Close Encounters with Roddy McDowall
by roxanne smith
Living just a short freeway hop south of where RM himself lives, it shouldn't be too surprising that I've had a close encounter or two over the years....
"Imagine the traffic jam *that* would have been..."
It was the summer before Dickie Moore's book "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Don't Have Sex or Take the Car" was published.
My friend Tom and I were cruising down Hollywood Boulevard one weekend (our favorite pass-time) on our way to Pink's for lunch. We were traveling west, and had stopped for a red light at Vine. It was a beautiful day, typical Southern California weather, and we were both having a great time.
Just before the light changed to green, we noticed the personalized license plate on the little red convertible in front of us. It read XMOPPETT. Now, we were both journalism and English majors, Tom and I, yet we were scratching our heads wondering what in blazes a moppett was. Some kind of muppet that didn't make the cut?
By the next red light, we were discussing jumping out and asking the driver of the car to explain. You've joked like that with a friend or family member, I'm sure. I'm also sure there have been times when you were *that* close to actually doing when something stopped you (or you actually *did* do it, in which case you should tell us all about it. anyway -).
Tom punched me in the arm, called me a coward, and I had just opened the door when the light changed. "Coward," he mumbled under his breath.
"Fine!" I pretended to be insulted. "I'll do it at the next light, Mr. I-Can't-I'm-Driving."
There was no next light, at least not a red one, before the car in question turned off of Hollywood Boulevard and we decided to give up the chase... something else had caught our eyes.
Months later, for Christmas, Tom bought me Dickie Moore's book "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, Don't Have Sex or Take the Car."
In this book, former child star Dickie Moore tells what it was like to grown up in Hollywood in the "golden age" - he also interviews many other child stars, among them Roddy McDowall.
When he relates going to see McDowall, he comments on the license plate of McDowall's red convertible: XMOPPETT.
If you listen very closely, you can still hear the echoing cries of frustration I screamed out as I chucked the book across the room.
"Why is that lady jumping up and down in the bushes, mommy?"
A large (20 or so) group of friends and I were going out for coffee late one Thursday night at the edge of Burbank. We agreed to meet at Tiny Naylors over in North Hollywood, and left in our separate cars - my friend, Jim, riding with me in my truck.
As Tiny Naylors was just down the street from where McDowall lives, I told Jim we would be taking a slight detour. He just smiled and said, "You're driving."
Passing the house I had often passed before in my pilgrimages, we saw no lights on, no car in the driveway. I heaved a sad breath and turned around at the top of the hill.
"Well," Jim lead, "are you going to tell me what that was all about? Who were you looking for?"
I knew Jim wouldn't make fun of my silliness, so I told him.
"Buck up," he replied, "maybe he's just down at Tiny Naylors having a cup of coffee."
I bugged my eyes at this image... Roddy McDowall in the same restaurant as my weirdo friends! A shiver ran down my spine. We were still laughing at the prospect when we pulled into the TN parking lot. I took a quick spin around the lot, and didn't see RMs car.
Relieved, I pulled into an empty slot and met my friends congregating in the way of traffic.
As we wandered past the booth windows on the way to the front entrance, I couldn't help glancing down at those people sitting in the booths... wondering if anyone had beaten us here.
Someone had, alright.
One minute I was walking along, talking to my friends, the next I was leaping backwards through the air, my hand clasped over my mouth and stifling a near-scream.
I ducked around the corner of the building as my heart raced and my head swam. It was HIM! By ghod, sitting right there. It. Was. Him.
The pair of friends I had been walking with noticed that I had vanished, and poked their heads around the corner where I cowered.
"Um," one of them said, eyeing my pathetic stance, "what are you doing?"
"Jim was right," I squeaked.
"I was?" Jim looked around, ready to run if the natives were restless.
"HIM!" I squeaked/growled/shouted, trying to be both loud and unnoticable at the same time.
Jim, who had long since forgotten the detour in favor of whatever conversation had been picked up in the parking, echoed the question, "Who? Who's here?"
"What who!?! HIM who! HIM HIM! Here. Now. *H-I-M*"
Finally, it dawned. "Oh, you mean-"
I'm a little fuzzy here, but the next important fact is that the two of them held me up between them and we tried to walk casually back by the window in question without me falling or jumping or otherwise making a commotion. The idea being that I was to have a second look, in case I was wrong (what with the power of suggestion: Jim's idea, the nearness of RM home, etc.) - and so the other two could confirm or deny the sighting.
There was no doubt in *my* mind... And it was a damn good thing the two of them were restraining me then because I think I tried to bolt again when I looked in and saw him just sitting there talking.
When we got to the front door, there was no way in hell I was going to let that mob of lunatics I choose to call friends go in there. Let me tell you, it's no easy thing to keep 20 thirsty, tired, hungry LASFS members from entering a coffee shop. When I saw the futility of my efforts, I shoo'ed all but Jim and, I think, Matt and Sean, inside.
By this time, I was standing inside the planter, crouched down behind the newspaper vending machines, jumping up and down.
--In my own defense, I feel compelled to assure the reader that I am not normally such a raving maniac. I was caught off guard and in an already giddy mood. Seeing McDowall pushed me temporarily over the deep end...
I was also banging my fists on the tops of the newspaper machines, hoping the pain would bring me to my senses. I never felt a thing, though those machines still had dents in their tops the day they tore Tiny Naylors down.
My friends had all seen me play the fool before (many times), and so they were taking this all in stride. The three I had kept outside with me also understood why this wasn't like finding Robert Redford or Rob Lowe sitting there, why I wouldn't be reacting the way I was had it been Jody Foster or Kathleen Turner in that booth.
What only perpetuated my behavior, however, was the frustration of knowing that *he* had seen me (hell, he probably *heard* me) at the window when I cried out and jumped. He had seen my friends drag me past the window a second time. And he could see me now, whenever he glanced up, some lunatic having a seizure in the flower bed.
It was not, I must say, my finest moment.