Ilya Kuryakin: Precursor to Lucas North? Maybe . . .


Robert Vaughan as Napoleon Solo and David McCallum as Ilya Kuryakin.

The soulful stare of Ilya. This is the poster my oldest sister kept on her bedroom wall. My visiting grandmother refused to undress in front of it.

A screencap of David McCallum in the opening credits of The Man from UNCLE.

Blame this post on kathryngaul, who mentioned posters of hot fellows in a recent blog comment, which led me to a memory of my oldest sister’s crush on a 60’s TV star (who currently appears on NCIS). Back in the day, he was the young co-star on the Cold War spy series The Man from U.N.C.L.E. I looked up information on Wikipedia about this star and hey, presto! A post was brewing in my head. Because I saw certain similarities between this blonde spy of 40 years ago and a dark-haired spy of more recent vintage–not a physical resemblance, but the personality and character. I share some details of the enigmatic Ilya and a few photos from Google images for your consideration . . .

Scots actor David McCallum played the tantalizingly mysterious,introverted spy Ilya Kuryakin, who was assumed to be Russian, possibly married (he wore a wedding ring in some episodes)–but no one was ever quite sure about this riddle of a man. Which only made him more fascinating, of course.

Ilya was initially supposed to be a minor, peripheral character. It was after an acute reaction to penicillin landed him in the hospital for a few days during early filming that McCallum received the opportunity to flesh out Kuryakin.

His approach was to build a character based on ambiguity and enigma, with more hidden about his character and personality than was revealed. McCallum commented, “No one knows what Ilya Kuryakin does when he goes home at night.”
Kuryakin is a polymath who is self-contained, taciturn, intellectual, pragmatic, athletic and capable of showing immense charm with a flair for the dramatic which aids him in numerous undercover operations. He is also quite ruthless when necessary.

There are rare occasions that indicate a more passionate and sensitive nature lies beneath the cool exterior. Oh, he also looks really good in black turtlenecks.

So, I wonder–has Richard ever seen re-runs of this old spy series? Did the Spooks writers?

It’s fun to speculate.

Oh, and there was an Ilya Kuryakin action figure (which looked suspiciously like G.I. Joe with yellow hair). We have Little Guy–but wouldn’t it be fun to have a Lucas action figure, completely with washable tattoos we could have fun applying . . . ;)=

About fedoralady

I'm an LA native--Lower Alabama, that is. My husband of more than 30 years and I live here on a portion of my family's former farm with two gorgeous calicos and a handsome GSD mix. My background is art education, and over the years I've been a teacher, department store photographer, sales associate and a journalist. My husband, his business partner and I have Pecan Ridge Productions, a video production company, for which I shoot & edit video and stills and manage marketing. I also still write part-time for the local paper. I love movies, music, art, photography and books, and my tastes in all of them are eclectic.

21 responses »

  1. LOL….I didn’t get to see this show as we didn’t have a television set at home until I bought one in 1968! We (my brother and I and occasionally, Mum) did, however, go to a friend’s house, or sometimes walk around to my older sister’s (she lived a few streets away) if we wanted to see something special. Of course, I used to read all about the popular shows in “TV Week” which my sister bought. I have seen a couple of movies that David McCallum was in years ago. He was definitely a cutie.

    • We only got two stations on our black and white TV–NBC (which aired it) and Public TV. When I was five, we got a big color console TV and a big outside antenna, and now we had FOUR channels! LOL I have never been as attracted to blonde men as I am to dark-haired fellows, but David’s big brown eyes and smile were very appealing.
      Apparently on one of the eps of NCIS, the series he currently co-stars in, one of the characters asked about his character, “so what did Duckie look like when he was younger?” The answer: “Like Ilya Kuryakin.” πŸ˜‰

  2. In B&W David McCallum’s eyes are so dark they look brown, but I remembered a magazine spread in colour where he had blue eyes. I used Yahoo to hunt up more images and sure enough, dark blue in the photos where you can see his eye colour. Hmm. But yes, “Kuryakin is a polymath who is self-contained, taciturn, intellectual, pragmatic, athletic and capable of showing immense charm with a flair for the dramatic which aids him in numerous undercover operations. He is also quite ruthless when necessary.” definitely describes a precursor to Lucas North. Lucas North is a very cerebral spy, not given to the flashy James Bond behaviors. He owes something to Burton’s “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold” but nothing to Jason Bourne, not really. IMO both Kuryakin and North are closer to real spooks, except that their physical appearance is distinctive.

    • Ahhh, thank you for pointing that out, Leigh. I think I still strongly identify him with that poster in my sister’s room (which is just like the one here) and his eyes did look brown in that. For years, I thought Bette Davis had brown eyes because I only saw her in B&W films. I eventually realized they were actually dark blue.

      I know Richard is a fan of John Le Carre and some other novelists who write about spies. In The Man from UNCLE, Robert Vaughn as Solo was the flashier Bond type, a ladies man. On the other hand, Ilya didn’t chase women, they chased him. πŸ˜‰ David was actually referred to as the “blonde Beatle” in those days. He received more fan mail than anyone else in the history of MGM, apparently.

      Yes, as we have discussed elsewhere, real spies would not likely be as distinctly attractive as Lucas or Ilya. It would make it harder to blend into the crowd when necessary. I remember loving Ilya’s accent. πŸ˜€

      • Back in 1966, some of us did not go on dates when The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was on; real life simply could not compete. Now we can have Lucas North on DVD whenever we want, but back then, you had to take what you could get when you could get it.

        • I remember watching it with my sisters, who would have been in the 11 to 17 year old age range during the show’s run. As you say, there were no DVRs, no DVDs, no cable or satellite channels–you were limited to network television and if you missed the program, you had to wait until summer re-runs. I remember in high school everybody gathering arouned in a group and talking about the movie or the week of the current mini-series before homeroom or during break.

  3. My mother in law thought that her hubby resembles Robert V(she has a crush on him)but my father in law used to say: “I’m similar to Cary Grant not to this..whatshisname.”.;)
    I have not seen this series,my parents bought our first TV in 1969 several months after my birth.

    • Robert V was a handsome fellow but I admit having quite a crush on Cary Grant. Can’t blame anyone for wanting to look like him. πŸ˜‰ When Richard gets into a tux, there are moments when he reminds me of Grant. The classiness and movie star appeal.

  4. When the word “spy” jumps into my head, I think of the actors in this order:

    Richard Armitage
    Sean Connery
    Matt Damon (I simply adore his Jason Bourne – I cannot think why he isn’t going to be in the 4th Bourne movie – Matt’s in excellent shape and sexy as hell)
    and then
    Richard Burton

    I recently borrowed some John Le Carre audiobooks from the library and, for the life of me, I can’t understand what Richard would see in his work! The style of writing is very dated. Give me Frederick Forsythe and Robert Ludlum any day. And the series with Alex Cross in them (my memory’s just blanked out so the author’s name escapes me for the moment). There are other modern ones but, sorry, I’m so tired. I think I might have to lie down for a while as the old bones and muscles are giving me a hard time. See you later if I feel a little better and God suddenly grants me some more energy!

      • I saw Burton as Hamlet — astonishing performance. Barely staged, in rehearsal clothes, it depended on the actors and the language completely. Left me stunned, staggered… Even though I personally see Hamlet as a young man on the underside of 30, Burton’s interpretation was convincing and compelling.

        • I loved Becket with Burton and Peter O’Toole. In the latter part of his career, Burton did some really schlocky stuff, but when he was on his game, he could be great. I think a good stage performance by a talented actor can transcend being the “wrong” age. They said Sarah Bernhardt could make audiences believe she was young and beautiful when she was neither.

  5. I love “Night of the Iguana”,”The taming of the Shrew” and”Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf”.
    Do you know Angie,that Richard B. also suffered from insomnia?

    • Oh, man, I just watched “Night of the Iguana” the other day. “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” has fantastic performances, but it sort of depresses me. I have never seen him in TTOTS. Nope, I did not know that about RB.

  6. David McCallum = major cuteness alert! πŸ˜€ I also loved him in Colditz, and now as Dr. Mallard (Ducky, LOL!) in Navy CIS. Sadly I wasn’t allowed to watch Solo for U.N.C.L.E. as a child.

    A spy role I’d love to see Richard play is Magnus Pym in Le CarrΓ©’s A Perfect Spy, IMO his best book, with the exception of Tinker Tailor…It is such a beautifully structured story, somewhat autobiographic, and Richard could show what he’s capable of. It is tragic, however, and one feels what Le CarrΓ©’s fate might have been if he hadn’t had that marvellous writing talent to get all the memories of his terrible childhood out of his system. I say, give the man the Nobel prize!

    If Richard was a real spy he couldn’t be used for surveillance on foot. I read somewhere that people taller than 6’1″ and shorter than 5’1″ are too conspicuous for this job. Come to think of it, it may well have been the MI5 website, or some newspaper article quoting MI5.

    Sorry for going to OT!

    • I have read “Tinker Tailor” but not the other book you reference, Nietzsche. But it sounds like a role Richard could sink his lovely teeth into.

      That’s what I thought–that someone as tall as he is, gorgeousness aside, would be a little too likely to stand out in a crowd. And Rupert and Matthew weren’t exactly short either (RPJ is supposed to be 6’2″ also). Oh, well, Lucas is still my SND hero, no matter his height! πŸ˜€

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