McDOWALL PLACES HIMSELF SECOND
-- SO HE TRIES HARDER
To paraphrase Will Rogers' "I never met a man I didn't like," it's a safe bet you'll never meet a person who doesn't like Roddy McDowall.
Actor-writer-photographer McDowall has won such an inestimable number of friends, in and out of show business, that celebrated author-actress Ruth Gordon once remarked: "He has made more friends in less time than anyone I know."
Why the shy, mild-mannered and softspoken actor has gained the friendship of so many theatrical associates and social acquaintances is not difficult to comprehend. Roddy is completely selfless and respects the dignity of every human being he meets. Further, he is dedicated to acting, not to being an actor or to his career.
Most recently, Roddy added to his coterie of admirers the cast and crew associated with "Bob Hope Presents The Chrysler Theatre." Roddy stars with Arthur Hill, Joyce Redmond, and Michael Wilding in "The Fatal Mistake," a suspense drama to be aired on Wednesday, November 30 (9:00-10:00 p.m., EST), in color over NBC-TV.
Surprisingly, in the Chrysler Theatre drama the genial, youthful appearing McDowall portrays a ruthless, scheming insurance agent who uses his post to uncover shady pasts and employs this information for blackmail. That he is able to create this despicable character of greed and etch a memorable film portrait of intellectual evil is a testament of Roddy's finely honed acting skills.
"I try to find these off-beat roles," Roddy said in those well modulated, perfectly enunciated tones. "They give you a better chance to fail."
In explanation of this paradoxical statement Roddy discloses part of his personal philosophy:
"You know, in acting as in life you're not really your own master until you can afford to fail. You must get to feel so strongly about your convictions that you will be willing to take a chance on failing. If you don't feel that strongly about any pursuit, abandon it, for you'll never accomplish much of a lasting nature, or satisfaction."
It was this self-appraisal that prompted Roddy to leave Hollywood in the early 1950's. After a boyhood of stardom on the screen, beginning in his native England at 8, and winning worldwide acclaim for "How Green Was My Valley" in 1941, McDowall felt he was hopelessly typed at 23, his future cloudy.
"I went to New York so I could play anything but a British lad. I wanted to grow up as an actor, and television and the stage seemed to offer that. It was that wonderful chance for me to fail."
But he didn't fail. In the ten years that followed, Roddy grew with television. His eagerness to please and his sincerity of purpose won him the roles he sought and added countless friendships.
The parts ranged wide and diversified, in summer stock, TV, off-Broadway - a bucolic young man of "Ah, Wilderness," "Billy Budd," plenty of little theatre evergreens. He scored on Broadway in such diverse vehicles as Shaw's "Misalliance," as a southern G.I. in "No Time for Sergeants" and a psychopathic child killer in "Compulsion," capped by an invitation to play Shakespearean sprite "Ariel" in "The Tempest," the first male to attempt the role in over 80 years.
By 1960 Roddy had not yet failed and since then has won an Emmy Award and a second nomination, repeated his Stratford, Conn. triumph as "Ariel" in a television special of "The Tempest," and returned to Hollywood for roles in a dozen important pictures.
In one year, McDowall appeared in three of the screen's costliest productions: "Cleopatra," "The Longest Day," and "The Greatest Story Ever Told," estimated at $85 million. Equally adept at comedy and heavy drama, Roddy has mixed serious roles in "The Subterraneans," "Shock Treatment," and "Inside Daisy Clover" with lighter portrayals in "The Loved One," "That Darn Cat," and (at 36 years of age) a comical teenager in "Lord Love a Duck."
Hardly a track record of failure for a young player who left Hollywood on a gamble.
Roddy McDowall does admit to a second love, however, which could cost him some friends in that wide circle of admirers.
An accomplished photographer - Life, McCall's, Cosmopolitan have displayed his lens art which is now in book form entitled "Double Exposure," - Roddy has captured the likenesses of most everyone with whom he has had contact, socially or professionally.
"The best picture," said McDowall, "is one which expresses the ambivalence of a person. I try for that with my camera."
"I guess it could cost me some friends," he smiled.
November 1966 press release from Lillian Pickard for
BOB HOPE Presents The Chrysler Theatre