Quirks of the gifted

I check the referral logs on this thing from time to time. I've apparently gotten some hits from http://fuckyeahintellectualgiftedness.tumblr.com -- although I don't know what entry they linked from, or what it was linked to, because sometimes the log is a frustrating jobsworth. In honor of this, and because Moggie's birthday is coming up, I went and dug up stuff on David McCallum, who is One Of Us if I ever spotted one.

(I haven't gotten her to watch much if any NCIS, but Moggie has a cracking great crush on Illya Kuryakin. She named a laptop Illyana once, inspired by Illya's bit in the long version of the season one intro.

For the younger crowd, no, I don't know why two L's in that. Because in the 1960s Russia might as well have been on a different planet. It's spelled "Илья" in Cyrillic. They got his patronym wrong, too.)

McCallum does a great many of the amusingly strange things I spot in a lot of gifted-and-talented kids. I've no idea if he's aware of them or not; he's managed to hit 80 (almost, later this year), so I expect he's had at least a few pointed out to him. Quite possibly by friends like Robert Vaughn, who makes no bones about the fact that he personally is aware of being very bright, and has a tendency to tell people exactly what he thinks of them.

I mentioned that he was prone to fiddling with the MFU props -- there's even a sort of in-joke to that effect at the tail end of one episode, where Napoleon is making goo-goo eyes at the lady of the week while Illya fiddles with one of the MacGuffins they've been chasing until it falls to pieces in his hands. I didn't mention that he was fiddly with his own collection of gadgets as well. For the MFU box set, he and Vaughn sat very patiently through a lot of interview questions about things that happened decades ago, and McCallum also dug around in a closet somewhere and pulled out some home movies that showed the production crew. He'd taken a Super-8 movie camera to a working set to, I don't know, visit the other cameras? Mostly to point it at things (such as his future wife, Katherine, who is extremely dishy) and revel in the wonder of having moving pictures of random parts of his life.

He has evidently learnt a lot about forensics for his role as Dr. "Ducky" Mallard in NCIS. People ask him about this all the time. McCallum interprets the question as 'please comment on this topic', and his standard answer is, "Oh, I'm just a dabbler. But it is fascinating; I read an article just the other day...." at which point he launches into some random snippet of information about forensic pathology. He's either oblivious to, or deliberately ignoring, the fact that what the entertainment reporter actually means by this question is, 'you taught yourself something that people normally go to grad school to learn? for a TV show? seriously?' Absolutely not an expert, he demurs, just an actor who likes to be informed about his roles.

What actually happened is that McCallum jammed so much information about this into his head alongside a bunch of classical music training and stuff he learned at RADA and whatever else happens to have accumulated in there, that the NCIS people once threatened to make him one of the show's technical advisors. This may not impress you much, especially if you've ever seen someone try to make a TV show out of your technical specialty, but it seems to have impressed the real Naval Criminal Investigative Service, who at one point asked him up to give a joint presentation about ME work in the media with an actual NCIS medical examiner at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology. A few other conferences have gotten him to repeat the feat. Mind you, he got the role just before he turned 70, and claims not to have given any of this a passing glance before then.

One of the specific gifted-kid things that always entertains the hell out of me is this bit, which is one I keep running afoul of myself. It turns out that if you tell someone you don't speak their language, in their language, with a reasonably correct accent, in idiomatic phrasing which is markedly different from the English, they generally don't believe you. Ducky evidently admits to speaking French, and has done in a few episodes, but a correct accent backed up by a script might just mean McCallum's a very good mimic; he also consistently drops into the right accent when mentioning French places and other proper names, which made me rather more suspicious that he'd had it banged into his head at some point during his education.

I've seen a lot of the things McCallum has done over the years, some of them strictly because he's interesting and he's in them. The Man From U.N.C.L.E.  of course -- seen all of that. Colditz is not really my cup of tea. I'm not overly fond of war dramas, and the parts I was keen to hear about -- mostly the codes and the ingenious escape plans -- are all extremely simplified, for a lay audience. (I'm not technically a professional, but when it comes to crypto I'm definitely up in the 'dedicated amateur' range.) They had him playing Professor Plum in series 2 of Cluedo, a panel quiz version of the famous board game; he's hilariously good at blithering authoritatively, and once answered a question about why there were traces of dirt at the crime scene with something that started, "Are you familiar with pre-Colombian art...?" The usual variety of crime shows and dramas that have different guest stars every week, some British, some American. I couldn't finish Mother Love, as Diana Rigg is uncomfortably good at being bonkers. And Sapphire & Steel, which is profoundly strange, weirdly claustrophobic, and oddly brilliant at because of, rather than despite, both of those things.