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(1932– ). American actor.

Acted in films: The Ten Commandments (uncredited) (Cecil B. De Mille 1956); Teenage Caveman (Roger CORMAN 1958); The Venetian Affair (Jerry Thorpe 1966); The Mind of Mr. Soames (Alan Cooke 1970); Demon Seed (voice; uncredited) (Donald Cammell 1977); Starship Invasions (Ed Hunt 1977); The Lucifer Complex (David L. Hewitt 1978); Battle beyond the Stars (Jimmy T. Murakami 1980); Virus (Kinji Fukasaku 1980); Hangar 18 (James L. Conway 1980); Superman III (Richard LESTER 1983); C.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud (David Irving 1989); Transylvania Twist (Jim WYNORSKI 1989); That's Adequate (Harry Horwitz 1989); Buried Alive (Gerard Kikoine 1990); Witch Academy (Fred Olen RAY 1993); Joe's Apartment (John Payson 1996); Menno's Mind (Jon Kroll 1996); Vulcan (Cino H. Santiago 1997).

Acted in television: "Dry Run" (1959), episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents; "The Ordeal of Dr. Cordell" (1961), episode of Thriller; The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (tv series) (1964-68); "The Mother Muffin Affair" (1966), episode of The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.; "The Story of Daniel and the Lion" (1978), episode of The Greatest Heroes of the Bible; Dr. Franken (tv movie) (Marvin J. Chomsky and Jeff Lieberman 1980); Fantasies (tv movie) (William Wiard 1982); The Return of the Man from U.N.C.L.E.: The Fifteen Years Later Affair (tv movie) (Ray Austin 1983); "Face to Face" (1984), episode of The Hitchhiker; "The Fruit at the Bottom of the Bowl" (1988), episode of Ray Bradbury Theater; "Dragonswing" (1993), "Dragonswing II" (1994), episodes of Kung Fu: The Legend Continues; W.S.H. (tv movie) (Bill Eagles 1994); Escape to Witch Mountain (tv movie) (Peter Rader 1995); The Making of "Joe's Apartment" (tv documentary; host) (1996); Virtual Obsession (tv movie) (Mick Garris 1998).

As a scholar who earned a Ph.D. in Communications from the University of Southern California and published a respected book on the Hollywood blacklist, Only Victims: A Study of Show Business Blacklisting (1972), Robert Vaughn should have abandoned his career as a film actor to become a film critic. While he would have earned far less money, the results might have far more interesting, both for Dr. Vaughn and for the world.

From the onset, Vaughn has always seemed more intelligent than his material. In the 1950s, amidst a blur of forgettable television westerns and teen exploitation films, his standout performance came in Roger CORMAN's Teenage Cavemen, where he was visibly uncomfortable in his caveman outfit but unusually involved in its unconventional plot. However, he garnered more attention for his role as a gunman in The Magnificent Seven (1960), which he later reprised in its dull science-fictional remake, Battle beyond the Stars. Soon, he became famous as television's answer to James Bond in The Man from U.N.C.L.E., but he projected a certain air of arrogance in the series that alienated many young fans, like me and my sister, who endured all the adventures focused on Vaughn while eagerly awaiting the one episode per season that starred sidekick David MCCALLUM, perhaps not quite as bright but clearly cooler than Vaughn. With our youthful sensibilities already attuned to the iconography of popular literature and film, we were undoubtedly disturbed by the fact that Vaughn's Napoleon Solo kept acting as if he were smarter than everybody else, which may have been true, but is simply not the way that action film heroes are supposed to act.

Instead, for actors who are smarter than everybody else and wish to appear that way, there is only one proper role, and that is villainy. Thus, after emerging from The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and the similar, but less gimmicky, series The Protectors (1972-74), a slightly older Vaughn inevitably segued into a second career playing unsympathetic authority figures. True, he would occasionally essay heroic parts—as in Starship Invasions, The Lucifer Complex, and a Man from U.N.C.L.E. reunion movie—but he seemed more natural while serving as the uncredited voice of the scheming computer in Demon Seed, as the corrupt politician striving to cover up what's in Hangar 18, as the evil tycoon seeking to rule the world in Superman III, and as the deranged general coping with zombies in C.H.U.D. II. When one surveys these performances, they all seem an incredible waste of the talents of a man who was, after all, now qualified to work as a college professor and scholar. But the film industry temptingly pays intelligent people millions of dollars to do stupid work, while academia pays intelligent people next to nothing to do intelligent work—one of the innumerable injustices in the world that the erudite Vaughn was no doubt prepared to discuss at length following his undemanding days on the set.

In fact, having delved into the seamier side of Hollywood while researching its infamous blacklist, and now obliged to make a living in some of its least noteworthy productions, Vaughn had surely grown genuinely displeased with Hollywood, leading him to happily participate in savage assaults on the industry like Blake Edwards's S.O.B. (1981) and the more surrealistic That's Adequate, featuring Vaughn's bemused take on the ultimate unsympathetic authority figure, Adolf Hitler. Both of these works function more as commentaries on films than as films themselves—perhaps the only sorts of projects that could really inspire Vaughn at this late stage in his career. His potential effectiveness as a critical observer of, rather than a participant in, films is demonstrated by the contrast between the inept Joe's Apartment, where Vaughn is entirely forgettable as the hero's stern father, and the engaging The Making of "Joe's Apartment", where host Vaughn's droll deprecatory comments on the proceedings make the half-hour documentary more entertaining than the film itself. To provide the world with more droll deprecatory comments about the absurd ways he has earned a living, perhaps Vaughn should write another book, his autobiography—to be entitled Only Villains: A Study of Show Business Typecasting.

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