Tuesday, November 15, 2016
ROBERT "MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E." VAUGHN 1932 - 2016
Robert Vaughn, the last survivor of The Magnificent Seven, died last Friday in Danbury, Connecticut from acute leukemia. He was 83.
His death was among the other notables who passed away within the past week -- Leonard Cohen, Leon Russell and Lupita Tovar (see yesterday's MMW post).
It was Mr. Vaughn's passing that hit me the hardest. You see, as a young lad just about to become a teenager, I adored, or rather, idolized the man. And he wasn't just any man, dammit, he was The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and for four glorious seasons I was captivated by the adventures of Napoleon Solo (played by Vaughn), and his Russian sidekick Illya Kuryakin (played by Scotsman David McCallum, now age 83).
We kids were not only in the middle of a Monster Craze, but we were suddenly immersed in a Spy Craze, too. We had any number of movie or shows to follow, such as Bond, Flint, Helm, Patrick McGoohan's Secret Agent (and later the somewhat psychedelic The Prisoner), Robert Goulet's Blue Light, Maxwell Smart, The Avengers, The Saint, I Spy, Mission Impossible, The Protectors (again starring Vaughn), and a host of others. The mind boggled.
I was still at the age where "playing army" and shoot-em-up Westerns were still enacted in my back yard (I had so much toy ordnance that my Dad built me a gun rack in the garage!) We soon added spy adventures to the mix and there was not much we were lacking in imagination to fill up a weekend -- or an entire summer for that matter.
My U.N.C.L.E. obsession knew no bounds. I snatched up anything and everything I could find that was related to my new favorite TV show; I had the Man From U.N.C.L.E. card game, the Solo and Kuryakin figure models from Aurora, even the doggone TV Guide! I remember buying the first Man From U.N.C.L.E. Ace paperback ("The Thousand Coffins Affair" by Michael Avallone) in the Summer of '65 off a supermarket spinner rack -- and how disappointed I was that the story wasn't a carbon-copy of the TV show (later books in the series did better).
My prized possession, however, was my "Napoleon Solo" gun set from Ideal. This had the 007 Attaché Case beat by a mile. It came with a pistol (not the Luger or the Walther P38 Solo he used in the show, but a weird looking automatic) that fired roll caps through a metal "clip", a shoulder stock, a screw-on barrel extension with a silencer, a scope, and a bipod. The accessories included an U.N.C.L.E. I.D. badge and a wallet I.D. card. I was in heaven, and if you don't believe me, check out the photos of yours truly below, all decked out in my hybrid outfit (Solo sport jacket and Kuryakin black turtleneck). I spent countless hours defending the neighborhood from T.H.R.U.S.H., SMERSH, and all the other evil spy networks.
But, like everything else in pop culture's fickle history, the spy craze faded away, and in my opinion, officially winked out with the last Bond film that starred Sean Connery.
As for my coveted U.N.C.L.E. collection, it ended up, along with my monster models, in a yard sale. I was all grow'd up by then, ya see, and who needed this stuff, anyway? Turns out it was a lot easier letting it go then than thinking about the loss of all that good stuff now.
So, goodbye Agent 11. Thanks for the unintentional laughs as the Teenage Cavemen, the fancy gunslinger in The Magnificent Seven, and most all, for being Napoleon Solo. You gave a happy kid a lot of good times.