"I had made too many very bad imitations of Roddy McDowall movies. I couldn’t get any answers from the no-brained people I was forced to deal with, so I left. I wanted to learn to act while I had a few years of my name left … that part of my name, that is, which had not been whittled away. So I went to New York.
"There I studied drama with Muriel Rostova," Roddy continued. "It was a shattering and revealing experience. But at least I got a chance to fail. Here you can’t afford to fail. And if you don’t risk failure you don’t grow. I was very lucky because I arrived in New York at a time when live TV was flourishing and I got a chance to play roles that I never would have gotten a crack at in movies.
"It was sort of like a golden age, that eight years of live TV. It was a breeding ground of great talent. Many of the outstanding writers, directors and actors in Hollywood today came out of it.
"It was wonderful for me because one week I’d be playing an Irish leprechaun, the next week a Cockney, or a midwest American, or a Mexican. It was very exciting to be part of an atmosphere that said, ‘Try something new.’ For the first time I got a chance to play comedy and character roles.
"Then I got some good plays. I did ‘The Doctor’s Dilemma,’ played Ariel in Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest,’ and did a southern character in ‘No Time for Sergeants’ – all wildly different roles. And of course ‘Compulsion,’ which was the wildest." Later he starred in the Lerner-Loewe musical, "Camelot," with Julie Andrews and Bob Goulet.
Roddy says it was because a lot of people "got kinky ideas which were impossible before the fact but fell into place afterward," that he was able to prove his versatility. For instance, Ariel had traditionally been played by a woman since the 1890s until he did the role at the American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Conn., and later repeated it for TV on Hallmark Playhouse.
And he says that director Joe Mankiewicz singlehandedly started a new movie career for him by giving him the role of Octavian in "Cleopatra." "I didn’t know why he thought of me for the part. It was a fantastic role."
Those "kinky" casting ideas and Roddy’s ability to deliver when given a challenge have brought him a series of movie roles very different from the kind he played as a wistful, appealing child star. He’s playing some pretty meaty and sometimes unlikable characters these days.
In "The Third Day" he says he’s a "wealthy, arrogant, perceptive fellow. He’s not really a heavy – just has a different point of view from the hero!" In "Daisy Clover," he plays a movie producer’s right-hand man – "an insidious, empty, dangerous character who knows everything that goes on, but whose own rhythm never changes." And in "Bullwhip Griffin" he’ll be a Boston butler who goes West and joins the Gold Rush.
I asked my young friend, who still looks like a juvenile although he’s well into his 30s, if he plans to move to Hollywood now that he’s making one movie after another. He maintains a comfortable bachelor apartment in New York which he calls home, but hasn’t seen much of it in the past four years. He told me he felt he would have the same problem if he made his headquarters here.
"I’ve been all over the place these last few years. In the middle of ‘Greatest Story’ I went to Spain to finish ‘Cleopatra.’ Then back to Hollywood to do ‘Shock Treatment’ and finish ‘Greatest Story.’ I spent a couple of months in New York, but commuted to London while I was doing the Laurence Olivier photographic project."
He also managed to get in eight TV shows here on the coast and did a second photo lay out, this time on Elizabeth Taylor. Roddy is a fine photographer and has built up a very successful secondary career lensing top stars of stage and screen for leading magazines in the United States and Europe. He’s also in demand as a guest star on TV, having won an Emmy as best supporting actor for his portrayal of Alexander Hamilton’s son in the life of Hamilton and a nomination as best actor for a segment of the "Arrest and Trial" series.
Does he have a long term plan? He says he’s never believed in planning.
"If you say in five years you’re going to play such and such a role you invest in it too much importance – and besides a lot of things change in five years." One thing is certain – Roddy won’t be taking it easy, whatever medium he’s working in. He told me "I’m a compulsive worker!"
As I said an affectionate goodby to my long-time friend he told me something which touched me very much. "You’ve probably forgotten, but you gave me a prayer book and a rosary when I was 12. I still have them."
No, Roddy, I haven’t forgotten and I’m glad you remember, too.
LA Herald-Examiner April 17, 1965