11 February, 2009
Robert Francis Vaughn is an American Academy Award-nominated actor noted for stage, film and television work. He is perhaps best known as suave spy Napoleon Solo in the popular 1960's TV series The Man from U.N.C.L.E., along with his villainous performance as Ross Webster in Superman III, and most recently in the hit British drama, Hustle, while continuing to be a popular television actor.
Vaughn was born in New York City to showbiz parents Marcella Frances (née Gaudel), a stage actress, and Gerald Walter Vaughn, a radio actor. He was raised in an Irish Catholic family. His parents separated when he was young, with Vaughn and his mother relocating to Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he attended North High School and later enrolled in the University of Minnesota as a journalism major. He quit after a year and moved to Los Angeles, California. He enrolled in Los Angeles City College, then transferred to Los Angeles State College of Applied Arts and Sciences, where he earned his Master's degree in theater. Continuing his higher education even through his successful acting career, Vaughn earned a Ph.D. in communications from the University of Southern California, in 1970, publishing his dissertation as the book Only Victims: A Study of Show Business Blacklisting in 1972.
Vaughn made his television debut on the November 21, 1955 "Black Friday" episode of the American TV series Medic, the first of more than 200 episodic roles by mid-2000. His first movie appearance was as an uncredited extra in The Ten Commandments (1956), playing a golden calf idolater and also visible in a scene in a chariot behind that of Yul Brynner. Vaughn's first credited movie role came the following year in the Western Hell's Crossroads (1957), in which he played the real-life Bob Ford, the killer of outlaw Jesse James.
Vaughn's first notable appearance was in The Young Philadelphians (1959) for which he was nominated for a Supporting Actor Academy Award. Next he appeared as gunman Lee in The Magnificent Seven (1960), a role he essentially reprised 20 years later in Battle Beyond the Stars (1980), both films being adaptations of filmmaker Akira Kurosawa's 1954 Japanese samurai epic, Seven Samurai. Vaughn played a different role, Judge Oren Travis, on the 1998-2000 syndicated TV series The Magnificent Seven. Vaughn is the only surviving member of the title cast of the original 1960 film (although Eli Wallach, who portrayed the villain Calvera, is still living).
In the 1963-1964 season, Vaughn appeared in The Lieutenant as Captain Raymond Rambridge alongside Gary Lockwood, the Marine second lieutenant at Camp Pendleton. His dissatisfaction with that role led him to request a series of his own. Earlier, Vaughn had guest starred on Lockwood's ABC series Follow the Sun.
From 1964 to 1968 he starred as "Napoleon Solo" in the television series The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (United Network Command for Law and Enforcement), with British co-star David McCallum playing his fellow agent Illya Kuryakin. This production spawned a spin-off show, large amounts of merchandising and overseas theatrical movies of re-edited episodes. In the year the series ended Vaughn landed a large role playing an ambitious Californian politician in the film Bullitt starring Steve McQueen.
Vaughn continued to act, in television and in mostly B movies. He starred in two seasons of the Gerry Anderson detective series The Protectors in the early 1970s, and a decade later starred with friend George Peppard in the final season of The A-Team. According to Dirk Benedict, Vaughn was actually added to the cast of that show because of his friendship with Peppard. It was hoped Vaughn would help ease tensions between Mr. T and Peppard.
In 2004, after a string of guest roles on series such as Law & Order, in which he had a recurring role during season eight, Vaughn experienced resurgence. He began co-starring in the British series Hustle, made for the channel BBC One, which was also broadcast in the United States on the cable network AMC. In the series Vaughn plays elder-statesman con artist Albert Stroller, a father figure to a group of younger grifters. In September 2006, he guest-starred in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
Vaughn became a spokesman in a set of generic advertisements for various law firms around the U.S. A television commercial features Vaughn urging injured complainants to "...tell the insurance companies you mean business."
Vaughn also appeared as himself narrating and being a character in a radio play broadcast by BBC Radio 4 in 2007 about making a film in Prague, Czechoslovakia, during the Russian invasion of 1968. Frequent references are made to his playing Napoleon Solo and the character's great spying abilities.