In Step With:
by James Brady
When you have starred in as many memorable and historic movies as Roddy McDowall -- from Lassie Come Home to Planet of the Apes to Cleopatra -- you qualify as a Hollywood pro.
But Roddy, recently turned 64, has a second career as one of the most admired photographers in the film colony. He brought out his first big coffee-table book of star photos and accompanying text a quarter century ago, under the title Double Exposure. It became an instant classic. In 1989, Roddy produced a very successful sequel, and this fall William Morrow published Double Exposure--Take III.
The idea is an irresistible one: superb photos by McDowell and words by one star or celebrity about another. In this edition, Roddy has Arnold Schwarzenegger writing about Clint Eastwood, Carrie Fisher writing about her mother, Debbie Reynolds, Ronald Reagan holding forth on Bob Hope, and so on -- pairings either unexpected or entirely logical. In the cases of all three books, which carry hefty price tags, Roddy's share of the proceeds go not to him but to the Motion Picture Home in Los Angeles, where aging actors and actresses live and are cared for.
I asked what was the toughest part of dealing with all these big names and often big egos.
"Just correlating," Roddy said. "All of us have such busy lives. Once one has made the contact, no problem. Nobody takes on the task [of posing] unless he really wants to do it." These days, Roddy primarily uses a Nikon for his photography but in the past has used a Rolleiflex. "Some," he said, "were even done with an old box camera, a Brownie."
How old do you have to be to remember the marvelous old Brownie?
Once he had an okay from the star for a photo shoot, Roddy asked the subject who might do best at writing the copy. Sometimes he himself suggested a name, as in getting Harrison Ford to write about Sean Connery and Nancy Reagan to do the text about the leading fashion designer James Galanos.
Do such lofty folks take editing well?
"Most people write much better than they think they do," Roddy said. "And, anyway, I'm opposed to editing. When someone sits down and writes something, they usually get it right."
The British-born McDowall has made his home for the last 20 years in Los Angeles and is anything but ready to hang up the greasepaint. He recently played a security man in the latest Sidney Sheldon miniseries, Sands of Time. Displaying a self-mocking wit, Roddy described his part as "half-security, half-nerd."
Roddy co-starred with Elizabeth Taylor when both were British child actors newly arrived in Hollywood, and the two remain close pals. He was later in Cleopatra -- perhaps the most high-profile flick ever, because of the offscreen goings-on between Taylor and Richard Burton. Was Roddy aware of all that? "I was only aware of how opulent the movie was and how long it took to make," he said. In Planet of the Apes, where he played the "good ape-scientist," everything was "great fun," except for the makeup ("time-consuming and requiring such stamina to wear"). As for Poseidon Adventure, Roddy called it "the last of the big productions," adding: "I loved being in that all-star cast."
PARADE Magazine December 13, 1992