TV Week, 12/23/95

The Old Man From U.N.C.L.E.

but, at 62, David McCallum is still riding high!


There is something about the way David McCallum appears in a room already busy with celebrities and is instantly recognized by everyone.

The former "Man From U.N.C.L.E." has that genuine star quality -- the kind they weren't supposed to make any more.

He is 62, but looks in his 40s, even as he faces directly into a battery of camera flashes.

"The other day somebody called me a legend," says the man who played Illya Kuryakin in the secret agent series, a spoof on the James Bond films. "You know you are getting very old when you are called a legend."

It has been 30 years since Kuryakin and Napoleon Solo (played by Robert Vaughn) were the chief agents in The United Network Command for Law and Enforcement, and international spy organization that had its headquarters behind a Manhattan tailor shop.

Now the cult series is to be made into a film by director Quentin Tarantino, of Pulp Fiction fame.

"I didn't think there could ever be a remake in these post-Cold War days," David says.

"It was a story about a Russian spy and an American spy.

"But Tarantino has got it and I'm dead keen to see what he does with it."

The years have been kind to the handsome star. He still has a thatch of cornsilk hair, and the crease-free complexion seems freshly scrubbed to a brilliant ruddy hue.

David's perennial youthfulness is linked not to diets or pills -- but to pedal power.

"Yes, I have discovered cycling," he says. "I've just done the Boston-to-New York AIDS benefit ride, 265 miles (425km) in three days across the Connecticut and Massachusetts hills.

"It's one of the greatest senses of achievement I have ever had."

Born in Glasgow's affluent Kelvinside district, but raised in Lenzie Dunbartonshire, David is now based in New York.

But he was recently back in his homeland, in Aberdeen, to present awards at the Scottish BAFTA ceremony.

After UNCLE and subsequent work in he series Colditz, Sapphire and Steel, Trainer, and The Invisible Man, not much has been seen of David since he played a cop in the 1992 film Hear My Song.

"It's all been theatre and tours," he says. "And I don't want to do any more tours, because it takes me away from home for too long.

"I'm doing a series of documentaries in New York that keep me home with my family."

Home is an opulent apartment overlooking Central Park where he lives with his American wife, Katherine.

Their eldest sons, Peter and Val, are in the music business, while their third son, Paul, writes books. His daughter, Sophie, who is the youngest, attends college in New York.

While it's a happy home, David has had more than his share of tragedy.

His first wife, Jill Ireland, who later married screen tough-guy Charles Bronson, died of cancer. Only six months earlier, their adopted son, Jason, 27, was found dead from a drug overdose.

Modest, polite and neat, David has little need for more money because UNCLE made him and Robert Vaughn very rich men.

Money aside, David says he would not have missed the UNCLE days for the world.

"I still get street recognition because of it," he says.

Unlike his all-action character, David does not see himself as a man who will "die with my boots on."

"More likely," he says, "I'll be cycling over a hill somewhere and disappearing into the distance."

- from Gavin Docherty in London