Roddy and Julie: Candid camera

Living for Today

     "My whole life," says Roddy McDowall, "I’ve been trying to prove I’m not just yesterday." As a result, McDowall has about four todays and even more tomorrows. He is a stage and film star, currently in "The Loved One," with four more pictures ready to be released. He is a highly paid, much-in-demand professional photographer. Next year he will be an author, when Dell publishes a collection of his portraits of celebrities. With Sybil Burton Christopher and two others, he founded and operates Arthur, New York’s most successful new discotheque. And, almost a career in itself, he is friend and fan of the famous.
     At 37, still incredibly young-looking behind his thick-lensed horn rims, with the air of a well-brought-up English schoolboy, McDowall is an even bigger success than he was at 15, when with Elizabeth Taylor he warmed the hearts of child- and animal-lovers. He does not regret the early fame, but admits that the "child star situation" can become a "demon walking along with you." At 20, he was merely "an old English child actor." Wisely, he quit Hollywood for New York to learn how to act, because, he says, "acting as a child bears no relation to acting as an adult."

     Variety: Fortunately, his apprentice days coincided with those of television. He played a variety of roles, on TV, and later on Broadway, but was always plagued by typecasting. After he played a Southerner in "No Time for Sergeants," he had trouble getting English parts. After he did "Compulsion," he was typed as a psychopath. I am categorically opposed to being categorized," he declares. When, finally, he returned to the films after an absence of eight years, he began choosing roles carefully and diversely. In his upcoming pictures he will play a stuffy young businessman ("That Darn Cat"), a shadowy Hollywood aide-de-camp ("Inside Daisy Clover"), "a 17-year-old going on 9,000" ("Lord Love a Duck"), and a Boston butler out West in the gold rush ("Bullwhip Griffin").

     Even in his alternate occupations, McDowall has habitually had to fight against type. "When I started photography," he says, "it was difficult to make people think I was serious—that it was not a passing fancy." But with the help of the criticism and commercial advice of Richard Avedon, and his own dedication, McDowall has become strictly professional. Some 60 of his pictures of famous people will appear in his book, with text by other celebrities—Marlon Brando by James Baldwin, Judy Garland by Edward Albee, Mary Martin by Jack Paar, Tammy Grimes by Walter Kerr, Ethel Merman by John Gielgud. "The most talented people," he says, "are enormous fans of other talented people."

     The Moment: As a show-business photographer, McDowall is unique in that he is an insider with access to the most seclusive of personalities. Elizabeth Taylor relaxes for his camera, as for almost no other; a sampling of his perceptive, candid looks at her appear in her new autobiography, "Elizabeth Taylor" (Harper & Row). As an actor- photographer, McDowall must guard against indiscretion, or lose not only his subjects but his friends. "You have to know when not to take a picture," he says. "I’m a great believer in the private existence of public figures." On the other hand, as a photographer- actor, he is in the advantageous position of knowing not only his subjects but his subject matter. One day, on assignment for Life, he was watching Laurence Olivier rehearse a difficult scene in "Othello." Suddenly he saw "the moment that Olivier found the moment." Excitedly, McDowall dropped his camera, but not before snapping the picture. Turning around, he discovered Kenneth Tynan crying. Adds McDowall in awe, "Olivier was able to repeat that moment in every performance I saw."
     The past few weeks McDowall has been in New York taking pictures for his book—of Joan Sutherland, Giulietta Masina, Ethel Merman, Edward Villella, Leonard Bernstein, among others—also finding time to stage portrait sittings, for pay, of Liza Minnelli and Jack Jones, and to spend most of his evenings greeting and working at Arthur. He also flew to Los Angeles to photograph Jennifer Jones, Paul Newman and Alfred Hitchcock — and to escort Sharman Douglas to her party for her friends, Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon.
     "Roddy is the professional’s best friend," says producer-writer George Axelrod, who is one of his best friends. McDowall is a confidant to the Burtons and the Christophers, the Jason Robards, Tuesday Weld (who recently married his secretary), Julie Andrews, Montgomery Clift, among many others. "He is so impeccably calm himself," Axelrod explains, "that he can go to the eye of the hurricane and bring calm."

     Flat! Roddy provides not just calm but an audience. He is a great and eclectic fan. "I adore Fred Astaire and Spencer Tracy and Tommy Steele," he says. "Horowitz! Olivier! Sybil! Merman and Sophia Loren! Buster Keaton and Laurel and Hardy! Cary Grant!" And when he sees someone he admires, he finds them "transporting." The best "do something so effortlessly you think you can do it too. I know I can do what Fred Astaire can do until I stand up on my feet…and fall flat on my face."

Roddy and Liz: Still friends

     McDowall is a great collector. His nine-room apartment overlooking Central Park is crammed with memorabilia. The walls are decorated with his photographs and theatrical posters. His study is completely lined with books, alphabetized by author, and tapes, by artist. The sound of tapes fills his home with his friends. Liza! Judy! Tammy! He has several large bound volumes packed with movie ads dating back to 1930, movie magazines back to 1912. "I’ve never gotten over movie magazines," he says unabashedly. He has a huge collection of Alice Faye stills, and of Rudolph Valentino stills. His prize is a fat, tattered history of the cinema crammed with autographs of the famous and the forgotten, whom he didn’t forget but sought out when they were extras and he was a child star. His house is not only a repository, it is a living monument, a great gathering ground of the celebrated. "He has more friends than anyone else I know," says Ruth Gordon. "I don’t know anyone who has such a following, except maybe Queen Elizabeth."

NEWSWEEK   November 29, 1965

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