Robert Vaughn headlines fund-raiser for money-challenged project

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The Museum of Broadcast Communications presents "A 75th Anniversary Salute to FDR," 7 p.m. July 2 at Chicago's Auditorium Theatre, 50 East Congress Parkway. General admission tickets are $25 each. For more information, go to





In the mid-1960s, the "Man from U.N.C.L.E." regularly saved the world from the forces of evil. But can he help stimulate interest today in a stalled museum project in Chicago?


            Actor Robert Vaughn - who starred as the suave super-spy Napoleon Solo for four seasons - will headline a July 2 fund-raiser for the Museum of Broadcast Communications as the organization inducts President Franklin D. Roosevelt into its National Radio Hall of Fame. Vaughn will read excerpts from the speech FDR made 75 years ago in Chicago as he accepted the Democratic nomination for president.


            If all goes well, the special event at the historic Auditorium Theatre will raise more than $250,000 in operating funds, museum founder, president and CEO Bruce DuMont said.


As for the museum's bricks-and-mortar home at State and Kinzie streets, that's another matter.


Construction stopped more than a year ago on the not-for-profit's $31 million headquarters, amid a dispute with Gov. Rod Blagojevich over $6 million in state assistance.


Administration officials continue to say they cannot deliver a $3 million grant and a $3 million loan until the museum secures the rest of the money it needs to complete the project. But DuMont says potential donors are skittish about cutting checks until the state money arrives and brings the work crews back.


"As long as there is doubt that exists, it's going to be very difficult to raise funds," DuMont said from his temporary offices overlooking the dormant site, just north of the Loop. "I've not giving up on the project. ... We're not in a bankruptcy situation. Our assets far exceed our liabilities, because of what the building is worth."


He said the latest strategy is to try to raise enough capital funds to open the 70,000-square-foot tourist attraction in phases. He estimated another $13.5 million is needed to complete the four-story building near the House of Blues Hotel.


DuMont said the asking price for permanent naming rights to the museum is $10 million.


"At this point, I can't think of anything that would be inappropriate," he said when asked about potential underwriters. "Nobody is going to buy the intellectual focus of the museum with a naming opportunity."


The broadcast museum was popular with visitors when it was a tenant at the Chicago Cultural Center at Michigan Avenue and Randolph Street, but the exhibits were packed up in late 2003 for the move to a permanent base. Visitors could view memorabilia ranging from Bozo the Clown's blue jumpsuit and red wig to ventriloquist Edgar Bergen's famous dummy, Charlie McCarthy. They also could listen to archival recordings from the Golden Age of Radio.


For now, the broadcast shrine and its Radio Hall of Fame exists largely on an intellectual plane, but organizers continue to increase the list of all-stars. The idea to add Roosevelt came from sports broadcasting historian Curt Smith, a former speechwriter for the first President Bush.


Roosevelt's July 2, 1933 speech at the old Chicago stadium - in which he talked about a "New Deal" for Depression-plagued Americans - was the first time he was heard by a national audience. His post-election "fireside chats" with the listening public are legendary. 


            "This is a man who changed forever how presidents communicated," said Smith, a lecturer at the University of Rochester. "Every president has competed with the voice and ghost of FDR."


            Vaughn was selected to portray FDR at the forthcoming event because he has played the World War II president twice in films, including a one-man show for the HBO Network in 1982.


"Basically the platform that he put forth in the New Deal ... was a very socialistic operation," Vaughn said in an interview. "I'm sure he would be harangued by conservatives today as being too socialist, but at the time he was the answer to the problem, and it worked very successfully in terms of getting people their pride back and getting back on their feet financially."

Political commentators, including Jonathan Alter of "Newsweek" and David Broder of the The Washington Post, will discuss FDR as part of the event.


Vaughn on Vaughn Film and television actor Robert Vaughn, best known for his starring role in "The Man from U.N.C.L.E.," will appear at a Chicago event July 2 to benefit the Museum of Broadcast Communications. In a recent telephone interview, the 74-year-old cult icon recalled his 50-year show business career. Here are some excerpts.   On the long shadow cast by 'U.N.C.L.E.,' the James Bond-like TV series that ran from 1964-1968 (expected on DVD soon):  "There's hardly any curse; mostly blessing. It completely changed my life. I went from being a working actor to being a negotiating actor. I could ask for changes in the scripts, I could ask for more per diem. I could get more first-class tickets ... all as a result of that."   On being the only heroic lead from 'The Magnificent Seven' (1960) to survive today: "Well, considering the alternative, I think it's very good."   On the calmness of 'Magnificent' co-star James Coburn, even after a valet parking attendant crashed Coburn's brand-new sports car: "Jim put his arm around me and said the following: 'Man, Roberto, we're never going to get a cab this late.' ... He just was one of the coolest guys."   On being one of the first celebrities to speak out against the Vietnam War (at a 1966 Democratic function in Indianapolis): "They expected me to give a regular speech raising hell to get out the troops, get the money and re-elect LBJ. ... I was very naïve at the time to have said what I said. I re-read it today; it was far out in the field, in terms of the language I use."   On his villainous role in the classic - though confusing - Steve McQueen police thriller `Bullitt' (1968): "Steve sent me this script ... I said, 'Separate and apart from our friendship, I think this script is really unbearable. I have no idea what's going on.' ... Then he came back to me a second time and a third time. ... He kept upping the money, the salary, each time. I finally understood the role completely, with the last increase in salary. But to this day people still say ... 'I don't really get what's going on in the film.'"               Mike Ramsey can be reached at (312) 857-2323 or