James Montgomery Doohan was the youngest of four children born to William Patrick and Sarah Doohan in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. His father was a medical professional, working as a pharmacist, a dentist and a veterinarian. His mother tended the home and raised the children. Although James' parents had escaped Northern Ireland during the Irish War of Independence (they were Catholic in a Protestant dominated Belfast and were subjected to intense discrimination and abuse), they did not escape William's alcoholism. Despite being a good provider for his family, William's drinking problem brought considerable grief to his loved ones and this only served to torment James. The family eventually moved to Sarnia, Ontario and James entered the Sarnia Collegiate Institute and Technical School where he excelled in math and sciences.
When World War II broke out in 1939, James joined the Royal Canadian Artillery at the age of 19 and was commissioned as a lieutenant in the 13th Field Regiment of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division. He was stationed in the United Kingdom after basic to continue his combat training in preparation for major offensives. His very first combat assignment was as part of the Normandy Invasion on D-Day. His unit was deployed on Juno beach with the Canadian Armed Forces contingent and ordered to eliminate the German defensive positions. After taking out two German snipers, Lt. Doohan led his troops through a field of anti-tank mines to a higher position and ordered them to dig in for the night. That night, while moving from one command post to another, Lt. Doohan was on the receiving end of friendly fire by a nervous sentry. He was hit four times in the leg, once in his right middle finger and once in the chest. He attributes his surviving the chest wound to the bullet being slowed or partly deflected by a silver cigarette case he was carrying in his pocket, but it's uncertain if that was truly the case. Regardless, James kept that cigarette case as a good luck charm for the rest of his life. He eventually recovered from his wounds, but his right middle finger had to be amputated.
He continued to serve in the military as a pilot. His training as an artillery officer served him well when he flew the Taylorcraft Auster Mark V observation planes to guide ground based artillery attacks. Although he was never a member of the RCAF (Royal Canadian Air Force), he did manage to earn the title of "Craziest pilot in the Canadian Air Forces". One of the stories he was most fond of telling in later years was how he had flown a slalom course around telegraph poles in the mountains "just to prove it can be done".
After the war, James wanted to try a career in acting. He began studying Shakespeare and took drama s in Toronto. He further polished his acting techniques during a two year stint with the Neighborhood Playhouse in NYC. It was there that he worked alongside actors like Leslie Nielsen, Tony Randall and Richard Boone. He had earned a reputation for being an extremely versatile actor, able to immerse himself in whatever role he was asked to play and to affect a number of believable accents. By the early 1950s, he had performed in over 4000 radio programs and 400 television broadcasts. He briefly crossed paths with his future Star Trek castmate, William Shatner, on the Canadian sci-fi series, Space Command. As television began to insinuate itself into North American homes, James Doohan began moving his focus away from radio. He made many appearances in various television shows like The Twilight Zone, Bewitched, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Bonanza. It was in 1966 that he found himself auditioning for Gene Roddenberry's second pilot for his "wagon train to the stars" show called Star Trek. Roddenberry took an immediate liking to Doohan since they were both pilots during the war. When discussing the role of the Chief Engineer of the starship Enterprise, James was allowed to offer considerable input. Being able to affect a wide variety of accents, it was Doohan's idea to make the character Scottish because, in his words, "Well, if you want an engineer, he better be a Scotsman because, in my experience, all the world's best engineers have been Scottish". He also had a hand in naming the character. He figured that if he was going to put his signature on this character in what he felt was going to be a ground breaking show, why not give him his name. Montgomery Scott was born.
During the course of the show, James had far more to do with the show's production than most people realized. In addition to his role of Scotty, he had also provided the voices for many of the non-humanoid speaking characters in various episodes such as Sargon, the M-5 supercomputer, Trelane's Father and the Oracle. However, the role of Scotty had always been closest to his heart because he played it very much like himself; emotional, loyal and devoted to the point of obsession. He had said in the past that "Scotty is ninety-nine percent James Doohan and one percent accent."
When "Star Trek" ended its three year run in 1969, Doohan found himself typecast as the Scottish engineer. Most people he encountered were shocked to discover that he wasn't really a Scotsman. In the years that followed, James found himself taking guest roles in established television series like Marcus Welby, M.D. and Daniel Boone, but roles were becoming more and more difficult to find due to the "Scotty" stigma. He returned to the role in 1973 to provide the voice for Scotty in the Star Trek animated series, but that only lasted 16 episodes. A few years later, he was asked to play the role of Commander Canarvin on a new, modern version of Star Command since he had been involved in the original version back in the 50s.
James Doohan was just about ready to give up on acting and retire when Star Trek: The Motion Picture was greenlit by Paramount Studios. Ten years after the show had gone off the air due to low ratings, Star Trek had become such a phenomenon in syndicated reruns that the studio wanted to revive it in a new incarnation. Creator and writer Gene Roddenberry and director Robert Wise reassembled the old cast for what was thought to be a one-time project. Although it received mixed reviews by critics for being too slow paced and overly cerebral (much like the original pilot episode), the fans could not get enough of seeing their heroes on the big screen. It didn't take long for the executives at Paramount to give the go-ahead for a sequel. James Doohan's adventures as Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott weren't over yet.
As the 80s rolled along, fans of Star Trek were organizing larger and larger Star Trek conventions. People would flock from the four corners of the country to discuss and share their memories and memorabilia born from this show and these characters. Organizers had begun to invite the cast members to speak and sign autographs at these event. Always being one to engage his fans, James Doohan agreed to attend these events whenever his schedule permitted. He noted in his autobiography that he was stunned at the wide variety of people who attended these events. He was amazed to find that the fans of the show were doctors, lawyers, teachers, policemen and fire fighters, even NASA scientists. He felt an overwhelming sense of pride when fans would come up to him and tell him that they became engineers because they had seen him on Star Trek and they wanted to be like Scotty. It was during this time that he pursued a speaking career and had lectured at over 250 colleges and universities throughout the United States and Canada. He realized that rather than trying break free from the "Scotty" stigma, he embraced it and used it to inspire others as well as further his own career.
James Doohan had four children (Larkin, Deirdre, and twins Christopher and Montgomery) with his first wife, Janet Young, whom he married in 1949. He two divorced in 1964. He remarried in 1967 to Anita Yagel, but they divorced in 1972. They had no children. In October 1974, James married Wende Doohan and lived happily with her for 21 years and raised three children together (sons Eric and Thomas and daughter Sarah). In 1989, James Doohan suffered a massive heart attack. The event left him weakened, but not incapacitated. Although he was able to work, he would spend more time than not in a wheelchair to conserve his strength. By the late 90s, his health began to deteriorate. He had been diagnosed with diabetes, lung fibrosis, Parkinson's disease and bouts of pneumonia. In his final years, he suffered from the effects of Alzheimer's disease. In August of 2004, James received his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He attended the unveiling ceremony, but it was apparent to all that he was in failing health. On July 20 2005, the 36th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, James Montgomery Scott passed away at the age of 85. He died in his sleep at his home in Redmond WA with his wife Wende at his side. In 2007, in accordance with the family's wishes, some of James' ashes were put aboard a "Memorial Spaceflight" and launched into space. A fitting tribute to a man who inspired so many people to reach for the stars.