I saw and heard Leonard and De snickering when they were off by themselves, waiting for him to make some new mistake. So it's not as if I was the only one.

Page 198

It's not all vitriol for Shatner. When Doohan discussed, "The Enemy Within," he has this to say:

I thought Bill's performance was pretty okay in that one.

Page 132

That's the most positive thing he has to say about Shatner in the entire book.

In the end Doohan is resigned to his fate. He is grateful for the fan support, and the money he has made from Star Trek. He is also happy that, by the time he is writing the book, Scotty is overshadowing Doohan less.

Am I happy?

I think I am. Despite all the typecasting, the missed parts, I am basically a happy person. I am happy, particularly now, because Star Trek is going away and I'm going back to getting rave reviews again, which I used to get before Star Trek.

Page 211

But it's bitter sweet. Doohan has resigned himself to a good life. He was grateful for the things he had. But Star Trek, which gave him all those things also took away the one thing he wanted most -- to be a Star Actor.

Should you read the book? If you want to learn more about Doohan's own personal mythos, absolutely. It's a nice story of what it means to be an up and coming actor in the early days of TV and the waning days of radio. It's easy to read. And the Shatner hate is amusing.

I also learned more about Canada's role in WWII than I ever learned in school.

Doohan's bravado may turn off some readers, though. The book attempts to justify his importance and beats the reader over the head with the idea that DOOHAN IS MORE THAN SCOTTY.

There is little new Star Trek material in here. If you want to know more about the show, the Shatner, Nimoy, and Nichols books are better resources (but take Shatner with a grain of salt).

If you are a Doohan fan or a Scotty fan, pick up the book. If you want to read all the original series memoirs, of course read this one too. If you are a Star Trek scholar, it's worth reading.

If you are a causal fan, I'd give it a neutral recommendation. If you are not a Star Trek fan, you can probably skip this book.

Tomorrow: Warped Factors, by Walter Koenig


Alyce said...

I feel like I have neglected an aspect of education for far too long. I can't believe I haven't read some of the star trek bios that you are listing! I'm adding some to my wish list today. The ones that are about the actors' experiences making star trek definitely appeal to me more.

Paul Eilers said...

I am not a Star Trek fan, but do like to understand what makes people tick.

I do not know why Doohan seems biter and angry about so many aspects of his life. Many people would love to have had his success.

Anonymous said...

My feelings towards Doohan have always been split - he alongside the other members of the original Star Trek series took up a great deal of my childhood's consciousness. What I felt then still seems pertinent now, the man was not happy with his lot and it came across in his acting. For all of Shatner's bravado he made the series the iconic slice of TV history it is today, or rather the begrudging camaraderie (however fake in retrospect) there was between the holy trinity of the series - the characters Kirk, Spock and Bones did more to teach me about the ups and downs of friendship in those first few years of my life than any weighty piece of theatre. Yet as a child Scotty always seemed to be the bitter, dour Scot who rather resented everything from his job, to the hierarchy of leadership, to his few tenuous relationships he did manage to form. I recall him once finding a woman he loved (who obviously had to be killed off) - his misery added weight to the programme rather than detracted from it. He's almost as close to a tragic figure that Roddenberry could have ever created.

Anonymous said...

Wow. There is a lot more to him than Scotty. And to PurpleGreenPops, he's happy for his success, but it's not the success he wanted.