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Saturday, September 16, 2006


Roddy McDowall's Birthday


Roddy McDowall would have been 78 today (September 17). He died much too young for so vibrant an actor and personality. Ann considers him her all time favorite. No one took more secrets than Roddy when he left. His letters and papers were deposited at Bowling Green University with the proviso they remain sealed until the year 2100, so you can forget that Amazon pre-order. Everybody liked and trusted Roddy. He was also a major film collector. Rumor suggests he owned a five-hour print of Cleopatra acquired before the film was mutilated for release in 1963. I’d love to see some of those Monogram cheapies he made during his awkward age --- rugged titles like Killer Shark, Big Timber, Tuna Clipper, and The Steel Fist. These sound more like things Richard Dix or Chester Morris would have been doing, but Roddy? To his credit, McDowall really worked at his craft through the fifties, and emerged a seasoned adult performer. There was something vaguely sinister in his manner, and he played psychotics well. I seem to remember him approaching an old lady from behind with a giant set of tongs in a picture called Shock Treatment. His Bookworm turned on Batman in that meteoric first season, so every kid in the land learned his name and remembered it. If that didn’t assure his immortality, those ape planet farragoes surely would. He rode the bobsled of these most of the way to the nadir of Number Five, and wait; didn’t he do the short-lived TV series as well? There was never any question but that Roddy would give a terrific performance, no matter the worthiness (or lack of) in the product. Fright Night was his third act triumph, a tour de force in one of the few outstanding horror films of the eighties. He should have gotten a nomination for that one.

5 Comments:

Anonymous Greg said...

I'll bet Peter Lawford took more secrets when he left..

2:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I understand Roddy was part of the target for investigation during the mid-70s when the film duping scandal at Gaines Films in Van Nuys, California surfaced. Almost everyone on their mailing list got a visit from you know who......

8:45 AM  
Anonymous Chris said...

There is a great first season Columbo episode guest-starring Roddy as a murderous photographer/explosives expert. He looks dynamite with his sideburns, tinted glasses and denim suit.

Ida Lupino is also in that one ... as Roddy's mother?

In any event, Columbo eventually "cracks" Roddy by taking him for a ride on a ski tram with a box of what Roddy believes is dynamite. The episode ends with a helicopter shot of the tram accompanied by a soundtrack of Roddy's maniacal laughter, with plenty of reverb.

I highly recommend the Columbo DVDs -- the first season, at least, is beautiful technicolor ...

1:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wasn't he in the running for Norman Bates in "Psycho"? Though he was able to fulfill a similar role in the mid-sixties British horror potboiler "It!", as a nerdish museum employee with a mummified mum and a living golem under his thrall (for a while anyway) until the madness was stopped by what else, an ATOMIC BOMB!

7:48 PM  
Anonymous opticalguy said...

Roddy McDowall was always a favorite throughout my early film-going/TV viewing life. It was strange that they had him playing teenagers while he was in his 40s.

He used to frequent a video store in Hollywood (on Highland between Sunset and Hollywood Boulevards) in the late 1970s (even Laserdiscs were cheaper than film and they were very expensive) and I was surprised at how much taller and stark (solidly built) he was in person. I had imagined him to be much wispier.

He always gave his all no matter the quality of the show he was in and the fact that he was a felow film collector meant that he was "one of us."

2:14 PM  

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