He’s a normal twelve-year-old. Like others of his age, this gentleman prefers gore. Asked his opinion of "How Green Was My Valley," he said: "It seemed to go very well."
     "Yes, but how did you like it, Roddy?"
     "Well, I don’t really care much for that kind of picture. Not enough bloodshed. I’d rather see a whodunit."
     The face may be wistful, but the spirit isn’t. It’s not lonely communion with his soul which gives his eyes their dream-haunted look. Remarkably well-adjusted to this world, he has only one improvement to suggest — extermination of Hitler and gang.
     All this being so, there remains the mystery of his acting, mature beyond that of many grown-ups. To call him a child actor falls wide of the mark. He’s an actor who happens to be twelve, but who conveys emotion with the sureness of experience and the sensitivity of understanding.
     It’s a mystery that can’t be wholly explained, any more than you can explain the young Mozart. A child is born with a gift. But Roddy’s parents are partly responsible — if not for the gift, then for helping to mould an integrated personality which can use its gift to the best advantage.

RODDY’S father came from a strictly regulated home. His mother spent much of her girlhood in boarding schools. For their children, they decided before they ever had any children, things would be different. From the time consciousness dawned, Roddy and Virginia were treated like human entities. They lived not merely under their parents’ roof, but with their parents. They weren’t shunted off to the nursery or banished with relief at six because it was bedtime. No Sunday invitation was accepted without consulting them. They had the same right as their elders, the McDowalls contended, to choose not to be bored. Each relished the society of the other three. There happened to be no other children in the neighboring houses on Herne Hill where they lived, so Roddy and Virginia invented their own games and played them together.
     Their father, of the Merchant Marine in both World Wars, taught his son to sail and passed on to him his own love of ships. Nothing that came within the scope of a child’s comprehension was too difficult to be explained.
     The children have never disobeyed, not because they’re goody-goods, but because the need to assert themselves through revolt hasn’t arisen. Allowed every fair latitude, they take it for granted that their mother doesn’t say no except for sufficient reason, so they don’t argue. Mrs. McDowall doesn’t give orders. She makes a suggestion, and it’s followed. She doesn’t remember when she last punished either. Roddy does. He got in a fight with Virginia and threw something at her and it hit her head and he got spanked. He was five then.
     Their dramatic careers — Virginia acted in England and you’ll see her in Twentieth’s "This Above All" — were launched by their supposed shyness. The elocution teacher at their school suggested lessons to help them overcome it. Mrs. McDowall didn’t know what she was talking about. "Shy, indeed! You should see them at home. If you mean they’re well-behaved in school, it’s because they know they have to be."
     She had nothing against the lessons, however, and the McDowalls, brother and sister, wound up by copping every prize in sight. Entered in the same competition, Virginia would look to her own defeat as a foregone conclusion. "Thank heavens Roddy’s not in the next one. I might get first place." But she said it equably. Sisterly pride went deeper than professional rivalry.

     Mrs. McDowall grew weary of being told that her child was marvelous and ought to be in films. "How does one go about it?" Nobody knew. At length she took matters into her own hands. A columnist wrote that Monty Banks needed a boy for his new picture with Gracie Fields.
     As Roddy tells it: "Mummy phoned him up and he was quite rude to Mummy. He said, ‘You’re the nine hundred and ninety-ninth person to phone me up today, how’m I to know where Monty Banks is?’ So Mummy said, ‘If you print such things in your column, you must expect to have people phoning you up.’ Well, probably seeing the logic of that, though still cross, he said: ‘I left him at the Dorchester half an hour ago and for all I know he’s still there.’ So Mummy said, ‘Thank you very much,’ and then she said, ‘I don’t suppose I’ll get him, but there’s no harm in trying.’
     "Well, curiously enough, she did get him and he was very nice and said send some photographs. But I was too small or something was wrong with me and I didn’t get the part. However, he advised Mummy where to go and I finally got in a film by the name of ‘Scruffy.’"

HE continued his new career till the war. He knows what bombs are like. "They whistle," he says, "like a thousand people screaming." Air raids don’t scare him. "Beforehand, you think, I wonder what it’s going to be like. The first raid we ever experienced was in somebody’s house and the man ran around saying nobody get nervous, and Mummy just looked at him, and I looked at Mummy, and she wasn’t scared, so neither was I."
     "After you’ve had eight or nine, you really get tired of them, it becomes just something you expect. You say, ‘Hitler hasn’t come over yet, he should be here in about an hour,’ then you go about your business."
     His second raid caught him in a taxi with his mother. Before she could stop him, he had his head through the window, informing her that it wasn’t a very good raid, he couldn’t see the bombs.
     Not till Westminster was hit did the thing happen to Roddy which has happened to so many Britishers, crystallizing a general emotion into something deeper and more passionate. Roddy has a special feeling for the Abbey, tied up with his special feeling for history. He’d roamed it often, been allowed to sit in the King’s Stall and in Kitchener’s. "If they hit the Abbey, Mummy," he’d said, "I can’t stand it." He rarely shows temper, cries still more rarely. But when he heard that they’d hit the Abbey, he ground his fists together and half raised them. His mother went to him, but he shook off comfort. "I hate Hitler!" he blazed, then ran to his room and sobbed for hours.
     THOMAS McDOWALL rejoined the Merchant Marine and sent his family to America. After boarding ship, orders came which kept them in Liverpool harbor for six days. German bombers tried again and again but failed to hit them. The difference between the children — perhaps between male and female the world over — was underscored when a submarine attacked at sea. Roddy went wild with excitement, pleading to be allowed on deck, so he could watch them throw the depth charges. Vaguer about the details of warfare, Virginia asked: "Are there men in that submarine?"
     "Of course—"
     "But they’ll be killed!"
     "Of course," yelped Roddy.

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