Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The Final Beam-out

In October of 1991 I was at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. I was on a special assignment with Air Force Entertainment working with volunteers from all over the country. Every morning we gathered in the parking lot of the dorms in which we were staying to catch the shuttle to our work place. The 24th of that month seemed no different to me, until one of my colleagues arrived with USA Today in hand and blurted out with a laugh, "Hey, Gene Roddenberry croaked!" I felt like I had been punched in the gut. I had been unaware that Gene had been ill for quite some time, besides our heroes are supposed to be immortal, right? Some of the others, who knew how big a fan I was took the guy aside and asked him to let it go, and to his credit he did. Eventually I began to wonder how I could mourn so deeply someone I had never even met. I never answered that question, and today I am forced to ask it again.

James Doohan died today. He was 86, and suffering from Alzheimer's, so it actually is a blessing, but I am sad nonetheless. I won't rehash what Star Trek means to me, but I will point out that Doohan was the spine of the show. Without Scotty, the Enterprise would not have been half the ship she was.

Everyone, even people who never watched the show, knows what 'Scotty, beam me up' means. But what do we know about the man behind the character. He was Canadian, not Scottish. He was wounded during the D-Day invasion of Normandy, and was missing a finger on his right hand. He's most famous for playing Lt. Commander Montgomery Scott on the original Star Trek, but he was also the voice of Sargon, the M-5 Computer, and Trelane's Father. He not only played himself and Lt. Arex on the short lived animated Star Trek series, but also used his voice talents to bring so many other characters to life on that show that I could not list them all. How many of you remember him as Commander Canarvin on the truly lame Saturday morning show Jason of Star Command? He also did guest appearances on Duckman, Macgyver, Magnum P.I., Fantasy Island, and appeared twice on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. He was a staple of television in the 60's, rivaled only by DeForest Kelly on number of westerns and other dramatic appearances.

I never met the man, but a few of my friends have. He was reportedly a friendly, patient man who never refused an autograph. He was also one of the most outspoken Shatner bashers, which makes his on-screen affection for Capt. Kirk that much more impressive. And while there were some serious plot problems, his appearance on Star Trek: The Next Generation was one of the highest high points of that series.

Today I am sad. There will, undoubtedly, be thousands if not millions of blogs eulogizing Mr. Doohan, and I earnestly hope that his family see some of them and know that he made a difference in the lives of so many. I am sure that despite our tendencies to deify our heroes, James Doohan was just a man doing a job, but he did that job with skill, grace, and excellence, and I am glad to have benefited from his generosity of spirit.

I will end this with an image I have that makes me smile. I am picturing Gene Roddenberry, DeForest Kelly, Mark Leonard, Matt Jeffries and James Doohan sitting in a heavenly casino, playing poker, and laughing together as the waitress, in a classic Bill Theiss creation, brings them each a bottle of Saurian Brandy, and a tribble.

Good bye, Scotty, and may flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.


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