Before I begin I need to get something out of the way. “Hello, my
name is Dave and I’m a recovering Trekkie.” Phew! It feels so good to get that off my chest. But I still need to come clean with you, though I’ve been in recovery for quite some time I must admit that I had a “slip” when I learned of the death on July 20th of James “Scotty” Doohan, star of the original “Star Trek” series.
While many people focus on Kirk and Spock, the show’s two primary characters, Scotty was always one of my favorite Trek characters. The Starship Enterprise would have been nothing without Scottish Chief Engineer Mr. Scott, who saved the Enterprise and its crew from demise on many occasions. The pop culture lexicon will forever contain the phrase, “Beam me up, Scotty!”—referring to Mr. Scott’s task of operating the transporter on the starship Enterprise. Whenever Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock and Dr. McCoy would “beam down” to a planet to investigate the local gentry, they could always count on the trusty Mr. Scott to bring them safely back to the ship. Doohan created a character who will not be soon forgotten.
His death reminded me of my teenage years, when I attended Star Trek
conventions and memorized lines from the original series and movies. If Star Trek was a religion (and some would argue that it is!), throngs of fans around the world would now be promoting Doohan’s beatification. He was a very kind and generous man with a love for his devoted fans—I know this because I had a chance to meet him when I was still an active Trekkie (that’s me on his right in the photo above).
At the age of 18, I went on a theme cruise called “Sea Trek.” Sea Trek was basically a huge Star Trek convention on a cruise ship that sailed from Miami to the Bahamas. Hundreds of Trekkies joined about two-dozen major and minor (and very brave!) Star Trek luminaries on this weeklong excursion on international waters. Those who are not fans of Star Trek may find this disturbing, but for Trekkies, it was a dream come true—an opportunity to mix and mingle with actors and actresses who played characters loved by literally millions all over the world. Among the Star Trek royalty on this cruise was the gregarious Jimmy Doohan.
I will never forget one evening in Miami, the day before we departed. Everyone on the cruise was invited to a formal dinner at a hotel in downtown Miami. In attendance were a number of the Star Trek celebrities from the original series, as well as from the Next Generation series. The dinner was excellent, and many Trekkies showed up in their full Star Trek regalia—some dressed as Federation officers, others preferring the menacing uniform of a Klingon warrior. My friend Jerome and I showed up sheepishly in our uniforms, which were made for us by a nun in my aunt’s religious community!
After the post-dinner speeches, most of the crowd cleared out and Jerome and I changed out of our uniforms and headed back to the lobby to look around. We peeked into the ballroom where our dinner gathering had been, and noticed about a dozen people sitting around a table, talking and laughing. We went over to investigate and found, to our delight, Jimmy Doohan and Bill Campbell (who played a minor character on the original series episode “The Squire of Gothos”), trading stories in front of 10 or 12 fans who were listening in wide-eyed wonder. For the next hour or so, it was primarily Doohan who held court.
Drink in hand, Doohan regaled us with stories of his early days in the acting business and shared some inside info about a few of his fellow Star Trek cast members. The entire time, he seemed to be completely at home with us. He fielded questions, looking each person in the eye and treating them as a peer rather than a fan. His graciousness left a big impression on all of us.
I had never had such intimate access to a television or movie star before, and since I was such a huge Trek fan at the time, I cherished every minute. Doohan was able to relax and enjoy his fans, which seems to be a rare trait among the Hollywood crowd. In so doing, he helped us feel accepted and important. At its best, this is what Star Trek did—it created a community for many people who did not feel they fit in anywhere else.
It is easy to scoff at the “cult” that grew around a failed TV sci-fi show, but at the core of Star Trek was a very human element that mysteriously connected people all over the world. Star Trek’s 23rd century fictional world held much of the same struggles and awe as the late 20th century, but it also inspired hope for a future where people (aliens/beings) who were very different could live peacefully. Trek fans tried to cultivate this sense of congeniality among themselves, and in so doing, they built a community of acceptance and friendships.
Thanks, Scotty—for that evening in Miami, for sharing your time and your stories with people who admired you. Thank you most of all for the years of joyful entertainment you brought to generations of fans. You will be missed.