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FIRST OF TWO ROBERT VAUGHN TRIBUTES: THE LIEUTENANT

Robert Vaughn with Garry Lockwood on TV in 1963
The Original STAR TREK series, created, co-written and produced by Gene Roddenberry, took the crew of The Enterprise WHERE NO MAN HAS GONE BEFORE, not only part of William Shatner's pre-credit narration but the title of one of the first episodes, which guest stars Gary Lockwood, best known as astronaut Dr. Frank Poole in 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, and before that he worked with Roddenberry when TREK was just blasting off...

THE LIEUTENANT, a fulfilling, character-driven, one-season series, centered on our man either helping, loving or fighting man or womankind; although, taking place after Korea and in the phantom heels of Vietnam, it didn't involve actual war (save a few episodes, if memory serves) as Lockwood, playing the young and ambitious Lt. Bill Rice, works, lives and breaths not exactly blood but there's enough sweat and tears to go around at the Southern California Marine base, Camp Pendleton, which becomes a sort of character in itself. Although more time's spent at taverns, hotels, motels, and wherever else he's needed for the service of duty and friendship — the latter that the first episode, A MILLION MILES FROM CLARY, is all about...

Gary Lockwood and Robert Vaughn on THE LT.
In films before and after, ranging from (our current favorite) CANYON PASSAGE to MEAN STREETS, the subject of two long-time friends, one responsible and the other incredibly flakey, has been a standard plot-line that keeps the viewer intrigued since it's no telling what kind of trouble the instigating wild card, in this case, Rice's buddy, Pvt. Stu Sallaway, played by Bill Bixby (who shared co-starring in Elvis Presley vehicles together), will get himself into — and guess who has to get him out? That's where some lightweight yet intriguing suspense occurs — Rice putting his reputation on the line in front of the men he didn't share a past kinship with. Bixby, as the kind of charming b.s. artist he'd portray on television years later in the miniseries RICH MAN, POOR MAN, wields the perfect combination of someone you want to party with, punch in the gut, or both. And it's an odd pilot episode, not exactly igniting the series with a bang, or providing any kind of expository introduction: A MILLION MILES FROM CLARY (their hometown in-common) feels more like part of a show that'd been on for a little while, and Lockwood's Bill Rice has very little backstory except what we learn in the process...

Bill Bixby, Robert Vaughn, Gary Lockwood GRADE: A
And now to unbury the lead: THE LIEUTENANT is eventually forced to bark orders at his friend — yet who's really in charge, and respectively feared by everyone, is an extremely mature young actor who, only a few years prior, starred in b-movies including and infamously bad caveman flick (riffed by Mystery Science Theater)...

And another with our ongoing retrospective starlet, Merry Anders — as a twenty-something slacker in NO TIME TO BE YOUNG, covered here soon: Making this the first of two parenthetical tributes to an actor that could play either the hero, like his most famous role on TV's MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., as well as gentleman heavies like the snooty politician in Steve McQueen's best film (and performance), BULLITT, reuniting two MAGNIFICENT SEVEN stars (who have now all passed away). Vaughn was even talented enough to "replace" Gene Hackman as the human antagonist in the SUPERMAN franchise — and helped make the flawed part 3 a worthwhile experience.

With MAGNIFICENT SEVEN co-star Steve McQueen in BULLITT
Far more than just a talented, capable actor, he legitimized every role he played, and the projects along with them...

Like anyone who makes a lifelong career of Hollywood, as time passed, he didn't always chose (or get handed) the best roles, but he kept working... And back to the pilot of THE LIEUTENANT: his Captain Raymond Rambridge, a relatively young man with the countenance of a fifty-five year old war vet, was not a special guest star like Bixby, but a semi-regular who, by his mere presence, kept the title character standing firm while Lt. Rice kept his men on their toes. PS What led to this obscure show being the first tribute for Vaughn: The day after he died, there was a feeling to, out of nowhere, re-watch this particular episode, having forgotten anyone besides guest star Bill Bixby, and, within moments, there he was, in all his subtle, cleft-chinned, pelican-regal glory... A very serious man who, whether shining in the forefront or placed slightly in the background, always made a difference.
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