Before NCIS, David McCallum Was From U.N.C.L.E.

Actor starred with Robert Vaughn in 1960s spy show
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 25, 2023 7:30 PM CDT
Before NCIS , David McCallum Was From U.N.C.L.E.
David McCallum is interviewed in New York in 1975.   (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

David McCallum, the Scottish-born actor 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. He was 90. McCallum died Monday of natural causes surrounded by family at New York Presbyterian Hospital, CBS said in a statement, per the AP. "He was a true Renaissance man—he was fascinated by science and culture and would turn those passions into knowledge," his son Peter said in a statement. "For example, he was capable of conducting a symphony orchestra and (if needed) could actually perform an autopsy, based on his decades-long studies for his role on NCIS."

McCallum, the son of musicians, trained at the Royal Academy of Music and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. He appeared in such films as A Night to Remember, The Great Escape, and The Greatest Story Ever Told. But it was The Man From U.N.C.L.E. that made the blond actor with the Beatlesque haircut a household name and teen heartthrob in the mid-'60s. The success of the James Bond books and films had set off a chain reaction, with secret agents proliferating on large and small screens. Indeed, Bond creator Ian Fleming contributed ideas as The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was being developed, according to Jon Heitland's The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Book. The show, which debuted in 1964, starred Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo, an agent in a secretive, high-tech squad of crimefighters for the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement.

Despite the Cold War, the agency had an international staff, with McCallum as Illya Kuryakin, Solo's Russian sidekick. The role was relatively small at first, McCallum recalled, saying in 1998 that "I'd never heard of the word 'sidekick' before." The show drew mixed reviews but eventually caught on. By 1965, Illya was a full partner to Vaughn's character, and both stars were mobbed during personal appearances. The series lasted till 1968. McCallum returned to television in 2003 in another series with an agency known by its initials—CBS' NCIS. He played Dr. Donald "Ducky" Mallard, a bookish pathologist for the Naval Criminal Investigation Service, an agency handling crimes involving the Navy or the Marines.

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McCallum said he thought Ducky, who sported glasses and a bow tie and had an eye for attractive women, "looked a little silly, but it was great fun to do." He called Mallard his favorite role after Julius Caesar, per the New York Times. McCallum was absorbed by the part, studying with pathologists and watching autopsies, reaching the point that the show's writers asked him for technical advice. Before landing the part, he hadn't been sure he'd ever leave the U.N.C.L.E. role behind. "It's been 30 years, but I can't escape him," McCallum told the Times in 1998. "Illya Kuryakin is there 24 hours a day." (Read more obituary stories.)

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