Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Rant #1,069: Crying U.N.C.L.E.

Each year, people that we remember from our past move onto the great beyond, people who have touched us in a major way or somehow very briefly.

Such is the case of Noel Harrison, who touched us very briefly in the mid-to-late 1960s, and then pretty much vanished off the face of the earth for most of us.

He died yesterday at age 79.

Who was Noel Harrison?

Harrison, the son of British legendary actor and womanizer Rex Harrison, crafted a nice career for himself during the swinging '60s, and then unlike his father, decided he had had enough at the apex of his fame.

He had gained some fame in the 1950s as a British skier, good enough to make the Olympics in 1952 and 1956.

Later, he turned to show business, and the actor and singer starred opposite Stefanie Powers in the short-lived "Girl From U.N.C.L.E." TV show, which would make him an icon from that era apart from the other things that he did.

If you remember, "The Man From U.N.C.L.E.," tapping off the spy craze started by the James Bond films, was one of the hottest shows of the decade, making Robert Vaughan and David McCallum two of the decade's biggest icons. It also stretched the career of Leo G. Carroll beyond anything that it should have been, too.

Anyway, that show was geared to adults, but NBC, the network it was on, found that lots of kids were staying up to watch the show, too, so they figured that a similar show geared to their tastes could be a hit.

Thus, the companion show was created. Although it was not a hit--it lasted just one season--it did make Powers--as April Dancer--a star, and it made Harrison--as Mark Slate--one of the great cultural artifacts of that generation.

I always like his hat, one of the great hats of the 1960s.

He parlayed his stardom on that show into a music career, and for a few years, it was quite prolific.

He put out a few albums during this time, but his greatest triumph probably in his show business career was that his "Windmills of Your Mind," from the original "Thomas Crown Affair" film, won the Oscar for Best Song in 1968.

He had a few chart hits during this period--his "Suzanne" is supposedly the best interpretation of the Leonard Cohen classic--and he probably could have had a long show business career like his father did, but at the height of his popularity, he decided that he didn't like the spotlight, and he dropped out of that scene.

His marriage was crumbling, and he just felt it was better if he took time off.

Since the early 1970s, he performed occasionally, moved to the United States and Canada until his last years, when he returned to England, and pretty much lived out his life as he wanted to--out of the spotlight.

So another icon of my youth has passed away.

Harrison sparkled for seemingly a millisecond, and then became basically, "Whatever happened to Noel Harrison?" for the rest of his life, but it appears that is exactly what he wanted.

So bravo to him and his life, and R.I.P.

He did it exactly as he wanted to do it, and you can't ask for anything more in life than that.

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