By Kirsten Danis,Ward Morehouse III and Dareh Gregorian
New York Post, 10/04/98

Roddy McDowall, the versatile actor who starred in movies such as Lassie Come Home, Fright Night, The Poseidon Adventure and Planet of the Apes, died of cancer yesterday.

It was very peaceful, said Dennis Osborne, a friend who said he had cared for the actor in his final months before he passed away yesterday morning at his Studio City, Calif., home.

It was just as he wanted it. It was exactly the way he planned.

McDowall, who was 70, was diagnosed with cancer in April, Osborne said.

He was also comforted in his final weeks by good friend Elizabeth Taylor, said Taylor friend and Henry Fonda widow Shirley Fonda.

She said Liz flew to California and spent hours with him by his side over the last several weeks, holding his hand and wiping his brow.

Friends said McDowall's death left the legendary actress crying uncontrollably and devastated.

The two were lifelong friends and starred in Lassie Come Home, together. McDowall also photographed the actress in a nude layout for Playboy magazine in 1963.

Veteran press agent John Springer, who represented McDowall for many years, knew the actor since he was a child and broke down crying when he heard the news.

He said he spoke to the actor two weeks ago to see if he would be part of an upcoming memorial service for Hollywood veteran Maureen O'Sullivan.

"Roddy said, 'John, I'd love to, believe me, but I won't be around,' Springer said.

He called the actor a sweetheart. When he liked someone, he would do anything for them. I never heard anyone say anything bad against him.

He was born Roderick Andrew Anthony Jude McDowall on Sept. 17, 1928, in London, to Scottish and Irish parents, and made his film debut at 8 in Murder in the Family.

But after appearing in several British films, he was forced to flee his London home and come to the United States because of the Nazi Blitzkrieg.

His film career continued in Hollywood, and he emerged as a star in John Ford's saga of Welsh coal miners, How Green Was My Valley.

I can't say I was unhappy as a child actor in films, because I wasn't. I had a particularly wonderful time, he said in a 1963 interview.

He starred in My Friend Flicka and Lassie Come Home, and 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, and enjoyed high-profile roles in Cleopatra and The Longest Day.

His most successful film was the 1968 sci-fi thriller The Planet of the Apes, where he starred as the kind-hearted chimp Cornelius.

He appeared in the ape makeup in three sequels, while working in other films including Bedknobs and Broomsticks, The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, The Poseidon Adventure, Funny Lady and Only the Lonely.

His last stage role was starring as Scrooge in A Christmas Carol last year at Madison Square Garden.

Every time I get up on stage I realize how much I love it and how much I miss it, he told The Post in an interview.

His fellow actors yesterday said how much they would miss him.

Hal Linden, who shared the role of Scrooge, said the actor was a generous partner.

It could have been a disaster, but instead it was like McGwire and Sosa. Anything he found out he came running to me to tell me ... and he was very eager to accept my help, Linden said.

He was a bright and happy guy - absolutely no ego, said Linden.

Another Broadway veteran, Tony Randall, said, I'm very saddened by Roddy's death. He made an indelible contribution to film and stage.

He's survived by his sister, Virginia McDowall of Los Angeles.

Funeral plans were not immediately announced.