Current Events at the United Nations

Aired January 6, 2006 - 21:00:00 ET


RICHARD ROTH, CNN ANCHOR: I've got 4:18. Check.

There are three reasons why THRUSH wants to infiltrate the United Nations. One is world domination. Two is to corrupt the mind. Three, influence important scientists to create giant hysteria, no matter what continent they're on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who's trying to kill you?


ROTH: Growing up, my first understanding there was a United Nations or U.N. was watching a campy spy show on TV called "The Man From UNCLE."

Welcome to DIPLOMATIC LICENSE. I'm Richard Roth.

Was there a connection? I opened Channel D to find out. And joining me now is Ilya Kuriyakin, the actor David McCallum, a guest here on DIPLOMATIC LICENSE.

Thanks very much for joining us.

The United Nations has UNDORF (ph), UNFCIP (ph), UNMOVIC, and then there was UNCLE. How involved was the United Nations in "The Man From UNCLE" television program?

DAVID MCCALLUM, ACTOR: Oh, I think tremendously. More than that, I think UNCLE had a tremendous influence on all of those organizations.

I meet people from all walks of life from way back then, and many of them must have worked for the United Nations, and they all say how wonderful the show was. It had an influence.

ROTH: It did have a big influence, but let's focus on the United Nations for a moment. That's the theme of our weekly show. You were on weekly, and we've been on longer, actually, than "The Man From UNCLE" was on. You were on for about three-and-a-half, we've been on for 11 or so.

We see the United Nations building in the show. Was it thought at that time way back when that the United Nations was the mastermind behind the UNCLE organization, the United Network Command For Law Enforcement?

MCCALLUM: No, I don't think the United Nations had anything to do with it at all. It was Sam Rolf (ph) and Norman Felton (ph) and the writers who created this idea.

I think the whole thing was born because they thought about merchandising, which was just coming in, and they thought a lunchbox, a gun, a pen you could talk into, the card, and if you sell these things on a very successful show, you can do very well. And around that they built what we did.

ROTH: What is the memory now of "The Man From UNCLE" for you? It's hard to believe it's 40 years ago.

MCCALLUM: The memory is -- has always been warm and friendly and wonderful. I had a great relationship with Robert Vaughn and Leo G. Carroll and the people, you know, from Ilsa Lancaster (ph) to Joan Crawford to George Sanders and many names -- people don't know these names anymore, but back then the people that came through that show.

I grew up watching all the great movies, the Hollywood movies, at the local Odeon (ph) in England, in London, and then all of the sudden, there I am working with them all.

We did one show all about the gangsters who came in, and it was Jack LaRue (ph) and Mike -- I mean, the whole mob of them was there.

So, to me, it was just an extraordinary introduction, not only to America and to California and to Hollywood but into the rest of my life, and I've been here every since.

ROTH: When these big stars came on the set, did they get into it immediately or they wouldn't have agreed to it? Or did they say, listen, I'm not going to drop a gun on this guy, or you're not going to make me jump into this vat of.

MCCALLUM: No, I think there was a tremendous affection for the show. It was at the time of the Vietnam War and it was about a Russian and an American working together in cooperation, with the offices all on the 13th floor of all the buildings everywhere. And I think the whole concept was so appealing that at that time it was a wonderful escape from all the terrible things that were really happening, and I think that plus wonderful writing and the chemistry between the three of us just seemed to have made it an enormous success, which people still remember. I mean, it's the Smithsonian, but they do remember it.

ROTH: Well, let's take a look at that chemistry on the set, a scene here from an episode, "Part II, Alexander the Great," "The Man From UNCLE."


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are you going to do?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Aim very carefully.



ROTH: That scene, you were saying it's physically impossible?

MCCALLUM: Well, I mean, it's merely physics. If there are two bodies on a rope and one person grabs the other end, he's going to go up, no matter how strong Robert Vaughn thought he was.

ROTH: "The Man From UNCLE" is seen on the American Live channel here in America, 10 million homes. How often do you catch up to the program on either videotape or on TV?

MCCALLUM: It's TiVo here in New York. I have to explain that now I'm doing another series, 40 years later.

ROTH: We will discuss that. We don't want to get into.

MCCALLUM: Don't want to get into that yet, but.

ROTH: I want to stay in the past.

MCCALLUM: . here in New York, in our bedroom, my wife, Catherine, has the TiVo on, and "Man From UNCLE," I told her to pop it in there. So when I get back here and I lie down in bed and there's not much on that I want to watch, I'll check the TiVo and check out one of these shows. It's really quite fascinating, actually.

ROTH: And you told me you saw the gazebo in "The Mays Affair" (ph) with George Sanders. When you see a scene like that -- do you have many memories of each scene, like, oh, yeah, we had to do 20 takes on that, or this actor was a bore?

MCCALLUM: Oddly enough, I don't remember any of it because there was so much of it, but the other day somebody showed me a photograph of Fred Tonicamp (ph), who was the camera man who shot everything, in the "Cinematographer" magazine, and there was a picture of a girl in a white bikini with polka dots over it, and I said oh, I remember that. So there were moments you remember, perhaps seeing them, thinking back.

ROTH: Have you shared that anecdote with your wife?

MCCALLUM: Oh, she was there, absolutely.

ROTH: What about the chemistry? You mentioned you had a good relationship with Robert Vaughn. How often -- do you talk to him, see him? Are you doing reunion/revival shows? Or is that something, listen, I'm on other projects?

MCCALLUM: We did "The Return of the Man From UNCLE".

ROTH: In '83.

MCCALLUM: And you go back there and, mercifully, that's when they did it, and now we don't have to do it anymore. It's all over. And I occasionally talk to Robert or Linda, his wife, but I don't see a great deal of them at the moment.

ROTH: Because there is talk of another -- a motion picture.

MCCALLUM: There has been talk about a "Man From UNCLE" motion picture for years. And when they do it, I'll be delighted to come in and play some elderly agent walking in with a white stick. But no one to date has managed to come up with a script.

ROTH: I don't want to pry, but do you get residuals from all of that back then?

MCCALLUM: I think -- no, nothing from back then. You know, the best -- my favorite residual is "The Greatest Story Ever Told," where I play Judas Iscariot, and it's played every Easter and I get a check for $11. You know, back then it wasn't quite the same as it is now.

ROTH: The show was originally going to be called "Solo," I think, "The Man From UNCLE." I mean, how mobbed were you? What was your life like for those four years?

MCCALLUM: There was a problem within Ian Fleming, because the character Solo does appear in one of the.

ROTH: "Goldfinger," I think.

MCCALLUM: . books. Yes, that's why they changed it, and they came up with "The Man From UNCLE" as a name.

ROTH: Were there wild parties? What were the '60s like?

MCCALLUM: I've always been very much not part of the business. I've always had a private life outside of show business. I'm different. You know, I suppose it's because I'm shyer in some ways.

But what I remember from that is, for instance, coming here to New York, to do, when I did albums -- I did five albums of music for Capitol, and I had to promote one of the albums here at Macy's. And when the cops came, they said, "You can't go down there, you'll be ripped to pieces." And so when the kids heard that, they did $25,000 worth of damage. I was taken down in a police car, where they emptied, closed, Herald Square (ph). We came out of the elevator, shot out in the middle of the road. The car stalled. The policeman was dripping wet, the siren was going, a mob of women were coming.

I mean, this is New York City back in the '60s. And finally I suggested he turn the siren and lights off and then he got the car going, but that was the way it was.

ROTH: And the service at Macy's has not improved since.

We'll be back with more of David McCallum, "The Man From UNCLE," Ilya Kuriyakin, and we'll hear a little bit more about his life, coming up on DIPLOMATIC LICENSE.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just what is this organization, the UNCLE?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The UNCLE is a worldwide organization dedicated to the preservation of world peace.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Like the Salvation Army?




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is also a bomb.






ROTH: It's David McCallum, "The Man From UNCLE," along with Napoleon Solo, played by Robert Vaughn. We've been talking about the United Network Command for Law Enforcement, but we've got to talk about some of the other activities in your life. I know you're not doing "The Man From UNCLE" still.

Let's go to the past. You were born in Scotland and your parents were both symphony musicians, yes?

MCCALLUM: My mother was a cellist. My father was Sir Thomas Beechum's (ph) concertmaster, yes, principle violin of the London Philharmonic, Royal Philharmonic, and then he became Mantovani's soloist for many years. I still hear him in elevators and such places.

ROTH: You know, my father was in the New York Philharmonic for 31 years.

MCCALLUM: Ah, so we should have lunch and talk about our parentage.

ROTH: He played the obo.

MCCALLUM: Oh, well I played the obo for many years, but I quit to act, and now I have one. I'm not -- can we talk about the fact that I'm in California quite a bit of the time? I bought an obo a few years back and I play again, along with -- now with CDs you can play along with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. It's really quite pleasant.

ROTH: Now, you've been in stage, screen. Of course, growing up I saw you in "Night to Remember," the classic film about.

MCCALLUM: A wonderful film about the Titanic.

ROTH: You were the wireless operator, I think.

MCCALLUM: I was the first wireless operator who sent out an SOS.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Faint. 150 miles away. The Olympic says the Mt. Temple is nearer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There must be someone nearer still. Try sending SOS. That's the new call. It may be the only chance you'll ever have.


MCCALLUM: The thing I remember most about that is driving out to Pinewood at night, Pinewood Studios, and coming around the corner of one studio and there was the entire Titanic, a great section of it, on the skyline, with the funnel and the steam coming out. It was just like being out in the Atlantic. It was amazing. Amazing, amazing experience.

ROTH: "The Great Escape." You played Ashley Pitt (ph). You get to tunnel out and, very sadly -- I'm still upset -- you're shot and killed at the train station there.

MCCALLUM: My daughter, Sophie, still can't watch that scene. She doesn't like her father being shot.

ROTH: What was the atmosphere on that set with so many big stars, Bronson, McQueen? Did everybody have a scene and then they walked off the set? I mean -- what?

MCCALLUM: No. It's extraordinary. I've been terribly lucky in so many of the projects that I've been involved in because it's always seemed like one great big happy family. I mean, Donald Pleasance (ph) and myself and Jimmy Garner used to have lunch every day practically. And when you worked for John Sturgis and Riley (ph) and those people, they gave you a letter when you arrived to say we know you're married and you have a child. If you would like a nanny, where would you like to stay. They would do anything to make you comfortable so, of course, it was a delightful experience.

ROTH: You're on a new -- relatively new -- a couple of years, program, seen on CBS here in America. I don't want to leave out other aspects of your life, but we have to move along. You're on a show called "NCIS." You play a medical examiner. Let's take a look at Ducky Mallard (ph) in action.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you are reading this and have not initiated biological attack procedures I suggest you do so immediately since the powder disbursed by opening this envelope contains genetically altered Y- pestis (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Which is Latin for what?



ROTH: And you have some experience in this. Sounds scary. Plague. Notice we picked a clip where we really could see your face there. You're hiding behind a microscope.

You're strongly involved in researching of your characters and in the medical profession. Tell us about that.

MCCALLUM: Well, it's extraordinary because I knew nothing about pathology, and that's basically what he is, is a forensic pathologist.

So I hooked up with Craig Harvey, who is the coroner in L.A., and I went to autopsies and I went to -- quite frequently -- and talked to him. I met with Lou Eliopoulos (ph), who wrote "The Investigation Handbook." I went to FLETC (ph) and went through the law enforcement training course, where they train all the NCIS agents. Went to Washington, the Navy Yard, and sat in on death review boards and such like.

So basically, all of the sudden, into my life comes all of this knowledge of pathology and the human body and seeing what happens after we die, and it was fascinating. It's a fascinating subject. I could, if I came back again onto this world, do it as a profession, because I think they're a wonderful -- I'd love to be an NCIS agent, because those are the most dedicated professional guys I've ever met. They're not military, you see. They're employed by the Department of Defense, and they're very specialized in everything they do.

And for years, nobody knew that NCIS existed, including me. But now it's becoming better known because we're heading into our third season.

ROTH: What is the fascination with this, the topic, the investigation of the body, all of the "CSI" spin offs?

MCCALLUM: I think the whole concept of the mystery, when you find a body, then you have to find out how the body got there and where it came from and the whole mystery of a death unsolved is something that human beings just find fascinating, and I do too.

ROTH: What do you think about the quality of television today in America and elsewhere?

MCCALLUM: I think -- I was talking to a writer the other night, and we were both saying that the quality of writing in television now is better than it's ever been, particularly with shows like "NCIS," "West Wing" and others.

ROTH: What about -- aren't reality programs making it extremely difficult for actors to get work in sitcoms, regular drama shows? Every night I'm turning on and someone's amateur camera or their own life.

MCCALLUM: I think "NCIS" is the answer to reality shows. If you're a little tired with reality shows, come on over to us.

ROTH: You seem to only do programs that have acronyms for titles, "NCIS," "UNCLE." Is this a genetic fault that you should discover as a medical investigator?

MCCALLUM: It might be. Genetics is not something that I'm very far up on. I would turn that over to the lab technicians.

ROTH: All right. I wondered, as we close here, on "The Man From UNCLE," which obviously I have a bit of an obsession about, the themes of the days, the episodes, how often did they coincide with world events? You mentioned you were a Russian agent. There were so many plots. They almost seem even more realistic today considering missile launches and internal conflict and coups and craziness.

MCCALLUM: Because it was a send up, as we say, as it was tongue-in- cheek, the idea of assassinating.

ROTH: It wasn't real?

MCCALLUM: . an Arabian prince in Switzerland by getting one of these toy planes with a bomb in it to fly over the Alps. I mean, the plots were ridiculous.

ROTH: Did you tell them, listen, you're showing on the screen somewhere in Greece, somewhere in Arabia, and the audience knows it's a back Hollywood set? Or it didn't matter?

MCCALLUM: Well, they believed it back then. Now we're dealing with reality. Now we're dealing with the Gulf. Now we're dealing with terrorism and everything, and to me it's just as fascinating, and the parallels are extraordinary, because it feels the same.

ROTH: You were always facing danger. We're facing danger now. This is David McCallum, Ilya Kuriyakin in "The Man From UNCLE."


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If this invention of yours proves itself, Mr. Malley (ph), our technicians will be using it for something much more than a magic act.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, that may be, but still my audiences will miss.

And now, Mr. Kuriyakin, if you will stand here and think about a secret, some little secret which perhaps only you know. You think of something very, very secret.

You think of a man, Mr. Solo, who is on vacation while you must work. You think of a city, Kiev, when you were a little boy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's enough. Quite convincing. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ah ha, yes, tonight -- after tonight the translator will belong to UNCLE and we'll purchase a little champagne to seal the bargain, hey?


MCCALLUM: I just lost 40 years, 50 years, whatever it is.

ROTH: Do you know Russian, the Russian language?

MCCALLUM: I learned a little bit of it. No, I don't speak Russian.

ROTH: Were you bemused that you seemed to get more fan letters than Robert Vaughn?

MCCALLUM: That was a story. They all came in in a big pile.

ROTH: How about the music of the show? How important was that?

MCCALLUM: The music was immensely important, yes. As it is now on "NCIS." They have fabulous music.

But, of course, the "UNCLE" theme, nobody could sing it. That's the great thing. They try and they end up with "Mission Impossible."

ROTH: What episode of "Sex in the City" were you in?

MCCALLUM: "Shortcomings," to do with premature ejaculation. And on that note.

ROTH: OK. Well, that should do it. David McCallum, asked here for many reasons, but because of the United Network Command for Law Enforcement's involvement with the United Nations, the theme of our show, and he's denying any United Nations link, although he may have been brainwashed by THRUSH. There are a couple of THRUSH agents here in the studio.

David, thank you very much.

MCCALLUM: My pleasure. Until next time.

ROTH: Yes, part two, at a future date.

We'll be right back with more of DIPLOMATIC LICENSE, or "The Man From UNCLE" -- I forget what the title of this program is -- coming right up.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How about calling the ambassador? Or at least let me call him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you wish me to appear foolish in the ambassador's eyes?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All you have to do is to pick up the telephone and call UNCLE headquarters.




ROTH: The television program "The Man From UNCLE" ran for four years before being suddenly cancelled. And as the program concluded each week, we'd like to thank UNCLE, the United Network Command for Law Enforcement, for its cooperation in order to make this show possible.