Friday, December 9, 2016

In Memory of Robert Vaughn

Robert Vaughn passed away last month, just 11 days shy of his 84th birthday.  He was best known for his portrayal of the urbane Napoleon Solon on the 1960s spy series The Man from U.N.C.L.E.   For the most part, however, he managed to avoid being typecast as a debonair secret agent.  During his long and varied career, the silky-voiced actor played both heroes and villains.  An extraordinarily prolific actor, he appeared in some 50 movies and hundreds of television shows, as well

Robert Francis Vaughn was born in New York City on November 22, 1932, the only child of show business parents. His father, Gerald Walter Vaughn, was a radio actor and his mother, Marcella Frances (Gaudel), was a stage actress.  When his parents divorced, Robert was sent to live with his grandparents in Minneapolis Minnesota.  They raised him while his mother toured and performed with her theatre group.

After graduating from North High School in Minneapolis, Robert enrolled as a journalism major at the University of Minnesota.  He dropped out after a year and moved to California.  In Los Angeles, he studied drama at local colleges, for which he received a master's degree in theatre.

Robert Vaughn's first film appearance was in Cecil B. DeMille's 1956 Biblical epic The Ten Commandments.  He was an extra in a cast of thousands two uncredited roles. one as a Hebrew golden calf idolater and the other as a spear-carrier.  He eventually signed with Burt Lancaster's film company.and was scheduled to play the role of Steve Dallas in a Lancaster film titled Sweet Smell of Success.  However, his burgeoning film career was interrupted when he was drafted into the United States Army. He spent 18 months in the military, primarily as a drill sergeant, before being discharged.  At the age of 27, he left the service.

Robert first began making television appearances in 1955.  He had guest spots in Father Knows Best (1956), Gunsmoke (1956) (1957), Dragnet (1958), Mike Hammer (1958) and The Rifleman (1958). He also played the role of Art in an November 8, 1959 episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents entitled "Dry Run" (Trivia Note: That episode also featured Walter Matthau and David White (Larry Tate on Bewitched).

In the early 1960s, Robert appeared in Bonanza (1962), The Virginian (1963), The Untouchables (1963), The Dick Van Dyke Show (1963) and 77 Sunset Strip (1963).  In the Dick Van Dyke Show episode, entitled "It's a Shame She Married Me" (Season 2, Episode 29, Air Date: April 17,1963), Robert portrayed Jim Darling. an old flame of Laura Petrie (Mary Tyler Moore).  When Jim shows up as the latest Alan Brady Show sponsor, he triggers husband Rob's (Dick Van Dyke) insecurities.  Rob becomes jealous because Jim is such a successful businessman.

Robert in 1963 Dick Van Dyke Show episode

Despite all of his television guest roles, Robert Vaughn did not play a major role in a TV series until he was cast in The Lieutenant, a military-themed drama created by Gene Roddenberry of Star Trek fame. The series aired from 1963 to 1964 on NBC and it chronicled the fortunes of  U.S Marine Lieutenant William Rice (Gary Lockwood) and his comrades at Camp Pendleton (near San Diego, Califronia).

Robert portrayed Captain Raymond Rambridge, Rice's company commander, in 16 of The Lieutenant's 29 episodes.  Although The Lieutenant was short-lived, it served as the stepping stone to Robert's next series, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., one of the most popular American TV shows of the 1960s.  The executive producer of  The Lieutenant was Norman Feltman, who was also the producer of Dr. Kildare and The Eleventh Hour.   Feltman showed Robert a script for a spy series called Solo.

In an August, 2014 interview with entertainment writer Jeff Labrecque, Vaughn described his visit to Feltman on the morning after he had read the script:: "So I got there and I went to see Mr. Feltman.  He said, 'What do you think?'  I said, 'Well, it looks to me like it's James Bond for television.'  He said, 'Shhh, don't say that, don't say that.'"

The title was, of course, changed to The Man from U.N.C.L,E. and Robert shot to fame as Napoleon Solo.  The Man from U.N.C.L.E.  debuted on NBC on September 22, 1964 and it ran until 1968  The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network TV Shows 1946 - Present describes the Man from U.N..C.L.E. as "American television's answer to the very popular James Bond movies." (The first James Bond movie, Dr. No, was released in 1962).

Napoleon Solo, and fellow agent, Illya Kuryakin, worked for the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement (U.N.C.L.E.).  They teamed up to fight the forces of an international crime syndicate known as THRUSH.  The two suave spies were directed by Mr. Alexander Waverly (Leo .G. Carroll).  Waverly assigned them to cases from U.N.C.L.E.'s secret headquarters in New York.

David McCallum, s Scottish actor, played Illya Kuryakin, Solo's quiet Russian colleague.  McCallum became very well-liked by fans and was known as  the "blond Beatle" during the "Fab Four" era.   Despite the appeal of Vaughn and McCallum, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.'s popularity began to wane after the 1966-1967 season.  The show became more campy and the plots more unreal.  At the same time The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. was created, starring Stephanie Powers as American U.N.C.L.E. agent April Dancer and Noel Harrison as her British partner.  Both The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and its spin-off were one-hour show.

In 1968, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was replaced by Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, which became a huge hit in the late 1960s.  The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. was cancelled after one season (1966-1967).  Leo G. Carroll appeared as Mr. Waverly on both series.  Robert Vaughn appeared as Napoleon Solo on an episode of The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. entitled "The Mother Muffin Affair" (Season 1, Episode 3, Air Date: September 27, 1966).

Vaughn and  McCallum in The Man from U.N.C.LE.

For a time in the early 1970s, Robert lived in England.  He played wealthy detective Harry Rule in the British action series The Protectors.  The series followed the adventures of three troubleshooters who ran an international crime fighting agency.  Robert's character, Harry Rule, the leader of the group, was based in London.  His colleagues, the Contessa di Contini and Paul Buchet, were located in Italy and France respectively.  The Protectors was only half-an-hour long, so it had to be very fast-paced.

Robert remained a bachelor until the age of 41 when he married stage actress Linda Staab (born 1943).  They met while co-starring in a 1970 Chicago production of "The Tender Trap."  They also appeared together in a 1973 episode of The Protectors entitled "It Could Be Practically Anywhere on the Island."  On June 29, 1974, the couple wed at The Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills, California.  They remained together for over 43 years, until Robert's death.

Robert and Linda: wedding photo

Robert and Linda adopted two children, a son named Cassidy (born 1976)  and a daughter named Caitlin (born 1981).  A November 15, 2013 article by Rebecca Hardy for the British tabloid the Daily Mail states that Cassidy operates a car dealership and Caitlin is an animal anesthetist.  Robert told the Daily Mail that ‘When we decided to adopt we had to have huge background checks.  It wasn’t, 'Here’s your baby, give us the money.' You’re the father.  It’s your child and you’re responsible."

Below is a photo of Robert and son Cassidy circa 1977 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Roy Erickson  Photo:  Erickson, Roy.  Robert and Cassidy

In the 1980s, Robert continued to make guest appearances on television shows. He was a guest star on Trapper John, M.D. (1980), The Love Boat (1981), Murder, She Wrote (1985) (1989), You Are the Jury (1986) and Hunter (1989). From 1983 to 1984, he played  Harlan Adams on Emerald Point, N.A.S.. From 1986 to 1987, he had a recurring role as General Hunt Stockwell in 13 episodes of The A-Team.  He also portrayed John Bradford in the 1985 mini-series Evergreen.

In the 1990s, Robert made a third appearance on Murder, She Wrote (1992).  He also guest-starred in episodes of Kung Fu: The Legend Continues (1993) (1994). Burke's Law (1995), Walker, Texas Ranger (1996), Diagnosis Murder (1996) (1997) and The Nanny (1996) (1998).  On Diagnosis Murder, he had the opportunity to work with Dick Van Dyke again.  On The Nanny, he played James Sheffield, the father of the series' lead male character Maxwell Sheffield (Charles Shaughnessy).

Below is a photo of Robert Vaughn (far right) with Dick Van Dyke and members of the cast of a 1997 episode of Diagnosis Murder entitled "Discards" (Season 5, Episode 10, Air Date: November 13, 1997).

In his later years, Robert worked a great deal in Britain.  From 2004 until 2012, he played a con artist and card shark named Albert Stroller on the British television drama Hustle. Stroller was part of a group of grifters who specialized in big time deceptions that yield large fortunes,  From January to February 2012, Robert Vaughn played wealthy American Milton Fanshaw on the long-running British soap opera Coronation Street.

Robert also appeared in two episodes of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. one in 2006 and the other in 2015.  He died of acute leukemia on November 11, 2016 in Ridgefield, Connecticut.  He was 83 years old.


*  Robert Vaughn's father, Gerald Walter Vaughn, died in January of 1950.  His mother, Marcella Frances Gaudel, died of pancreatic cancer in 1961.

* In October of 1966, Robert appeared as a bachelor in the nighttime premiere of The Dating Game.  He was chosen for a date by Karen Carlson, the first runner-up in the 1965 Miss America Pageant, (held on September 12, 1964).  Carlson went on to become an actress.  She appeared as Nancy McKay in The Candidate, the 1972 film starring Robert Redford. and Nancy Scotfield in the TV series Dallas.  She made numerous guest appearances on TV shows, including the role of of Helene in a 1967 episode of The Man from U.N.C..L.E. entitled "The THRUSH Roulette Affair" (Season 4, Episode 7, Air Date: October 23, 1967).  Carslon is also the former wife of Starsky and Hutch star David Soul.

Robert Vaughn (far right) on The Dating Game

* David McCallum, Robert's Man from U.N.C.L.E. co-star is known to a new generation as medical examiner Dr. Donald "Ducky" Mallard on the hit series NCIS.

David McCallum in 2015

* Robert Vaughn and David McCallum reprised their roles as Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin in the 1985 television movie The Return of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.: The Fifteen Years Later Affair.

* In 1995, Robert played the role of Rick Hamlin on the daytime drama As the World Turns.

* Robert was a longtime member of the Democratic Party and he publicly opposed the Vietnam War. He was active in the Vietnam War-era peace group, Another Mother for Peace.  He and comedians Dick Van Dyke and Carl Reiner founded a group called Dissenting Democrats.  Vaughn was also a friend of the Kennedy family, especially Bobby Kennedy.

* During his career, Robert Vaughn portrayed three American presidents, all Democrats.  He played Franklin D, Roosevelt in the 1982 television movie FDR: That Man in the White House, Woodrow Wilson in the 1979 NBC TV mini-series Backstairs at the White House and Harry Truman in the 1974 biographical film The Man from Independence.  He also played General Douglas MacArthur in the mini-series The Last Bastion.

* Robert Vaughn won an Academy Award nominatin for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the 1959 film The Young Philadelphians , starring Paul Newman.  He played Chester A. Gwynn, an alcoholic who is framed for murder and is defended by lawyer Anthony Lawrrence (Paul Newman).
Vaughn had another big film role as Lee in the classic 1960 Western The Magnificent Seven.  From 1998 until 2000, he played Judge Oren Travis in six episodes the television version of The Magnificent Seven.

 For his performance as Frank Falherty in the 1977 min-series Washington: Behind Closed Doors, Robert received an Emmy Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series.
* In 1970, Robert earned a Ph.D in communications from the University of Southern California (USC) for his dissertation on the legacy of the United States House Un-American Activities and its effects on the acting profession.  Robert's dissertation was published in a 1972 book called Only Victims: A Study of Show Business Blackisting, 

* Robert Vaughn's memoir, A Fortunate Life, was published in 2008.

Below is a photo of Robert Vaughn signing his autograph at a memorabilia event in March of 2009.

Photo Attribution: The Yeti

- Joanne

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