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Robert Vaughn was an American actor best known for his portrayal as the suave spy Napoleon Solo in the 1960s television series The Man from U.N.C.L.E. A phenomenally prolific actor, he also garnered widespread renown for his roles as Harry Rule in the popular 1970s series ‘The Protectors,’ Morgan Wendell in the TV miniseries ‘Centennial,’ and ‘Albert Stroller,’ a card sharp in the British television drama series ‘Hustle’. In 1977, he received an Emmy for his work on “Washington Behind Closed Doors.” He also appeared in a number of successful films, including ‘The Magnificent Seven’, ‘The Bridge at Remagen’, ‘Bullitt’, ‘Superman III’, ‘The Delta Force’, ‘The Towering Inferno’, and ‘The Young Philadelphians’, for which he was nominated for an ‘Oscar’ for ‘Best Supporting Actor’. Maintaining an interest in politics, he vigorously opposed the Vietnam War from the late 1960s until the United States disengagement from the conflict in 1973. He was an associate of the Kennedys, especially Robert Kennedy, and a staunch supporter of liberal causes. He passed away at the age of 83 from acute leukemia.

Table of Contents

Youth and Early Life

Robert Francis Vaughn was born at Charity Hospital in New York City on November 22, 1932. His father was a radio actor, Gerald Walter Vaughn, and his mother was a stage actress, Marcella Frances (Gaudel). Robert’s parents divorced when he was a baby, and he moved to Minneapolis to live with his grandparents because his mother was continually on the road for her stage performances. At North High School, he excelled in academics and athletics and displayed a strong interest in acting.

He studied journalism at the University of Minnesota on a scholarship. However, after only one year he pulled out, moved to Los Angeles with his mother, and enrolled in Los Angeles City College. After that, he transferred to the Los Angeles State College of Applied Arts and Sciences, where he earned a master’s degree in theater in 1956.

Robert Vaughn’s Career

Robert Vaughn made his television debut on the ‘Black Friday’ episode of the NBC medical drama series ‘Medic’ on November 21, 1955; this was the beginning of a career that would encompass more than 200 episodic roles. In 1956, he made his first appearance on the big screen as an uncredited extra in the Cecil B. DeMille epic The Ten Commandments. “Western Hell’s Crossroads” was his debut film, released the following year.

As a result of his performance in Calder Willingham’s “End as a Man,” Burt Lancaster signed him to his own film production company. However, his acting career was interrupted by his enlistment in the United States Army.
Vaughn returned to acting at age 27 in the ABC-syndicated western series ‘Frontier Doctor episode ‘The Twisted Road’.

His performance as Chester A. “Chet” Gwynn in ‘The Young Philadelphians,’ a 1959 Warner Bros. drama film starring Paul Newman and Barbara Rush, wowed both critics and audiences. He was nominated for both the Academy Award and the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture.

In 1960, he appeared in “The Magnificent Seven,” an adaptation of the 1954 Akira Kurosawa epic “Seven Samurai.” He reprised the role in ‘Battle Beyond the Stars in 1980. Vaughn appeared as a guest star in the 1963 episodes of ‘Follow the Sun’ and ‘The Dick Van Dyke Show’ titled ‘It’s A Shame She Married Me’, both starring Gary Lockwood and in the 1963-64 episodes of ‘The Lieutenant’ as ‘Captain Raymond Rambridge’, also starring Lockwood.

Dissatisfied with the superficial character of the role, when he asked his part to be expanded, he was offered the role of the title character of ‘Napoleon Solo’, in what was originally intended to be called ‘Solo’ but was renamed ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’.

The success of ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ made Robert Vaughn a ubiquitous name not only in the United States but also in many countries behind the Iron Curtain. David McCallum portrayed the character of Ilya Kuryakin, Vaughn’s colleague agent, from 1964 to 1968.

In 1966, Vaughn appeared as a bachelor on the premiere episode of ‘The Dating Game’ and was ultimately chosen for a date in London. In 1968, Vaughn starred alongside Steve McQueen and Jacqueline Bisset in “Bullitt,” a Peter Yates thriller for which he was nominated for a “BAFTA Award for Best Supporting Actor.”

From 1972 to 1974, he starred in the British action-thriller series ‘The Protectors. He later portrayed Harry S. Truman in ‘The Man from Independence’ and ‘The Towering Inferno,’ a highly successful disaster film. During the mid-1970s, Vaughn appeared in a number of television miniseries, including NBC’s acclaimed ‘Captains and the Kings (1976) and ABC’s ‘Washington: Behind Closed Doors’ (1977), for which he was awarded the ‘Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Continuing Performance by a Supporting Actor in a Drama Series’.

In 1975 and 1976, he also appeared in two episodes of the detective series ‘Columbo’. During 1978-79, he acted in the miniseries ‘Centennial’ and, in 1979, he portrayed Presidents Truman, Roosevelt, and Wilson in ‘Backstairs at the White House’, for which he was nominated for an ‘Emmy Award’. In the 1982 HBO telefilm FDR: That Man in the White House, he portrayed Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In the same year, he also appeared on ABC’s ‘Inside the Third Reich’ and CBS’s ‘The Blue and the Gray’.

In 1983, he portrayed the evil tycoon Ross Webster in “Superman III.” In 1983-1984, he supplanted Patrick O’Neal in ‘Emerald Point N.A.S.’ as the industrialist ‘Harlan Adams. In the mid-1980s, he made several cameo appearances on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” as an audience member. He starred in the final season (1986-87) of ‘A-Team’ alongside his close companion George Peppard.

In 1998-2000, he reprised the role of ‘Judge Oren Travis’ in a syndicated television series based on ‘The Magnificent Seven’. He also portrayed three distinct characters in a number of episodes of the popular ‘Law and Order franchise.

2004 was an exceptional year for Vaughn, as he co-starred in the ‘BBC One and ‘AMC drama series ‘Hustle’.

In 2007, Vaughn portrayed himself in a ‘BBC Radio 4’ drama about the filming of ‘The Bridge at Remagen’ in Prague during the 1968 Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia. From January to February of 2012, Vaughn portrayed “Milton” on the wildly popular British serial opera “Coronation Street.”

Between September 22, 1964, and January 1, 1968, ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’, a ‘Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Television’ spy-fiction series, had a very successful run. Robert Vaughn became a ubiquitous name and was nominated for four ‘Golden Globe awards.

Personal History and Legacy

Vaughn became involved in Democratic politics during his college years, coordinating events and rallies and networking with prominent Democrats. As a close friend of Robert F. Kennedy, he was once contemplated as a challenger to Ronald Reagan for the governorship of California, but Vaughn dismissed the notion.

In 1973, he met his wife, actress Linda Staab, while filming “The Protectors” episode “It Could Be Practically Anywhere on the Island.” In addition to co-starring alongside Linda, Vaughn also served as the episode’s director. They adopted two children: Cassidy (born 1976) and Caitlin (born 1981). They wed on June 29, 1974.

Always interested in academia, Vaughn earned a doctorate in communications from the University of Southern California in 1970. In 1972, he published ‘Only Victims: A Study of Show Business Blacklisting,’ his dissertation on Hollywood blacklisting during the ‘Red Scare’ era under President McCarthy. Robert Vaughn passed away on November 11, 2016, at the age of 83, due to acute leukemia. His ashes are interred behind his Ridgefield, Connecticut, residence.

Estimated Net Worth

At the time of his demise, American actor Robert Vaughn had a net worth of $5 million. On November 11, 2016, Vaughn passed away at the age of 83. Robert Vaughn is best known for his role as secret agent Napoleon Solo in the 1960s television espionage drama “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”