Childhood & Early Life
Robert Francis Vaughn was born on November 22, 1932, at Charity Hospital in New York City. His father, Gerald Walter Vaughn, was a radio actor and his mother, Marcella Frances (Gaudel), a stage actress.
When Robert was still a baby, his parents divorced and he went to Minneapolis to live with his grandparents as his mother was constantly traveling for her stage performances. Attending North High School, he proved adept in studies and athletics and also showed a keen interest in acting.
He won a scholarship to the University of Minnesota, where he studied journalism. However, after just a year, he dropped out and moved to Los Angeles to join his mother and enrolled at the Los Angeles City College. Thereafter, he took a transfer to the Los Angeles State College of Applied Arts and Sciences from where he graduated in 1956 with a master’s degree in theater.
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On November 21, 1955, Robert Vaughn appeared on the ‘Black Friday’ episode of ‘Medic’, an NBC medical drama television series; this was his debut in a career that would span more than 200 episodic roles on TV.
In 1956, he made his first appearance on the big screen in Cecil B. DeMille epic, ‘The Ten Commandments’ though as an uncredited extra. ‘Western Hell's Crossroads’, released the next year, was his first credited film.
Acting in a play, ‘End as a Man’ by Calder Willingham, he managed to impress Burt Lancaster who signed him for his own film production company. However, his acting career was disrupted as he was drafted by the US Army.
Vaughn returned to acting at the age of 27 in ‘The Twisted Road’ episode of ‘Frontier Doctor’, an ‘ABC’ syndicated western series.
He impressed both the critics and the public with his performance as ‘Chester A. "Chet" Gwynn’ in ‘The Young Philadelphians’, a 1959 ‘Warner Bros.’ drama film starring Paul Newman and Barbara Rush. He was nominated for the ‘Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor’ as well as the ‘Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture’.
In 1960, he appeared in ‘The Magnificent Seven’, an adaptation of ‘Seven Samurai’, the 1954 Akira Kurosawa epic. He reprised the role in 1980 in ‘Battle Beyond the Stars’.
Vaughn appeared as a guest star in ‘Follow the Sun’ with Gary Lockwood in the ABC Television’s drama-adventure series and ‘The Dick Van Dyke Show’ episode ‘It's A Shame She Married Me’, in 1963.
As ‘Captain Raymond Rambridge’, Vaughn acted in ‘The Lieutenant’ alongside Gary Lockwood in 1963-64. 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 supposed to be called ‘Solo’ but was renamed ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’.
‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ proved to be a huge success and made Robert Vaughn a household name not only in America but also in many countries behind the Iron Curtain. Vaughn played the role of ‘Solo’ from 1964 to 1968 with David McCallum playing the character of ‘Illya Kuryakin’, his fellow agent.
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In 1966, Vaughn appeared in the premiere show of ‘The Dating Game’ as a bachelor and ended up being selected for the date in London.
In 1968, Vaughn starred alongside Steve McQueen and Jacqueline Bisset in ‘Bullitt’, a Peter Yates thriller for which, he received a nomination for a ‘BAFTA Award for Best Supporting Actor’.
From 1972-74, he starred in ‘The Protectors’, an action thriller ‘British TV’ series and then went on to play the character of Harry S. Truman in ‘The Man from Independence’ and the very successful disaster movie. ‘The Towering Inferno’.
During the mid-70s, Vaughn appeared in numerous TV miniseries; NBC’s acclaimed ‘Captains and the Kings’ (1976), ABC’s ‘Washington: Behind Closed Doors’ (1977) that earned him a ‘Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Continuing Performance by a Supporting Actor in a Drama Series’. He also acted in two episodes of ‘Columbo’, a detective series in 1975 and 1976.
During 1978-79, he acted in ‘Centennial’, a TV miniseries and portrayed presidents, Truman, Roosevelt, and Wilson in ‘Backstairs at the White House’, another miniseries in 1979 for which, he was again nominated for the ‘Emmy Award’.
In the 1982 ‘HBO’ telefilm ‘FDR: That Man in the White House’, he portrayed Franklin Roosevelt and in the same year, he appeared in ABC’s ‘Inside the Third Reich’ and CBS’ ‘The Blue and the Gray’.
In 1983, he acted in ‘Superman III’ as Ross Webster, the villainous millionaire. In 1983-84, he replaced Patrick O'Neal to play the part of industrialist ‘Harlan Adams’ in ‘Emerald Point N.A.S.’.
In the mid-80s, he made a number of cameo appearances as an audience member on ‘Late Night with Conan O'Brien’. He starred in the final season (1986-87) of ‘A-Team’ along with George Peppard, a good friend.
In 1998-2000, he revisited ‘The Magnificent Seven’ in a syndicated TV series playing the role of ‘Judge Oren Travis’. He also appeared in a number of episodes of the popular ‘Law and Order’ franchise playing three different characters.
The year 2004 was especially good for Vaughn; he co-starred in the ‘BBC One’ drama series ‘Hustle’ that also showed in America on the ‘AMC’ cable network.
In 2007, Vaughn appeared as himself in a ‘BBC Radio 4’ play about the making of the film ‘The Bridge at Remagen’ in Prague during the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.
From January to February 2012, Vaughn appeared as ‘Milton’ in the very successful British soap opera ‘Coronation Street’.
Personal Life & Legacy
Right from his college days, Vaughn was involved in Democratic politics, organizing events and rallies and networking with leading Democrats. A close friend of Robert F. Kennedy, he was once considered as a challenger to Ronald Reagan for the California governorship, however, Vaughn negated it.
He met his wife, Linda Staab, an actress while shooting ‘The Protectors’ episode ‘It Could Be Practically Anywhere on the Island’ in 1973. Vaughn was not only the lead alongside Linda but also the director of the episode. They got married on June 29, 1974 and adopted two children; Cassidy (born 1976) and Caitlin (born 1981).
Always inclined to academics, Vaughn received a Ph.D. in communications in 1970 from the University of Southern California. His dissertation on Hollywood blacklisting during ‘Red Scare’ era under president McCarthy was published as ‘Only Victims: A Study of Show Business Blacklisting’ in 1972.
Robert Vaughn died of acute leukemia on November 11, 2016, at the age of 83. His ashes are buried behind his home in Ridgefield, CT.