Pro Files: James Doohan

JamesDoohan2001by Jack Jeffers

 

A Tribute to James Montgomery Doohan

I had the privilege of interviewing James Doohan at Dragon*Con in Atlanta in 2001; I found him to be a polite, humorous, intelligent and very well-read man. James was born March 3, 1920 in Vancouver, British Columbia and grew up in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada. He served in Europe during WWII as a Royal Canadian Armed Forces Captain. He landed at Normandy on D-Day, as a member of the Royal Canadian Artillery. While he was still on the beach, a German machine gun stitched eight bullets across his chest. The only thing that saved his life was a metal cigarette case in his inner jacket pocket that deflected a round that would have penetrated his heart. He told me, “Don’t let everyone tell you that smoking will be the cause of your death, every time!” He also lost the middle finger of his right hand. He was one of the first British officers on the beach that day.

I asked him what was the most harrowing experience that he had during his military service? He answered, “It was seventeen miles we had to go in our little rowboat to be number one off on my beach. I was in charge of ‘D’ Company of the Winnipeg Rifles and their fifth LCA (Landing Craft Assault). We were just about a mile away from shore and were supposed to land at seven a.m., when a British motor torpedo boat came slashing across in front of us (the water was rough). They announced, ‘H-hour postponed 30… H-hour postponed 30.’ We found out later it was postponed to give the bombers a chance, let the clouds rise up and let the bombers bomb the beach before we landed. This is the worst part; we had to delay thirty minutes. We had to cut across the waves, with the waves. We did that three or four times, and I swear to you, that’s where I did some engineering without thinking of it as engineering. I told my troops, all strangers to me, all experts; beach commandos, beach signals, beach engineers. I told them all to put the weight close to the center, heavy persons to the center, and to move the heavy equipment to the center with the rifles. We had to overcome the waves some way. The Regina Rifles lost three LCAs because they did not do these proper things. You could see the motor torpedo boats disappear behind the waves. That will tell you how thick it was. All of the troops with me had a job to do when they landed. There was one fellow who had an unbelievable number of stripes on his arm. I guess he was second in command to me. He was from Singapore and was Japanese. Can you imagine? He had escaped from Singapore, and here he was to land on Normandy.”

James recovered in a veterans hospital in Canada and was released from service. His brother, six years older than he, was a Brigadier General in the Royal Canadian Army; following the war he was in charge of the Veteran’s Administration in London, Ontario, Military District 1, Canada. He advised Jim to go back to college, under the Canadian Bill of Rights, as he was entitled to twice the length of his overseas military service which was 5 1⁄2 years. They owed him nine years of university training with a living allowance. He moved to London, Ontario to go to school.

He listened to a local radio station between Christmas and New Years 1945 while he was studying. He said that “I put down my books at 8:00 p.m. to listen to a radio drama, and it was the worst I ever heard. I got my Irish and Scottish up and I got some stuff to read and went down to CMPL, the only radio station in London, Ontario. I went to one of the operators there and told him I wanted to make a recording. He said, you mean a transcription. I did it, and horrors of horrors, I heard my own voice for the first time. I told the operator that I didn’t like it. He said, ‘What are you talking about? You’re good!’ I was stumped for a second, and then I asked him where you go to learn. He said, ‘I have a brochure for a drama school that teaches radio [to] veterans.’ I sent them a telegram and I got an answer back. I went to the school in Toronto the next Friday. I made my first professional appearance with a CBC radio show on January 12, 1946. At the end of June, I graduated with top honors and won a scholarship for two years free tuition at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York City. I went there and was amazed at how brilliant the teacher, Sanford Meisner, was. I was a student there for two years, then he asked me to stay on and teach because Jo VanFleet, his assistant was leaving. I taught for three years.”

He began to work in radio in New York, and was in much demand, as he now could do sixteen different dialects, and coached Broadway actors in speech and dialect. He graduated to television, guest-appearing in such major shows as Tales of Tomorrow in 1952; Bonanza, Gunsmoke and The New Breed in 1962; Hazel, The Virginian and The Twilight Zone in 1963; The Outer Limits, Ben Casey, The Man from UNCLE, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and The Rogues in 1964; and The Fugitive, Laredo, Convoy, and Bewitched in 1965. He continued making guest appearances in many of these series, while also appearing in several movies made for TV during that time.

In 1966 he was asked to audition for Star Trek by Gene Roddenberry. He auditioned for the part of the ship’s engineer using eight different accents. Roddenberry asked him which accent he liked? James answered at once, “If you want a chief engineer, he had better be a Scotsman, because Scotsmen, which includes my grandfather, made the British Empire.” Of course, James’ Scottish heritage had something to do with his decision. And so… “Lt. Commander Montgomery ‘Scotty’ Scott” was born (the “Montgomery” was from his own middle name!) and he appeared in the pilot, “Where No Man Has Gone Before”. And so it began. He was one of the best-liked characters in the TV series and in all of the movies. A little-known fact is that he was also a linguist, and devised the Vulcan and Klingon language dialogue heard in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Over the next twenty years, other linguists expanded Klingon into a full language of its own.

I asked James which episode of Star Trek was the one he liked the best, he answered, “It was ‘The Doomsday Machine’ because of it’s suspenseful mood and because it had a great actor, William Windom, in the lead. The one that was the greatest fun, was ‘The Trouble With Tribbles’ where I got to do about 95% of my own stunts. The best film, I think, was number six, The Undiscovered Country, because it was beautifully written and directed. The greatest line [from any of the movies] was when we landed in San Francisco, and William Shatner, as Captain Kirk, said ‘Everybody remember where we parked.’”

In 1966, James was granted an honorary Degree in Engineering by the Milwaukee School of Engineering, as they said over fifty percent of their students majoring in engineering, said that they were inspired to study engineering, by James’ character “Scotty” on Star Trek.

A fine man, a gentleman, and a true hero before he ever stepped into radio, television, and the movies.

Somewhere a voice said, “Beam him up! We have need of him here!” and he went.

But he will be missed.

 

Pro Files: David Franklin

Bracaby Ron McClung

 

Nth Degree was recently given the privilege of interviewing actor David Franklin. We’re all big Farscape fans here…

ND: With Ben Browder and Claudia Black joining the cast of Stargate SG-1, are you likely to stay with science fiction as well or concentrate more on drama?

DF: As much as I enjoy doing sci-fi, I enjoy working in all sorts of dramatic forms. I’d love to do some more comedy.

ND: How did it feel getting back together with everyone for Peacekeeper Wars? Was there a “learning curve” in getting back with the characters, or was everyone ready to pick up where they left off?

DF: After working together previously for so long, it was just a matter of slipping on the costume, and then it was business as usual. Well, it was for me anyway. I was quite surprised how, after only a day on set, it was almost like there hadn’t been a break. There you go you taskmaster!

ND: How did it feel being less of a bootlicker and more of a hotshot commando in Peacekeeper Wars? Were you all having too much fun on the set?

DF: Braca used to be the guy you should never go on a mission with because he’d inevitably get his subordinates killed while doing nothing himself. It seems like Captain Braca has matured somewhat. Who knew?

Because the mini-series shoot was like a movie, there was more time spent sitting around waiting for special effects to set up shots. I was joking around with Raelee Hill one day—we were so bored—and we started shooting a joke—Captain Braca beefcake calendar—because of his newfound hotshot commando status. That kept us amused for a few days. The only trouble was that the rest of the crew wanted to get involved and we were meant to be shooting Farscape. The calendar was a great end-of-shoot present, and you can get copies online at http://www.peachtreeservices.net/.

ND: What was a favorite episode for you? What episode makes you ask “What am I doing here?”

DF: I enjoyed the one where Braca was bewitched by Grayza’s aphrodisiac secretion. Poor Braca didn’t know if he’d been sexually molested or not.

I remember the episode also with Grayza where I had a Skreeth on my forehead, which telepathically transmitted another being into me, and Rebecca [Commandant Grayza] asked me how I was going to be possessed, and I replied I have no #$%#@%$ idea!

I think Braca’s favorite moment was when he had his boss Scorpius on a chain. It was a moment of complete wish-fulfillment for him.

ND: When you look back on Farscape what are your impressions? Was it “just another gig” or do you feel like you made an impact?

DF: I originally only came in for two episodes, but it ended up being for the whole run of the show. First and foremost, I was amazed with the extraordinary vision of Brian Henson. There had never been anything on TV before like it, and there will probably never be again. I was honored to be a part of that. Unlike most TV acting gigs, we were able to form an ensemble group of actors, which allowed me to expand my range and take risks as a performer.

ND: Compared to theatrical acting, do you find it difficult to perform opposite Muppets, green screens, and people yelling “Boom… Something just blew up to your left!”?

DF: Acting is always about imagination. And it’s especially good when the imagination is as fertile as the Farscape team.

 

Pro Files: Bruce Campbell

by Josh Hudson

 

Nth Degree was recently given the privilege of interviewing actor Bruce Campbell via email. We were allowed ten questions with the proviso that the questions could not be answered by simply reading Bruce’s official website (http://www.bruce-campbell.com). After the entire staff brainstormed (we’re all big fans) we came up with the following ten…

ND: Your film career really got started in 1978. During the release of Within the Woods, Halloween came out (one of your choices for top ten horror movies)—what goes through a newly starting horror filmmaker’s mind going against such a classic?

BC: Uh, FYI, there was no release of Within the Woods—that was a Super-8 film used to raise money for Evil Dead. Better check your facts.

ND: You call yourself a “B” movie actor. The image invokes former presidents with monkeys and ensuing hi-jinx. Do you feel that you are really a “B” movie actor when that title should really go to people who are part of the “straight-to-video” actors?

BC: I use that term lovingly. “B” movies mean independent. They always try harder and have the capacity of being more interesting. “B” movies aren’t always bad, just like “A” movies aren’t always good.

ND: At what point in your career did you feel comfortable enough to consider yourself a success? And what do you feel are your most successful moments in your career? Is there a moment when you look at an audience with the statue and cry, “You love me. You really love me?”

BC: I don’t have any defining moment, but I consider it a success when you can do what you’d like and live where you want, and that’s exactly what I do.

ND: Do you seek out sci-fi/horror projects or, because of the Evil Dead series, is that mostly what has been offered to you? Are your interests in the sci-fi genre?

BC: Well, I just did another film for Disney (Sky High—that makes three for them). I’ve done a western series, a swashbuckling series, a superhero series, etc., so I don’t feel any stereotype. I do, however, have to make a living…

ND: Your best known characters are sarcastic, edgy, and reluctant heroes. Is that casting because it is organically you, or are they characters you wish to be more like?

BC: Both. There is always a little bit of the actor in any role, and there are certain roles I’m attracted to—anything but middle-of-the-road BS.

ND: When you are in a long running series like Xena, usually there is an actor or two who finds outrageous fortune and success. They go on and you never see them with their long-time workmates. However, you, Sam Rami, and Rob Tapert seem to do the opposite and keep gathering more people into your “posse.” Why is it that you find yourself working with the same close network of professionals while others seem to let their long time friends fall away?

BC: We enjoy working with each other, it’s easier, and we know what to expect. Not sure why other folks go separate ways, but we all like the fact that we’re from Michigan, and we all got into a very difficult industry.

ND: When you set out to make a film like Bubba Ho-Tep, which doesn’t make the big box office hoopla, how do you measure its success? And how hard is it to have such a non-traditional movie produced?

BC: It’s very hard. But lest we forget, based on the budget of Bubba, it made its money back just from the theatrical run, which you say wasn’t successful. How many big ass movies can say that? It’s all relative to budget. Bubba will be in profit from the first DVD sold.

ND: You had a short but memorable role in Escape From LA with Kurt Russell. It has been said that his injuries during the filming of Soldier made him lose interest in action films. Some of us agree that you would be a great replacement for a Snake Plissken style character to fill this void. Would you ever consider being an action hero?

BC: ZZZZZ. I prefer just being an actor. Everything else is baloney. And I just worked with Kurt again and he hasn’t lost interest in anything.

ND: Could you name three things in your career that you wish you could go back and change (e.g. a role you turned down, an actress you could have dated that turned out to be an uber famous femme fatale)?

BC: Nothing, nothing and nothing. I may work in the land of fantasy, but I live in reality.

ND: Finally, I had to choose between my question and one that I thought I should have asked about your upcoming movie Man with the Screaming Brain. You can send me anything you want about your movie and I will write endlessly about it, but I have to ask my last question—You have been childhood friends with Sam Rami?

BC: Sam is a good friend because we not only shared interests, but we both have a sense of humor about life and biz.

 

Pro Files: Bruce Sterling

by Michael D. Pederson

 

I recently had the wonderful experience of listening to Bruce Sterling read from his latest novel, The Zenith Angle. He is an amazingly energetic reader and—don’t let the gentle Texas accent fool you—quite a powerful speaker. Bruce was gracious enough to sit down with me for a few minutes after the reading…

ND: During the reading I noticed that you alternately described yourself as a novelist and a journalist. Do you consider yourself more one than the other?

BS: Well, I’m a novelist and a journalist. I think the two feed on one another pretty well. I was trained as a journalist in school, I have a degree in journalism but I never actually went to work as a full-time journalist until twenty years after because I made the tactical error of selling a novel in school. As a journalist I have something to contribute so I’m happy to work in that field.

ND: You have a reputation of being a very technology-oriented author, computer tech particularly. Did your cyber-interests come out of your research or were you already well-versed in the field?

BS: I do write a lot about computers because they have basically affected every area that I’m interested in, but I also write travel journalism and industrial design journalism. I’ve been known to write essays about architecture. I’ve never done any biography. Yet. But you know, one does get tempted. One of the reasons that computers tend to pop up in my work a lot is that I use them for research. So if you’re going to use the internet quite frequently, you know, you research Prague on the internet it’ll be anxious to tell you about every internet site in Prague. For people of my generation computers have their role the way that hot air balloons did for Jules Verne. I don’t idolize them, I just consider them an interesting technical phenomenon in this epoch. I’m not a computer guy, I’m a technology guy.

ND: So, what kind of system do you use?

BS: I’m mostly working on Mr. Laptop here. I’ve got a Mac G4 now. I’m a Mac guy—artists are Mac guys—I’ve always been a Mac guy. I bought a PC once, it was so badly broken, just as a designed object that I had to give it to my daughter so she could play games. I’m very taken with my digital camera now ’cause I’m spending so much time web blogging. I’m no photographer but I like web blogs and their multi-media aspects. I like putting my own graphics on my web logs instead of just cutting and pasting other peoples’.

ND: Did science fiction have a big influence on you as a kid?

BS: Oh, yes. Very much so. I was a devoted science fiction person from the age of thirteen.

ND: Favorite authors?

BS: Well, when you’re thirteen you like Edgar Rice Burroughs. But who doesn’t? I really think the weirdest thing… the most influential part there was not Burroughs or Andre Norton or Heinlein juveniles but the fact that I was sort of stumbling over J.G. Ballard and Italo Calvino at age thirteen. I can remember reading Ballard and being utterly confused and hugely excited because there was something going on there that I didn’t understand, could not get my head around. It was mind boggling. And it’s not really fit reading for a thirteen year-old but that was the very thing that most intrigued me about it.

ND: Ballard would be great for really opening up your mind at that age.

BS: Well, somebody said recently that one of the signatures of my kind of writing is “unholy glee.” It didn’t occur to me until recently but Ballard is absolutely chock-full of unholy glee. So he’s a fellow spirit in some important ways I think.

ND: Let’s talk a little about your current book.

BS: I had a guy comment today that he hated the villain and the villain was really no good. He was hissing the villain which was kind of nice. My books generally lack hissable villains but this one has got a villain.

ND: Have the science fiction reviewers turned on you for writing a techno-thriller rather than a straight out SF novel?

BS: I don’t thinks so. I’ve got three short story collections, I’ve got eight other novels. They’re all unimpeachably science fiction things. I never make any bones about being a science fiction writer. I quite commonly identify myself as a science fiction writer. The field gets upset when people say, “Oh, well, that stuff I was writing isn’t really science fiction.” If you’re pulling a Vonnegut people get upset. If you’re Robert Silverberg and you decide “I’ve got to write a book about the Mound Builder Indians” nobody gets all that upset. It’s when they feel disowned and used that they get upset. I’m not disowning or using anybody. I just wrote the Encyclopedia Brittanica article on science fiction for heaven’s sake. I’m a science fiction critic. I’m blurbing science fiction people right and left. I’ve written essays on science fiction. I’m a science fiction ideologue. I’m the cyber-punk science fiction, you know.

ND: What are you reading now?

BS: I’m reading Doctorow, Straw, MacLeod. I’m reading M. John Harrison, little China Miéville.

ND: I’m constantly pushing Miéville on everyone I know.

BS: Well, man, these are the top guys in our field right now. Neal Stephenson, very important guy. There’s not a huge lack of talent. There’s kind of a lack of fame. I’m a little worried about these cross-generic trends. Miéville, Stephenson… they’re writing books which contain all genres all at once. Like Neal Stephenson’s book is a techno-thriller and a historical book and a science fiction book and it’s fantasy. And Miéville’s is a horror book and a dark terror book except its got women with insect heads. What it reminds me of more than anything else is Bollywood masala movies. You watch Bollywood flicks and they’re presented for a polyglot audience. So they’ve got an internal clock, it’s like: dance scene, dance scene, villain scene, vamp scene, dance scene, dance scene, fist fight, dance scene. I think it’s something about globalized society or just the way that younger people are thinking about the world now. Maybe it’s a sign that I’m getting old but I find something vaguely distressing about it.

ND: We’re hearing so much more about Bollywood these days and it even figures into your novel, do you see them ever breaking through into the mainstream culture?

BS: They’re going to be for the Aughts what Kung Fu movies were for the Seventies. They’re not going to dominate but they’re the hip exotic thing to be into now.

ND: You open The Zenith Angle with the line, “The Most Important Man in the World put his pants on one leg at a time.” Who would you consider to really be The Most Important Man in the World?

BS: Bin Laden, if he’s still alive. He’s certainly the most effective terrorist the world has ever seen. This guy is the Ghandi of terror. He’s certainly the most effective politician, assuming he’s not dead. And even if he is dead he may very well be more effective dead than alive. Christ certainly was. You know, he’s a martyr cultist. But really, objectively, if you just look at the direction that the world is changing and how much effect this guy has had on major organizations there are very few who can match him. He’s truly a mover and shaker.

ND: Do you have any tips for the next generation of writers?

BS: Yeah, you’ve got to hang out with people in your own generation. You’re going to learn more from them than you do from so-called mentors or instructors. Job one is to find your own voice. What are you saying that other people aren’t saying? Generally it’s something that many people who share your interests are trying to say. It’s an inchoate thing, it’s the thing that is next and mentor figures or guru figures are not going to be able to tell you that. You’re going to have to learn about the trend-setters who are your own age. You’ve got to take them seriously and you’ve got to give and take with them. Hanging out with writer’s groups works for me. If it doesn’t there are other ways to do it but that’s kind of the royal road to success.