Roddy McDowall Biography

Film Actor, Actor(1928–1998)
Actor Roddy McDowall gained a cult following after he played Cornelius in the 1968 film 'Planet of the Apes.'

Synopsis

Roddy McDowall was born on September 17, 1928, in London, England. In 1941, he was in How Green Was My Valley. After a stint in theater, he returned to film in Cleopatra. Afterwards, he took the role of The Bookworm villain on 1960s Batman series. In 1968, he played Cornelius in cult classic Planet of the Apes and later took on the role of Galen in the 1970s television series of the same name. During his life, he starred in countless television movies, and appeared in scores of shows. Toward the end of his career, he voiced characters in numerous animated series. He died on October 3, 1998, in Los Angeles, California.

Early Success

Actor and photographer Roddy McDowall was born Roderick Andrew Anthony Jude McDowall was born on September 17, 1928, in London, England. He was the only son of Thomas McDowall, a merchant seaman, and his wife, Winifred. As a child, Roddy appeared in a slew of British films, including Yellow Sands (1938) and Just William (1939).

In 1940, Roddy moved to America, with his mother and sister, to escape the World War II bombing of London. Thomas McDowall joined his family shortly thereafter. They settled in Hollywood, where Roddy was immediately contracted by 20th Century-Fox. In 1941, he gave a remarkable performance as the juvenile lead in John Ford's Oscar-winning drama How Green Was My Valley. McDowall followed the film's success with equally impressive roles in the children's classics My Friend Flicka and Lassie Come Home (both 1943).

Work on Stage and Television

Like many child stars, McDowall found it hard to transition into adult film roles. Frustrated with dwindling opportunities in Hollywood, he turned to stage acting. He toured in vaudeville and in summer stock before moving to New York in 1954. He was featured in a succession of memorable Broadway productions, including Compulsion (1957) and The Fighting Cock (1959). For the latter, McDowall earned a Supporting Actor Tony Award.

In 1963, McDowall returned to film acting in the more mature role of Octavian in the extravagant feature Cleopatra, costarring with Richard Burton and longtime friend Elizabeth Taylor. Shortly after, he made his mark in television with a recurring role—as the miscreant Bookworm—on the 1966 Batman series, opposite Adam West. His role as The Bookworm, one of Batman's nemeses—others included Julie Newmar's Catwoman, Cesar Romero's Joker and Vincent Price's Egghead—made McDowall a household name with younger viewers.

'Planet of the Apes'

In 1968, McDowall starred as the sympathetic scientist Cornelius in the seminal science fiction film Planet of the Apes. With undeniable camp appeal, the film spawned a number of sequels and earned McDowall a cult following. He reprised his role as Cornelius in the third installment, Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971). In the two subsequent releases, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) and Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973), McDowall assumed the role of Cornelius' son Caesar.

McDowall made a transition to the small screen with the Planet of the Apes TV series, appearing as Galen in a number of episodes in 1974. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, he continued to direct his efforts toward television work. He acted in the TV movies The Rhineman Exchange (1977), The Martian Chronicles (1980) and Hollywood Wives (1985). During this period, McDowall's most notable film credit was as a washed-up movie star in the acclaimed horror film Fright Night (1985).

Toward the end of his prolific career, McDowall lent his voice to a number of animated series, including the Darkwing Duck (1992) and The Adventures of Batman and Robin (1994). In 1998, he provided the voice of Mr. Soil in the Disney/Pixar animated feature A Bug's Life, which marked his final film role.

Notable Photographer

McDowall was also an accomplished portrait photographer whose pictures of Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy and Mia Farrow appeared in Look and Life magazines. He published a series of books: Double Exposure (1966), Double Exposure, Take Two (1989), Double Exposure, Take Three (1992) and Double Exposure, Take Four (1993). An active and respected member of the Hollywood community, McDowall served on the executive boards of the Screen Actors Guild and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

McDowall died on October 3, 1998, in Studio City, California, after a long battle with cancer. He was 70 years old.

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