It was like a scene out of the classic 1964-'68 NBC spy series “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.”
David McCallum, who played the sexy, suave Russian spy Illya Kuryakin, was in New York for a personal appearance at Macy’s during the height of the series’ popularity. He was slated to autograph copies of one of his popular albums in which he conducted instrumental versions of new and old songs.
But the New York police chief feared for his safety because of the vast number of female fans who showed up, forcing Macy’s to close off Herald Square in front of the department store.
“They took me up to the executive offices at the top of Macy’s and said, ‘You are not going down there,’ ” McCallum recalled. “It’s much too dangerous, and we have got to get you out of here.”
Police took him to a freight elevator. A police car was inside.
“I got in the car, and we went all the way down to the ground floor and drove out,” McCallum said. “It was a fabulous moment that was so ‘U.N.C.L.E’ that no one ever saw except me.”
The actor later learned his ardent female fans were not happy when they got the news that their idol was gone.
“When the kids heard I wasn’t going to be there, they started to tear up the display cases and they did a considerable amount of damage,” McCallum said. “It was insane.”
McCallum is one month shy of his 82nd birthday and looks fabulous. (“I do my Pilates,” he said, smiling.) Next month he and his wife, Katherine, a former model, will be celebrating their 48th wedding anniversary.
“We have eight grandchildren,” he said, beaming with pride. “We have six boys in New York and two girls here. I keep the boys and the girls on different coasts so I can keep them straight.”
Early on a recent Friday morning, McCallum sat at the back table of a cafe in Santa Monica where he perused the uncorrected bound proof of his first novel, the crime thriller “Once a Crooked Man,” which will be published in January.
Chatting for an hour, McCallum embodied an old-school gentleman who seemed pleased and bemused that the person sitting across from him had been devoted to “The Man From U.N.CL.E.” all those years ago.
It was a rare day off from the CBS hit series “NCIS,” in which he plays chief medical examiner Dr. Donald “Ducky” Mallard.
“We are shooting the 13th season,” he said. “The script we are doing right now is 285. I just sit back now and wait until the writers come up with stories because they have done such a superb job all of these years.”
He recently saw the new film version of “The Man From U.N.C.L E.,” which opened Friday to mixed reviews and a mediocre box office estimated at $13.5 million in the U.S. and Canada. Directed by Guy Ritchie, the film stars Armie Hammer as Illya, Henry Cavill as agent Napoleon Solo, who was played by Robert Vaughn in the series, and Hugh Grant as their boss-in-waiting Alexander Waverly, portrayed by Leo G. Carroll on the TV show.
“Guy Ritchie and [co-screenwriter] Lionel Wigram have done a great script that in no way encroaches onanything Leo, Robert and I did,” he said. “In a way, it’s a tribute to what we did, which was very special. They have used a little bit of the camp, but they haven’t overdone it. Seventy to 80% of the people in the United States who go to this movie never saw or ever heard of the series.”
In the series, Kuryakin remained a man of mystery. McCallum said the only thing he remembered from the pilot script was that Kuryakin was Russian and had a collection of jazz records under his bed.
“If you go through the entire series, there is nothing anywhere about Illya,” he said. “Everybody had their own idea of who he was and where he came from, which gave them these wonderful images.”
Hammer’s Kuryakin is far more brutal and desperately needs some anger management counseling. “He’s psychotic,” said McCallum, who enjoyed the chemistry between Hammer and Cavill.
McCallum wasn’t asked to be part of the film, and that was fine with him.
“It becomes a silly distraction,” he said. “Why break up what they have created by including foreign elements just for the sake of a gag?”
He still occasionally watches episodes of “The Man From U.N.C.L.E, " which airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on MeTV.
“I have it recording,” McCallum said. The first episode he watched had his first wife, Jill Ireland. A different episode had Kurt Russell “looking 14 years old.”
“The next one had Leonard Nimoy, Bill Shatner and Werner Klemperer,” McCallum said. “Those three are in one episode. They all look so young. “
McCallum paused, noting rather wistfully: “We all do.”