Roddy McDowall, 1928-1998
"Planet of the Apes" anchor dies of cancer at age 70
Roddy McDowall always had a good face for the movies. A crisp combination of British refinement and wide-eyed innocence, the McDowall mien was lovable enough in the '40s for Lassie Come Home to launch Roddy as a child star. Later, it was solemn enough for The Greatest Story Ever Told, and brightly sinister enough for villainy in 1968's Five Card Stud. But McDowall, who died of cancer on Saturday at age 70, knew full well what role he'd finally be remembered for: Dr. Cornelius in Planet of the Apes. And his face, of course, had nothing to do with it.
Roderick Andrew Anthony Jude McDowall spent 60 of his 70 years on screen, on stage and on television. He was in British and American films, as sprightly sages and flabbergasted foils, as Matthew, as two different Caesars and even as a private in The Longest Day. No role was beneath him, and yet none above him; he loved working, loved show business, and wasn't above hamming it up for Peter Falk in an episode of Columbo.
He did the honors as narrator for the recent documentary Behind the Planet of the Apes. The job called for an open embrace of the sci-fi/camp classics that Charlton Heston had clearly sidestepped, just as he did by bowing out of the series after just a teaser role in the first sequel. McDowall loved every minute of it; you could see it in his eyes. He loved the makeup, the social commentary, the sense of doing something that hadn't been done, then doing it over and over again as long as they kept paying you. McDowall was a pro -- temperamental types don't get 150 movie and TV roles in a career. "I still have the actor's disease," he admitted in the '60s. "I always think I'll never get another job." Sometimes it's the journeymen you grow fondest of -- whether or not they're wearing the ape makeup.
-- FRANK PELLEGRINI
Time Daily (online edition of Time Magazine)