Video: Hollywood's Boy Next Door
RODDY MCDOWALL 1928 - 1998
by Michael Sauter
October 16, 1998
Like his friend Elizabeth Taylor, Roddy McDowall, who died of cancer at age 70 on Oct. 3, was the rare child star who stayed a star all his life. "Most child actors have a tremendous problem when they grow up," he told Interview in 1989. "They suddenly have to learn how to act." McDowall's native charm masked his craft. Though seldom the leading man, the eternally youthful character actor worked constantly, amassing more than 100 movie credits and just as many TV appearances, as well as numerous stage roles, including one in The Fighting Cock, for which he received a 1960 Tony. Among the most sociable of Hollywood denizens, McDowall, born in London to a merchant seaman father and a mother who encouraged his acting, was famous for his loyalty to his friends, many of whom became subjects for his accomplished side career as a portrait photographer. McDowall took up the camera in the '50s after he came to New York to get stage experience, fearing he was finished in movies. Little did he know that he was just getting started. His finest performances include:
HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY (1941, Fox) In his breakthrough role, 12-year-old McDowall played the youngest son in a mightily struggling Welsh coal-mining family. His sensitive portrayal is the heart of John Ford's film.
LASSIE COME HOME (1943, MGM) McDowall ensured his screen immortality by starring in the boy-and-his-horse story My Friend Flicka and this, the original Lassie movie. He wrings every tear from the lost-collie saga.
CLEOPATRA (1963, Fox) Amid the opulence and an opulent cast (Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Rex Harrison), McDowall gave a standout performance as deceptively effete backstabber Octavian.
PLANET OF THE APES (1968, Fox) As gentle Cornelius, McDowall, buried in makeup, created the soulful simian who would link all five Apes films.