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The Transformation Of David McCallum From Childhood To NCIS

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David McCallum has starred as Dr. Donald "Ducky" Mallard on the CBS crime drama "NCIS" since 2003, although his role has been reduced since the character handed the job of Chief Medical Examiner over to Dr. Jimmy Palmer (Brian Dietzen) at the end of Season 16. The soft-spoken but frank and incisive Mallard's habit of speaking to the corpses on his table lent an element of quirkiness to the character, and his propensity to tell long, elaborate stories made him perfect for the role of "NCIS" historian once he retired as Medical Examiner.

McCallum told CNN that he sat in on numerous real-life autopsies in preparation for the role. "It's the most exciting and astonishing. It's two hours of learning more about the human body and what a miraculous business it is than you could ever imagine. It is quite extraordinary." In a Reddit AMA, he credited "Stedman's Medical Dictionary" for providing him with the understanding of medical jargon necessary to deliver his lines, and confirmed that he had "stood beside pathologists as they performed the autopsy so that I could learn the job first hand." This commitment to learning is something the 88-year-old McCallum has cultivated throughout an acting career that now spans an astonishing eight decades.

David McCallum was born into a musical family

David McCallum was born on September 19, 1933 in Glasgow, Scotland (via The Scotsman). His mother, Dorothy Dorman, was a cellist, and his father David McCallum Sr. was the principal violinist for the London Philharmonic Orchestra. His parents encouraged David and his brother Iain to also pursue the arts, and he initially explored a career in music as they did, studying the oboe at the Royal Academy of Music (via Turner Classic Movies). But David also pursued acting and appeared on the BBC radio play "Whom the Gods Love, Die Young" at just 13 years old. Soon after, he began doing repertory theater performances and diverted his most of his efforts to the stage and screen.

McCallum's first television appearance came in 1953 as Prince Giglio in the BBC mini-series adaptation of William Makepeace Thackeray's "The Rose and the Ring" (via IMDb). He would wait four years before his next role, but appeared in seven films and three television programs in 1957 and 1958, landing his first regular role as Eugene Rayburn in the Victorian-era drama miniseries "Our Mutual Friend." With that, his British career was off and running, but he would get a further boost to his fame after moving to the United States in 1961. 

McCallum became a household name with his starring role in The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

David McCallum got his first U.S.-based part as patient Carl Von Schlosser in the 1962 film "Freud," and was soon cast in such popular TV shows as "Perry Mason" and "The Outer Limits," and films like the 1963 Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson blockbuster "The Great Escape" (via IMDb). But he became a national sex symbol when he was cast alongside Robert Vaughn's Napoleon Solo as Russian agent Illya Kuryakin in the popular spy thriller series "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." 

Kuryakin was only given two lines in his first episode, but his chemistry with Solo led to an immediate expansion of the role, and the dashing McCallum's smooth portrayal made both the character and actor instantly popular. Mark Feeney of The Boston Globe noted, "Where Vaughn's Solo was chilly, McCallum's Kuryakin was cool... Add in his blond bangs, high cerebral forehead, and penchant for dark turtlenecks, and a teen idol was born." Feeney also reported that McCallumn received more fan mail at MGM than any other actor.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E made McCallum an international star

"The Man from U.N.C.L.E." ran from 1964 until 1968, and at the height of its popularity, David McCallum was scheduled to sign copies of his album "Music: A Part of Me" at Macy's in New York's Herald Square — but after assessing the unruly crowd, police canceled the appearance out of fears for his safety. They snuck him out of the building in a squad car they had pulled into a freight elevator, and years later he relayed the story to Susan King of The Los Angeles Times. "They took me up to the executive offices at the top of Macy's and said, 'You are not going down there, It's much too dangerous, and we have got to get you out of here.' I got in the car, and we went all the way down to the ground floor and drove out. It was a fabulous moment that was so 'U.N.C.L.E' that no one ever saw except me."

McCallum also played Kuryakin in three franchise films: "The Spy With my Face" in 1965, "The Spy in the Green Hat" in 1967, and "The Return of the Man from U.N.C.L.E" in 1983 (via IMDb). He used the fame and two Emmy award nominations he earned for "The Man from U.N.C.L.E."  to launch his career as a leading man on film, starring as British tour guide Stanley Thrumm in "Three Bites of the Apple" and as the title character in the crime thriller "Sol Madrid." 

McCallum had steady work as an actor for more than 50 years

David McCallum was a fixture on American and British screens from then on, including appearances on such U.S.-based television stalwarts as "Matlock" and the original "The A-Team" (via IMDb). From 1979 until 1982 he starred as interdimensional secret agent Steel in the supernatural drama "Sapphire & Steel" opposite Joanna Lumley ("Absolutely Fabulous," "The Wolf of Wall Street"). He also appeared in six episodes of the BBC production "Cluedo" — based on the board game Clue — as Professor Plum, and starred as Dr. Daniel Westin in the network's 1975-1976 production of "The Invisible Man."

McCallum would continue to straddle both sides of the Atlantic with his work, however, also appearing in American productions "As The World Turns," "Team Knight Rider," and "The Education of Max Bickford." Some of his projects were exceptionally short-lived despite favorable reception from critics and audiences. The 13-episode sci-fi drama "VR.5," in which McCallum played Dr. Joseph Bloom, scored a 75% Tomatometer score and a 7.3 out of 10 rating from IMDb viewers. McCallum also played John Grey on the horse racing drama "Trainer," which lasted just 23 episodes but earned a 7.8 IMDb viewer score.

David McCallum extended his career well into his 80s

David McCallum continues to expand his creative horizons well past the age when most have retired. His first novel, "Once a Crooked Man," was released in 2016 and has enjoyed a 4.4 out of 5 rating from Amazon readers. He told The Daily Record in 2016, "My family all think their grandfather is a little crazy because suddenly, at 82, I've started writing books. They've all been asking me, 'What are you going to do next?' I'm really enjoying it though. The whole thing is terrific and I'm very lucky. I never really wanted to be a writer, I just sat down to write and see what happened."

He has appeared in more than 100 films and television productions in his long and fruitful career (via IMDb), but is still probably best known for two roles: the one that jump-started his career and the one that will apparently usher it to its end. With his multiple talents and constant desire to develop and expand his creative outlets, McCallum may not yet be done surprising and delighting audiences. But if Ducky Mallard is the last part he plays, at least he leaves us with a noteworthy treat to remember him by.