Tuesday, September 26, 2023

McCallum Finally Says “U.N.C.L.E.”

This is sad. It was only a week ago that the Scottish-born performer was celebrating his 90th birthday. From the Associated Press:
Actor David McCallum, who became a teen heartthrob in the hit series “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” in the 1960s and was the eccentric medical examiner in the popular “NCIS” 40 years later, has died. ... McCallum died Monday of natural causes surrounded by family at New York Presbyterian Hospital ...
The blog Spy Vibe goes on to note that “McCallum grew up between Scotland and London, where his father became a prominent figure in the London Philharmonic Orchestra (he played on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band!). Young David studied the oboe and, later in his career, recorded a number of albums for Capitol Records as an arranger interpreting hits of the mid-to-late Sixties.” Wikipedia recalls that, after he served a stint in the British Army, McCallum “attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art …, where Joan Collins was a classmate. ... He began his acting career doing boy voices for BBC Radio in 1947 and taking bit parts in British films from the late 1950s.”

McCallum went on to appear in the movies Hell Drivers (with Sean Connery and Patrick McGoohan), A Night to Remember (1958, playing a radio operative on the ill-fated RMS Titanic), The Great Escape (1963), and The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965). In 1964, he began co-starring with Robert Vaughn in The Man From U.N.C.L.E., an NBC-TV series hoping to capitalize on growing public interest in spy fiction—a craze kicked off in large part by the recent success of Connery’s James Bond films. (In fact, Bond creator Ian Fleming contributed ideas to the program’s initial conception.)

The Spy Command writes of McCallum’s U.N.C.L.E. role:
Illya Kuryakin, a Russian agent who worked for the multi-national U.N.C.L.E. (United Network Command for Law and Enforcement) was envisioned as a secondary character for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. The show originally was titled Solo, after Napoleon Solo, played by Robert Vaughn.

Still, even in the earliest days of the project, the makers of the show apparently felt they had something more. …

Starting with the third episode, “The Quadripartite Affair,” Illya began to get more attention. Writer Alan Caillou, a British spy during World War II, provided scripts that hinted at an intriguing character. That combined with McCallum’s acting, caught the attention of audiences.

Something else helped. Robert Vaughn began studying for a Ph.D. Starring in a television series is time-consuming. David McCallum’s rising popularity meant someone else could shoulder some of the responsibility for carrying the show. Before the end of the first season, Solo and Illya were a duo.
Despite early mixed revises, and concern in those Cold War years about Kuryakin being a Russian espionage agent, U.N.C.L.E. eventually attracted a wide audience, and turned McCallum’s intelligent, enigmatic character—who sported a Beatles-style blond haircut—into a sex symbol among teenage girls. “Kuryakin became so popular,” says The Spy Command’s Bill Koenig, that “he appeared in ads marketing U.S. Savings Bonds. For American audiences, Illya may have been a Soviet, but he was our Soviet.”

After The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was cancelled in early 1968—halfway through its fourth season (and with 105 episodes already in the can)—McCallum returned to the boob tube in shows such as Colditz (1972-1974), the science-fiction series Sapphire & Steel (1979-1982), and The Invisible Man (1975-1976, which also featured former Peter Gunn headliner Craig Stevens). He guested as well on programs ranging from The A-Team and McCloud to Murder, She Wrote, Father Dowling Mysteries, and Mr. & Mrs. Smith. Not until 2003 did McCallum win another small-screen role worthy of his talents, playing an erudite pathologist for the Naval Criminal Investigation Service, Dr. Donald “Ducky” Mallard, on CBS-TV’s military police series, NCIS.

Variety’s obituary mentions that, in addition to his work on-screen and on four Capitol Records albums, McCallum wrote an oft-humorous crime novel titled Once a Crooked Man (2016). As his son Peter said in a statement, David McCallum was “a true Renaissance man.”

READ MORE:David McCallum, Heartthrob Spy of ‘The Man From U.N.C.L.E.,’ Dies at 90,” by Leslie Kaufman (The New York Times); “Close Channel D: The Late, Great David McCallum,” by Terence Towles Canote (A Shroud of Thoughts); “Top TV Moments: David McCallum,” by David Hofstede (Comfort TV).

1 comment:

HonoluLou said...

Man, I loved him in U.N.C.L.E. as Illya. Here's a cute segment where he joined Andy Williams on his show (1965): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CbT3UEMlby8&t=5s. RIP David.