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'.)This article should be cited as:
"Roddy McDowall", by Will Johnson, professional genealogist firstname.lastname@example.org, at CountyHistorian.com, URL: http://www.countyhistorian.com/cecilweb/index.php/Roddy_McDowall copyright 2007-8, all rights reserved.
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as Octavian in 1963's Cleopatra
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 movie 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 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 her screen debut, in 1943's Lassie Come Home. 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 had run an art gallery.
Roddy McDowall lived in the Los Angeles-area with his parents, graduating from University High School in Santa Monica. Christopher Isherwood writes that Tom Maddox told him, that he was having an affair with the then teen-aged Roddy. Christopher in a footnote says that Roddy must have been 18 at this time. (Lost Years: A Memoir, 1945-1951, by Christopher Isherwood. WSJ, Page 17).
Tab Hunter mentions Roddy in his autobiography Tab Hunter Confidential : The Making of a Movie Star : "While making shakes [at the Rexall drugstore at Hollywood and Highland], I met my first bona fide movie star. It was the night of the big 1948 Christmas parade...Dick Clayton brought along Roddy McDowall. Roddy was only twenty, but he'd been in pictures his whole life....We hit it off, gabbing and laughing...." (Confidential, p48). Several years later, Tab and Roddy posed shirtless for a fan magazine spread entitled "Calling All Girls".
Farley Granger mentions Roddy in his autobiography Include Me Out: My Life from Goldwyn to Broadway (see here). He knew Roddy prior to Farley's enlistment in the Navy at age 18 [this would have been 1943], and then much later he further remarks, "It was 1953. I found an apartment on the Upper East Side in Manhattan....My old pal Roddy McDowall and also Monty Clift lived on the same block" (emphasis mine) (see page 142)
It is true that Roddy has 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 then and 1952 and took to Broadway.
One of Roddy McDowall's fan sites claims that 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.
In addition to Elizabeth, Roddy was a very close friend of Montgomery Clift. (see here) In addition, Virginia, Roddy's sister was once Monty's secretary. In Capua's book, Roddy is quoted as saying about Monty: "The only thing we can do, Maureen [Stapleton], is hold his hand to the grave." (see here)
Eddie Fisher, in his autobiography Been There, Done That mentions Roddy McDowall partly because of the years of hatred Eddie had for Roddy. They didn't always hate each other, as Eddie had first met Elizabeth at a party that Merv Griffin and Roddy threw in an apartment they were then sharing in the Dakota. He states, "She spent most of the evening in a corner with her close friend Montgomery Clift....She was recently divorced from her first husband Nicky Hilton...." (pg 136) (So this must have been 1951 or 1952.)
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)
Again Tab Hunter in his autobiography puts Roddy living in New York City in 1960 when he says "Roddy McDowall and I had seen Rocco and His Brothers, at the Sutton Theater in New York when it first came out" (pg 243).
Lauren Bacall in her memoir By Myself and Then Some mentions Roddy (page 447). "He was someone I looked forward to — loved seeing — loved hearing from."
Boze Hadleigh states (here) that Roddy was gay, but very closeted.
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.
Roy Moseley who was with Bette Davis the last part of her life, mentions Roddy McDowall in his own autobiography here). When Julie Andrews asked Roddy why he didn't write a book about his life, he said, "I have too many friends, I know too much, I couldn't." (see here)
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.
Primary sources for 1
- "Roddy McDowall", on TheSmokingGun
- Daily Herald, 4 Oct 1998, page 10 "'Planet of the Apes' actor Roddy McDowell dies at 70" transcribed here
Secondary sources for 2
- "Roddy McDowall" on Wikipedia
- "Roddy McDowall" on Actors of Hollywood
- "Biographical Stats", A Tribute to Roddy McDowall, xmoppet.org