Imagine having the set of the original Star Trek series as your own private playground as an eight- or nine-year-old.
Chris Doohan, son of the late James Doohan -- better known as Montgomery "Scotty" Scott, chief engineer on the Starship Enterprise -- doesn't have to imagine it. He lived it back in the 1960s.w
Chris was in Toronto for the introduction of a new series of Canada Post stamps marking the 50th anniversary of the pioneering sci-fi series -- and honouring crew members with Canadian connections, including his dad.
Vancouver-born James Doohan is joined by Quebec-born William Shatner as part of the stamp series.
"My father would often bring my brother and I along with him to the set when the show was shooting," Chris recalled, between bites of a margherita pizza at Toronto's trendy Capocaccia Café. "He would park us in the shuttle craft and tell us to stay put."
Of course "staying put" is a difficult assignment for seven year-old twin boys...and one day they couldn't resist leaving the confines of the shuttle...and going where no child had gone before. As it happened, the day they chose coincided with the shooting of "The Trouble With Tribbles", one of the series' stranger -- and enduringly popular -- episodes.
Tribbles, for those unfamiliar with the species, were small, spherical and cute -- and could reproduce at a prodigious rate. Not an ideal species to have on board a spacecraft with a limited supply of food and oxygen.
Chris and his brother, Montgomery, crept around the set, keeping away from the active shooting, until they came to three tall cabinets with doors just out of reach.
"We were curious to know what was INSIDE," Chris recalls. "So my brother got on my shoulders and slid the cabinet open. Instantly, more than 200 tribbles came tumbling out, nearly burying us. Not only did it scare us, but we knew we would be in big trouble if Dad -- or anyone else -- found out. So we rushed back to the shuttle. Five minutes later Dad appeared... and praised us for being so well-behaved!"
Thirty years later Chris mustered up the courage to tell his dad the real story.
"And he got mad at me," Chris said with a bemused shake of the head. "It was like it had just happened yesterday!"
Vancouver-born James Doohan is joined by Quebec-born William Shatner
as part of the stamp series.
I asked Chris Doohan if he ever saw any evidence of Shatner's self-proclaimed prowess as a lady's man.
"Funny you should mention that. My dad loved to tell the story of how Shatner was incessantly flirting with a member of the production crew. After days and weeks of this, she finally turned to him and said, 'Bill, give it up. If I was to pick anyone, it would be Jim,' pointing to my dad."
James Doohan was more than just an actor and a Star Trek crew member -- he was a real-life war hero and was also central to shaping elements of the series itself. In the Second World War he was a pilot and took part in the D-Day invasion of Normandy (and was hit by six rounds). In the early stages of Star Trek's development, it was Doohan who suggested that the engineer character be Scottish (in part because he reasoned that Scots were good engineers; in part because he knew he could carry off a good Scottish brogue). He also is credited with helping to develop fictional Klingon and Vulcan phrases.
I asked Chris if I could conduct the rest of the interview in Klingon -- for our Klingon readers. He responded with three Klingon words that he assured me were not fit for a family publication.
While tens of thousands of individuals (including my own spouse) say they were inspired by his father to go into engineering, Chris admits his teen dream was to be a rock star. After achieving modest success with a band called "Mudflaps" (and acting in several films and follow-on projects as part of the Star Trek franchise), he has happily settled into a career as a registered vascular technician.
He says he felt no particular pressure to follow in his father's footsteps, nor any of the angst exhibited by some children of celebrities. He says he benefitted from his stardom in terms of meeting people like Leonard Nimoy -- his favourite character, also featured as part of the stamp series.
"And I also get to do things like visit Toronto, a city I haven't set foot in since I was two, more than 50 years ago," he says. And how does he like the Toronto of today?
"I love it. Beautiful architecture -- and I really enjoyed walking around at night, the city was so alive." And not a tribble to be seen.
(Robert Waite is Chair of Canada Post's Stamp Advisory Committee, an unpaid, voluntary position)
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