Actor Roddy McDowall Dies At Age 70
Saturday October 3 6:59 PM EDT
By Arthur Spiegelman
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Roddy McDowall, the British-born actor who starred as a child in Lassie Come Home and made a generation of new fans as an adult in Planet of the Apes, died Saturday at his home of cancer, associates said.
The actor, director and producer was 70 years old and news that he had been terminally ill with cancer shocked Hollywood when it became public two weeks ago.
He was diagnosed in April but kept it a secret until he told Daily Variety columnist Army Archerd.
Johnny Grant, who is known as the "honorary mayor of Hollywood" and chairman of Hollywood's Walk of Fame Committee, said the film industry "had lost a splendid actor, a true gentleman and one great photographer." He was referring to McDowall's passion for photographing celebrities, works that have been exhibited around the world.
Grant added that a wreath was to be placed on McDowall's star on the Walk of Fame later Saturday.
McDowall, the London-born son of a Scottish merchant seaman who was evacuated to United States during the Second World War, started his film career at age 8 and appeared in 22 films before landing in Hollywood, where he starred with a young Elizabeth Taylor in 1943 in Lassie Come Home.
He and Taylor maintained a lifelong friendship and he appeared with her as a mad Roman emperor in Cleopatra, the film that saw her romance blossom with co-star Richard Burton.
He also appeared in the 1941 film classic How Green Was My Valley, in which he won rave reviews and even predictions that he would became a boy equivalent of Shirley Temple, something he was spared.
He also starred in a raft of boy-meets-animal films including My Friend Flicka.
In the Oscar-winning How Green Was My Valley, he played a young boy trying to overcome a crippling accident opposite adult star Walter Pidgeon, who played a minister helping him.
One of Hollywood's most popular figures, McDowall had to fight to reestablish his career as an actor when he became an adult.
He recalled in interviews that as he grew older Hollywood insisted on still thinking of him as if he were an 11-year-old.
So in the early 1950s, he emigrated to Broadway, where he appeared in widely praised productions of Ah, Wilderness and Billy Budd, and became a mainstay of early television drama, winning an Emmy for acting in Not Without Honor in 1960.
He also won a Broadway Tony award for best supporting actor in a play for the The Fighting Cock in 1960.
He appeared in many TV series in the 1960s including the police drama Naked City and Batman, where he appeared as the villainous "Bookworm."
He returned to Hollywood as a character actor where his career was reborn with the Planet of the Apes series in which he played the intellectual simian Cornelius who wanted to befriend mankind. That role won him a host of yuppie fans who also delighted in his playing a vampire-hunting TV talk show host in Fright Night in 1985.
Besides acting, his consuming passion was photography and he was considered one of the country's leading photographers of celebrities. He published four books of pictures, starting with Double Exposure.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, with whom McDowall worked for many years, announced Friday that it was naming its photo archive after him.
The Academy's collection of seven million negatives and still photos will be called the Roddy McDowall Photograph Archive at the Margaret Herrick Library.
"The board felt that a tribute to Roddy was appropriate because of his long-time activity on behalf of the Academy," said AMPAS president Robert Rehme.
McDowall represented the actors' branch on the Academy's board of governors since 1992.
His credits as a photographer include the book Double Exposure, work for almost two dozen magazines and a job as unit photographer on HBO's To Catch a Thief in 1983.