Roddy McDowall

Roddy McDowall bigraphy, stories - Actor

Roddy McDowall : biography

17 September 1928 – 3 October 1998

Roderick Andrew Anthony Jude "Roddy" McDowall (17 September 1928 – 3 October 1998) was an English actor, film director, photographer and voice artist. His film roles included Cornelius and Caesar in the Planet of the Apes film series. He began his long acting career as a child in How Green Was My Valley, My Friend Flicka and Lassie Come Home, and as an adult appeared most frequently as a character actor on stage and television. He served in several positions on the Board of Governors for the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences as well as contributing to various charities related to the film industry and film preservation.


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

Adult career

McDowall continued his career successfully into adulthood. He made his first screen appearances as a young adult in 1948 for Monogram Pictures, a low-budget studio that always welcomed established star names. Apart from Kidnapped (1948), an adaptation of the Robert Louis Stevenson story, the McDowall Monograms were contemporary outdoor adventures; he made seven features for the studio until the series lapsed in 1952. With no other movie roles forthcoming, McDowall temporarily retired from the screen and worked instead on the stage (notably in Camelot) and in television through the 1950s and 1960s. He appeared 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 is well remembered for his performances (in heavy makeup as various "chimpanzee" characters) in four of the Planet of the Apes films (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.

In the 1960s McDowall specialized in character roles. Film appearances included Cleopatra (1963), in which he played Octavian (the young Emperor Augustus) and was believed to be set to get 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; The Legend of Hell House (1973), in which he played a physical medium assigned to a team attempting to crack the secret of the Belasco House; 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 (and produced the film).

McDowall 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.

McDowall played "The Bookworm" in the 1960s American TV series Batman, and he had an acclaimed recurring role as "The Mad Hatter" in Batman: The Animated Series as well as providing his adroit dramatic tones to the audiobook adaptation of the 1989 Batman film. He also played the rebel scientist Dr. Jonathan Willoway in the 1970s science fiction TV series, The Fantastic Journey, based on the Bermuda Triangle. McDowall’s 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".