top of page
  • Writer's pictureGeorge Seminara

David McCallum Sept. 19, 1933 – Sept. 25, 2023

I took the above photo in his apartment in New York City.

David McCallum was a gentleman and a scholar. He was a working actor and quite proud of it. Most of us knew him from the television series The Man From U.N.C.L.E. He played the coolest Russian double agent, Illya Kuryakin. According to the T.V. historians, he was meant to be a minor character with just two lines. Producers could tell that McCallum and Robert Vaughn had chemistry with the role, earning him two Emmy Award nominations and a Golden Globe nod. Also, no one rocked a turtleneck like David. 

David McCallum became an international sex symbol. I'm not kidding. He was a superstar, far outshining his co-star, Robert Vaughn. I'll tell you how cool he was. In 4th grade, I insisted on always wearing turtlenecks. With my floppy blond hair (yes, I had hair once!) I imagined I was as cool as him. And when it was too hot, I wore a dickie! What the hell is a dickie? It's an article of clothing that is a turtleneck without the shirt. Running through the playground in a t-shirt with a turtleneck dickie underneath no wonder the other kids thought I was strange. I looked Dickies up and found that they were initially a fashion accessory for men that started towards the end of Queen Victoria's life. (The late Victorian era, if you like.) Men's clothes were getting dull, and a flashy dickie could spice things up. I do not see their use now. 

Born in Glasgow, Scotland, on Sept. 19, 1933, his dad was the first violinist, also called the Concert Master of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Scottish National Orchestra. (I got culture!) His dad envisioned David following in his footsteps and encouraged him to study at the Royal Academy of Music. Unfortunately, Shakespeare happened, and he was hooked on acting. King John was the play. It's a lesser work written in poetic verse. It would make an excellent story for a modern political thriller. But the hook was set. After studying at RADA or for the un-cultured Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in central London, he joined Actors' Equity in 1946, where he began working on the B.B.C. Radio and made his professional stage debut later that same year in a production of Whom the Gods Love, Die Young. He went on to perform many times in London's West End and on Broadway. 

David McCallum never let his love of music die. He released a trio of records that put his unique spin on some of the 1960s popular hits. Now that's a re-release I need.

He had versatility as an actor. He went down on the Titanic. He escaped from a Nazi Prisoner of War camp in The Great Escape. Sticklers will remind me that they get him at the train station. I say it was after he escaped! He played Judas, for chrissakes, in The Greatest Story Ever Told. That's where Jesus is Swedish, ably performed by the great Max Von Sydow. He also plays a cop in Night of the Lepus, for those who love a good mutant bunny. (That picture has Stuart Whitman, Janet Leigh, Rory Calhoun, and DeForest Kelley!)

For over 20 years, he played the enigmatic Dr. Donald 'Ducky' Mallard" on the hit television show N.C.I.S. McCallum was so dedicated to researching his role that he became a forensics expert. He was a featured guest at medical examiner conventions (Imagine the hijinks!) and held a joint lecture with Cmdr. Craig Mallak, the armed services chief medical examiner. They spoke at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, comparing the Armed Forces Medical Examiner staff's real-life work with the fictional naval investigators appearing on his show N.C.I.S.  

David could conduct a symphony orchestra and perform an autopsy. I know what you are thinking: Could McCallum do both simultaneously? Probably, he was that kind of guy. He loved science and the arts. He could school you about politics and the history of the English-speaking world, theater, and the craft of acting. We differed politically, but he never made me feel that I was wrong and was always patient. (Alright, already I'm a hard lib.) David thrived on the conversation. Also, sorbet. The man loved his sorbet.

One of my fondest memories is sitting in his kitchen in Manhattan and having him drag out multiple sorbet tubs and sample them, but only after a few seconds in the microwave for optimal tasting. 

"Isn't this one delicious!"

After his manager, Abe Hoch, introduced us, we worked on a screenplay about a family of former circus performers running a shady fortune-telling business. I became an expert in all the ways mediums can bilk the public. "I can see your future speak to your loved ones from beyond the grave." Some miscommunication ended the collaboration, but we hoped to eventually pitch it to director Peter Chelsom, whom David was very keen on. 

Note#1: Peter Chelsom directed David in  Hear My Song. He also directed Funny Bones, probably Jerry Lewis' last outstanding performance. For you millennials, he also directed the Hannah Montana Movie.

David was happily married to Katherine McCallum for 54 years. (It was his second marriage after Jill Ireland.) He had four kids, at least two professional musicians, and a whopping eight grandkids. 

David McCallum shuffled off this mortal coil at New York Presbyterian Hospital/ Cornell Medical Center, surrounded by his family. He had turned 90 on Sept. 19, about a week ago. The McCallum family asks that instead of flowers or condolence cards, you use that money and donate to the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation at

131 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page