When The Post’s profile of Robert Vaughn appeared in 1965, he was as big a star as television had. He was receiving 2,500 pieces of fan mail every week, and frequently mobbed by female admirers.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. played to America’s fascination with spies, which had begun with the James Bond novels and motion pictures. It was easy to imagine a world of spies during the Cold War. Throughout the 1950s, Americans had repeatedly heard warnings that Communist agents were at work in business, government, and schools to undermine the U.S.
But U.N.C.L.E. never took espionage seriously. Vaughn’s character, Napoleon Solo, gently spoofed the spy genre just as his contemporary, Adam West, played a campy version of Batman. (The character’s unusual name was lifted from a mobster in Ian Fleming’s James Bond story, Goldfinger.)
Before Ronald Reagan rose to national prominence, the idea of a performer running for office seemed ridiculous. Vaughn, a long-time liberal Democrat, dismissed the idea of his running for office in Don Freeman’s interview, but he never lost an interest in politics. He was one of the first actors to publicly state opposition to the Vietnam War. With other entertainers, he formed an anti-war wing of the party, which promoted Eugene McCarthy for president.
It was John F. Kennedy who inspired political interests in Vaughn. He remained involved after JFK was killed. But with the death of Robert Kennedy, Vaughn—like many of his contemporaries—lost heart for politics.