Academy Award nominee and real-life champ for the little guy, Robert Vaughn, passed away three days ago at the age of 83.
His characters were villainous heroes and heroic villains, never without a sense of humor, literacy, and intelligence. Remember when actors could exude intelligence? Vaughn couldn't shut it off. It existed to such an extent that his only moments of inauthenticity were when Napoleon Solo had to pass as a rube or hayseed to outwit THRUSH agents. I'm amazed they fell for it. His eyes twinkled with an intensity visible from Europa. It was the hallmark of DARK SHADOWS actors as well. They and Vaughn truly occupied that last pantheon of performers and personalities for whom ties, heels, stockings, and sport coats were as natural and necessary as the collegiate banter they shared while wearing such. This wasn't a matter of snobbery or being effete. It was called being a member of civilization, and really, we all must try it some time. If Vaughn characters shared anything in common, it was their inability to suffer fools under any circumstances.
Vaughn's inability to suffer fools, and to (not) do so with a glass of John Barleycorn in his hand and a cockeyed grin on his face extended deeply into politics. A true Yellow Dog Democrat, his political future was so pronounced that he even earned a William F. Buckley essay denouncing him. Like Leonard Nimoy and Lara Parker, he was of such cerebral integrity that his lifelong learning extended beyond his television success of the Sixties; all three pursued advanced degrees in decades that followed. Vaughn's Ph.D. culminated in a masterful survey of the McCarthyism fallout, ONLY VICTIMS.
Although he knew his way around iambic pentameter, Vaughn largely occupied genre and thriller territory due to typecasting and the inability of Quentin Tarantino and Paul Thomas Anderson to get off their asses and seize the opportunity before it passed. No matter the project, he always brought the same commitment, truth, and intensity to it. And he always reflected on them with a sense of deep wit. Dark and mordant until his gargantuan smile erupted, his was always a smile that was earned.
Just as some people find resonance with certain musical personalities, something about Vaughn always clicked with me, even from the first time I saw him. I was a kid, and he made STARSHIP INVASIONS watchable alongside Christopher Lee. Then, as Napoleon Solo, he epitomized the urbane, thinking-man's hero, always intense, but never morose. I once drove nine hours to shake his hand, and he was so happy to talk about ONLY VICTIMS that he took pity on the fact that I'd spent my cash on autographs from JM J Bullock and Cynthia Myers and gave me one for free.
He was, in every sense, one of the good guys.
- Patrick McCray