I have to say that I was saddened to hear of the passing of actor David McCalllum. Another of my childhood heroes has gone into eternity.
While McCallum garnered fame for his role as pathologist Donald ”Ducky”Mallard in the series “NCIS”, he will be most remembered by baby boomers as agent Illya Kuryakin in the 60’s television series, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”
McCallum played the Russian agent partner to Robert Vaughn’s Napoleon Solo in the series, which was television’s answer to James Bond.
U.N.C.L.E. premiered on NBC on September 22, 1964. The show was to be a vehicle for Vaughn with McCallum’s character in a limited role.
However, with his blond , Beatle-style haircut, penchant for black turtlenecks and enigmatic manner, Kuryakin became an equal partner with Solo. As Agents for the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement , the two were sent on missions by Alexander Waverly , played by Leo G. Carroll.
The show sparked the 60’s tv spy craze with programs such as “I Spy”, “The Wild, Wild West”, and “Get Smart” premiering the following year. Much of the U.N.C.L.E. success came from college kids adopting the show and McCallum becoming a teen heartthrob.
While Napoleon Solo was the dashing agent in the spirit of James Bond, Illya Kuryakin was reserved and laconic. The pair were the perfect balance to one another .
I appreciated the resourcefulness of Illya and let’s face it, the guy was just cool. Unflappable in every situation, Illya cared less about attracting women. That, of course, was what made him attractive to the female fans of the show.
Illya Kuryakin and “Star Trek’s” Mr. Spock were two of the most popular characters of 60’s, largely because both were outsiders. Spock of course, was from the planet Vulcan , a people devoid of emotion and Kuryakin was a Russian agent in America.
NBC cancelled U.N.C.LE. in 1968, halfway into its fourth season. This, after a disastrous third season that saw the show embracing camp after the phenomenal success of “Batman”, which premiered on ABC in January 1966. The over-the-top approach was disastrous for a high adventure spy program with humorous elements.
McCallum reprised the role of Illya Kuryakin, along with Robert Vaughn’s Napoleon Solo in 1983 for the “Return of the Man From U.N.C.L.E” TV movie. The two would also reunite in the” A-Team “episode ‘Say Uncle’ with featured McCallum in a villainous role.
McCallum starred in several series post UNCLE, including “Colditz”, “The Invisible Man” , “Sapphire and Steel “and of course “NCIS”. But to me he will always be the blond spy dressed in black, brandishing the UNCLE Special pistol. Thank you Mr. McCallum for your portrayal of Illya and thank you for the adventure and escapism you brought to my childhood as you enter eternity.