HOLLYWOOD -- David McCallum has heard this story before. But ever the gentleman, he listens intently as a female baby boomer relates how he made her preteenage heart skip more than a few beats as the blond, blue-eyed Russian-born secret agent Illya Kuryakin on NBC's 1964-68 espionage series "The Man From U.N.C.L.E."
Kuryakin and equally sexy American spy Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) worked for a secret government agency called the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement, whose nemesis was the evil THRUSH -- the Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity.
The youthful-looking and charming actor, who recently turned 76, recalls that "U.N.C.L.E-mania" was so great that one day three mounted policemen had to escort him out of New York's Central Park.
"I just went for a walk," says McCallum. "I was staying at the Plaza (Hotel) for the weekend and literally had to be hoisted onto a police horse and taken out. "
The series allowed McCallum, a Scotsman, to meet politicians, sports figure and other celebrities.
"It allowed me to meet Sen. Ted Kennedy. I went out to the compound simply because I was in the show. We went sailing with him."
The long-running CBS action series "NCIS," which began its seventh season Tuesday, has brought McCallum even more fame.
McCallum plays the eccentric Dr. Donald "Ducky" Mallard, the chief medical examiner who has seen it all. Ducky frequently uses his psychological training to help the team understand clues left by the killers. The bespectacled, bow-tie-wearing Ducky also has a warm and often sarcastic friendship with the NCIS team's head special agent, Leroy Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon).
Not only is "NCIS" consistently in the top 10 Nielsen ratings each week, repeats air on USA, ION and Sleuth.
"I would watch myself on JetBlue," says McCallum, who lives in New York with his wife of 42 years, former model-interior decorator Katherine Carpenter. While "NCIS" is in production, he stays in a one-bedroom apartment in Santa Monica and drives a secondhand car.
He describes the ensemble series as "the little engine that could" despite his belief that CBS hasn't done much to promote the show.
"We never had a feeling that they were throwing everything they could behind to make us more of a success," he says, relaxing in his trailer on the set of "NCIS" in Valencia. "We just did it on our own with sheer guts and hard work."
The actor is celebrating his 63rd year in the business. He began performing plays on BBC Radio, where his father, David McCallum, principal first violinist with the London Philharmonic and Royal Philharmonic, also worked.
McCallum went to the Royal Academy of Music and played the oboe, which he still plays, but realized after a few days with the senior orchestra that he wasn't good enough to keep up with the group.
So he turned to theater. As a teenager, he had worked in amateur theater on the technical side, building scenery and being a stage manager.
"I was a small, emaciated blond with a caved chest, so there weren't an awful lot of parts for me," he says.
He briefly attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and later became stage manager at a repertory theater in northern London.
"That led me into national service," McCallum says. "You had to go into the Army. I went to West Africa. I teamed up with a young gentleman who did local dramatics. I had a great time stage-managing the Army."
Upon his discharge, he went back to London, where he had been promised a stage manager position at a theater. But when he learned of the paltry wages, he went to the Oxford Playhouse, where he focused on acting.
"I did a lot of live TV," says McCallum.
He began to get more film work, including 1958's Titanic classic "A Night to Remember," a mental patient in 1962's "Freud" and a POW in 1963's "The Great Escape." While shooting "Escape" in Europe, the film's director, John Sturges, allowed him 10 days off to come to Los Angeles to test for the role of the Apostle Judas in George Stevens' 1965 epic, "The Greatest Story Ever Told."
"My first encounter with America was driving a white Chevrolet with a red interior down Sunset Boulevard listening to the Supremes on the radio and saying, 'What took me so long to find this place?' And miracles of miracles, I got the part."