JAMES DOOHAN IS SMILING LIKE A kid at Christmas as he tours the grounds of his unfinished $500,000 dream house in a Seattle suburb. “I can’t wait to move in!” he says. And no wonder. The two-story Queen Anne-style mansion will have its own gazebo, greenhouse and duck pond—a far cry from the sterile bridge, engineering section and transporter room that Doohan has roamed as Star Trek’s Montgomery Scott, chief engineer of the starship Enterprise on 79 TV episodes (1966-69) and in seven Trek movies, including the current hit Star Trek Generations. Doohan, jowly, jolly and silver-haired, has decided that it really is time to beam down to Earth.
After he has wandered around admiring the place, his third wife, Wende, 38, with whom he recently celebrated a 20th anniversary, gently brushes sawdust off his shoulders. “She dusts me off better than anyone else,” he coos.
In fact, Doohan is too restless for much dust to settle. “He gets antsy when he’s home for long,” says Wende, her husband’s business manager and the mother of their two sons, Eric, 18, and Thomas, 16. “He gets that itch”—the one that summons him to the next gathering of Trekkers.
Doohan makes 35 stops a year on the convention circuit, pocketing as much as $10,000 for a two-day stint. The Canadian-born actor signs autographs, offers toasts in Gaelic, sings in Welsh and zings his fellow countryman William Shatner. “I like Captain Kirk, but I sure don’t like Bill,” says Doohan, who accuses Shatner of hogging the camera. “He’s so insecure that all he can think about is himself.” (Replies Shatner diplomatically: “He’s a good soul and a terrific actor.”)
Shatner may draw a bigger crowd, but the faithful lap Doohan up. “In terms of fans loving the character and the person,” says Gary Berman, co-founder of Creation Conventions, which books Doohan 15 times a year, “I would say he is their favorite.”
He’s certainly Wende’s favorite. She was 18, a doughnut-shop worker in San Francisco and a diehard Trekker, when she sought his autograph after catching Doohan in a 1974 play about painter James McNeill Whistler. Doohan, then 54, was divorced from his second wife, Anita, a TV production secretary. (In 1965 he had ended a 17-year marriage to his first wife, Judy, with whom he had four children, Larkin, now 40, Deirdre, 38, and twins Montgomery and Christopher, 35.) He was instantly smitten with Wende. “Six weeks later I proposed,” he says. “Wende’s my last wife—and the best of all.”
Doohan was born in Vancouver, B.C., the youngest of four children of William Doohan, a pharmacist, veterinarian and dentist, and his wife, Sarah, a home-maker. His father, says Doohan, became an alcoholic who was frequently unruly. At 19, Doohan escaped into the army, just as World War II was breaking out. “I loved it,” he says. “The war was good for me.” Except, of course, for the moment that artillery lieutenant Doohan, one of the first Canadian officers to wade ashore on D-Day, lost the middle finger of his right hand to machine-gun fire. Five weeks later he volunteered for aerial reconnaissance duty—and soon learned to pilot a plane. Sort of Flying under bridges on the Rhine and slaloming between telephone poles earned him the sobriquet “craziest pilot in the Canadian Air Force.” Not true, says Doohan. “I was still in the artillery.”
After the war, Doohan enrolled in a Toronto drama school on a whim. Six months later he won a two-year scholarship to the Neighborhood Playhouse, a renowned New York City acting school, graduating in 1948. Roles on live TV and guest shots on Gunsmoke, Bonanza and The Fugitive followed. In 1966 outer space—and Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry—beckoned. Roddenberry asked Doohan, a master of dialects, which one would work best. “If you want an engineer,” he replied, recalling the great shipbuilders, “I think it’d better be Scottish.”
After Trek’s cancellation, Doohan found himself hopelessly typecast and, he says ruefully, “there were no parts for a Scotsman.” The Trek movies gave him work, but it was the speaking engagements that made him prosperous. For that, Doohan is eternally grateful to his fans. And he shows it, answering every one of the 6,000 letters he gets each year. “People can talk to him, they can shake his hand,” says his wife.
Or even cry on his shoulder. At a recent convention in Piano; Texas, a fan suddenly burst into tears, telling Doohan that he was the spitting image of her grandfather, who had just died. How did Doohan, who now has eight grandchildren of his own, respond? “I hugged her for a minute and a half,” says Star Trek’s grand old man. “What else was there to do?”
MICHAEL A. LIPTON
STANLEY YOUNG in Seattle