Roddy McDowall: from Child Star ...
movies ... and among those we shall shortly be seeing are in another Walt Disney production, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Roger Vadim's Pretty Maids All In A Row (in which he played a befuddled principal of a girls' High School at which all kinds of surprising things happen) and in MGM's Lookin' Good.
During the 1950s Roddy McDowall was lost to films. Quite sensibly realising that he couldn't go on forever as a child star, he first became interested in behind the camera techniques, which he knew would stand him in good stead for any intended directorial ambitions ... and a little later launched out into a new career on the New York stage. Among the plays in which he appeared was "Compulsion", based on the notorious Leopold-Loeb murder case. The two playboy murderers were played by two ex-child actors: Roddy, of course, and Dean Stockwell, yet another performer for whom McDowall has great admiration.
Then of course, there was television, with Roddy winning the Emmy award as Best Supporting Actor of the Year (1961) and the following year being nominated as Best Actor in the "Arrest and Trial" series.
The film company with which Roddy has had the longest and closest association is 20th Century-Fox. It was Darryl F. Zanuck who had been impressed by Roddy's work in his British films and gave him his chance in Man Hunt, after signing him to a long-term 20 Century-Fox contract. For this company he made How Green Was My Valley, The Pied Piper (1942), My Friend Flicka and Son of Fury (also 1942).
After his long sojourn on the stage and television, Roddy returned to 20th Century-Fox for Cleopatra (1962), The Longest Day (1963), Shock Treatment (1964) — a strong dramatic role in this one — and recently for the Planet of the Apes pictures. Roddy created the role of Cornelius, the chimpanzee scientist, in the original Planet of the Apes (1968) and having had to miss the second (Beyond the Planet of the Apes [sic]) due to his directorial commitment, he resumed the role in the latest Escape From the Planet of the Apes now on release. Roddy has a particular affection for this role and I asked why.
"Because I love make-up," he answered. "Also, it's a challenge to have to act through the chimp make-up in order to
make the character come across to the audience." His special facial make-up took three hours to apply and had to remain on until the end of each day's filming. The greatest problem would occur at lunch break as Roddy's chimp lips extended two inches beyond his own!
"Incidentally," he went on, "I'd always wanted to appear in a horror film and I came over to England to make it. It wasn't very good and I've forgotten the title." Actually it was The Curse of The Golem (1967).
This to me more than interesting chat could have gone on indefinitely ... but just then one of the hotel staff appeared to tell Roddy he was wanted on the 'phone. I offered to leave, but was told to wait as he would only be a few moments. This proved to be so ... and when he returned he said, somewhat inexplicably, "That was my star."
"I beg your pardon," I said stupidly.
"That was my star," he said again. "The star of my film. Ava Gardner. She is an angel ... the most adorable, affectionate, co-operative, talented ... and I love her."
What more could one say? But I had to ask: "You had no trouble during the filming with Miss Gardner?"
He shook his head most decisively and continued rhapsodically: "She is herself ... ravishingly beautiful with a beauty that has been enhanced by the years ... a very special person who makes your life better for having known her."
I could see that he meant every word ... this was no fulsome adulation, but a genuine regard.
"She is a real mine of talent," he went on. "One who will respond the moment the camera starts turning. Elizabeth Taylor is another. They have perfected an art which makes them come to film life as soon as the camera turns.
Before leaving I had to mention Roddy's photographic book achievement, "Double Exposure", which has been a best-seller in the States. This is a collection of nearly one hundred highly individual portraits Roddy has made of well-known personalities (film and theatre stars naturally among them) with comments on them by equally
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