Camden New Journal
Publications by New Journal Enterprises
  Home Archive Competition Jobs Tickets Accommodation Dating Contact us
The Review - BOOKS
Published: 19 February 2009
Robert Vaughn Robert Vaughn
Would you accept a fiver from this man?

The Man from U.n.c.le. Robert Vaughn talks to ­Gerald Isaaman about American politics and the strange sensation of being ‘recognised’ as a con man

HE is Albert Stroller, the sophisticated and gifted American grifter who helps con others out of millions in the popular TV series Hustle.
But, in reality, Hollywood star Robert Vaughn is just another victim of the banking crash.
“We’ve just been through the biggest con in history,” he admits with a sigh. “What has happened has been a catastrophe round the world. The only country that is solvent is China – and where they’re getting their money from I don’t know.
“And, yes, it has hurt me. I lost 10 per cent of our portfolio in one week. My wife deals with our finances and she usually sees things coming ahead of time. Not this time. But, thank God, we didn’t have any investments with Bernie Madoff.”
The con man Vaughn plays in Hustle – now seen in 55 countries – has changed the way people regard him. “A London taxi driver held up my £5 note to the sky and asked, ‘Is it a good one, guv?’” he reveals. “I used to get asked, ‘How are you doing, Napoleon Solo?’ Now they see me as a con man.”
While he is reluctant to reveal exactly how much 10 per cent of his lost loot is worth, Vaughn, famed at 76 for his roles in The Magnificent Seven and The Man From U.n.c.l.e., fits perfectly the iconic part of a rags-to-riches fantasy figure.
Such was his impact during the run of The Man From U.n.c.l.e. that he received 70,000 fan letters a month, among them front door and car keys plus directions from female admirers who invited him to come to bed. Nevertheless, he has a serious side and politics is a significant interest, ranging from his personal friendship with Bobby Kennedy to his belief that Barack Obama is not the man to haul America out of the recession.
No wonder he has called his remarkable, star-studded autobiography A Fortunate Life, one that includes his love of England over half his lifetime, considering himself an adopted son of Queen Elizabeth’s realm.
Indeed, the then Channel 4 boss Jeremy Isaacs invited him to London in 1970 to provide an American view on the general election that year, and it was in Hampstead that he studied the battle between Harold Wilson and Ted Heath.
“I remember Hampstead vividly,” he says. “It is such a liberal place. And there were so many actors about. I remember starting off my piece saying, ‘I am reading from left to left…’”
Now he is considering a new book about the Middle East. “It’s the most combustible place in the world – and there’s still a possibility it could result in a nuclear war,” he insists.
He doesn’t blame President Bush. In fact, he believes that, in 20 years’ time, both George Bush and Tony Blair will be treated much more kindly by history. He is convinced too that President Obama is hot air.
“I’m an independent – I vote for policy, not the man,” he explains. “Obama is all flash and very little action. It was his personal charm that won him the election, just as it did for Kennedy.”
Despite his interest in politics, Vaughn has no desire to become a Senator. “I am temperamentally unsuited for such a role,” he says. “I don’t like kissing babies and I don’t like dissembling, which is what you have to do.”
That’s all a long way for the boy brought up alone by his actress mother, Marcella, living in a one-bedroom apartment off Hollywood Boulevard while a theatre arts student at Los Angeles City College.
Acting was always his ambition, and he tells how his mother, who died from cancer when she was only 53, taught him Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy when he was six. He subsequently played the Shakespearian role three times in his career, once being compared favourably with Old Vic actor John Neville by a theatre critic.
You might also recognise a young Vaughn as a lion-clothed extra in Cecil B DeMille’s extravaganza The Ten Commandments, before his talents were appreciatively recognised when he appeared opposite Paul Newman in the 1959 film The Young Philadelphians.
That was the breakthrough which presented him with a part in The Magnificent Seven alongside Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen, the latter becoming a close friend.
It was a film in which he had just 16 lines – “There was no script and we only got the next day’s lines pushed under our doors the night before,” he says. “Most of us didn’t think it would be a success.”
Vaughn doesn’t rise to the bait when asked if any of the violent and sex-foaming films he has starred in have undermined social values, creating some of the teenage problems of today.
“Ninety-nine point nine per cent of my pictures were made for fun,” he says.
“The decadent world we live in long-preceded motion pictures and what you see on television today. I’ve never looked for a message in what I was doing.
“As Sam Goldwyn said: ‘If you want to send a message, call Western Union’.”

A Fortunate Life. By Robert Vaughn.
JR Books £18.99

Comment on this article.
(You must supply your full name and email address for your comment to be published)





» A-Z Book titles


Theatre Music
Arts & Events Attractions