Safe Travels, James Doohan

(Posted by Eric Magnuson)

On a day when London’s all a twitter once again (or maybe just the media is trying to make it appear so in their coverage of another handful of bombing threats), I expect that few people are taking the time to mourn Star Trek’s Montgomery Scott. James Doohan passed away yesterday at the relatively ripe age of 85. I’m far from a Trekkie, even though this is now my second posting with a reference to that area of entertainment geek-dom. But I do have a James Doohan story to pass along, in hopes of making us all see the man behind the man behind the machines.

I went to college in Minneapolis at the University of Minnesota. One Saturday after an intramural co-ed football game my sophomore year, our team headed to Big 10 Subs on Washington Avenue to get some grub and hopefully score a few pitchers even though we were all officially underage. While waiting in line for a table, two Trekkies came up behind us – I recall one half-assed Spock and a pretty saucy Asian Uhura. What does one say to Trekkies in the real world? Probably some derivation of what we said – “is there a convention nearby?” There was – across the street at the Radisson – and we then inquired whether anyone of note was there. With glee they told us that Scotty was there, signing autographs and chatting with his fans. What would you do? I couldn’t have crossed the street faster if I’d had a few dilithium crystals horked up my butt.

Two of my female teammates with not only well-developed irreverent streaks agreed to join me in checking out the scene. To say that they were both attractive would be unfair. We were a teamful of ringers (I played ball in High School, as did the other guys). But the women were all way out of my league, so to speak. When we went to the concierge’s desk to ask where Scotty was, he never even bothered to look at me. “Upstairs,” we were told with a helpful, drooly response. “And you’ll want some paper, ’cause they’re charging for it up there,” he said while handing over a few sheets to Holly. Surprisingly, he gave us enough hotel stationary for Holly, Shelly AND me. We bounded up the stairs and saw that only handful of people were in line ahead of us. Everyone’s attention was directed at Mr. Doohan, who was seated at a long banquet table with an array of pens and glasses surrounding him. As we moved closer to Scotty, I soon realized that he was what you might call tipsy if you were being respectful. Flunkies seemed to appear with alarming regularity with new drinks for him. But he was entirely in jolly-mode, not the least bit surly or overtly Canadian (sorry, bad joke – he was from British Columbia, after all, not Scotland). When we reached him, I tried my best to offer something witty or at least not irritating. But I could have been speaking Klingon for all the attention he paid to me. Instead, as most men did, he focused his attention on Holly and Shelly. The line I remember was, “would you like to sit on Scotty’s lap?” There were others. But here’s the point of my recap, offered with the utmost respect to him and his family – he was utterly charming. In a funny, slightly-bawdy, very much there for his fans way. My friends didn’t sit on his lap, but if he’d asked twice they most surely would have. And from what I read in his NYTimes obit, he continued to do conventions until last year. I assume charming all manner of fans – real or feigned – along the way.

The end of the Times obit mentions how his family has arranged for his ashes to be shot into space. Damn straight – he earned that burial. Anyone else had a brush with a member of the Enterprise crew? I’d love to hear about it if so. Moonrock on.