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Roddy McDowall
(September 17, 1928 - October 3, 1998) U.K.

Roddy McDowall

Actor and photographer

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McDowall was born in Herne Hill, London, the son of Winsfriede L. (nee Corcoran), an Irish-born aspiring actress, and Thomas Andrew McDowall, a Merchant Mariner. Both of his parents were enthusiastic about the theatre.

McDowall was one of the few child actors to continue his career successfully into adulthood. His movie career was interrupted, however, by the German bombardment of London in World War II. Accompanied by his sister and his mother, he was one of many London children evacuated to places abroad.

As a result, he arrived in Hollywood in 1940, and the charming young English lad soon landed a major role as the youngest son in How Green Was My Valley (1941). The film made him a star at thirteen, and he appeared as an endearing boy in numerous Hollywood movies throughout the war years, most notably Lassie, Come Home (1943), with fellow English child star and lifelong friend Elizabeth Taylor, and My Friend Flicka (1943). Later, also in the Planet of the Apes series (1968-1973), and Overboard (1987), as well as from his many stage and television appearances.

By his late teens, McDowall had outgrown the parts in which he had been most successful. Accordingly, he went to New York to study acting and to hone his skills in a wide variety of roles on the Broadway stage.

Roddy McDowall
Roddy McDowall, right, and Tab Hunter, left - Los Angeles, California, ca. 1955

Although McDowall never officially came out, the fact that he was gay was one of Hollywood's best known secrets. Like many of his contemporaries from Hollywoods "Golden Age", McDowall never publicly discussed his sexuality, but his relationships with other men were poorly-kept secrets and friends and lovers have confirmed in the years since his death that he was gay.

During the 1990s, McDowall became active in film preservation. McDowall served for several years in various capacities on the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the organization that presents the Oscar Awards. He was Chairman of the Actor's Branch for five terms. He was elected President of the Academy Foundation the year that he died.

McDowall received recognition as a photographer and published five books of photographs, one being of his celebrity friends such as Elizabeth Taylor, Judy Garland, Judy Holliday and Maureen O'Hara.

In 1974, the FBI raided the home of McDowall and seized the actor's collection of films and television series in the course of an investigation of movie piracy and copyright infringement. His collection consisted of 160 16 mm prints and over 1,000 videocassettes, at a time before the era of videotapes when there was no legal aftermarket for films (copying or selling prints obtained from studios without owning the copyright was illegal).

Roddy McDowallMcDowall had purchased Errol Flynn's home movies and the prints of his own directorial debut Tam Lin (1970) starring Ava Gardner, and transferred them all to tape for longer-lasting archival storage. McDowall was quite forthcoming about those who dealt with him: Rock Hudson, Dick Martin and Mel Tormé were just a few of the celebrities interested in his film reproductions. No charges were brought against McDowall.

On October 3, 1998, McDowall died at his home in the Studio City neighborhood of Los Angeles of lung cancer; he was seventy.. Though he was cremated through The Neptune Society, his ashes were not distributed in the Pacific Ocean as had been widely reported at the time.

The day after his death, his close friend Angela Lansbury, who'd worked with him over the years, paid tribute to him on BBC Radio 5 Live, saying that he was 'one of the most wonderful friends anybody could possibly have' and that she had 'lost a beloved friend'.

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Sources: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - http://lgbt-history-archive.tumblr.com/

Films:

  • How Green Was My Valley (1941)
  • Lassie Come Home (1943)
  • Planet of the Apes (1968)
  • Poseidon Adventure (1972)
  • Farewell to the Planet of the Apes (1974)
  • Funny Lady (1975)
  • The Thief of Bagdad (1978)
  • Evil Under the Sun (1981)
  • Overboard (1987)
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