My Year in L.A. (Day One & Day Last)

The GuesthouseSome years back I spent a year in Los Angeles in the Writers Film Project workshop sponsored by Chesterfield Films and Amblin Entertainment. I thoroughly enjoyed the year, and found out a number of things about myself including that I have terrible Movie Star Antennae:

“Did you see? That was Dennis Franz!”

“Huh? No, where?”

“He just walked past us, doofus.”

The first day I arrived, Judy and Gar Reeves-Stevens (the nicest people in the known universe) picked me up at the airport and took me to North Hollywood, where I was renting a guest house. It was a guest house that had started out life as a garage, but it was a very nice guest house with a pool and everything LA.

I met my landlady, a charming actress of a certain age, and she showed me around my new place, though first she told me I should have my eyes done.

As she was demonstrating the little house’s amenities and foibles, she opened the vertical blinds and fiddled with them and said, “Oh, that Bobby, he’s so unmechanical, he stays here whenever he has a project in LA, and last time he broke the blinds.”

As we chatted, I realized who she was talking about.

“You’re talking about Robert Vaughn.”

“Yes, of course.”

“The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”

“Yes, of course.”

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. premiered in the mid-1960s, when I was about fifteen.

Mulholland DriveI was a huge fan of the show. I blush to admit Illya Kuryakin was a feature of my teenage fantasies. I wrote a teleplay for the show. (Which was rejected unread. All unsolicited teleplays are rejected unread, not just those by fifteen-year-olds.) A couple of years later when I was hanging out with some LA SF fans, I was the camera car driver on some twisty little road off Mulholland Drive, for the T.H.R.U.S.H. training film that David McDaniel and his friendly neighborhood stunt men were making.

Which to this day I’ve never seen; I don’t even know if it was ever finished. Also to this day I watch NCIS, which can be a remarkably silly show, because McCallum is on it (and, OK, the Goth geek); like all other fans of a certain age I fell about laughing when Kate asked Jethro the question “What did Ducky look like when he was younger?” and he said, “Hmmm…. Illya Kuryakin.”

“Robert Vaughn stays in this house.”

“Yes, that’s what I said,” said my landlady. “Bobby and I are old friends.”

“OK… Um… So. If he needs a place to crash while I’m still renting the place, he’s welcome to sleep on my couch… As long as he brings David McCallum along with him.”

A year later, as I was packing up to come back home, Robert Vaughn did come to town for a project. He had to sleep in a hotel, or possibly on my landlady’s couch (since he didn’t bring David McCallum along with him), till I moved out the next day, my last day in L.A.

I was sitting at the desk (which had been owned by Jacques Cousteau, a culture hero of mine and another of my landlady’s old friends) talking on the phone with my friend Joe, who is Mr. Popular Culture.

I looked out the window.

“Joe,” I said, “you’re not going to believe this.”

“What?”

“The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is in my driveway, putting out the garbage.”

— Vonda


You can find The Moon and the Sun at Book View Cafe, where Chapter 11 is featured today. The Basement Full of Books section of my website has new signed hardcovers at a Book View Cafe celebration price.

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My Year in L.A. (Day One & Day Last) — 10 Comments

  1. I’d have let Robert Vaughn sleep on my couch even without David McCallum. But then, I had a huge crush on Robert Vaughn in the “Man From U.N.C.L.E.” days. It was my sister who had the crush on David McCallum.

    BTW, did either of you — or other readers here — see that short-lived TV series “VR.5”? It ran about 12 years ago, I think, and featured a young woman who could insert herself into virtual reality. David McCallum was on that, too, and still adorable.

    I don’t even remember how I stumbled on the show — though I might have watched in the first place because of David McCallum — but I thought it was great SF, though perhaps more science fantasy than real SF. It was unclear what was actually real — as I think about it now, it was something of a precursor to “Lost” in the sense that it was complex, things were unexplained, and it took advantage of the serial format of TV to tell an ongoing story. If they launched it today it might do better, because more people like being tossed into a complicated story like that now.

    The main thing I remember — besides David McCallum — was that the star had a dream job for an actress. In real life on the show, she worked as a telephone company “lineman” or something like that, was something of a computer geek, was pretty shy, and dressed in sloppy clothes. In virtual reality, she got to play a huge variety of different selves based on her basic character, so she might be a femme fatale or a little girl or any number of things. Alas, I can’t remember much besides a few images, the name of the show and David McCallum, but I wish it were available on DVD. I’d like to see if it is as good as I remember, or if it was only that I was starved for any kind of TV that offered complexity.

  2. The Man From U.N.C.L.E episodes are all out on general issue DVD now (and Netflixable, which is a hell of a more affordable idea than buying the whole thing), and they have an awful lot of extras, only some of which I’ve made my way through so far. There are something like at least six whole disks of extras, which include home movies filmed by McCallum on the set, and narrated by him, with a number of fun stories, interviews with both stars done only a couple of years ago about what their experiences filming U.N.C.L.E. was like, and so on.

    So I’d recommend those to any hardcover fan; and you can Netflix just those individual disks, if you don’t want to buy all the episodes. (I was startled to be reminded how they used the same narrative opening for the first half-dozen episodes, but, of course, it wasn’t so repetitive when they were a week apart.)

    “…(and, OK, the Goth geek); like all other fans of a certain age I fell about laughing when Kate asked Jethro the question ‘What did Ducky look like when he was younger?’ and he said, ‘Hmmm…. Illya Kuryakin.'”

    Me, too!

  3. Sue, alas, Man from UNCLE doesn’t hold up very well. It’s very much a product of its time. I caught a couple of episodes on one of the old-tv-show cable channels, and decided that it, like Star Trek, is better in memory.

    Nancy, where would the top bananas be if everybody liked the second bananas?

    I didn’t see VR5 — there are a bunch of clips of it on YouTube and a number of sites wishing for DVDs of the series.

    Did you ever see Sapphire & Steel? It’s a completely incoherent British sf/spy series with a substantial following. David McCallum played Steel. I tried to watch it and found myself more and more annoyed by it, starting off with the credits which ramble incomprehensibly about elements without apparently noticing that neither sapphire nor steel is in fact an element. (It’s true, as one of the other members of the screenwriting workshop pointed out, most definitely not meaning it as a compliment, that I have a rather literal mind.)

    Gary (Hi) — I didn’t know about the extras on the Man from UNCLE dvd. Definitely sounds worth looking up. Watching the show again, not so much. The followup tv movie was kind of disappointing, as well.

    Some years ago there was a plan to have David McDaniel’s last Man from UNCLE novel, The Final Affair, which until I just looked it up I thought had never happened. A couple of places claimed it was published in a limited edition. I wonder if it ever was, or if anybody who paid for a copy 30 years ago (including me) ever got one? I did read the manuscript years and years ago. It was supposed to be incredibly spicy.

    I guess in 1975 having Solo and Kuryakin walk through a gay bar holding hands qualified as spicy.

    — Vonda

  4. I love this story.

    In the heyday of the Magic card game, one of my friends, an artist for the game, was mowing the lawn when a small group of young kids showed up to watch.

    I don’t think he was prepared for that!

  5. What a great story, Vonda!

    Kat was reading it over my shoulder. Her celebrity brag? “Well, when I was living that tiny room in the crappiest house in the block in LA, Joss Whedon’s cat always chose my car to sleep on, even though there were much classier cars parked in the neighborhood.”

    Like you, I grew up with The Man From U.N.C.L.E. as my first ‘oh, I have to see that show no matter what!’ And yes, it was all about David McCallum!

  6. Heya Megan,

    Joss Whedon’s cat obviously knows class when she sees it. (I may have said this before in this venue but I think Joss Whedon is a genius; apparently so is his cat.)

    Someone pointed out that CNN has an article about NCIS focusing on David McCallum.

    They misspelled Illya, or, rather, they spelled it correctly but not the way it was spelled on the show; I always thought Ilya was the more proper transliteration and so did everybody in my Russian class. I don’t think anybody involved in the production knew anything about Russian names because the more likely patronymic would also be Nikolaievich.

    Pedants R Us.

    Vonda