Kuryakin operated at "the height of the Cold War," as the era is known when it's not being called "turbulent," and spies were everywhere. The world, or at least the airwaves, were full of them: Jim Phelps in Mission: Impossible, the guy Bill Cosby played in I Spy, and Maxwell Smart in the spy spoof Get Smart, to name just a few.
Illya Kuryakin stood apart, and above them all. First of all, he had that great name. Illya Kuryakin. What kind of name was that? Because I was almost criminally inattentive, I didn't know it at the time, but I've since learned that it was supposed to be Russian, as Russia is where Kuryakin was born. His accent was, therefore, also supposed to be Russian. Too bad it was, in fact, Scottish, as the actor who portrayed Kuryakin, David McCallum, was from Scotland. But, then, in Cold War TV America anything but a Liverpool accent was suspect.
Kuryakin awakened in me a desire to snoop professionally for a living. Of all the many new career opportunities opening up to young boys at that time - rock 'n' roll star, political agitator, cult leader - perhaps the most romantic was spy. And Illya Kuryakin was who I wanted to be when I grew up. He was the perennial outsider. Sensitive. Brooding. Inarticulate. A spiritual descendant of James Dean, he mumbled directly to my romantically melancholic pubescent soul.
James Bond was cool, too, of course. But he was more my father's spy. Debonair. Worldly. Witty. Blech! These were grown-up traits. He wore a suit. What's the point of being a spy if you dressed like your dad?
Kuryakin, on the other hand, wore a black turtleneck.
So I, too, wore a black turtleneck.
Kuryakin had soft, sad eyes.
So I, too, tried to make my eyes soft and sad, which meant thinking deep thoughts, but the best I could come up with was a deep hatred for homework, which, in retrospect, probably didn't give me the vulnerable look I was seeking, but rather the appearance of a future anger-management candidate.