You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

TV’s ‘Man From U.N.C.L.E.’ Robert Vaughn on Early Influences, Natalie Wood

With director Guy Ritchie’s new bigscreen take on the beloved ’60s TV spy series “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” rolling out globally, the original star of that series, Robert Vaughn, is naturally busy with interviews about his iconic turn as suave master spy Napoleon Solo. Vaughn’s also recently done a one-man stage production as blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo and appeared in TV’s “Law and Order: SVU” and upcoming indie film “The American Side.” His first time in Variety was for performing in the 1954 Los Angeles revival of GB Shaw’s “Misalliance” for the Stage Society.

Performing Shaw on stage isn’t the obvious path to playing one of our favorite spies.

My goal was always to get better roles and in my case, performing on stage really led to great opportunities. My breakthrough came when I did Calder Willingham’s “End as a Man” on stage and was spotted by Max Arnow, who’d been the casting chief for Columbia. He was about to go to work for Burt Lancaster’s company and told Columbia I was not contract material, so that Hecht-Lancaster could sign me to a two-picture deal at $15,000 per picture. I was making $25 a week as a messenger.

One can see why your autobiography is called “A Fortunate Life.”

It was an exciting time. Michael Chekhov was directing The Stage Society and actors like Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal were members of the company. James Dean and Dennis Hopper were members of the health club I went to. I got to know the actor Ben Cooper, who introduced me to Natalie Wood. She was only 17 and I was 24, but she was already established and she believed I had great promise. She let me drive one of her two Thunderbirds and took me around and personally introduced me to people like Jack Warner and (Columbia Pictures chief) Harry Cohn.

It sounds like the right way to meet a studio boss!

I remember Harry Cohn was sitting on the curb at Columbia, reading Variety. Natalie told him I was “going to be big” and he asked me, “How big are you?” I said, “I’m as big as Brando and Olivier. Is that big enough?” And he said, “You’re going to do fine.”

Were those the actors whose careers you admired?

I was inspired by Cary Grant. I wanted to do the kind of work he did and to work in light-hearted roles, in comedies.

“The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” had it’s lighter moments.

Unfortunately, everyone was excited about the “Batman” series and the “Green Hornet” and that comedic approach that they went too far in that direction. It got so lighthearted, it went off the air.

But “Bullitt” was right around the corner.

I did three pictures with Steve McQueen and I remember they offered me that one three times. I told them, “I’m not a script doctor, so I don’t know how to fix it, but it just doesn’t make any sense.” By the third time I said “No” they had offered me enough that, thankfully, it began to make sense. Remember, Rip Torn turned down the role in “Easy Rider” that made Jack Nicholson a star!

More TV

  • Bohemian Rhapsody

    'Bohemian Rhapsody,' 'Marvelous Mrs. Maisel' Among Cinema Audio Society Winners

    Queen biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody” won the Cinema Audio Society’s top prize for sound mixing at Saturday night’s 55th annual CAS Awards. The film is Oscar-nominated for sound mixing this year along with “Black Panther,” “First Man,” “Roma” and “A Star Is Born.” In a surprise over heavy-hitters “Incredibles 2” and “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” Wes [...]

  • Marvelous Mrs Maisel Vice

    'Vice,' 'The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel' Lead Make-Up and Hair Stylists Guild Awards Winners

    Adam McKay’s Dick Cheney biopic “Vice,” starring Oscar nominees Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Sam Rockwell, won two awards at the sixth annual Make-Up and Hair Stylists Guild Awards Saturday night. The film won for best period and/or character makeup as well as special makeup effects. “Mary Queen of Scots” received the prize for period [...]

  • Jussie Smollett Good Morning America

    Jussie Smollett Angrily Denies Complicity in Attack

    Attorneys for “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett issued a statement Saturday denying that he orchestrated his Jan. 29 assault, and saying he is “angered” and “devastated” by recent developments in the case. Chicago police want to interview Smollett, after learning new evidence from two Nigerian brothers who were released on Friday night. Local media outlets have [...]

  • Jussie Smollett Empire

    Chicago Police Want to Talk to Jussie Smollett as New Evidence Emerges

    Chicago police are seeking to re-interview “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett, after new evidence emerged in his alleged assault. Smollett has claimed that two men attacked him at 2 a.m. on Jan. 29, yelled racial and homophobic slurs, poured bleach on him, and put a noose around his neck. The Chicago Police Department has consistently said [...]

  • Five Takes on Canal Plus, Federation’s

    Just Days Left to Catch Canal Plus’ ‘The Bureau’ on MyFFF

    The most lauded of titles on this year’s MyFrenchFilmFestival, UniFrance’s online showcase featured by over 50 OTT services around the world, may not be a film but a drama series. With four seasons aired, and a milestone in world sales on a French TV show, slow-boiling espionage series ‘Le Bureau des légendes’ (“The Bureau”) is [...]

  • Walt Disney Archives Founder Dave Smith

    Walt Disney Archives Founder Dave Smith Dies at 78

    Walt Disney Archives founder Dave Smith, the historian who spent 40 years cataloging and preserving the company’s legacy of entertainment and innovation, died Friday in Burbank, Calif. He was 78. Smith served as Disney’s chief archivist from 1970 to 2010. He was named a Disney Legend in 2007 and served as a consultant to the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content