Screen Stories 2/66
"David McCallum: His Wife Has a Million Rivals!"
By Mike Connolly
David McCallum is a bundle of contradictions. He despises the frantic female fans who tear his clothes off when he makes personal appearance tours-but he also loves them. He is funny, he is sad. He is temperamental, he is easygoing. He's a Romeo, he's a man's man. He digs Dadaism, Picasso and Op Art but also likes Leonardo and Le Corbusier, Gainsborough-and Gauguin, Rembrandt and Renoir.
The sub-teenage girls adore this bundle of contradictions, the Vassar girls and the housewives are mad for him. He leads a mysterious life, his life is an open book. He's an extrovert, he's an introvert. He reads Popular Mechanics, he reads Proust. He's as partial to the pop songs of John Lennon and Paul McCartney as he is to the classical music of Edouard Lalo and the cantatas of Jules Emile Frederic Massenet. The works of Kate Douglas Wiggin appeal to him equally with those of Andy Warhol. "Some bundle," I can hear his girl fans sigh. "Lemme at him!"
The Sexboat of the Sixties decided we should discuss the whole thing on the back lot at Metro-where they were shooting a segment of his swingin' series "The Man from U.N.C.L.E."-rather than in the studio commissary. The lunchwagon food back there isn't exactly Cordon Bleu but the surroundings are more conductive to a quiet talk. David didn't explain his preference when I phoned to ask for an interview. He didn't have to. I knew the girl fans wouldn't be mobbing him, as they do in the commissary.
David and his co-star, Bob Vaughn, were standing in the window of a haberdashery when I arrived. They stood perfectly still, as required by the script, pretending to be tailors' dummies while they spied on the mayhem afoot outside in the street. I don't know the plot of this segment. All I know is-all hell broke loose. Two cars crashed into each other, David and Bob quit being dummies and dashed out to investigate the crime to which they had been assigned by U.N.C.L.E. (the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement) and then the assistant director hollered "Lunch!" The company took the lunch break. David and Bob joined me in the chow line.
David had a book about fishing under his arm. We filled our plates and sat down at a long table. He opened the book and started reading while he ate-and while I interviewed him!
"Are you giving up women for Izaak Walton?" I asked. It was the only question to ask, considering the circumstances. Besides, it was Friday.
"I never fished before I came to this country," said the Glasgow-born actor, "but I have fallen madly in love with fishing since we shot 'Around the World Under the Sea' in Miami Beach, 'where the sun scorches the skin of the old people who oil it'-I think that's from some poem I read."
He started reading again. Bob Vaughn, sitting next to me, nudged me and whispered, "Ask him about the fishing girls in Florida-how they were always angling for him."
"Tell me, David," I started to say, "about the girls in Florida who went for you hook, line and sinker and-"
He shoved the book aside, regarded me sternly, and said, "Look, I'm a married man." Then he caught Bob's grin. It broke him up.
"You're putting me on," he said. "But seriously, this whole 'teenage idol' thing is a whiff of smoke. Within 18 months or two years the girls will find a new idol. So I'm not about to get neurotic about it.
"My wife knows it too. Jill is very 'English-practical' about the whole thing. She kids me about my fans, and well she might. She lives with it and it doesn't bother her because she's secure-and well she might be!"
David reached across the table, speared a forkful of Bob's macaroni, a slice of his co-star's bread and Bob's saucerful of ice cream. "It's very bad for you, Robert," he explained, proceeding to eat it himself.
"Tell Mike how you lost seven pounds," said Bob.
"By eating all your starches," said David.
"Proud of it too, aren't you, you ham?" said Bob. "You got rid of it because you knew all that flab was going to your waist and chin. So now you're more photogenic-haw!"
David: "I did it for health reasons. I feel much better at 148 pounds than I did at 155. Did I tell you about the new segment I have suggested for our esteemed series?"
Bob: "No, tell us."
David: "You get your head chopped off on a guillotine, accidentally. It's supposed to be a prop guillotine but it turns out to be a real one. What a headline: 'Robert Vaughn Guillotined! David McCallum Is Now the Solo Star of U.N.C.L.E.'!-excuse me, I just thought of a funny line I want to put in the script." David jumped up from our table and headed for his producer's. Bob gave him a Bronx cheer.
"We're always kidding around like that," Bob told me. "Nowadays, that is. Not at first. When David first started in U.N.C.L.E. he was very reticent. Even afraid. Since then, I have never seen such a change come over anybody.
"At first, I thought 'He can't be real, it'll be awful working with this strange, silent man.'
"It was his looks, I guess, that made him seem to be an outsider to the rest of us. What we forgot, of course, was that he was newly arrived from England and wasn't hip to American slang or to the free-and-easy ways of Hollywood crews.
"For instance, the first time our director sent his assistant to bring David to the set, the assistant hollered, 'Where's that little blonde jerk?' David cringed. But now he understands Americanisms and dishes it out as easily as he takes it."
But nobody ever calls him "Dave." That particular diminutive, another luncheon guest explained, is anathema to McCallum. "Maybe it's because he's sensitive about his height-he's five-feet-eight, short for a Hollywood star," the guest explained. "Anyway, the only people who ever call him 'Dave' are the 'out' tourists. Everybody in the cast and crew calls him David."
The guest didn't know exactly why David detests diminutives, apart from his own height. But David did say, at one time, "I call my sons by their full names-Valentine, Jason and Paul. If they want to use diminutives when they grow up it'll be all right with me, but it'll be their own choice."
"I would call him the ideal father," the guest said. "It's wonderful to watch the way he handles his boys. When he tells them to do something they do it. That's the way his parents brought him up, he says, and that's the way he'll bring his sons up. He never lays a hand on them. He always reasons with them. It must be the right way because they're all perfect little gentlemen.
"Paul, the oldest boy, is very much like his father-very mechanical-minded. The other boys are becoming that way. So, when David buys them gifts, he always gets things that will be useful to them: erector sets, toys that they can put together, creative things.
David was back by now, grinning to himself, happy, apparently, over having planted with his producer the seed of his co-star's upcoming death on the guillotine.
I asked if he had been invited to the very exclusive party tossed by Sharman Douglas for Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon at the Bistro.
"Jill may have been invited," he straight-faces, "but I wasn't."
Bob Vaughn guffawed at that. "One-upmanship-sheer, dour, Scottish one-upmanship, that's what you're cursed with, David."
"Ornery, too," said Bob. Then turning to me: "Did you know Jill was supposed to be David's girl friend in the last U.N.C.L.E. segment she shot with us? Instead, he suggested to the writers that they make her-his own wife!-my girl friend. So I spent the entire sequence romancing Jill."
It was David's way, another tablemate contributed, of getting back at "The Establishment" - "You like to barb 'em don't you, David? Boy are the fans gonna write in and complain about Bob making love to your wife! Oh well, that's life in the McCallum menagerie: when the fans expect you to do something, you do just the opposite."
"That's what I said," said Bob. "Ornery."
Ornery aside, I reminded David that the last time I interviewed him he had told me he couldn't sleep nights, that he had to get up and drive out to the beach or go to an all-night Japanese movie before he could get any shut-eye.
"I'm beginning to settle down to doing each strenuous segment in six impossibly short days," he said, "so I'm sleeping better. Life has grooved itself into the usual, monotonous, 18-hours-a-day-in-an-iron-lung routine of Hollywood TV production.
"I guess you could say I've finally gone Hollywood. I don't hide myself and brood in my dressing room any more. Instead of holding it in, I blow off steam right on the set. I should have known, at the ripe old age of 32, that flipping your lid on the set is the only way to fly in this business. I hadn't been bruised and battered in show biz, as my buddy Robert had been, so I wasn't hip. But I have learned, and now I know."
I mentioned the rumors that David was a top candidate for the 1965 Sour Apple Award, the "prize" bestowed yearly by the ladies of the Hollywood Women's Press Club to the actor and actress who have been most uncooperative with the press all year.
"David's basically a listener rather than a talker," Bob explained, "which makes him unpopular with certain members of the press. Not to mention offbeat."
I asked about his "offbeatness," and requested some samples.
"I can't tell you because I'm not keeping a diary about my Hollywood experiences," said David. "I enjoy living them, rather than writing about them. Although I must say I have been wanting, for a long time, to write a book about the odd way some people die-like the man who got sucked into a fan jet and came out like hamburger, and the man who watched his parents drown and couldn't do anything to help them, and the TV star who got his head chopped off by a prop guillotine that turned out to be a real guillotine.
"Offbeat? Maybe I am. Maybe my Scottish kinfolk would think so. Here at the studio, I go to my dressing room after work, open the door with my dressing room key, dial 9 for an outside number, ring Jill to tell her what time I'll be home, and then go home.
"Then, when I get home, I try to open my front door with my dressing room key. Whereupon Jill comes and lets me in. Whereupon I go in and dial 9 for an outside number. Is that sample offbeat enough for you?"
I said: "It will help."
"My wife," said The Offbeat One, changing the subject, "is painting some portraits for an exhibition at the Mariposa Gallery in Malibu. Nobody paints quite like Jill. You must all come and see her show."
We told him we would.
"Some day," he said, "I am going to take her to one of my favorite cities-Fort Wayne, Indiana. It is not far from Goshen Indiana, which in turn is not far from Millersburg, Indiana. I visited Millersburg on one of my personal appearance tours to plug the series, when it first started, when our ratings were lousy.
"All American cities-and the Grand Canyon-fascinate me. New York, New Orleans, San Francisco, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and that very friendly city, La Grange, Ill. My God, what a big country.
"But especially the small towns and especially Millersburg, where Jill I'm sure would get plenty of inspiration for her portrait painting. I have seen 25 American cities since last February, flying over 125,000 miles to plug the show, and strictly on weekends, but none like Millersburg. Those Mennonites are fabulous people. Jill will love painting them, if they will permit her.
"Besides, it's small. I usually don't take Jill to places where the mobs who gang up on Robert and myself will hurt her, although I did take her to Chicago-because she wanted to see 'the city that burned down' with Tyrone Power and Don Ameche and Alice Faye and Alice Brady in it-and New Orleans, because it's so colorful.
"Oh, that Chicago. We stayed at the Ambassador East. We had been struggling along in England, on $35.00 a week. But now we had a luxurious suite, courtesy MGM TV-and Room Service and ordering anything you want to eat! And all free."
"I suppose," I said, "it has all become routine to you now, now that you're rich."
"In a way, yes," said David. "But I have a new gimmick that makes it seem less routine. Now I ask that none of the City Fathers come to meet us at the airport, as of yore. Not that I'm stuckup. Strictly because I want to case the city first-you know, get around and size it up.
Anyway, I love to walk-just to look in the shop windows and watch the people. I remember my first visit to San Francisco when I walked seven miles, up hill and down hill, the same day, to Fisherman's Wharf and back to the Mark Hopkins Hotel on top of Nob Hill.
"It's better this way," he went on. "Because now, when I finally do meet the City Fathers, I can discuss their city intelligently.
"Also, if Jill hasn't been there, I imagine I can come back and describe it to her. But not too much of it, because there'll be things she'll want to be surprised by. Things I didn't put on the postcards I send from each of the cities, to Jill and to each of my sons.
Come and get your bundle, girls-over Jill's dead body!