Remembering David McCallum, From His Earliest Days as a British Actor of ‘Rising Reputation’ Through 20 Years on ‘NCIS’
David McCallum, the respected Glasgow-born actor known for his roles in “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” “The Great Escape,” and his 20-year run on “NCIS” as quirky pathologist Dr. Donald “Ducky” Mallard, passed away on September 25 at the age of 90. McCallum’s career spanned over six decades, and he made a name for himself in both British and American film, television, and stage productions.
In 1957, when McCallum was just starting his career, he made frequent appearances in Variety. The March 20 edition of the weekly publication listed him in the cast of the British “crime meller” (crime melodrama) “The Secret Place,” marking his first mention in the industry magazine. From then on, McCallum became a regular presence in the pages of Variety, appearing in movies, TV shows, and stage productions in both the United States and the United Kingdom.
Aside from his professional successes, 1957 was also a year of personal milestones for McCallum. He married actor Jill Ireland in London, and this joyous event was commemorated with a wedding announcement in the May 22 edition of weekly Variety. However, scandal followed when Ireland began an affair with McCallum’s co-star from “The Great Escape,” Charles Bronson. Despite the affair, McCallum and Ireland remained married until her death from breast cancer in 1990.
One of McCallum’s breakthrough roles came in 1963 when he landed a supporting role in the Steve McQueen hit “The Great Escape.” His star continued to rise, and he eventually relocated to Hollywood, where he co-starred with Robert Vaughn in the spy-fi comedy series “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” The show, produced by MGM Television and inspired by the success of the James Bond film franchise, ran for four seasons. McCallum’s performance earned him back-to-back Emmy nominations in 1965 and 1966, and the series won the Golden Globe Award for Most Popular TV Show in 1966.
During his hiatus from “The Man From U.N.C.L.E,” MGM kept McCallum busy with film projects. In 1967, he starred in the globe-trotting movie comedy “Three Bites of the Apple” alongside Harvey Korman, Sylvia Koscina, and Tammy Grimes. MGM promoted the film with an ad in the February 8, 1967 edition of weekly Variety, highlighting McCallum’s box office appeal. Despite his success in film and television, McCallum never strayed too far from the stage. In 1968, he took on the lead role in the Broadway adaptation of the hit London musical “The Flip Side.”
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, McCallum continued to juggle various film, television, and stage projects. Notably, he co-starred with Robert Wagner in the British drama series “Colditz” in the early 1970s, which turned out to be a foreshadowing of their future collaboration on “NCIS.” In a nostalgic move, CBS reunited McCallum and Vaughn for a TV movie titled “The Return of the Man From U.N.C.L.E.” 15 years after the original series ended. The reunion movie received positive reviews, and our critic wrote in the April 7, 1983 edition of Variety that Vaughn and McCallum resumed their spy-snooping roles as if they had never left.
Like any actor with a long career, McCallum also faced challenges and less high-profile roles in the 1990s. He took on indie and Euro-financed movies during this period. However, his career received a revitalization in 2003 when he landed the role of Dr. Donald “Ducky” Mallard on “NCIS.” The show, originally titled “Navy NCIS,” premiered on September 22, 2003, and our review praised McCallum’s performance for adding “scientific insight and personality quirks aplenty” to the ensemble cast.
“NCIS” became a massive success, and McCallum’s character, Ducky, quickly became a fan favorite. The show reached its 200th episode milestone in 2012, an achievement that is rare in the television industry. However, McCallum’s presence on the show will be sorely missed, as he brought an authoritative and avuncular charm to the role. With McCallum’s passing, “NCIS” enters its 21st season, though its premiere date was delayed due to the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes.
Throughout his illustrious career, David McCallum left a lasting impact on the entertainment industry. From his early days in British dramas to his iconic roles in “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” “The Great Escape,” and “NCIS,” McCallum remained a dedicated and versatile actor. He continued to work and entertain audiences until the end, leaving behind a legacy of excellence. Rest in peace, Ducky.
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