Saturday, November 12, 2016

R.I.P. Robert Vaughn (1931-2016)

Robert Vaughn
On November 11, 2016, actor Robert Vaughn died in Ridgefield, Connecticut of leukemia at the age of 83. His work was prolific and over his career he guest starred in over 200 episodes of TV. Among his biggest achievements was playing the lead character in the espionage series The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and co-starring in the western The Magnificent Seven. His work garnered him an Oscar nomination for The Young Philadelphians as well as many other iconic roles. What he leaves behind is an impressive body of work that reflected his strengths as an actor capable of leading and supporting major movie stars from over the past 60 years. His work will continue to be admired and appreciated for his ability to bring depth and charisma to each and every role that he played.

Vaughn was born on November 22, 1931 in New York City, New York. His father was a radio actor and his mother was a stage actress. After his parents' divorce, he lived with his grandparents in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It was here that he attened the University of Minnesota as a journalism major. He would later drop out and attend school in Los Angeles at Los Angeles City College and Los Angeles State College of Applied Arts and Sciences; the latter of which earned him a master's degree in theater. He would later receive a Ph.D in communications from the University of Southern California in 1970. In between then however was an acting career.

His first television appearance happened on an episode of Medic called "Black Friday" in 1955. A year later he would make his cinematic debut as an uncredited extra in Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments where he can be seen at one point standing behind Yul Brnner. His first credited role came in 1957 in the Jesse James western Hell's Crossroads. Burt Lancaster had wanted him to be in Sweet Smell of Success, but had to drop out upon being drafted by the United States Army. He served for two years and became a drill sergeant.

Upon returning to acting, he found success pretty quickly. In 1959, he appeared in The Young Philadelphians opposite Paul Newman and Barbara Rush. It is a role that earned him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination. The film starred Newman as a young lawyer who faces ethical dilemmas that challenge his reputation. While the acclaim helped to raise Vaughn's profile, he would lose the category to Ben-Hur star Hugh Griffith. 

It didn't take long for him to find a next big role. In 1960, he co-starred as Lee in The Magnificent Seven. While he only played the role once, his connection with the franchise has remained pretty consistent. The film is an adaptation of Seven Samurai, and it inspired another film 20 years later called Beyond the Stars. Vaughn is said to have played a very similar role. Likewise, The Magnificent Seven TV series that ran from 1998-2000 featured him int he supporting role of Judge Oren Travis. Among his other achievements with the franchise is being the last living member of the titular seven.

His other major role came in The Man From U.N.C.L.E., where he became a household name. Even during the Cold War, he was considered an icon behind the Iron Curtain. The later film adaptation from director Matthew Vaughn lead many to believe that Robert and Matthew were related. A test would reveal that they in fact weren't. However, Matthew has claimed that he got Robert's permission to use the Vaughn moniker as a surname. He also appeared in Bullit, the first episode of The Dating Game, and had a recurring role on Late Night With Conan O'Brien. In more recent years, he had a recurring role on the soap opera Coronation Street.

He met his wife Linda Staab in 1973 after working on an episode of The Protectors called "It Could Be Practically Anywhere ont he Island." They adopted two children and lived in Connecticut. He was also politically active and campaigned for John F. Kennedy, serving as the chair of the California Democratic State Central Committee speakers bureau. He was also active in the anti-war movements, including Another Mother for Peace and Dissenting Democrats; the latter of which also featured Dick Van Dyke and Carl Reiner. He had hopes of running for office, but admitted in an interview that the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy made him "lose the heart for battle." 

Vaughn had a prolific career and was featured in some of the most iconic cinema and TV. His enthusiasm will be greatly missed. Even then, his work will live on with new audiences finding and appreciating his craft for decades to come. Whether he was playing the lead role or somewhere in supporting, he brought his best work to the role and created something timeless. His biggest achievement was staying busy. It ended up helping his reputation in the long run while producing some incredible work. 

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