McDOWALL PLAYS HORROR SHOW HOST
By Ed Blank; Scripps Howard.
©1985 - Chicago Tribune*
August 30,1985 Friday, SPORTS FINAL EDITION
It's probably possible not to know who Roddy McDowall is. Never mind that half the civilized world grew up with him and his still-endearing movies. A generation with its eyes on Hollywood's new Brat Pack and the "Saturday Night Live" alumni and its ears to the boom box may not have stopped long enough to smell roses like "Lassie, Come Home," "My Friend Flicka," "Keys of the Kingdom," "How Green Was My Valley" and other pictures that were a staple of growing up in the 1940s.
To miss them is genuine self-deprivation. Their sentiments are different
from today's, but sturdy and worth subscribing to.
Born Roderick Andrew McDowall in London Sept. 17, 1928, he was an MGM star in Hollywood before he was out of knee pants. And like Judy Garland, Elizabeth Taylor and Natalie Wood, McDowall was one of the few child stars to sustain his career into adulthood.
You can find him toiling to good effect in most of the "Planet of the Apes" films, as well as the subsequent short-lived TV series, plus "Cleopatra," "Inside Daisy Clover," "Lord Love a Duck," "The Poseidon Adventure" and lots of others.
He doesn't delude himself that everything he touched turned to classic. "'Arnold' didn't quite work," he says, "and 'It!' was very bad."
But he enjoyed making just about everything~the experience being its own payoff.
He's on screens across the country currently in a comedy-edged horror film called "Fright Night."
He plays Peter Vincent, host of a "Chiller Theater"-style TV show that runs hoary horror movies. Vincent himself had starred in terrible vampire movies during an earlier, dead-ended movie career. A teenage fan (William Ragsdale) pleads for Vincent's expertise in coping with the vampire (Chris Sarandon) who has moved in next door to tap neighborhood blood sources.
"I've never been in this kind of horror comedy before," McDowall says. "The interesting thing for me was the validity of Vincent having played that one (horror) role in 30 pictures. Also, I liked the fact he's such a bad actor."
It's not the be-all role one might wish for a performer of McDowall's durability, but then, few of his peers are making movies at all.
Though a lifelong friend, photographer and confidant of many of the biggest stars in the world, including Elizabeth Taylor and Ava Gardner, McDowall's concentration on character roles was inevitable once he grew up.
Far from having the physical stature of a Rock Hudson or William Holden, McDowall remained short and slender, with looks that ran to the intellectual and sensitive rather than to leading man qualities.
"You get to do some of the things you want. You lose others because you're not right for them or because in the balance of casting, something doesn't work out. There are always dozens of intangibles.
"The reverse can be true, too. You can be cast for things you might not seem right for, and it can work out very well as it did for me in such plays as "Compulsion," "The Tempest" and "No Time for Sergeants."
No picture was bigger in its day~1941~or considered more wholesome than one of the best McDowall ever made--"How Green Was My Valley."
Although almost everyone agrees now that "Citizen Kane" should have won the Oscar that year for Best Picture, it was, for political and financial reasons, relegated to also-ran status.
And yet, as McDowall recalls, "How Green Was My Valley," which did win, was nobody's idea of a top dog before it was filmed. It became an instant blockbuster. "William Wyler was to make it, but it was canceled because it was considered too expensive, and there was a problem involving (20th Century Fox) stockholders. John Ford and the writer Philip Dunne persuaded Darryl Zanuck to let (Ford) make it, but with a greatly shortened script that made the boy--me--the central character.
"Originally I was to grow up and become Tyrone Power early in the film (just as McDowall grew into Gregory Peck in 'Keys of the Kingdom'), but the script was changed; we shot it in nine weeks and it was released an extremely short two months later.
"None of us was a big star when filming started, not even Walter Pidgeon, who had three other big pictures right at that time, so no one knew what a huge success 'How Green Was My Valley' would be."
Or how eagerly some of us would be waiting for the belated reissue of the videocassette 44 years later.
"Fright Night" will do as next week's shock show, but it's not the one people will still be wanting to see 44 years hence.
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