It seems unbelievable that Roddy McDowall has been working in the movies for more than 55 years. Roddy was born in London in 1928, and it was there he played his first role, in the movie Scruffy. His prolific career was interrupted by the war in 1940. The blitz destroyed a great part of London and Roddy and his family had to be evacuated to the United States. By that time, young Roddy had already worked in over 20 films.
In 1941, while already living in Hollywood, Roddy became a child star with films like How Green Was My Valley, My Friend Flicka, and Lassie Come Home (with his great friend Elizabeth Taylor), which reinforced his star status in 1943.
He went on to do 13 films as a teenager, including parts in which he portrayed the younger self of such distinguished actors as Gregory Peck in The Keys of the Kingdom, Peter Lawford in The White Cliffs of Dover and Tyrone Power in Son of Fury.
To date, Roddy has acted in more than a hundred movies, including Macbeth, The Longest Day, Cleopatra — once again with Elizabeth Taylor — Planet of the Apes and also its three sequels, Evil Under the Sun, Overboard ... the list is endless.
In 1960, the tireless actor received the two most important awards in Broadway and on American television — a Tony for his acting in the play The Fighting Cock and an Emmy for Night Without Honor.
In the Sixties, a lot of theatre actors didn't want to consider working in television, but Roddy says: "I was very lucky to live in the golden age of television. In the late Fifties, when I was doing theatre in New York, live television shows were exploding and this gave me the opportunity to acquire a wonderful training. Since then I fell in love with television."
Roddy had done everything on TV, from dramas to comedies, from variety to mini-series.
Roddy's productive career has expanded into other areas, and photography is another activity which the actor has developed professionally. Probably many of us have admired photographs of Mae West, Laurence Olivier, Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn or Elizabeth Taylor in magazines without realizing that the talented Roddy took them.
In 1966, he published the book Double Exposure, and recently Double Exposure II appeared in bookstores throughout the United States.
Busy as ever, Roddy took some time off to invite us to his home in Los Angeles and speak to us about all of this himself.
Roddy, how did your career begin?
"I began working when I was five years old. My mother was fascinated by movies, she wanted to be an actress — really, she wanted to be Mary Pickford. At that time, Pickford was the idol of every woman. Cinema and the opera made an enormous impression on my mother and, not being able to fulfill her dream, she decided that her son would become an actor.
"This happened in the Thirties and, at that time in England, we had to make what were called 'quota films' and it was a very active period. To be able to bring foreign films into the country we had to fill a quota and the requirement was for the film to be shown once.
"Before coming to America I made almost 25 films. Of course most of them are not even worth remembering, but I had a wonderful training."
You left London because of the blitz. Was this a traumatic experience?
"No, not really. I think that children have some kind of mechanism which allows them to avoid reality when it is too traumatic. My childhood was very, very happy and not even the blitz changed it."
Which was your first film in the United States?
"How Green Was My Valley in 1941, where I was extremely lucky to be directed by John Ford, one of the most wonderful directors. The movie is a classic. I was 13 years old when I made it, and I can't help being surprised at my performance in that movie — but it was Ford and his sensitivity in working with a kid my age that made everything possible."
You have been one of the few actors who has made the transition from child to adult actor. Was that difficult to do?
"I don't know. I began working as a child and as a teenager the roles kept coming. I think it's a question of continuing your work — after all, at 16 one is starting to live. To live and to work are synonymous to me."
The movie Planet of the Apes was a great box office success. Were you surprised by the public's response?
"Cinema is so unpredictable, you never know what the public is going to like. We all thought that Planet of the Apes would be successful, but the response it got was extraordinary. Nevertheless there were movies of which I expected a better response and the public hasn't gone and seen them."
Changing the subject to that of photography, do you have a favourite actress or actor you particularly like photographing?
"No, they're all interesting to me because each is different. That's what's wonderful about people — and the photographer searches for this uniqueness in each individual."
There's a photograph of Elizabeth Taylor in your first book that seems to be the favourite of many critics. You've taken a lot of pictures of her.
"I started taking pictures as a teenager and I have several of her when she was a young 17-year-old, others of her on the set of Cleopatra. I think many critics like the picture of Elizabeth with her hair wrapped in a towel. That one was published in Life magazine."
If you had to choose a career, which would it be — movies, theatre, television or photography?
"It's difficult to choose because an actor should do everything. The main thing is to be professional. If you are good but you are not professional, you won't last. That's the key — be professional and enjoy what you do."
What are your plans for the future?
"It took me a year to publish my book Double Exposure II and now I'll be starting a tour through the United States to promote it."
"Return to Los Angeles and maybe movies, television, theatre, or photography!"