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Roddy McDowall

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Roddy McDowall, born Roderick Andrew Anthony Jude McDowall (17 September 1928 London – 3 October 1998 Los Angeles), British-born actor (His name is frequently misspelled Roddy McDowell with an 'e'.)

Born in London in 1928 to Thomas Andrew McDowall (1896-1978) and his wife Winsfriede L. Corcoran (1899-1965), Roddy McDowall had already been in several British films when his family moved to the United States "at the end of 1940" (Roddy McDowall interview on YouTube), to escape the war. (see here). His big break came when he was cast in 1941's How Green Was My Valley, an emotional drama directed by John Ford.

Not as well known, the original director of this show was William Wyler. He is the one who saw Roddy's screen-test and chose him for the part. Wyler is also known for being the second husband, of Henry Fonda's first wife Margaret Sullavan.

Close on that role, Roddy McDowall was cast in 1943's My Friend Flicka (watch the first 35 seconds here). He is also well-known from his childhood for his role opposite, the then-unknown Elizabeth Taylor in 1943's Lassie Come Home. (Watch the original trailer here on Youtube.) It is possibly from this time that Elizabeth and Roddy became close friends. Elizabeth's selection for this movie was an absolute fluke. The director wanted a young girl with an English accent. Elizabeth had been born and lived for some years in London where her father ran an art gallery.

Roddy was cast again with Elizabeth Taylor in 1944's The White Cliffs of Dover. (Watch a scene with them together here on YouTube). Roddy lived in the Los Angeles-area with his parents, graduating from University High School in Santa Monica. Roddy had some good films while a child, but as he became older, his career dived into the B-movies where it stalled. He was only appearing in truly awful schlock. It was time for a change.

One of his fan sites claims that at this point, he studied professional acting under the tutelage of "Mira Rostova from 1952 to 1957" which is utterly ridiculous, really almost sardonic. Someone has taken the expression that "he studied acting with Mira" to mean under her, which is ludicrous. Mira is of course well-known as the acting coach of Montgomery Clift, but she never "taught" in that sense.

It is true that Roddy had moved to New York City. In one interview he claims this was because when he was seventeen, his agent told him that he'd never work again. So he moved to New York sometime between 1946 and 1951 and took to Broadway and the small screen. At that time all television was live, and all of it was being done from New York City.

It is interesting to note that 1951 was also the year that Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift co-starred with Shelley Winters in A Place in the Sun. It is quite possible that Roddy and Monty's own friendship dates from this year as well, perhaps Elizabeth introduced them to each other.

Right about the time that Liz was having an affair with Richard Burton, while still married to Eddie Fisher, Eddie comments in his autobiography that "...Roddy McDowall and his close friend John Valva..." (page 243) And again, "...my years of hatred for Roddy McDowall were finally going to pay off. He would never give Mia [Farrow] permission to marry me...." (pg 289)

In 1962, Roddy McDowall was in The Longest Day with Henry Fonda.

Roddy's mother Winsfried died in 1965 in Los Angeles. Roddy, having lived in New York City for twenty years, now in 1971 returned to Los Angeles, and started appearing in numerous television and movie work. His father Thomas Andrew McDowall died in Los Angeles in 1978.

Roddy became an accomplished photographers and published several books of his photographs of famous people. Roddy McDowall died of lung cancer at his home in Studio City, California. He was cremated and his ashes scattered at sea.

Roddy McDowall has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6632 Hollywood Blvd, and there is an honorary rose garden "at the Woodland Hills grounds of the Motion Picture & Television Fund" (xmoppet.org) with a statue of him in-costume as Caesar from the Planet of the Apes. His sister Virginia, slightly older than he, survived him, but died Dec 2006.

SourcesEdit

Further readingEdit

  • Virginia McDowall (his sister) on YouTube (last third of this video by the Musgrave Foundation)

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