The blow landed square and hard on his jaw, his blond head jerked, and he fell backwards, staggering to land with a thud in the fishermen's nets which were strung on the hot beach to dry. Bouncing off, he rolled over in the sizzling sand lying motionless except for the heavings of his back as he gasped for air. He stood, slowly and painfully and walked toward me. It was noon and very near the equator. The temperature was 110 in the shade, only there wasn't much shade to be found. His face, sweaty and sand-encrusted came so close I could feel its heat.
"Care to swap jobs?" he asked, aggressively.
Somebody shouted: "Let's try that once more, David." And David McCalllum turned obediently away, for his eighth punch-up of the day.
Nearby Katherine Carpenter, the leggy New York socialite turned model he married, sat reading a weighty book about the late President, and succeeding with all the expertise of a top model to look cool. She'd had plenty of practice, having already spent every day of shooting (ignoring the attractions of the Acapulco beaches and the Mexican shops) with David on location. Her capacity for keeping unobtrusively in the background and never venturing an opinion on anything unasked--sometimes even when asked--had established her as something of a phenomenon with everyone on the set.
The McCallum legend is steadily chipping its way into the annals of Hollywood mythology. He's a money spinner so he's respected. His behavior...cool, remote or hostile depending on how he happens to be feeling and the pressures of work...is eccentric by Hollywood standards. He has the distinction of having been voted "most uncooperative actor" by the Hollywood Ladies' Press Club.
He is, in fact, dedicated to the job at hand--whatever that may be. I hung around for three days on the set without more than a few casual...sometimes caustic...words thrown in my direction.
But when we finally sat down to talk, over a candlelit dinner, he was relaxed and friendly. Beside him the beautiful Katherine sat, enigmatic and serene, and he, touchingly considerate would draw her in the conversation, asking her opinion, continually remind us how important she was to him.
"We adore each other," he said. "We share everything even food," and to demonstrate, he helped himself to a forkful of fish from her plate and gave her a slice of steak from his.
"Katherine has taught me so much," he said. "I've become a better person because of her. I've been such a badly integrated person most of life...unsure of myself, competitive, wary of others, insular.
"But lately I've developed as a person, and Katherine is the reason for this. I've learned to come to terms with myself, to understand myself and understand other people too...I even love other people more than I did. It's part of one's character of course. Some people learn it early in life, some later. I was thirty before I learned it. Katherine knew it instinctively because she grew up with that sort of background. Her parents are the most gentle, tolerant people. They get so much out of life.
"It's a positive approach. To look for the cause within yourself instead of looking for it in others. To be able to judge yourself--that's a great asset. Having learning it, it's something I hope to teach my children. (He and Jill Ireland have 3 sons.)
"Paul came home from school and said that a bigger boy had it in for him. I said, 'Does this bigger boy pick on lots of smaller ones, or just you?' 'Just me' said Paul. So I told him: 'Then the reason is you and not him. Find out what there is about you, your attitude toward him that antagonizes him. Since he gets on with all the other boys except you, then the cause is you and not him' I believe that's a positive approach to life...that is one fails, the reason may be within oneself, and, therefore, it follows that it's within one's power to remedy it."
He laughed ruefully. "It's funny...I spent the first thirty years of my life worrying that I might never be successful. The UNCLE happened and I find I'm a household name, rich and sought after as an actor, and all this makes me more insecure than I was before I had anything to lose.
"I like America...even Hollywood, except for the terrifying lack of privacy. I wanted to protect my children, to preserve their home life and their privacy and I'm afraid I made Enemies (sic) in the process. My marriage had been breaking up for several years before the divorce story finally broke. With that on my mind, and the tensions of working so hard on UNCLE, I certainly didn't encourage happy home type interviews.
"Later when the divorce was out in the open, I read some terrifying stories about myself in the newspapers and magazines. One story was the my marriage had broken up because I was homosexual and that Katherine was trying to redeem me. It didn't seem funny at the time. After all I had Katherine's feelings to think of."
She said: "The publicity never bothered me. My mother was upset by it but after a time she was able to ignore it."
They met, according to Katherine "three years ago. I was booked by a fashion magazine to pose with Robert Vaughn and David. I'd never heard of either of them, nor of the series which was just beginning.
"After the session we talked together, and Dave had to return to Hollywood, but we wrote, and telephoned each other. I hate to think of all the money we've spent on telephone calls.
"David's marriage to Jill was critical. I could only wait until he had resolved his problems."
David continued: "I've learned the hard way that you can't build a brick wall around yourself and say to the rest of the world 'keep out!' You can only try to preserve a little privacy for your family.
"Jill and I did not fight over the children. I'm able to see them weekends, which is very important to me. Katherine loves them, too. She's very good with children' she says she wants to have seven sons and one daughter and she probably means it."
Professionally his future is predictable. "Another two sessions of UNCLE and then my contract expires,' he said. "Presumably I could renegotiate the contract with a ridiculously high fee but I want to move on...to do something which will be aesthetically more satisfying. UNCLE has been a useful stepping stone. I arrived in Hollywood unknown, and I asked my agent to find me a part in a series because that's the way to be noticed. It worked. Now I can afford to choose my parts, and possibly to direct, too, which I'm very keen on."
"Sol Madrid" is his first major film part not connected with the UNCLE series. In it he plays a detective on the trail of a gang of dope smugglers...not the plot farthest removed from UNCLE that one can think of. He, however, is confident that it is sufficiently different in script and style.
"I'd like to write, too," he said. "I've a drawer full of things I've written. And Katherine keeps a notebook of ideas we both have...just little things which happen and touch on a nerve, making you terribly aware for a moment...writing them down is a way of capturing the memory."
Privately, his future seems blissful. He said: "The last year, with my divorce, has been a difficult one to come through. I hope all that' behind me, that having come through it I've learned a lesson from it. I hope the children don't suffer. They know that Jill and I love them deeply, and I've tried to explain what divorce is and why it happens.
"Now that I have Katherine, I feel I'm ready to get involved with people again, I want to know them rather than wanting to be by myself. I've changed so much. I no longer feel that youth is the only thing that matters...I find myself liking old people--groovy old people."
And they left, as they'd arrived, hand in hand. Definitely intending to grow groovily old together.