As Illya Kuryakin, presumably a Russian, he was hired for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. mainly as a foil for hero, Napoleon Solo. He was a fine, experienced actor. No one expected much more of him. He was too short, too slight, too off-beat to become any kind of a sex-symbol. So everyone thought. But as the months went by he came quietly up on the outside and is now leading not only U.N.C.L.E.'s Robert Vaughn but every other young actory in TV today in the fan mail and heart-throb sweepstakes.
He doesn't quite hit the 5'8" mark, literally, but figuratively David stands 10 feet tall. He was the wee-est bit of a babe anyone did see, but when the doctor slapped life into the second son of David and Dorothy McCallum, he let out a yelp that could almost be heard throughout all of Glasgow, and you could pretty much tell that here was a tot who was going to be heard from.
His father, a violinist who later became concert master of the London Philharmonic Orchestra (a position he still holds). and his mum, a cellist with the same orchestr, wanted him to be heard playing the oboe, and as soon as David was old enough to hold that instrument to his lips, he was sent off for lessons. He studied briefly but wanted no part of it. "It was the ill wind that blows no good," he puns. Eventually, I could wham my way through symphonies but I hated to practice. So I had this uncle who needed an oboe and I sold it to him for 85 pounds."
He started working as an electrician in British theater when he was only 14. It was many years before I got to act. While I was watching and learning I did just about every job there is to do in a theater."
He put all his concentration into his work. His friends were theatrical people, most of whom were many years his senior.
"Perhaps I grew up to (sic) fast," he reflects. "When I should have been bashing around and punching other kids I was preparing for an artistic career but ont a competitive society. I never roughed it. I missed the aggressive age. Probably led to my introvertive streak."
Practical experience didn't satisfy him. He wanted to know all there was to know so he enrolled in the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. After two years of that he served as a prop man with a local opera company, and then he was called into the British Army. The army occupied another two years of his life-ten months of which he spent serving in Ghana as a small arms expert. But his mind was constantly on the theater and he counted the months until he could get out of uniform and back into greasepaint.
When he did-it was via the repertory route in the English provinces and by 1957 he was gaining some small amount of recongition in Brithish films.
But he was still a lad without a purpose and a lonely lad at that. Then one day he was thumbing through a magazine and saw a portrait of a lovely English actress named Jill Ireland. He told himself quite simply: "I'm going to marry her." He saved the magazine.
Some time later when bother were under contract to Rank, he was fleetingly introduced to the girl in the picture, and almost immediately he was shipped off to Australia on location.
He was there about three months. He thought about her a great deal. When he picked up another magazine and once again saw her picture, he cut it out and used it as an excuse to write. Surprisingly she wrote back. Suddenly, as fate would have it, they were scheduled to appear in a picture together, Robbery Under the (sic) Arms, and she told him she would be at the airport to meet him when he returned.
He looked awful and felt sick from the trip and thought he had blown the whole thing. But she invited him to her birthday party, and it was there that he found out that she had a fellow with whom she'd been going.
But he refused to be discouraged. He rang her up and asked her out.
Our first date was on a Monday night. I took her to the Old Vic. On Tuesday night she cooked my first meal-scrambled eggs. I knew I was in love and so did she. We were together every minute on Wednesday. Thursday and Friday and on Saturday morning at 10 A.M. we were married at the Registry office at Islington.
The first thing they did was to tell his mother. The second thing they did was to tell her mother. Both moms were stunned.
But by the time the day was over, mothers, fathers and everyone else was calmed down. The Rank Organization gave them four days for a honeymoon, and they were off to a new life. Davit didn't worry about it hurting his career. He knew if anything it would give it new impetus. For suddenly he was no longer alone. Suddenly he had more to think about than just acting. His marriage became a rock upon which his very existence was founded.
"Male and female mean nothing until they are married," David says today. And marriage doesn't mean much until children come along-then you become a family, the basic unit of mankind."
Three months after they were married Jill broke the news that they were to become that unit and shortly after they celebrated their first anniversary Paul was born. "We should have," he says, "spent three or four years travelling around the world, not worrying about housekeeping or anything else. I wouldn't change any of it, but it was Jill who made the adjustment, I didn't. I was very bound up in my career. Not that it was more important than our marriage. It wasn't and isn't. But it took more time and I was not as conscientious as I should have been about working on our marriage."
His career continued to make progress. He scored Billy Budd and was outstanding in Freud. In time, a second son, Jason was born. Then he was chosen to play Judas in The Greatest Story Ever Told. Jill had just given birth to their third child Valentine, so he packed the whole family up and off they went to Hollywood.
When the film was completed they decided to stay.
There were no problems. David went from one TV show to another-Perry Mason, Outer Limits, Profiles in Courage-others. Then one day he was offered the role of Illya Kuryakin. The money was good, the security a series offered, delightful. He settled in an 11-room Spanish style house in the Hollywood hills and went to work. The role of Illya was a shadowy one. The writers didn't know what to do with it. They were concentrating on Solo. So quietly David created the characterization, giving it a life force that began to dominate each episode he was in.
"I like Illya," he says. "I would like to have him as a friend." So it seems would everyone lese. Wherever David went the girls began to follow. On personal appearance tours they all but smothered him. Suddenly he was a sex-symbo and he was completely bewildered. "The last thing I ever dreamed of being was a walking sex symbol. But people find it difficult to separate the reality of what they see on TV and you as a person."
What is he as a person? Objectively he tries to analyze himself. "I am a dour Scot," he says. "We Scots tend to be awfully tight inside. But we have a tremendous emotion underneath. It sirts there untapped. The problem is wrenching it out. It has hurt me as an actor to be so naturally restricted. I had to learn to expand, to give."
He is still shy with people and has a small circle of close friends. Bob Vaughn, however, is not one of them.
"We don't socialize," he explains, "because we inhabit different worlds. Bob's a bachelor. I'm a family man. In Hollywood, as elsewhere, that's two completely separate worlds."
But occasionally he does inhabit a bachelor's world. When anger overtakes him, and he is a victim to churning unreleased rage, rather than to subject Jill to this mood, he will drive to downtown Los Angeles and wander about the dim, slum ridden streets. "I go to negative places for therapy." he explains. "When I can't sleep at night I'll go see some pretentious foreign film."
Jill understands-and doesn't protest.
"She doesn't like sitting in an uncomfortable art house and I wouldn't inflict this on her so she goes off and does something else. She's often out when I come hime, I know where she is and she knows where I am, but we don't have to be together every moment.
On the other hand, we do so many things together. Sometimes we talk all night...about basic things, belief, all the subjective approach to religion which we consider healthy. We plan and we dream about the future." It's a future that seems terribly bright.