Star Trek in syndication: How reruns ruined James Doohan's career
Typecasting and royalty issues kept Doohan from fully embracing Scotty.
Did you know that James Doohan, the actor that played Montgomery "Scotty" Scott on Star Trek, wasn't Scottish? He was Canadian, born to parents that emigrated to Canada. But that brogue was what people grew to identify with his acting repertoire. That association with Scotland, though, stifled his career in movies and television.
The story of James Doohan's Scottish accent begins back in 1966 when an audition for a different television series required a Scottish brogue. Doohan recounted the tale in a 1979 edition of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
"It was for a Scotland Yard inspector on Burke's Law. I didn't get the part, but the people who were doing a new series to be called Star Trek heard about it, and I got the role of Scotty, the engineer of the Enterprise."
The rest of the story is show business history. Star Trek aired new episodes for three seasons and picked up a huge and passionate cult following. After its cancellation, the series continued to be broadcast in reruns and further produced a series of Star Trek movies starring the original cast recreating those iconic roles.
Those reruns were incredibly lucrative (for the producers) and even raised the profile of the actors and characters in Star Trek. A lot of folks who missed out on those original three seasons became passionate fans after viewing the show in syndication. Why, then, was James Doohan resentful of his wider exposure?
"Because I have been completely typecast," said Doohan. "No part has been written for a Scotsman in 10 years."
"Every director, every casting director, every producer out there comes home and watches Star Trek. A friend of mine told me: 'Jimmy, you're going to be Scotty for the rest of your life in this town."
In addition to being associated with a nationality he wasn't a part of, Doohan's situation was exacerbated by some funny money contracts. The Star Trek actors received residuals on re-broadcasted episodes, but only through 1971. After that, even though the episodes continued to make a ton of money, the actors received nothing.
"Our situation was what prompted the Screen Actors Guild to change the rules," said Doohan. "Now, you get paid for all reruns."
It's clear why Doohan was dissatisfied with the way things were stacked against him. If he'd been able to get new roles, he wouldn't have needed residuals to rely on. Or, if he'd gotten residuals for all of Star Trek's re-airings, he wouldn't have needed to pursue further roles. But, as it was, the world saw him as a Scotsman, and so he never quite reached the stature of his time as Scotty on the Enterprise.