While preparing a Cowboys & Indians magazine tribute to Robert Vaughn, who passed away Friday at age 83, I was reminded of two remarks he made during interviews I did with him decades ago. And I smiled at the memories because both illustrated his trademark dry wit — and, just as important, his ready willingness to make himself the butt of his own joke.
The first time we chatted was in my hometown of New Orleans, which he visited while on a promotional tour for The Towering Inferno (1974). Naturally, I asked a fair share of fanboy questions about The Magnificent Seven (1960) and The Man from U.N.C.L.E (1964-68) — hey, I was only 22 at the time — which Vaughn graciously answered. But when the conversation turned back to the star-studded disaster movie he was in town to hype… Well, to be honest, the only thing I recall his saying in regard to Towering Inferno is his bemused observation that he and another ‘60s TV star, Richard Chamberlain, played characters who existed primarily to increase the body count.
“I wonder,” he mused aloud with a perfectly straight face, “just how upset audiences will be to see Dr. Kildare and Napoleon Solo falling out of a burning skyscraper?”
Years later, at a movie junket for Superman III (1983), Vaughn amiably agreed that the super-hero sequel wasn’t exactly the crowing artistic achievement of his career. (It’s worth noting that the movie rates only a fleeting mention in his wonderfully entertaining autobiography, A Fortunate Life.) But never mind: The paycheck was substantial. Indeed, Vaughn admitted that he took a very pragmatic approach to acting gigs, given his then-current status as a journeyman actor who relied on the name recognition that was his legacy from a once-trendy television series.
“My wife and I were renovating our home a while ago,” Vaughn said, “and I took one job mainly because we needed a new porch.
“Not a new Porsche, mind you” he added with a grin, “but a new porch.”
Must admit: I think of Vaughn’s self-deprecating disclosure every time I see a talented actor playing a supporting part — or even the lead — in a movie that is in no way worthy of his (or her) talent. Before I make any hasty judgments, I consider: Maybe he (or she) got a way-cool veranda out of the deal. Maybe even a condo.