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.

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27 Comments

ttenchantr 10 months ago
recently saw a episode of Hazel with Doohan playing, shock of shocks, a Scotsman! Perhaps ST reruns wasn't the only problem.
DeputyWarren 10 months ago
Doohan was just short of 50yrs old by the time ST-TOS ended. He was never a leading man and his pre-ST career was character guest-shots on other TV series. It was Doohan who accepted the Animated series and the convention appearances. If he was type-cast, it was Doohan himself who chose it.
drcrumpler 10 months ago
I met James Doohan on 2 occasions, a delightfully funny, witty man. He told me that the first time he did his Scottish brogue was on an episode of Hazel, which after decades I finally got to see (thank you, MeTV), and when I asked him to talk like Mr. Scott, he did so & then told me I owed him $5 (he was kidding). Looking for James Doohan in other roles on other shows like The Twilight Zone & The Fugitive as well as looking for a shot where you can see where his finger should be (he lost it on D-Day). Great man, one who'll be missed, respected, & love, no matter what role he played.
Avie 10 months ago
"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.'"

That's not really true -- the Screen Actors Guild (now SAG-AFTRA) doesn't set "the rules." What happened is that in 1974 SAG negotiated a contract with producers covering prime time network television for the first time, which included residuals to be paid in perpetuity.

Also, there's no such word as 'broadcasted"; the past tense of broadcast is...broadcast.
AlbertHanson 10 months ago
I saw James Doohan in other roles where he did not have an accent. It's a shame he was typecast. Unfortunately, he wasn't the only one who was typecast. After Star Trek there were very few actors who broke the mold. William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy went on to further fame and fortune and seemed to leave the others in their wake. The one I admired most was NIchelle Nichols who went to work for NASA as a spokesperson to encourage women and minorities to join NASA.
HoneyBee456 10 months ago
He was always my favorite. So handsome
Runeshaper 10 months ago
I never assumed James Doohan was Scottish just because he played a Scotsman on the series. I guess a lot of other people did assume that he was Scottish since he played such a good Scotsman.
MichaelGreene Runeshaper 10 months ago
James Doohan got his start in entertainment as a radio actor in Canada, where he did 3500 shows in Canada before moving to the USA. During that time, he developed a reputation of being able to do quite a number of accents...it's conceivable he could have done a Southern USA accent, a British accent of some sort(there are a number of British accents...not just Cockney or a BBC announcer), a Noo Yawk, Bahstin, or Philadelphia accent...perhaps even a "Mackenzie Brothers" Canadian Accent. Perhaps if Doohan had worked for Jack Webb, he might have even developed a flat monotone voice. As it was, he would be forever known for his Scottish voice.
musicman37 MichaelGreene 10 months ago
I guess there's a LOT of stupid people out there who believe the actors they see are what they portray. Nothing could be further from the truth.
WGH Runeshaper 10 months ago
There are a lot of people of Scottish descent living in canada. One of my good friends is Canadian and considers himself to be a Scotsman.

Most famous Canadian scotsman... Rowdy Roddy piper.
Runeshaper WGH 10 months ago
Love Rowdy!
CoreyC 10 months ago
I saw James Doohan at a Star Trek convention in 1987. It was an honor an pleasure to listen to him telling his WWII stories and of course Star Trek. I then shook his hand and said thanks.
CaptainDunsel 10 months ago
I had the pleasure of meeting James Doohan very briefly in 1986. Even though I knew better, hearing him speak without the burr was... disconcerting.

When the 2009 Star Trek film reboot was being cast, there was talk of casting Chris Doohan, James Doohan's son, as Scotty. Chris commented that he didn't "do a very good Scottish accent." One of the casting people replied, "That's OK. Neither did your dad." Simon Pegg, who eventually got the role, determined to do as true a Scottish accents as possible.
mackjaz CaptainDunsel 10 months ago
You may have heard about Star Trek Continues, an unbelievably well-done fan series. Unlike a lot of fan fiction, this revival was done with professionals. It makes a great bridge between the aborted end of the "Five Year Mission" and ST:TMP. Anyway, Chris Doohan took up the role of his father and did a wonderful job. The first episode ties up the fate of Apollo in a most satisfying episode.
CaptainDunsel mackjaz 10 months ago
Indeed I have! I think I've watched most of the episodes that are available online. And you're right - Chris Doohan did a very respectable job as Scotty.
Bapa1 10 months ago
I remember he did a Saturday morning live-action Filmation show. As for residuals, it's a shame. Many actors from the 50's and 60's TV era missed out on those. Robert Conrad was one of the first actors that protested that, and insisted he and Ross Martin would get residuals on reruns of WWW. Smart move.
Deleted 10 months ago
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CoreyC 10 months ago
James Doohan was Canadian.
Runeshaper 10 months ago
Yes, I read the article lol To clarify, I never assumed James Doohan was Scottish (as he isn't) just because he played a Scot on the series. I guess a lot of other people did assume that he was Scottish sine he played such a good Scot on Star Trek.
Deleted 10 months ago
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CaptainDunsel 10 months ago
It also changed the schedule for the premiere of the animated Star Trek series. Across the US, the series premiered in 1973 with the episode "Beyond the Farthest Star". But in the LA markets, they debuted with the episode "Yesteryear" because that episode did not include Sulu/Takei.
Pacificsun 10 months ago
Did that also apply to the many celebrities who ran and won their campaigns to become Mayors in California? Wouldn't that have affected Sony Bono, Clint Eastwood, maybe Arnold S. Even Ronald Reagan. Fred Grandy. Don't have wiki handy, or would look up most of them. But that would be quite a restriction on a LOT of actors & politicians. Not even sure if it breached a broad interpretation of free speech.
kmarsh12 10 months ago
The Reagan administration killed the Fairness Doctrine at the FCC. After that, it wouldn't have mattered. It also opened the door for Rush Limbaugh and a new age of political opinion talk radio.
cperrynaples 11 months ago
Fun Fact: It was Doohan's dentist who told him he was always going to be Scotty!
cperrynaples cperrynaples 10 months ago
Another fact: When the producers of B&B wanted a father for Ian Buchanan's Scotman, they hired Doohan!
Pacificsun 11 months ago
Not in dispute of the actor's own recollection, which no doubt was felt compared to the recognition of castmates. But I've discovered JD as a supporting actor in quite a few series. And without that accent he's difficult to spot sometimes. Visually he's pretty generic looking, and IMO his acting personality was, as well.

In a way, it's kind of unfair to attribute the handicap of all that recognition, which there was no way to avoid, given the cult following and convention exposure given to the franchise. How could they not be, associated with those roles for a lifetime. The nature of classic TV.
texasluva 11 months ago
Yes. I agree with this about James Doohan always being Scotty in the eyes of the viewers. Though he was able to do several Star Trek Movies. Little is remember about others before ST:TOS and especially after.
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