Friday, November 11, 2016

The Late Great Robert Vaughn

I am not sure where I first saw Robert Vaughn. It may have been in The Magnificent Seven (1960) or it might have been on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. I do know he has been one of my favourite actors since childhood. As a lad I always thought he was so cool as Napoleon Solo on The Man From U.N.C.L.E.  Even then I realised he was a very talented actor from his performance as Lee in The Magnificent Seven. Throughout my childhood I would see many more performances from Robert Vaughn in various TV shows and movies. And while I was a huge fan of him as a child, as an adult I grew to admire him even more. I discovered his book Only Victims: A Study of Show Business Blacklisting on the Hollywood blacklist. The book was his dissertation for his Doctor of Philosophy degree from the University of Southern California. That's right. Robert Vaughn was not only a talented actor, but he also had a PhD. Sadly, Dr. Vaughn died today at the age of 83 after a long battle with leukaemia.

Robert Vaughn was born on November 22 1932 in New York City. He sprang from a long line of actors. His maternal great grandfather, Sebastian Gaudel, was reportedly in the commedia dell' arte in France. His maternal grandfather, Frank S. Gaudel, was the director of the Glencoe Comedy Players in Glencoe, Minnesota. His maternal grandmother,  Marie or Mary Halloran (she was called both) was an actress in Glencoe. His parents were also actors. His father, Gerald Walter Vaughn, was a radio actor who generally played heavies on such shows as Gangbusters and Crime Doctor. His mother, Marcella Gaudel, was an actress who appeared in the 1931 Broadway production of Dracula.

Robert Vaughn's parents divorced when he was a baby. His mother moved back to Minnesota where he was partially raised by his maternal grandparents. His mother encouraged young Robert in acting, teaching him the "To be or not to be" soliloquy from Hamlet when he was only five. At age twelve he travelled with an Iowa tent show, Sweet's Famous Players. He debuted on radio in the part of Billy on Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy. He also appeared on such radio shows as Let's Pretend. He attended North Community High School in Minneapolis, where he was active in theatrical productions. After graduating high school he attended the University of Minnesota as a journalism major. He dropped out after a year and moved to Los Angeles. There he attended  Los Angeles City College. He later transferred to  Los Angeles State College of Applied Arts and Sciences where he earned his master's degree in theatre. He was an established actor when he earned his PhD from the University of Southern California in 1970.

In 1955 Robert Vaughn played Judas Iscariot in the annual The Pilgrimage Play at the Pilgrimage Play Theatre (now the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre) in Hollywood. That same year he made his television debut in an episode of Medic. In the late Fifties Dr. Vaughn appeared on such shows as You Are There, Big TownThe Millionaire, Father Knows Best, Zane Grey Theatre, Gunsmoke, Dragnet, Mike Hammer, The Rifleman, Zorro, Bronco, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Rebel, Laramie, and Wagon Train.

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 appeared in the films No Time to Be Young (1957), Teenage Cave Man (1958), and Unwed Mother (1958). Dr. Vaughn served in the United States Army for a time in the late Fifties before returning to acting. He played Chester A. Gwynn in The Young Philadelphians (1959), for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. The Young Philadelphians was followed by Robert Vaughn's most famous film, The Magnificent Seven (1960). In the film he played Lee, the gunslinger suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

The Sixties would see Robert Vaughn cast in his most famous role, that of superspy Napoleon Solo on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Alongside Illya Kuryakin (played by David McCallum), Solo was an agent for the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement, a secret organisation constantly in battle with the forces of evil, which usually came in the form of THRUSH, a group dedicated to world conquest. The show proved to be something of a fad, and at its height Robert Vaughn was receiving 70,000 pieces of mail a week.

Robert Vaughn also starred on the single season show The Lieutenant, on which he played Captain Raymond Rambridge, the commanding officer of Second Lieutenant William Tiberius Rice (played by Gary Lockwood), the lieutenant of the title. He made one guest appearance on the spin-off from The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. In the Sixties he also guest starred on such shows as Tales of Wells Fargo, Bonanza, The Virginian, The Dick Van Dyke Show, 77 Sunset Strip, Please Don't Eat the Daisies (as Napoleon Solo), and The Red Skelton Show.

During the Sixties some episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. were edited together and released theatrically, but Robert Vaughn appeared in several movies besides these. He had a cameo in The Glass Bottom Boat (1966) as Napoleon Solo. He played an atypical role as politician Walter Chalmers in Bullitt (1968). He also appeared in the films The Big Show (1961), The Caretakers (1963), If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium (1969), The Bridge at Remagen (1969), Julius Caesar (1970), and The Mind of Mr. Soames (1970),

In the Seventies Robert Vaughn starred on the TV show The Protectors, on which he played international troubleshooter Harry Rule. He also starred on the miniseries Captains and the Kings, Washington: Behind Closed Doors, and Centennial. He guest starred on such shows as Columbo, Police Woman, The Eddie Capra Mysteries, Hawaii Five-O, Trapper John M.D., and The Love Boat. He appeared in several movies during the decade, including another remake of Seven Samurai. Gelt in Battle Beyond the Stars (1980) was essentially Lee from The Magnificent Seven in space. He also provided the voice of Proteus IV in the movie Demon Seed (1977). He appeared in the films The Statue (1971), Clay Pigeon (1971), The Man from Independence (1974), The Towering Inferno (1974), La baby sitter (1975), Atraco en la jungla (1976), Starship Invasions (1977), The Lucifer Complex (1978), Brass Target (1978), Good Luck, Miss Wyckoff (1979), Cuba Crossing (1980), Fukkatsu no hi (1980), and Hangar 18 (1980).

In the Eighties Dr. Vaughn had regular roles on both Emerald Point N.A.S. and The A-Team. He appeared in the miniseries The Blue and the Grey. He guest starred on such shows as Hotel, The Hitchhiker, The Ray Bradbury Theatre, and Hunter. He played the title role in the TV movie FDR: That Man in the White House (1982). Perhaps his most notable TV appearance was the 1983 reunion movie The Return of the Man from U.N.C.L.E.: The Fifteen Years Later Affair. He appeared in such films as S.O.B. (1981), Superman III (1983), Veliki transport (1983), The Delta Force (1986), Killing Birds (1987), Hour of the Assassin (1987), Skeleton Coast (1988), The Emissary (1988), C.H.U.D. II - Bud the Chud (1989), Transylvania Twist (1989), Nobody's Perfect (1990), and Buried Alive (1990).

In the Nineties Robert Vaughn was the host of Danger Theatre. He had a role on the short lived show The Magnificent Seven. He guest starred on such shows as Murder, She Wrote; Kung Fu: The Legend Continues; Burke's Law; One Life to Live; Diagnosis Murder; The Nanny; and Law & Order. He appeared in such films as Blind Vision (1992), Dust to Dust (1994), Witch Academy (1995), An American Affair (1997), Vulcan (1997), Motel Blue (1997), Visions (1998), The Sender (1998), and BASEketball (1998).

From the Naughts into the Teens, Robert Vaughn starred on Hustle, on which he played Albert Stroller, the roper for the group of con men on the show (the roper being someone who identifies marks and "roping them in'). He appeared in the miniseries Family of the Year and  In the Naughts he also appeared in such films as Cottonmouth (2002), Happy Hour (2003), and Scene Stealers (2004). In the Teens he continued to appear on Hustle. He also appeared as Milton Fanshaw on thirteen episodes of Coronation Street. He guest starred on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. He appeared in the films Patrimony (2011), The Magnificent Eleven (2012), Excuse Me for Living (2012), A Cry from Within (2014), and The American Side (2016). His final appearance will be in the film Gold Star.

I think there will be no doubt that Robert Vaughn will always be remembered as Napoleon Solo on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Lee on The Magnificent Seven. He was very fortunate to have played one of the most iconic roles in television and one of the most iconic roles in film. That having been said, the two roles do show just how very talented Robert Vaughn was, as they were both very different from each. Napoleon Solo was calm, cool, collected, and very charming. Lee was nervous and obviously suffering from trauma. Both men were very sophisticated and both could be deadly, but they were also very different.

Indeed, Robert Vaughn played a wide variety of roles throughout his career. He played three United States presidents (Harry Truman, FDR, and, in an episode of Law of the Plainsman, a young Teddy Roosevelt) and did so convincingly. He played the opponent of the lieutenant of the title on two episodes of Columbo, one the owner of a ship-building business and the other a used car salesman. In The Young Philadelphians he was a disabled veteran accused of murder. He was evil the voice of an evil computer in Demon Seed. Through his long career he played everything from politicians to military officers to scientists to con men. What is more he was convincing in every role. What is more, those who worked with him remarked upon his professionalism and described him with such words as "lovely' and "charming". I don't know too many people who had the honour of meeting Robert Vaughn, but those few that I do described him as the nicest man one could hope to meet. Robert Vaughn was then the consummate professional and a true gentleman.  He had been one of my heroes nearly my whole life. I am very sad to know he is gone.

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