Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Elegant Actor Exits Affair

This was already a terrible week, thanks to the frightening results of the 2016 U.S. presidential election and the coming installation in the Oval Office of a “hater in chief.” Now comes the news that actor Robert Vaughn, best remembered for co-starring (with David McCallum) in the 1966-1968 NBC-TV series The Man from U.N.C.L.E., died yesterday—just 11 days short of his 84th birthday.

In its obituary of Vaughn, The New York Times writes:
Mr. Vaughn had numerous roles in film and on television. He played an old boyfriend of Laura Petrie (Mary Tyler Moore) on an episode of “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and a gunman in “The Magnificent Seven” (1960). He was nominated for an Academy Award as best supporting actor for his role as a man accused of murder in “The Young Philadelphians” (1959) and won an Emmy in 1978 for his performance as a White House chief of staff in the mini-series “Washington: Behind Closed Doors.”

But no character he played was as popular as Napoleon Solo. From 1964 to 1968, in the thick of the Cold War, millions of Americans tuned in weekly to “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” to watch Mr. Vaughn, as a super-agent from the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement, battling T.H.R.U.S.H. (Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity), a secret organization intent on achieving world domination through nefarious if far-fetched devices like mind-controlling gas.

At the height of the show’s popularity, Mr. Vaughn said he was receiving 70,000 fan letters a month.
The Spy Command blog adds:
With U.N.C.L.E., Vaughn became a leading man, making the character name Napoleon Solo one of the big names of the 1960s spy boom.

The show flirted with cancellation early in its first season because it was up against a popular CBS variety show hosted by Red Skelton.

But with a time change slot and a surge in interest in spy entertainment thanks to 1964’s
Goldfinger, U.N.C.L.E. became a hit. Episodes of the show were re-edited (with extra footage added) to create eight movies for the international market. At the peak of U.N.C.L.E.’s popularity, the early movies were even released in the United States.
However, Vaughn’s career extended far beyond U.N.C.L.E.’s axing in 1968, and was not limited to that charming, cleft-chinned New Yorker’s appearances on screens large and small. Vaughn earned plaudits as a political activist, speaking out frequently against the Vietnam War and raising hopes that this self-described liberal Democrat might one day step into the political sphere (which he did not). While filming U.N.C.L.E., he also studied for a Ph.D. in communications from the University of Southern California. He won that degree in 1970, and two years later published his dissertation as the book Only Victims: A Study of Show Business Blacklisting, which is still in print.

As to Vaughn’s acting credits, though, they were extensive. Blogger Terence Towles Canote explains that “He made his film debut in a bit part in The Ten Commandments (1956). His first substantial role was in Hell’s Crossroads (1957).” He was cast as politician Walter Chalmers in the 1968 Steve McQueen film, Bullitt, and again donned political stripes in 1974’s The Towering Inferno, playing a U.S. senator. From 1972 to 1974, Vaughn returned to TV series work in The Protectors, portraying an affluent troubleshooter named Harry Rule in that Gerry Anderson-created action drama. He later did guest-star turns in The Feather and Father Gang (starring former Girl from U.N.C.L.E. Stefanie Powers), Hawaii Five-O, Trapper John, M.D., Murder, She Wrote, Diagnosis: Murder, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, the mini-series The Captains and the Kings and Centennial, and two episodes of Columbo. In his 70s, Vaughn accepted a final TV series part in Hustle (2004-2012), playing con man/”roper” Albert Stroller.

The New York Times explains that the actor died from “acute leukemia, for which Mr. Vaughn had been under treatment in Manhattan and Connecticut.”

Below are the opening sequences from the three TV series in which Vaughn starred during his justly celebrated, 60-year career.

READ MORE:R.I.P., Robert Vaughn,” by Matthew Bradford, aka Tanner (Double O Section); “1965: Time Predicts Big Things for Robert Vaughn,” by Bill Koenig (The Spy Command); “Saturday Comics: Remembering Mr. Solo,” by Tony O’B (Inner Toob).

1 comment:

Mark Coggins said...

Open Channel D. Nice tribute, Jeff.