In the early ‘40s, Roddy McDowall looked
SUNDAY NEWS, November 17, 1963
"There has long been a publicized bugaboo that child actors cannot succeed when they grow up. One forgets, for example, that Elizabeth Taylor started as a child. I began when I was 5, in London, where I was born. I was 13 when I played in the movie, ‘How Green Was My Valley,’ in this country. I enjoyed being in movies when I was a boy. As a child you’re not acting ... you believe. Ah, if an adult could only act as a child does, with that insane, playing-at-toy soldiers concentration!
"The cork comes out in your middle teens. The studio let me go when I was 17, after I had been in some 65 movies. The thing that disturbed me was that though I was in a prominent position and never at a loss for work, I couldn’t get the parts I wanted. I just didn’t have the ability. I discovered I didn’t know what acting meant .... I had no tools .... I had to learn my craft. I left Hollywood, came to New York and began studying with a marvelous teacher named Mira Rostova. I was always too scared to audition for the Actors Studio. Auditions are horrible. I still freeze up. Every time I read for a play or sing for an audition, I’m so nervous that I’m shaking.
"In New York, there were people who had faith in me. I played a wide variety of roles that were a wild departure from anything I would ever have gotten a chance to do in Hollywood. On stage I was in ‘Misalliance,’ ‘No Time for Sergeants,’ ‘Compulsion,’ ‘The Doctor’s Dilemma,’ ‘Julius Caesar’ and ‘The Tempest.’ On tv I did ‘Billy Budd’ and ‘The Tempest,’ and I’ve made dozens of guest appearances on dramatic shows.
"I am perpetually fascinated at getting a chance to do something different than the last thing I did. That’s why I didn’t miss making movies for eight years, until I went back to Hollywood in 1959 to act in ‘The Subterraneans.’ That was a wonderful part, but unfortunately not too many people saw it. Of course, my playing Octavian in ‘Cleopatra’ has helped tremendously—more than anything I’ve done—in getting me more of the kind of parts I want to play. Because ‘Cleo’ is, if I may put it so, an extremely well-known movie and millions of people are seeing it.
"When I came back from Rome after two years of making ‘Cleo,’ I was inundated with requests for interviews by movie magazines, newspapers and what have you. The interviewers almost immediately began putting questions to me about Elizabeth and Richard—none of which I answered, of course. Why should I? That would be an invasion of our relationship.
"Why should I gossip about any of my friends? Certainly, interviewers are not particularly interested in my telling them , for example, that people are always surprised when they see how tiny Elizabeth is in person; that in a friend’s living room Judy Garland is one of the funniest, most amusing women alive; that I used to tap dance with Marilyn Monroe when she was 17, when her entire facade was different and she was so inarticulate she wouldn’t talk to anyone.
"I learned a long time ago not to let interviewers interview me about my friends. I put it bluntly: ‘Do you want to interview with me or them?’
"As far as I know, I never wanted not to act. The problem for a child actor is to overcome one’s initial success. The bigger it was, the more difficult it is to overcome. I find it hard to judge myself in a movie. When I look at myself on screen, my first reaction is ughhhh. It’s a terrible shock to me that I look like that, that I sound like that. And, of course, I go into a decline when I see what’s been been cut—no actor likes to see anything of himself cut out. You know, when you are playing a butler and all you have to do is come on and say, ‘Dinner is served, madame,’ you think the play is about butlers.
"Since ‘Cleo,’ I have had some wonderful offers. I played a cameo role in ‘The Longest Day’ for Darryl Zanuck, the man who signed the Hollywood contract that first brought me to this country, 23 years ago. I also did ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told,’ and I play a murderer in ‘Shock Treatment.’
"I’ve spent very little time at home in my New York apartment for the past two years—my work has kept me abroad so much. I love New York—I love living here. My friends are here and I work at my other profession—I’m a photographer. I enjoy the security of having money because I can pick and choose what I want to do as an actor. I love spending money—on clothes, records, books and gadgets. I adore gadgets . . . .like toothpaste dispensers and such.
"After 25 years of a rather checkered career in movies, vaudeville, radio, television and the theatre, I can truthfully say I still have this tremendous enthusiasm for acting. Whenever anyone asks me if it hasn’t gotten boring after all these years I remember that marvelous actress and great lady, Gladys Cooper, saying to me:
"‘If you don’t enjoy acting, don’t do it!’
"I enjoy it."