Actor Roddy McDowall Dies at 70

Associated Press Writer

LOS ANGELES (AP)--Roddy McDowall, the child actor who left Britain during the London blitz to become a film star in How Green Was My Valley and Lassie Come Home and as an adult proved a versatile performer in films, theater and television, has died. He was 70.

McDowall died at 7:30 a.m. Saturday at his Studio City home, said Dennis Osborne, a friend who said he had cared for the actor in his final months.

"I was at his side," he said. "It was very peaceful. It was just as he wanted it. It was exactly the way he planned."

No services or interment were planned. McDowall's body was to be cremated by The Neptune Society, Osborne said.

McDowall was diagnosed with cancer in April and "he fought it until August," when he was declared incurable, Osborne said.

The actor had "undifferentiated" cancer, meaning it was not confined to a particular area of his body, Osborne said.

After appearing in several British films, McDowall at 11 was among the children evacuated to the United States during the German bombardment. Hollywood producers were impressed with his innocent face and precise diction, and he was first cast in Fritz Lang's Man Hunt. The boy emerged as a star in John Ford's saga of Welsh coal miners, How Green Was My Valley.

"The youngster may prove this studio's boy counterpart to Shirley Temple," Variety magazine said in a 1941 review.

"I can't say I was unhappy as a child actor in films, because I wasn't," he said in a 1963 interview. "I had a particularly wonderful time. The only trouble was that by the time I got to be 17 or 18, Hollywood was still thinking of me in terms of what I had delivered at the age of 11.

"They said I couldn't play anything but an English boy. I knew I could. So I went to New York and started to study, because I knew I had to learn a lot about myself as an actor; you can't act the same as you did as a child.

"Fortunately, I happened to go east at a time when live television was centered in New York. For six years I played every kind of role, from Mexican-Americans to Midwestern Americans. I did different roles on the stage: a Chicago boy in Compulsion and a southerner in No Time for Sergeants.

That ability to move into almost any role led him to be cast as a Roman emperor in Cleopatra, a Bible figure in The Greatest Story Ever Told and as Cornelius in The Planet of the Apes and sequels.

He was born Roderick Andrew Anthony Jude McDowall on Sept. 17, 1928, in London. His father was Scottish, his mother Irish. Educated at St. Joseph's school, he made his film debut at 8 in Murder in the Family. He came to the United States after the Blitz, the German bombardment of London, began in 1940.

He was placed under contract with Twentieth Century Fox, later moved to MGM. His schooling took place on the Fox lot, though he graduated at University High School in West Los Angeles in 1947.

The young actor proved popular in films with animals, notably My Friend Flicka and Lassie Come Home. Among his other features as a child: Son of Fury, The Pied Piper, The White Cliffs of Dover, The Keys of the Kingdom. He also appeared as Malcolm in Orson Welles' MacBeth.

McDowall spent most of the 1950s in New York, making his Broadway debut in 1953 in Misalliance. His film career enjoyed a rebirth in the 1960s, notably in three epics: Cleopatra (as Octavian Caesar), The Longest Day (as a soldier), The Greatest Story Ever Told (as Matthew). He also spent a year on Broadway in the musical Camelot.

"I still have the actor's disease," he admitted at the time. "I always think I'll never get another job."

Despite his fears, McDowall remained one of the busiest actors in films and television. His most successful film was the 1968 Planet of the Apes, and he appeared in the ape makeup in three sequels.

Among his other films: Inside Daisy Clover, Midas Run, Five Card Stud, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, The Poseidon Adventure, Funny Lady, Only the Lonely.

He also became a favorite in horror films such as Cult of the Damned, The Legend of Hell House, Fright Night, and It!

In the 1980s and `90s, he worked mostly in television dramas. Among them: The Thief of Baghdad, The Martian Chronicles, Alice in Wonderland, Hollywood Wives, Around the World in 80 Days.

McDowall, who never married, was an accomplished photographer who produced five coffee-table books, starting with Double Exposure in 1966. He photographed his lifelong friend and costar of Lassie Come Home, Elizabeth Taylor, in a nude layout for Playboy magazine in 1963. A longtime student of film, he gathered one of the largest private collections of old movies.

No services were planned.

He was survived by his sister, Virginia McDowall of Los Angeles, Osborne said.