Screen great Roddy McDowall dies at 70
Actor grew up playing much-loved characters
By Charles Ealy / The Dallas Morning News
Roddy McDowall, the child actor who starred with Flicka and Lassie and went on to play an animal himself in Planet of the Apes, died Saturday of cancer. He was 70.
Mr. McDowall was diagnosed with cancer in April and had been bedridden at his home in Los Angeles for the past few weeks. His death "was very peaceful," Dennis Osborne, a friend who cared for him in his final days, told The Associated Press. "It was just as he wanted it."
Only two months ago, he was working on a video to celebrate the 30th anniversary of 1968's Planet of the Apes, in which he played Cornelius, the ape who befriends a belligerent astronaut played by Charlton Heston. The special video was the last performance in a career that spanned television, stage and film over six decades.
Roderick Andrew Anthony Jude McDowall was born Sept. 17, 1928, in London. He made his film debut when he was 8 years old, starring in the British mystery Murder in the Family as the brother of a young Jessica Tandy and Glynis Johns. In 1940, after appearing in several other films, he and his mother and sister fled the German bombardment of London during World War II and came to the United States.
He was quickly signed to a long-term Hollywood contract by Darryl F. Zanuck, then production head at 20th Century Fox studios. His first American film was Man Hunt, directed by Fritz Lang and starring Walter Pidgeon. The suspenseful 1941 drama dealt with a man's effort to assassinate Hitler.
But Mr. McDowall's breakthrough role came that same year in another film starring Walter Pidgeon, How Green Was My Valley, which won five Academy Awards, including best picture. His portrayal of Huw, a sensitive but stoic little Welsh boy, made him a star.
At the time, Hollywood trade publications called him the young male counterpart to Shirley Temple.
He proved to be especially popular when paired with animals, most notably in My Friend Flicka, the story of a boy who loves a rebellious horse, and Lassie Come Home, about a poor family that has to sell its beloved dog, who ends up making a tortuous journey back home. Both films were released in 1943.
Unlike some child actors, Mr. McDowall never claimed to have been unhappy with his youth.
"I had a particularly wonderful time," he said in 1963. "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."
In the 1950s, he left Hollywood to study acting in New York, and he began to make a name on Broadway, where he starred in Misalliance in 1953.
He returned to films in the 1960s, appearing with longtime friend and former child star Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra. In 1963, his layout of a nude Ms. Taylor for Playboy magazine helped start a photography career. He went on to produce five photography books, starting with Double Exposure in 1966.
Throughout his career, he was one of Hollywood's busiest actors, starring in such cult horror films as The Legend of Hell House and Fright Night. He also starred in three Planet of the Apes sequels.
Asked in 1992 which films he wanted to be remembered for, he replied simply: "I don't want to be remembered. I want to be working."
Mr. McDowall never married. He is survived by his sister, Virginia McDowall of Los Angeles. No services were planned.