To hear him tell it, Robert Vaughn has spent most of his acting career getting very well paid for being artistically frustrated. Born in Manhattan and raised in Minnesota, Vaughn went straight from college drama classes to his first film, the juvenile delinquent opus No Time to Be Young (1957). Ever on the search for "meaningful" roles, Vaughn signed to play a survivor of a nuclear apocalypse in what he assumed would be a serious, politically potent drama: the film was released as Teenage Caveman (1957). Though Oscar-nominated for his performance as a crippled, alcoholic war veteran in The Young Philadelphians (1959), Vaughn didn't rise to full stardom until 1964, where he was signed to play ultra-cool secret agent Napoleon Solo in the TV espionage series The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (1964-1968). He swore at that time that he'd never, ever subject himself to the rigors of another television series, but in 1972 he was back to the weekly grind in the British series The Protectors. In films, Vaughn has been most effective as an icy, corporate heavy, notably in Bullitt (1968) and Superman III (1982). On-stage, Vaughn has exhibited a special fondness for Shakespeare (Hamlet in particular); he was given an excellent opportunity to recite the Bard's prose on film when he played Casca in Julius Caesar (1970). A dyed-in-the-wool liberal activist, Vaughn worked on his Masters and Ph.D. in political science at L.A. City College during his U.N.C.L.E. years; his doctoral thesis was later expanded into the 1972 history of the HUAC, Only Victims. Vaughn later had several recurring roles on TV shows like The Nanny and Law & Order and the British series Hustle and Coronation Street. He died in 2016, just shy of his 84th birthday.
Biography by Hal Erickson
- First film appearance was as an uncredited extra in The Ten Commandments (1956).
- First major film role was in the 1957 western Hell's Crossroads.
- Most famous for playing Napoleon Solo in the 1960s TV series The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
- Even after achieving fame as an actor, he continued his education, earning a Ph.D. in Communications from the University of Southern California in 1970.
- Was involved for many years in political causes; a longtime Democrat, he campaigned for candidates such as John F. and Robert F. Kennedy.
- Was a member of the Vietnam War-era group Another Mother for Peace, as well as Dissenting Democrats.
- Received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1998.