A FORTUNATE LIFE, Robert Vaughn, 2008, St Martin’s Press, 322pp, photos
When I was a kid, I loved The Man from UNCLE and devoured the line of UNCLE paperback books edited by Michael Avallone. I even came up with my own line of spy books and began working on them. The one I did finish I threw away. Never had the money for the UNCLE merchandise but I would’ve committed a small felony to get some of it.
Vaughn is best known as Napoleon Solo, a role co-created by Ian Fleming who backed away from the project early-on due to health and career demands. It was Vaughn’s breakout role although he headlined numerous other TV series and played Lee, the gunfighter who’s lost his nerve, in The Magnificent Seven which he thought would be a total failure (and co-starred in the two-season TV show spun off of the movie about ten years ago). He’s naturally played good guys a lot on the TV shows he starred in, but his sharp-edged handsome looks have served him well as a movie villain, even in his pre-UNCLE days. Not counting Teen Age Caveman, shot by Roger Corman in Griffith Park.
In this book he does what actors do…drops names and relates interesting anecdotes from a lifetime of movie-making and travel. There’s even a chapter at the end that lists a series of anecdotes, circumstances generally forgotten. You’ll find some nice stories about Oliver Reed, Richard Burton, Blake Edwards, Steve McQueen, Leo G. Carroll, appearing a bit spry but actually in ill health during his years on UNCLE, an all star Hamlet stinkburger with Charlton Heston as the Melancholy Dane, how he had a hand in getting his buddy James Coburn into The Magnificent Seven during a furious effort motivated by a pending strike, and more.
I did learn to my amusement that John Gielgud, Shakespearean actor and the butler in the movie Arthur, was known to friends as Johnny G.
Vaughn also has a couple short lectures on acting and discusses his public early opposition to the Vietnam war, as well as a friendship with Robert Kennedy and his devastation at Kennedy’s assassination. He even talks about a Bobby Kennedy assassination theory that he feels needs further examination.
There’s also a description of the making of The Bridge at Remagen in Czechoslovakia in 1968 when the Russians marched in and clamped down control over the country. After being held up several weeks, the actors were able to leave the country and resumed filming elsewhere.
Light but fun reading on a par with other anecdote-filled movie autobiographies.