It seems like only yesterday when I re-watched for the first time in about 20 years the original Man From U.N.C.L.E. films and reviewed them for this website around the same time as the mediocre reboot came out in cinemas last summer, and I’m gradually ploughing my way through the DVD boxset of the entire TV series. Therefore it’s with a heavy heart that I post the news that Robert Vaughn has passed away, after a short battle against leukemia.
Vaughn alternated between film and TV work throughout his career. He made his TV debut on the November 21, 1955 Black Friday episode of the American TV series Medic, the first of more than two hundred episodic roles by the middle of 2000. His first film appearance was as an uncredited extra in The Ten Commandments, his first credited movie role coming the following year in the Western Hell’s Crossroads. Vaughn’s first notable appearance was in 1959’s The Young Philadelphians for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor. In 1960 he was one of The Magnificent Seven, and in 1980 he virtually reprised his role in that Western classic in the sci-fi remake Battle Beyond The Stars.
During a conference to discuss Vaughn’s wishes that his character in the TV series The Lieutenant be expanded, his name came up in a phone call and he was offered the lead role of suave, deadly [and clearly James Bond-influenced] agant Napoleon Solo, in a series originally to be called Solo, but which became The Man from U.N.C.L.E. The minor role of Soviet agent Ilya Kuryakin was expanded so he became Solo’s partner but the name of the series still remained with ‘man’ rather than ‘men’ in the title. It ran from 1964 to 1968 and eight theatrically released films were made from re-editing and re-shooting certain episodes, plus a reunion TV movie in 1983. Vaughn later won an Emmy for his portrayal of Frank Flaherty in the TV mini-series Washington: Behind Closed Doors, but otherwise often played villains such as in Bullitt and Superman 3, plus appearing in programmes like The Protectors and The A-Team. After having a lengthy break from acting, he begun to appear in many ‘guest star’ parts until he became a big name again for his role in the series Hustle which ran from 2004 to 2012, not to mention an appearance in Coronation Street.
It’s as Napoleon Solo though that I will always remember most for, and excuse me but I now need to go off and watch Solo and Kuryakin save the world a few times….