From McCallum & Vaughn - 2 Magazines in One


Who is Illya Kuryakin? The answer is not a simple one, for he is purely the figment of a script-writer’s imagination. What is known about him is that he is the other man from “U.N.C.L.E.,” the man next in line for Napoleon Solo’s job. He is what’s known as a “second banana,” but he’s been accurately described as definitely not the kind of second banana you’d send down to the corner drugstore for coffee and cigarettes. But he is the kind of man you’d trust with your life, and Solo has done it many times. Solo is, in fact, one of the very few people who has managed to break through the sometimes moody, always aloof Illya personality-shield. Though they could never be described as “close pals,” they do have a healthy respect for each other as men and agents.

Much of what Illya has become is due to David McCallum. When the show first started, nothing much was known about the character, consequently, he was rather hard to put down on paper. But gradually, through David’s ideas (he gave him the black pants and T-shirt, he gave him the central-European accent, he gave him something of a background, something of a philosophy of life), a definite character has emerged, and it improves with each show. Illya, David feels, has emerged as so strong a character, that sometimes he feels like saying, “To hell with him!” He never actually does, of course, for he has become a part of his life.

Though McCallum has tried to draw a line between himself and the character he plays, it is an exceedingly thin one. He likes to insist, however, that it is not. “If,” he gives as an example, “we could see Illya’s private life, it would not be my private life.” Let’s examine the record. They both are Europeans (in fact, it was David, himself, who decided that though a Russian, Illya should not have a thick Russian accent; he should instead have a more workable central-European accent); Illya is moody, so is David; Illya loves jazz (Solo once discovered a whole pile of jazz records half hidden in Illya’s apartment), and David admits to watching “Hullabaloo” on TV and enjoying Rock ‘n’ Roll. Though it is not exactly jazz, it can be considered a “kissing kin.” Illya is quiet and not very eager to talk about his past, his present or his future. Just ask any Hollywood writer and he will tell you this is a perfect description of David. The only big romance Illya has had on TV was with a character portrayed by Jill Ireland. The only time David has been in love it was-and still is-with that same Jill Ireland. She is, of course, his real-life wife.

So there is a great deal that is common to the two men-except that one is real, the other is not. And this is David’s biggest basis for non-comparison. He says, “A man is the sum total of his experiences. I am what I am because of what I have been. I can take from my background, but I can not add anything to it that is not already there. This is not true of Illya. I can add anything to his background to make a show more interesting, more appealing. So you see, Illya is the sum total of nothing, because there really isn’t anything permanent there.

“Sometimes I feel sorry for this Illya. So much has been written about him - some of it good, some of it not so good. And this poor man, does he exist or doesn’t he? And people find it necessary to have deep psychological discussions on why people like Illya and why people don’t. If you asked me that question, I couldn’t answer it. I just don’t know. I should imagine one would have to ask those people who do or do not like him.

“Yet, I would like very much to know the answer. I would be very interested in finding out. I’d like the show to send people out all over the country to talk to the millions of Illya fans and find out what it is they like about him. It would be very enlightening, and it would certainly answer a lot of people’s questions that I cannot answer any more than I can answer the question of why popularity? In my case, I think it’s just because I’m a blond Beatle who happens to handle himself well. I really can’t discuss it any more than that.

“People also ask me why I think the show is so successful. I can only say it is successful because the audience must find it entertaining. We have all the elements that go to make up a good show-the good vs. the bad, the white hats vs. the black hats-and things like that. It is what people like to watch, and so it is successful. That is a simple answer, I know, but it is the only answer I can give.”

Even the girls who write him fan letters give little hint as to why they like him or the show. They just tell him how “neat” he is, or how “cool” the show is, ad nauseum. Asked if he reads Illya’s mail he said: “It would take one week to read it, another week to answer it all, and a third week to do the show. Since I only have seven days in one week, the show wins out. But the studio fan mail department reads every one of “U.N.C.L.E.’s” letters and answers them. If there is a special letter-then it is brought along to me.”

At times, when the going gets rough David philosophically says, “I’ve only myself to blame-I wanted to be an actor.” Now can’t you just hear Illya, trapped for a moment by THRUSH, sighing and softly saying: “I’ve only myself to blame-I wanted to be a spy.”