TV Review(?), date unknown

The Girl Who Came Close to David's Heart

The girl was tall with dark hair and there was a slight smile on her face. The man was slim and blond and he quickened his steps when he saw her. Heads turned as he strode across the back lot of the studio where NBC-TV's The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is filmed. "David McCallum ....that's David McCallum," people's lips moved silently. But the girl's expression didn't change.

Her name was Linda Saunders and she's been blind most of her life. She did not know David was near her until she heard his voice, and felt his touch on her arm.

"Linda, are you?" There was no mistaking the warmth in David's voice. He took Linda's hand and walked with her toward a bench, talking all the while. But within minutes, there was an interruption. Could they stop and pose for pictures now?

They stood, side by side, smiling. And, suddenly, the poignancy that has been so much a part of their relationship showed through, if only for a moment.

"I found myself indulging in some wishful thinking," Linda remembers, "I won't say I was praying; it would have been unnatural for me to have used prayer for something like that. It was just wishing."

"But I said to myself, Please....let me see him just once, if only for a few seconds. I said it again and again. Then I turned toward David.

But I could not see him. There was just a blur .....a light patch. I was angry with myself. But I have a habit of teasing myself out of such moments and it passed. I remember thinking, 'The blur is light--so he is blond, just as Mother told me."

Although this was a busy working day for David, any time he wasn't absolutely vital to a scene, he hurried to Linda's side. They talked, they laughed, they reminisced, he holding her arm to guide her as they walked around the studio. Says Linda, "I felt so wonderful inside. But not for any reason David might have suspected. How can I explain? It was because I realized David had accepted my blindness. It did not embarrass him. I could tell by his touch he was completely at ease with me. He'll never know, unless maybe he reads these words, how his attitude made me feel."

"You see, I'm used to being blind, and I don't mind talking about it. It is the people who are embarrassed for me who sometimes hurt. I know they mean well, but a sightless person somehow upsets others. They don't know what to do. I've had people grab the halter of my dog in an effort to help me; I've had others stammer and stutter."I want to say, 'Please be natural with me. Ask me questions. It's good for me to talk about myself. But just don't treat me special.....' So you see, when David grabbed hold of my arm, and walked with me, talking all the while, in my heart I knew he understood and was at ease."

To David, Linda Saunders is someone very special. He asked her to spend the day with him on the U.N.C.L.E. set for a reason that goes back to January 4, 1965. That's when the David McCallum-Linda Saunders story really began.

On that winter day, in a routine announcement, Las Vegas' local NBC station notified its viewers that the Man From U.N.C.L.E. show would no longer be part of its weekly programing. Instead, the station would televise old movies which, its executives felt, was a more popular choice.

But the choice was definitely not popular with a number of Las Vegas residents. Among them, the then 16-year-old Linda Saunders and two of her friends, Bob and Bonnie Braswell. The Braswells and Linda are "average" people, whose lives are far removed from the honky-tonk atmosphere most Americans associate with Vegas. They--and hundreds of thousands of others, with normal jobs, pleasant homes, quiet friends--are the real residents of Las Vegas and those most hurt by the disappearance of a favorite program.

Through the years, people have learned to accept TV stations' decisions on programming, no matter how much they disagreed with them. But the Braswells and Linda Saunders were different. They decided to do something about U.N.C.L.E.

They began by appealing to the local station. When they got nowhere, they wrote to the show's sponsor in Detroit......called NBC in New York......even contacted Huntley and Brinkley in an effort to make their appeal known. The results: zero.

So they started a petition and began ringing doorbells, soliciting signatures. Eventually, they managed to get the local CBS station--NBC's rival--interested in U.N.C.L.E., but the station was unable to obtain permission for showing the series.

So others could "see."

By this time, the efforts of Linda and the Braswells were becoming known all over Las Vegas. Everybody was rooting for them. In particular, the town reached out to Linda Saunders, a lovely, sweet, well-mannered girl. A top student at Las Vegas High and a deeply religious person. A blind girl who could not see the show she was so ardently campaigning to bring back.

Why was she doing this? How was it that a blind girl should be so determined to work for a "cause" that others might see? Via television interviews, people learned that Linda knew the scripts of U.N.C.L.E. better than its stars. Since the inception of the program, she had faithfully tape-recorded each show. She had played the tapes over and over, until each nuance, each line of dialogue had become as familiar to her as the lessons she studied in school. She knew David McCallum--although she had never seen him. She knew his voice. His inflection. The sound of his step before he uttered a word of dialogue. She knew Robert Vaughn equally well.

Las Vegas wanted to help Linda Saunders. Petitions began pouring in to NBC--and then it happened. On March 4, 1965, exactly eight weeks after its "death," The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was reborn in Las Vegas. Not on NBC, but the local CBS station, which had finally managed to buy the show for the rest of the season.

The story--if it had ended right there--still would have been of outstanding significance. But, in many ways, this was only the beginning! In Hollywood, the men behind U.N.C.L.E. were deeply touched by what happened. Executive producer Norman Felton and the show's developer-producer, Sam Rolfe, decided this called for something special. It was decided that one of the stars of the show, plus Mr. Rolfe and his wife, would personally travel to Las Vegas to thank the fans. Robert Vaughn was commissioned to hold down the fort in Hollywood, David McCallum was dispatched as the official star emissary.

The day when the delegation from U.N.C.L.E. was arriving dawned bright and clear. Linda and her group were at the Las Vegas Airport early. They paced up and down, waiting until the Western Airlines flight from Hollywood was announced. Then their emotions erupted--but not in a frenzied, unorganized way. After all, these people had printed and passed petitions. These people had moved networks. They were not the unruly sort. They jumped up and down in one place, they screamed--sedately--especially when the plane door opened and David's smiling face was the first to emerge.

For the next 48 hours, Linda's life was all happily topsy-turvy. She met David and the Rolfes. She was on television with David. She had a chance to speak with hear that voice she'd grown to know so intimately. But what she hadn't yet realized was that for David, too, this was all memorable.

He was a personal part of the most extraordinary story of audience devotion in television history. He was meeting people who had moved mountains--literally. And he was meeting a girl--Linda Saunders--who, though sightless herself, had achieved a miracle for those more fortunate than she. She had fought and won a major battle for the show that has been the most important career milestone in David's life. She had done it selflessly, with no thought of a reward. But she received one nevertheless. She received the gratitude and affection of the whole town of Las Vegas. And she received the gratitude and affection of David McCallum himself. Her devotion and loyalty brought Linda close to David's heart.

Before he left Vegas, David invited Linda to visit him on the U.N.C.L.E. set in Hollywood. And she, in turn, presented him with a going-away present, something she'd made in ceramics class.

"Mother was beside me when I handed David the package," Linda remembers. "Later on, she told me that when he opened it, he looked at my sculpture and gently fingered the card I attached to it. One side of the card had my writing in Braille, the other side was hand-written by Mom, interpreting my sentiments. Mother told me David kept running his hands over the Braille inscription. Then he took the card and placed it inside his coat pocket. Near his heart. When Mom told me that, I knew I had done right in bringing him a gift. I'd been hesitant at first. Unsure. Feeling it might seem a bit forward. But now I was glad........"

"A dream come true"

After David and the Rolfes left, I was very happy. It had all worked out, like a dream come true. I had learned from David that Mr. Felton, the executive producer, had been responsible for suggesting the trip. I wrote a letter, thanking him, and mentioned that David had invited me to Hollywood. I told Mr. Felton how overjoyed I was at the thought and asked when it would be convenient for me to come."

"I received a lovely note back. Mr. Felton told me any time during the end of June would be fine--all arrangements would be made. The morning after receiving the letter, I sat in English class thinking, Soon I will be traveling to Hollywood. I'm not the giddy type. But that morning, just thinking about things, I felt all nervous inside."

"Then something else very wonderful happened and I had to postpone the trip. I was notified of my admission to a school in Northern California where I would be given the opportunity to get my own guide dog. This required me to go to the school and spend weeks training with the dog, learning to function with him as my co-pilot. So I had to postpone the trip to Hollywood until August.

"Perhaps I should tell you a little more about myself. I haven't always been blind. I was born prematurely, which affected my sight. As a baby, I was unable to see, but slowly I began to have sight from about the age of two up to the age of nine--when I was operated on in an effort to improve my sight. I never have seen well. I was always unable to read a book or do close work. But I have seen places, people, things, colors.....

"I hope you don't think me brash, intruding to speak of myself. If you don't know a little about me, what happened in Hollywood won't make much sense. The peak of my sight came when I was ten and a half. From then on, my eyes began to fail. By the time I was twelve, I had lost my vision. I was then, as I am today, unable to see, except sometimes I can distinguish brief patches of light."

"I spent weeks training with my dog-- 'Clipper,' a golden retriever. It was wonderful. I'd been quite self-sufficient before, I used a cane to get around. I traveled to and from school by bus on my own. I made it in and out of my classes, carrying a full program at Las Vegas High. But having a 'friend' to help me along was a new and novel thing."

"Clipper and I took to each other immediately. When I was finished at the training school, I went to visit my close girl friend, Mary Ann Dole. She, too, is sightless. But, unlike me, Mary Ann has never seen. I feel so awful for her sometimes because when my mother told me that David wore a blue shirt, I immediately could see the color blue in my mind. But Mary Ann has never known blue--to her it is only a word. She's a wonderful girl--a big U.N.C.L.E. fan, too. It was doubly pleasing to know I would be able to share my day at the studio with her."

"The big day was August 10th. I went with Mother and Mary Ann, and her father drove us. I remember every second, it will always be a precious memory. We arrived at the East Gate of the studio at exactly twenty minutes to eleven. I could hear Mr. Dole telling the policeman who we were. The policeman said:' Oh, yes, you're expected. Drive right in.' Then I heard him say: 'Miss Linda Saunders and her party are here.'Imagine! 'Miss Linda Saunders and her party!' I felt so important.

"Chuck Painter, who is the studio publicist on U.N.C.L.E., met us on the set. He told me David had been filming the night before and was not due at the studio until 1:30. Meanwhile we were invited to lunch in the commissary."

Linda was really too excited to eat. She was going to see David McCallum again! When he finally came, they had a million things to say--about the people they both knew, and what happened since they'd last seen each other, and the fortunes of U.N.C.L.E. Says Linda, "For a second or two, I thought, 'Why wasn't this five years ago? Then I could have seen David!' But then I teased, 'Five years ago there was no U.N.C.L.E. show, no Illya, no Napoleon Solo.' And I was over my wishing."

"I'd Know Him Anywhere"
LEFT, A warm reunion on the UNCLE set

Linda, her mother and friends spent the whole afternoon on the U.N.C.L.E. set. Every time David had a free moment, he would rush back to Linda. Robert Vaughn came over to meet her. Says Linda, "I heard a male voice say, 'Hello, Linda,' and I immediately replied,'Hello Mr. Vaughn.' Did you know he had the most distinctive voice? It's his outstanding characteristic. I would know Robert Vaughn anywhere--in a room full of hundreds of people. He was very nice, very kind and warm and he, too, seemed to be at ease with me."

Linda was a little surprised at her own ease with Bob Vaughn and David McCallum. "I thought I might be tongue-tied," she says. "But I wasn't. In fact, at one point I thought I was rather bold. You know, I have taped all the U.N.C.L.E. shows and I play them over and over. David's voice as Illya is known to my ear--and David, when he is speaking as David, has a different voice. But in a few of the shows -- just once or twice when I played back the tapes--individual words made me smile. For Illya had lost his accent. It was hardly noticeable the first few times I played the tapes, but when I became so familiar with Illya's accent, I could detect the lapses."

"Anyway, once when we were talking, I asked David if there was any acting on any of the shows he would like to do over--if he could. And he said, 'Oh, yes.' Then I said, 'I thought there might be a show or two you might wish to redo--at least a scene or two.....' The moment I said it, I was sorry. But he just laughed, took my hand and said, 'But of course, you noticed, too.'

"In a way, we shared a secret. I had heard a few words of Illya spoken as David would say them, in his own voice.

"The afternoon flew by. We stayed until five, then David walked to the car with us. I could have died when my mother--acting like a typical mom--cautioned him about the weather getting cooler and telling him he should put on a sweater. Politely, David agreed and thanked her. It was a cute touch, my mother being maternal about David McCallum."

Linda Saunders is back in Las Vegas now. Life has gone back to its normal groove. There is school, a future career (she wants to be a teacher or a sociologist) to think about. She says, "I'm very determined to make something of my life. It is the Lord's will that I am unable to see. It may sound silly, but this has made me a better person. I used to be hard to get along with, but when I first lost my sight, I began to learn what it meant to know goodness--to feel it around me. And then I understood the meaning of love.

"I do not idolize David McCallum. I have never idolized anybody. I'm not a screaming, teenage, star-struck fan. I found friendship in listening to The Man From U.N.C.L.E.--the voices of Mr. McCallum and Mr. Vaughn intrigued me, so I listened and listened until I felt they were my friends. Now I have met them and I feel even more that I have made lasting friendships. I hope someday I can meet David again, and also Bob. Maybe I can even come back to Hollywood sometime.

"But I am happy just as things are. This experience taught me so much....that people can do things if they care enough. . . . like the Braswells and everyone who signed the petitions and fought for U.N.C.L.E.

"You know, when I arrived back home, it took me weeks to think up the right words to send to Mr. McCallum......How do you thank someone for a lovely dream come true?"

Written by Marcia Borie