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Inside NCIS star Brian Dietzen's 20-year friendship with the late David McCallum

The Ducky Mallard and Jimmy Palmer actors shared an unbreakable bond 

Brian Dietzen and David McCallum in NCIS
Megan Bull
TV Writer
8 April 2024
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David McCallum and Brian Dietzen "hit it off" from the get-go. Introduced on the set of NCIS in 2004, the Donald "Ducky" Mallard actor took Brian under his wing, offering advice to the fledgling star as he transformed into Dr. Jimmy Palmer. 

Embarking on a 20-year friendship, Brian has spoken of his enduring gratitude and admiration for David, who passed away aged 90 in September 2023. A testament to their unbreakable bond, Brian even penned a special tribute episode to the TV legend, which aired in February 2024. Here, we take a look at their inspiring friendship…

Brian Dietzen hugging David McCallum on the set of NCIS© Instagram
Brian Dietzen and David McCallum became fast friends after meeting in 2004

How Brian Dietzen and David McCallum met

Following the news of David's passing last year, Brian reflected on his first-ever meeting with the Scottish actor. "David McCallum was a mentor, a great scene partner, a wonderful father and husband, and he was my dear friend," Brian wrote on Instagram. 

"I met David on my first day of work at NCIS. I was booked to work one day on the show, but David and I hit it off. Our scene turned out well and they invited me back for more scenes with this screen legend. Several more. Over the course of the next 20 years, David and I (along with our alter-ego's Ducky and Jimmy) developed a deep friendship and love of our shared work."

Brian Dietzen and David McCallum pose by a motorbike on the NCIS set © Instagram
David acted as a mentor, giving Brian advice when he asked for it

Noting that David acted as a career mentor, Brian added: "He had a quick and wry sense of humor and was generous with advice when I asked for it. He was also quick to share praise for work well done. I loved getting a phone call from him after a show aired to hear him talk about the scenes (even as he appeared less and less in our show)."

Brian continued: "The friendship and respect people saw between Ducky and Jimmy over the years mirrored the relationship we'd developed off camera. Whether it was going on field trips for character research, attending charity events or catching some golf together, he was always up for an adventure. The guy could do anything."

From pictures alone, it's clear that Brian and David loved being in each other's company, with the late star often posting behind-the-scenes photos on Facebook. 

Brian Dietzen as Jimmy Palmer and David McCallum as Dr. Donald "Ducky" Mallard on NCIS © CBS Photo Archive
Brian spoke to David six days before his passing

Their final conversation

Speaking to TV Line, Brian shared that he had been fortunate to have chatted to David six days before his passing. Recalling their final conversation, he said: "I spoke to him on his birthday, which was on Tuesday [Sept. 19], and then he passed away that Monday, on the 25th. 

"So, yeah, it was it was a couple of days before. That was his 90th birthday, a few days before he passed away. We got to speak, we got to chat. He was coherent and all that…I'm really, really glad that I got to speak to him one last time. It was really wonderful."

Brian's final tribute to his dear friend

Asked to write a tribute episode, Brian was honored to take up the mantle: "When David passed away, Scott Williams, my co-writer, volunteered to do this episode and he said to me, 'I thought it was only right that you co-write with me,'" he told the publication. "And then everybody in the room said, 'Yeah, that's perfect. That's what should happen.' And I said, 'Absolutely, I'd be honored to.'"

NCIS' special tribute episode to David McCallum – trailer

Chatting to Variety, Brian noted that while it was a strange way to process his grief, writing the episode was a "cathartic" experience. 

"One of the biggest things that I wanted to talk about and explore had to do with the loss of any friend or a loved one, but that really works really hand-in-glove with the character of Ducky: He told so many stories, over the course of the last 20 years at NCIS, and that I think is what a lot of people remember that character for. I certainly will; me playing Jimmy Palmer," he added.

Brian Dietzen and David McCallum on the set of NCIS© Getty
Reflecting on his experience writing the tribute episode, Brian described it as "cathartic"

"The name of this episode is 'The Stories We Leave Behind.' So that's what I wanted to do to honor him, to recognize that those stories are earned and meaningful. You add 'em up altogether and you have a very full life, and that very full life is all we really leave behind to affect people; once we're gone, those stories become our legacy." 

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