originally posted at http://html.wnbc.com/sh/idi/entertainment/the_outer_limits/
By: Tim Lammers
Anybody who admires the work of David McCallum knows that his storied career extends far past the days of the 1960s television hit “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” which made him a television icon.
But before that, it was a role as a simple-man-turned-super-intellectual in a 1963 episode of the classic science fiction series, “The Outer Limits” that made an indelible impression on television fans. Much in the same way his character, Gwyllm Griffiths, rapidly evolved in the episode, so did his acting career.
A native of Glasgow, Scotland, McCallum, was relatively new to the Hollywood scene when the opportunity for “The Outer Limits” episode came up. He had worked in about a dozen films in supporting roles, including one that went on to become an epic film classic from director George Stevens.
“I had just done ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told’ playing Judas Iscariot, and I was looking for work,” McCallum recalled for me in a recent phone interview from his home in New York. “There was really not a lot of work around and I was completely unknown.”
McCallum soon discovered, though, that his career options were anything but “limited” after he had a meeting with director Jimmy Goldstone about playing the lead role in the episode “The Sixth Finger,” in a new series called “The Outer Limits.” With newness comes uncertainty, but McCallum was in good hands: For one, the series was produced by Joseph Stefano, the screenwriter who adapted Robert Bloch’s “Psycho” into a terrifying film classic for Alfred Hitchcock.
At the beginning of the episode, we meet McCallum as the modern-day Gwyllm, a young Welsh man who yearns for a life beyond the rigors of his work in the coal mines. To help change his status, he volunteers to become the subject of an experiment by Professor Mathers (Edward Mulhare). Through a process involving molecular genetics, Mathers compresses Gwyllm’s evolution 10,000 years in a matter of seconds.
But the process does not stop there. Now a “self-generating force” of superior intellect, Gwyllm continues to evolve as his cranium expands, his hair disappears and a sixth finger grows on each hand, which is there for “additional dexterity.” In the end, Gwyllm represents a super-intellectual being 1 million years into the future – but also a danger to the modern day people around him.
Tantamount to the narrative, in “The Sixth Finger” was the makeup that would turn McCallum from an ordinary man into the evolved Gwyllm. But since it was 1963, limitations in current makeup techniques presented a challenge.
“It was very much the early days of prostheses,” McCallum said. But, thanks to the makeup artistry of John Chambers (who created Gwyllm’s now iconic bulbed head) and Fred Phillips, the character soon came to life – even if it took hours of detailed work per sitting.
“I went into the studio at about 3 o’clock in the morning, and we did the makeup until about 8 when we started shooting,” McCallum recalled. “I could shoot with it until 11:30 or 12 and I had to take it off so we could do other things. It was just too heavy.”
Considering that he has a body of work that spans over 45 years, it was impressive to hear how McCallum recalled so many details about one specific episode of “The Outer Limits” that took place nearly 40 years ago. It’s not like he was a regular featured performer who got to know the show’s surroundings like the back of his hand.
In fact, his appearances on the series were few. Apart from “The Sixth Finger” McCallum only filmed one other episode, “The Forms of Things Unknown,” also in 1963. In 1995, he revisited the past in a sense by taking a role on the new version of “The Outer Limits” series in the episode “Feasibility Study.” As for “The Sixth Finger,” McCallum is proud of his work on the episode because it’s something his 31-year-old son has come to appreciate. He said they talk about the episode a lot, and the memories were sweetened more when McCallum re-discovered a set of black and white negatives of photos taken on the set. “I used to take quite a lot of pictures back then and still have most of them,” McCallum said. “I even found a picture of me that I had somebody take in the makeup room with Freddy putting on my makeup.”
Past Tense, Future Tense
For those familiar with the episode, Gwyllm’s girlfriend Cathy (Jill Haworth) attempts to devolve the super-intellectual back into the boyfriend she used to know. Originally, though, McCallum said the script called for something a lot more extreme.
“There was a long discussion about how it should end,” McCallum recalled. “One suggestion was that she (went to the evolution chamber) and all she found was a puddle of water on the seat. And, there was one where she ended up running around the lab with a rhesus monkey. There were all sorts of different possibilities.”
Depending on the degree an actor gets involved in his or her work, it’s not unusual for them to be affected in some way by the subject matter that’s being addressed.
In “The Sixth Finger,” in particular, the question of where evolution will lead us is at the fore. And while McCallum has pondered it himself, he’s not really pre- occupied about what we will evolve into 10,000 years from now.
“I’m not going to be around so I’m not going to worry about it,” McCallum mused, then turning serious. “I worry about my daughter who’s 28, and about her children and her life, with what’s going on in the world right now. I hope we get a chance to evolve.”
The Evolving Career
For a young actor, having had a gig on an “Outer Limits” episode opened McCallum up to a world of possibilities. He had some hits and misses after “The Sixth Finger,” but fortunately, the early “hits” came after “misses,” instead of the other way around.
“I played a Red Coat in some terrible series filming in the hills of Malibu shooting Indians,” McCallum recalled with a laugh. But, after a few smaller roles, McCallum was offered parts in three series, including a new one in 1964 called “Solo.”
“Solo,” of course, was in reference to the character of agent Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn), and eventually the series was renamed “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” before it hit the air. For the next four years on television (and in several movies years after), McCallum played the role of agent Illya Kuryakin opposite Vaughn, and the two men earned themselves lasting places in television history.
While he has fond memories of his past work in some of the most memorable shows of the 1960s, McCallum, now 68, prefers to live and work in the now instead of reliving past glories. He’ll occasionally run across a listing of one of his old shows in the television schedule, make a mental note of it, and maybe watch it if something else isn’t going on. Just last week he saw that the 1967 “U.N.C.L.E.” movie, “The Karate Killers,” was going to be on, but, well, he just got caught up in the matters of the day.
“It doesn’t actually interest me at all that much,” McCallum said of his shows. “It’s like taking out the family album and glancing through the pictures. It’s nice to do that with somebody young and say, ‘look, this is what it was like in Scotland in so and so when I was walking by the canal with my uncle.’ It’s very boring for young people but at the same time it’s very fascinating for me to see the pictures again. But it’s not something you do on a regular basis.”
While McCallum prefers to live in the present, it’s not to say that he’s not appreciative of people’s continuing interest in the shows. Just this week, MGM will release the entire first season of “The Outer Limits” on DVD; and memorabilia fans are getting more and more opportunities to rekindle their memories of “The Outer Limits” and “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” through licensing agreements that literally put McCallum’s characters in people’s hands.
“There is a doll of Illya Kuryakin like Ken and Barbie. My wife is the only person whose husband has a Barbie doll of himself,” McCallum laughed.
McCallum is also excited about seeing the 12-inch doll of Gwyllm, which is part of a new “Outer Limits” doll series by Sideshow Toy. Sideshow’s the company that’s earned praise from fans and industry-types for its dolls and sculptures from such movie licenses as the Universal Monsters films and “The Lord of the Rings.” “The Outer Limits” is one of its first forays into television licensing.
So what would he like to do with his “Outer Limits” dolls?
Well, just like Gwyllm, McCallum is already thinking into the future: “I’ll give them out as Christmas presents,” he enthused.
Episode Information Source: “The Outer Limits Companion,” by David J. Schow