Rave Magazine, 1965
It was lunchtime in Hollywood when the transatlantic phone call from the movie city was put through to me in London. The young man calling was having crab salad for lunch in his office at the big M.G.M. studios.
"Hallo? This is David McCallum speaking. How are you?" he asked in a rather deep, slow voice. It was easy to picture him. Blond, suntanned, swiveling in a large leather chair, picking at the salad with one hand.
"Are you well?" I shouted a little as one does when faced with projecting one's voice across six thousand miles.
"Hey, don't speak so loud. I can hear you fine," came the smooth voice. "I have a quarter of an hour off from filming, so we can talk. When I put this phone down I have to get back on the set and get into frogman's gear and crawl through a metal tunnel filled with mystic gases, or something." He laughed.
David McCallum became a household name through his role in the TV series "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." in which he plays a Russian spy called Illya Kuryakin. Before going to Hollywood he made a name for himself on the cinema screen in such films as "Robbery Under Arms", "The Great Escape", and "Billy Budd." He was born in Glasgow thirty-two years ago, the second son of the lead violinist in the London Philharmonic Orchestra. He was educated in London and went to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art from 1949 until 1951.
Since going to Hollywood, life has changed for David McCallum. He has become the valuable property of a major film company, an idol, an asset.
"If I go outside Hollywood M.G.M. have to lay on twelve policemen to escort me or I would be killed by the mobs of fans! I can't walk in the streets alone. I have girls chase me whenever they see me. The other day two chased me into a petrol station in Detroit. They were crying and saying they loved me. Doesn't that seem strange?"
"Not so strange," I admitted. "Here, we are used to The Beatles, The Stones and few others living like that."
"But I'm an actor. I'm not myself on the screen. I am not a secret agent who is brave and clever and goes round seducing pretty girls. I am an actor who learns lines and puts on make-up, and is totally divorced in real life from the parts he plays. The Beatles are themselves and their music is a reflection of them.
"For someone who has always understood every move he makes, and everything that happens to him, I am puzzled by my fame," he said. "But Hollywood has been good to me, and I love it here." He paused and there was crackle on the line, just as though some of the Atlantic Ocean sea spray was interfering with the wave-lengths. "You're still there, aren't you?" he asked anxiously.
"Yes, thank you. Tell me, how much of your success is due to hard work, and how much to luck?"
"Hard work matters in any job," he said. "There isn't any substitute for it. But, of course, luck matters too. I believe you can go a long way to making your own luck. I think if you plan ahead and make sacrifices so your plans can be put into action, then you often find you are at the right place at the right time, which is a little lucky and a little clever."
Talking to David McCallum I became aware of two main characteristics. He is sure, smooth and relaxed, and also strangely shy; a little afraid of what he has become.
"I'd just hate to kid myself I am something I'm not," he said. "It's easy to become bloated with your own importance when you are paid as much as I am paid. I would not like myself if I became like that, and I have to like myself."
The Scot in him is shrewd. It is why still drives the Jaguar car he took with him to Hollywood three years ago. It is why he lives in a comfortable but not lavish house in the Hollywood hills. It is why he holds his eight-year-old marriage dear. As he explained, "I have happiness from one woman, why should I go looking for more?"
I asked him if he ever feels caught up in a money-making machine that is draining all his energies.
"I am caught up because I want to be," he said, soberly. "Work doesn't drain my energies, and if being a prisoner in Hollywood does, then I recuperate in my own way."
"How's that?" I asked.
"I climb rocks and sit on the cliff top and think only of sea and air and sand. I lie flat out and become a nothing, a nobody, and my tensions go." He chuckled, just thinking about it.
"Hey, the other night I was up on the cliff near here and I suddenly wanted to swim, so I raced all the way down to the beach and flung off my shirt and dived in. It was warm like a bath and beautiful. I love California."
"Do you ever miss Britain?"
"Yes, but I won't come back. The money out here is far superior. It's not a question of homesickness, just simple mathematics. Going home wouldn't fit in with the plan."
He is shrewd. He plans and he makes his own luck. He loves one woman, and two countries. But he still has enough madness in his soul to want to stay up all night and swim in the warm, beautiful sea.
"I have finished my lunch and they want me back on set," he said. "Think of me in that metal tunnel filled with mystic gas..."