Roderick Andrew Anthony Jude "Roddy" McDowall (17 September 1928 – 3 October 1998) was an English actor, film director, photographer and voice artist. His film roles included Cornelius and Caesar in the Planet of the Apes film series. He began his long acting career as a child in How Green Was My Valley, My Friend Flicka and Lassie Come Home, and as an adult appeared most frequently as a character actor on stage and television. He served in several positions on the Board of Governors for the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences as well as contributing to various charities related to the film industry and film preservation.
Early life and career
McDowall was born at 204 Herne Hill Road, Herne Hill, London, the son of Winsfriede Lucinda (née Corcoran), an Irish-born aspiring actress, and Thomas Andrew McDowall, a merchant seaman of Scottish descent. Both of his parents were enthusiastic about thetheatre. He had an older sister, Virginia, who was a sometime actress.
After McDowall had appeared in several British films, his family moved to the United States of America in 1939 because of the outbreak of World War II in Britain. McDowall apparently resided in the United States for the rest of his life. He never married.
He made his first well-known film appearance at the age of 12, playing "Huw Morgan" in How Green Was My Valley (1941). This role made him a household name. He starred in Lassie Come Home (1943), a film that introduced a girl who would become his lifelong friend — Elizabeth Taylor. He then appeared as Ken McLaughlin in the 1943 film My Friend Flicka. McDowall went on to appear in several other films, including The Keys of the Kingdom (1944) and The White Cliffs of Dover (1944). In 1944 exhibitors voted him the number four "star of tomorrow".
Roddy McDowall in Lassie Come Home
McDowall continued his career successfully into adulthood. He made his first screen appearances as a young adult in 1948 forMonogram Pictures, a low-budget studio that always welcomed established star names. Apart from Kidnapped (1948), an adaptation of the Robert Louis Stevenson story, the McDowall Monograms were contemporary outdoor adventures; he made seven features for the studio until the series lapsed in 1952. With no other movie roles forthcoming, McDowall temporarily retired from the screen and worked instead on the stage (notably in Camelot) and in television through the 1950s and 1960s. He appeared in such series as the original The Twilight Zone, The Eleventh Hour, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Night Gallery, The Invaders, The Carol Burnett Show, Fantasy Island, Columbo and Quantum Leap.
He is well remembered for his performances (in heavy makeup as various "chimpanzee" characters) in four of the Planet of the Apesfilms (1968–1973) and in the 1974 TV series that followed. During one guest appearance on The Carol Burnett Show, he came out onto the stage in his "Planet of the Apes" makeup and the look of fright on Carol Burnett's face was reported to be genuine.
In the 1960s McDowall specialized in character roles. Film appearances included Cleopatra (1963), in which he played Octavian (the young Emperor Augustus) and was believed to be set to get nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor but was disqualified when accidentally submitted for Best Actor instead; It! (1966), in which he played a Norman Bates-like character reminiscent of Psycho; The Poseidon Adventure (1972), in which he played Acres, a dining room attendant; The Legend of Hell House (1973), in which he played a physical medium assigned to a team attempting to crack the secret of the Belasco House; Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry(1974); Evil Under the Sun (1982); Class of 1984 (1982); Fright Night (1985), in which he played Peter Vincent, a television host and moderator of telecast horror films; and Overboard (1987) in which he played a kind-hearted butler (and produced the film).
McDowall appeared frequently on Hollywood Squares, and occasionally came up with funny quips himself. For example:
Q. In Shakespeare's Hamlet, what does Queen Gertrude get that was meant for her famous son?
McDOWALL: A dozen roses and a box of candy.
McDowall played "The Bookworm" in the 1960s American TV series Batman, and he had an acclaimed recurring role as "The Mad Hatter" in Batman: The Animated Series as well as providing his adroit dramatic tones to the audiobook adaptation of the 1989 Batman film. He also played the rebel scientist Dr. Jonathan Willoway in the 1970s science fiction TV series, The Fantastic Journey, based on the Bermuda Triangle. McDowall's final acting role in animation (at least), was for an episode of Godzilla: The Series in the episode "Dreadloch". In A Bug's Life (1998), one of his final contributions to motion pictures, he provides the voice of the ant "Mr. Soil".
During the 1990s, McDowall became active in film preservation and participated in the restoration of Cleopatra (1963). McDowall served for several years in various capacities on the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the organisation that presents the Oscar Awards. He was Chairman of the Actors' Branch for five terms. He was elected President of the Academy Foundation the year that he died.
McDowall received recognition as a photographer and published five books of photographs, one being of his celebrity friends such as Elizabeth Taylor, Judy Garland, Judy Hollidayand Maureen O'Hara.
One of his last public appearances occurred when he accompanied the actress Luise Rainer to the 70th Oscar ceremony.
Although Roddy McDowall made no public statements about his sexual orientation during his lifetime, a few authors have claimed that he was a closeted homosexual.
In 1974, the FBI raided the home of McDowall and seized the actor's collection of films and television series in the course of an investigation of film piracy and copyright infringement. His collection consisted of 160 16 mm prints and more than 1,000 video cassettes, at a time before the era of commercial videotapes, when there was no legal aftermarket for films (copying or selling prints obtained from studios without owning the copyright was illegal). McDowall had purchased Errol Flynn's home cine films and the prints of his own directorial debut Tam-Lin (1970) starring Ava Gardner and transferred them all to tape for longer-lasting archival storage. McDowall was quite forthcoming about those who dealt with him: Rock Hudson, Dick Martin and Mel Tormé were just a few of the celebrities interested in his film reproductions.
On 3 October 1998, McDowall died at his home in the Studio City district of Los Angeles of lung cancer. "It was very peaceful," said Dennis Osborne, a screenwriter friend who had cared for the actor in his final months. "It was just as he wanted it. It was exactly the way he planned." Though he was cremated through the Neptune Society Columbarium, his ashes were not distributed in the Pacific Ocean as had been widely reported at the time.