The million dollar face ...
      "It took eight years to convince people to do the book, and another five or six before I was taken seriously as a photographer. I felt like a dilettante; that people would print my pictures simply because Roddy McDowall, actor, had taken them. But I have an over-developed sense of tenacity and I kept at it. I take portraits now and I did Barbra Streisand's third album cover, some covers for Johnny Mathis, and a Judy Garland book."
      McDowall still retains traces of a British accent. He was born in Herne Hill, South London, went to school in Upper Norwood, and spent a lot of his childhood at Burnham on Crouch, Essex, where his father and grandfather had a boat — "a three-masted schooner thing."
      He didn't return to England for almost 20 years. "I was afraid to go back after such a long gap. It had changed. I went to find my old school and there was nothing there. Dulwich had become like Manchester."
      McDowall has made a point of playing a wide range of characters: "In The Poseidon Adventure I was a thoroughly sweet feller; in Night Gallery a macabre son of a bitch. I've done Shakespeare, musical comedy, Shaw. I've just finished playing a Skid Row bum with no legs. In the film Inside Daisy Clover I was a villain in black, the sort of guy who looks as if he sleeps in a suit press."
      He loved playing the ape roles, he says, stirring his bloody mary with relish. He was in four of the five feature films, including Saturday's Escape from the Planet of the Apes, and the TV series. He says he's a peculiar fellow in that he doesn't have the same reaction to the ape make-up that people think he ought to have.
      "Apes are wonderful characters and an enormous acting challenge. Our apes are perfectly adorable and terribly sweet people but a little bizarre ..."
      The films were hard work. He spent 11 hours a day glued into the rubber mask make-up and hairy costume, working on locations that sent his body heat soaring.
      After five days of almost continuous wear, the mask would cause his skin to break out in a rash. His face was insured for a million dollars. "No one knew what lasting damage could be done to the skin. Once, I stayed in the mask for 19 hours and nearly collapsed with heat and exhaustion. I had a cyst on my head caused by dirt from the wig."
      McDowall was unrecognisable throughout the films and TV series but that doesn't stop fans from cornering him. Later in the afternoon, we stroll through a park surrounded by traffic, and Roddy describes the peaceful haven it was 35 years ago. A middle-aged woman comes up and says: "My friend and I are having a little bet. Aren't you Roddy McDowall?" "I am," he tells her. "Good, I've just won a buck," she says. "Split it with me," says Roddy.
      He insists he hasn't made a fortune out of films. "Me a millioinaire? Good heavens, no. I started long before the big money was around." He lives well in a four-bedroomed house in Studio City, one of the cheaper suburbs of Los Angeles. It has an acre of ground and he's keen on gardening. His sister Virginia, "who was wise and gave up showbusiness in the early Fifties", lives nearby.
      Neither of them married. Their mother died a few years ago. Roddy McDowall is happy being at home, listening to music, gardening, horse-riding, but he's happiest when he's working. He has no pretensions.
      "It's a heartbreaking profession. The accumulation of one's work ultimately counts for very little. People are discarded right, left and centre ... I never plan for the future. I just hope to keep working ..."

TVTimes   October 15-21, 1977

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