Roderick Andrew Anthony Jude "Roddy" McDowall (17 September 1928–3 October 1998) was an English-born actor and photographer. He was best known as Cornelius and Caesar in the Planet of the Apes film series. He began his long career as a child actor.

Early life and career

McDowall was born in Herne Hill, London, the son of Winsfriede L. (nee Corcoran), an Irish-born aspiring actress, and Thomas Andrew McDowall, a Merchant Mariner. Both of his parents were enthusiastic about the theatre. He had a sister, Virginia (23 September 1927–8 December 2006).[1]

After he had appeared in several British films, McDowall's family came to America because of the Blitz. He then made his first well-known film appearance, at age twelve, playing Huw in How Green Was My Valley (1941). This role made him a household name. He co-starred in Lassie Come Home (1943), on the first of many occasions opposite lifelong friend Elizabeth Taylor. He appeared too as Ken McLaughlin in the 1943 film My Friend Flicka. McDowall then went on to appear in other films, including The Keys of the Kingdom (1944) and The White Cliffs of Dover (1944).

Adult career

File:Lassie Come Home.jpg

Roddy McDowall in Lassie Come Home (1943)

McDowall continued his career successfully into adulthood, but it was usually in character roles, notably in heavy makeup as various "chimpanzee" characters in four of the Planet of the Apes movies (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. Other film appearances included Cleopatra (1963), in which he played Octavian (the young Emperor Augustus) and was notoriously 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; 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. He also appeared on stage and was frequently a guest star on television shows, appearing 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 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.

He played a character villain, the Bookworm, in the camp 1960s TV series Batman and had an acclaimed recurring role as The Mad Hatter in Batman: The Animated Series as well as providing his adroit dramatic tones to the audio adaptation of the 1989 Batman film. He also played the rebel scientist Dr. Jonathan Willoway in the 1970s Bermuda Triangle-based sci-fi series, The Fantastic Journey. His 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 organization that presents the Oscar Awards. He was Chairman of the Actor's 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 Holliday and Maureen O'Hara.

One of his last public appearances occurred when he accompanied the actress Luise Rainer to the 70th Oscar ceremony.

Personal life

Although Roddy McDowall made no statements about his sexual orientation during his lifetime, it has been stated that he was a closeted homosexual.[2][3] After his death, his lovers were reported to have included Marlon Brando[4] and Montgomery Clift.[5]

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 movie 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 movies 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. No charges were brought against McDowall.[citation needed]


On 3 October 1998, McDowall died at his home in the Studio City neighborhood of Los Angeles of lung cancer.[6] "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, his ashes were not distributed in the Pacific Ocean as had been widely reported at the time.

The night after his death, Angela Lansbury paid tribute to him on BBC Radio 5 Live. She described him as "one of the most wonderful friends, anybody could possibly have," adding, "We've lost a beloved friend (who will be) so missed."[7]





  • Look After Lulu (1959)
  • The Fighting Cock (1959)
  • Camelot (1960)
  • The Astrakhan Coat (1967)
  • Charlie's Aunt (1975)
  • A Christmas Carol: The Musical (1997)


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  2. Smith, Patricia Juliana (2002), Claude J. Summers, ed., "McDowall, Roddy",, retrieved 15 March 2010 
  3. Simpson, Mark (2002), Sex terror: erotic misadventures in pop culture, Routledge, p. 69, ISBN 1560233761 
  4. Porter, Darwin (2006), Brando Unzipped, Blood Moon Productions, Ltd., p. 404, ISBN 0974811823 
  5. Hofler, Robert (11 October 2005), "Secrets and Bios", The Advocate, p. 80 
  6. Death certificate
    1. REDIRECT Template:IMDb name

External links

Template:EmmyAward DramaSupportingActor 1950-1975 Template:TonyAward PlayFeaturedActor 1947-1975

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