Saturday, 23 February 2013

Roddy McDowall

After I'd watched Fright Night, it occurred to me that, though I always enjoy watching Roddy McDowell on screen, I didn't actually know much about his career.
When I was at school, one of the shows that everyone watched (along with Alias Smith and Jones) was Planet of the Apes. One of the girls in my class was obsessed with Galen, and even had his picture on her school bag. Satchels and briefcases were rather old-fashioned by the time I was going through school, and we all used black zip up bags, which could be plain but sometimes had those glossy plastic transfer pictures on them.
Galen is the role that Roddy McDowell is probably best known for, along with the other apes he played in the films - Cornelius and Caesar. I think the series was under-rated at the time - it's really very good, and Galen is such a fantastic character. He's a bit of a coward who ends up doing some really brave things, and he's enthusiastic, and even gets a love interest in the form of a chimp surgeon he gets to help him and the humans. And he does it all without being able to show his face. It's all in the eyes and the voice. What's even more impressive is that he plays different characters in the films, and manages to make each of them distinct from the others.
I'd never seen his face without prosthetics until I happened to catch an episode of the Invaders - and my first thought was what a big nose he had! (I have a feeling he died horribly in that, and it was quite traumatic for some of us at school, especially the Galen fan!).
Later, I saw him in an appallingly bad SF show called The Fantastic Journey. It was a time travel show, with a group of people from different times working together. Roddy McDowell was Dr Jonathan Willoway - he came from the 1960s and wore a leather jacket, and he was the best actor in it by far! (though I always had a soft spot for Jared Martin, who played some sort of healer from the 23rd century).

Now I've been looking at his biography - and the list of the films and TV shows he was in is enormous! I'd known he was a child actor, though if I've ever seen Lassie Come Home it's mercifully slipped out of my memory! It was, however, the first film my mum was ever taken to see as a small child - and she had to be taken out of the cinema, loudly crying "That master's hurting Lassie!"
I do remember seeing How Green Was My Valley, but I had no idea he played Huw, the young boy who was the star of the film.
He doesn't seem to have stopped working since, and he was good friends with many well-known actors and actresses - Maureen O'Hara and Angela Lansbury (he appeared in a few episodes of Murder, She Wrote, and he was also in Bedknobs and Broomsticks with her). Elizabeth Taylor said he was the one friend she could confide in - she told him things she would never tell anyone else. He was also Julie Andrews' boyfriend for a while!
He seems to have spent his whole life doing what he loved doing, and everyone around him seemed to like him. In the IMDb biography, he's quoted as saying:
"I absolutely adore movies. Even bad ones. I don't like pretentious ones, but a good bad movie, you must admit, is great."
and it also says: "He was that rarity among movie stars in that he appears to have made no enemies at all during his lifetime."
That's quite a good epitaph to have.

No comments:

Post a Comment