Chris Doohan on His Dad's 96th Birthday

Chris Doohan on His Dad's 96th Birthday

I can’t believe Star Trek is 50 and that my dad would have been 96 years old this year; his birthday was yesterday, March 3. It seems like only yesterday when I was hanging out on the set with him, playing in the shuttle craft, or running amok through the corridors with my twin brother, Monty. I look back at those memories fondly…not just because I’m a Star Trek fan, because I was able to spend some quality time with my father. When I was 7 or 8 years old, my dad and I would watch episodes together. I remember him asking me if I liked the show, or if I liked certain episodes. I would say yes, but the truth is, I really didn’t become a Star Trek fan until my late teens. In retrospect, I think it was because I couldn’t suspend disbelief. I liked and enjoyed the show, but every time I saw my dad, it would pull me out of the story. It wasn’t until I could take the “that’s my dad in space” out of the equation, that I could see the character of Scotty as Scotty, and not my dad. 

Of course, now, I’m a full-fledged fan, and I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to be in three Star Trek movies. Although there were many special moments, I think the single best moment was during the filming of the first J.J Abrams film. I had been waiting most of the day to be called on set as an extra. I had no idea what I would be doing, or what scene I would be in. When they finally called me over, I was met by Tommy Gormley, the first Assistant Director, who, by the way, is Scottish. We walked into the stage and he led me to the set where he said I would be working. When I turned the corner and saw the transporter room, I must have had a smile on my face a mile wide. Then, he pointed to the chair in front of the controls and said “that’s your chair”. I couldn’t believe that I was going to be doing the same thing my father did so many years ago. I really had the feeling that my dad was looking down on me that day. 

If my dad were here to celebrate the 50th year of Star Trek, I have no doubt that he would be booked at every convention that was offered to him. He really enjoyed going to the conventions, meeting the fans and hearing their stories. I was lucky enough to go to several conventions with him over the years, but there was one in San Francisco that comes to mind. I remember sitting with my dad one day at an autograph signing and he had a long line of people waiting to meet him. My father’s agent asked me if I would do him a favor by helping to keep the line moving along. By the way, that was the first and only time that I sat with him while he was signing autographs…unfortunately. Most people in line would just ask for an autograph, but others wanted to have a conversation with him (and he loved that). I remember one gentleman that talked for over 10 minutes about his love for the character and Star Trek in general. I could see that the people in line were getting restless, so I tried to politely move him along. My dad really wanted to keep the conversation going, so he asked the man if he would like to meet him at the hotel lounge around seven o’clock and he would buy him a drink. Well, my dad asked about 20 other people who were in line that day as well. I think he enjoyed hanging out with them in the lounge as much as they enjoyed hanging out with him. 

I don’t think he would be surprised that Star Trek is still going strong at 50, but that wasn’t always the case. When the series was cancelled in June of 1969, he thought he would never work again. He did get some small television roles in shows like Marcus Welby M.D, Daniel Boone and Then Came Bronson, but those were not enough to pay the bills. He was also lucky to land a role in the movie Man in the Wilderness, starring Richard Harris, but ultimately had to walk away halfway through filming due to a family emergency. Even though he was typecast and struggling financially, he always loved being Scotty and always hoped that Star Trek would live on in some way. Then, in the early 1970’s, the Star Trek conventions were born. I think that was a pivotal point in his life, because he knew that Star Trek and Scotty were here to stay. Not only was he able to get up onstage and entertain people, which he really loved to do, he was also getting paid for it…finally!! Over the last couple years, I have attended several Star Trek conventions and have heard the most amazing stories from the fans about their experiences with him. There have been several people that have come to tears while telling me these stories. It was during that time that I came to realize how much of an impact my father, and Star Trek had on so many people’s lives.

I believe my father lived a wonderful life with very few regrets. He did what he loved, had a bucket load of kids and found love with his wife, Wende. What more could a man ask for!

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Star Trek
James Doohan
Chris Doohan