First time I remember seeing David McCallum was as Ilya Kuryakin on the Sixties TV series The Man From UNCLE. Kuryakin was the action hero, while Napoleon Solo (played by Robert Vaughan) was the suave and debonair one that always got the girls. Which is interesting, because if you asked any of my female classmates, it was Ilya they wanted. Maybe it was the Glaswegian brogue made to sound like he was from Russia, or the blond hair and blue eyes, or maybe it was that he never seemed to get the girl. Whatever the case, they dug him, to use an expression from the time.
McCallum had already built an impressive resumé in TV and film before he took on THRUSH as an operative for the United Network Command for Law & Enforcement. Most important in his pre-UNCLE days was his role as Ashley-Pitt in 1963’s The Great Escape. It was on the set of that movie that spelled the beginning of the end for his marriage to Jill Ireland: he introduced her to Charles Bronson, who later told David that he was going to take his wife from him. And he did.
David was a junior: his father was first violinist for the London Philharmonic, while his mother, Dorothy Dorman, was a cellist with the orchestra. David studied oboe with an eye toward following in his parents’ footsteps, but left the Royal Academy of Music after a brief stay and finished his education at The Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts.
Since 2003, he has played the role of Donald “Ducky” Mallard, MD, on the hit TV series NCIS. The writers of that series have made the character a highly intelligent and perceptive pathologist who talks to his “patients” and has a tendency to be loquacious. Recently, the character took a sabbatical from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service to teach at his alma mater back in Scotland. No doubt McCallum needed the break: at 84 years young and with 65 years’ experience in front of the camera, he’s bound to be a little tired.
One of my favorite lines from NCIS was in one of the early shows, when Special Agent Kate Todd (played by Sasha Alexander) asked her boss, Special Agent Jethro Gibbs (played by Mark Harmon) what Ducky looked like when he was younger. Without missing a beat, Gibbs replied, “Ilya Kuryakin.”