A YOUNG kid sauntered down the corridor of a big broadcasting station. He didn't look to be more than 15 — which he wasn't. Under his arm was a large autograph book. Obviously he was on the prowl for celebrities.
Suddenly he spied a coat. He'd been looking for that coat for weeks. He was sure it belonged to Edmund Lowe, an actor whose autograph he'd been trying to land. He dashed toward that distinctive blue camel's-hair coat. Breathless, he touched the man on the shoulder.
"May I have your autograph, Mr. Lowe?"
The beam on the boy's face faded suddenly as the man turned. With a cold glance the man in the blue overcoat asked, "And whose autograph did you think you wanted?," and then went into a studio and slammed the door in the kid's face.
The man was not Edmund Lowe, but an English actor noted for his suave dignity. And who was the boy? None other than the well known young actor Roddy McDowall.
So you'd think it's odd for a person such as Roddy to be hunting for autographs? Well, it's not — not when you know this entirely unpredictable and unconventional star of such films as "My Friend Flicka," "Thunderhead," "The White Cliffs of Dover," "Lassie Come Home," and the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer musical "Holiday in Mexico."
How is Roddy unpredictable? Well, he's British. And British people are supposed to be aloof, austere, and dignified. Roddy doesn't even know the meaning of "aloof," and he's as austere as Aunt Minnie's friendly lap dog. Dignified? Ha! He's as dignified as any 17-year-old kid who looks upon three stray hairs on the chin as the most important event in life.
How is he unusual — in Hollywood, where practically everyone is unusual in some way? Well, in this town boys who approach adolescence are given exit papers from a studio before the advent of the cracked voice. Roddy's voice has never cracked. Don't ask me why. And he's not been off contract to 20th Century-Fox since he came here in 1940. He's the only child star, except Mickey Rooney, who has kept on working through the so-called "delicate" years. And Mr. Zanuck's atelier thinks so much of his future as a leading man that they waved a new contract in his face recently, with a nice boost in salary, and MGM also wanted to add him to their list.
Also unusual for Hollywood, is the fact that Roddy seldom likes anything he does on the screen. He doesn't go around yipping about his cinematic endeavors. He spends his time carting about his autograph book, just like any fan. His collection of John Hancocks is a record of the biggest names in town.
One day while he was making a picture at MGM he was seated in the commissary, gaping like any tourist. When the waitress came to take his order, he said, "Is Judy Garland here today? I'd like her autograph so much."
The waitress looked at him, puzzled. "But why should you want her autograph? You're a star, too, aren't you?"
No fluttering eyelashes, no coy smile from Roddy. Just this comeback: "But she's a real star!"
While in New York on a personal appearance tour Roddy appeared in a show for the Seventh War Loan, in Times Square, and was of course surrounded by autograph hounds. One little girl, book in hand, approached Roddy's mother and asked, "Doesn't he get tired of signing autographs?" To which Mrs. McDowall said, "He'd better not. When he's not asked for them, then he can worry. Anyway, he likes to get autographs himself."
The girl passed the book to Mr. McDowall. Roddy signed it. His mother returned it to the girl, and in a few minutes she was back again.
"Here," she said, holding out a piece of paper. "This is for Roddy. If he collects autographs, maybe he'll like mine."
NEVER A DULL MOMENT
WHEN you talk about Roddy, you have to mention his fabulous mother, Winifriede — or "Win" as most people call her, or "Mom" as she was known to countless servicemen — is a jolly, plump woman with a heart as big as she is. Her passions, in addition to working herself into constant tizzies, are helping others and imbibing countless cold glasses of fizz water.
A representative scene in the madhouse of McDowall goes something like this: