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Roddy McDowall Birthday Tribute
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Roddy McDowall Birthday Tribute - 9/17 (Daytime)

In a screen career that encompassed 60 years and more than 250 film and television roles, Roddy McDowall progressed from a child star of enormous appeal to a character actor of skill and authority. He brought great sympathy to his youthful protagonists and, later, specialized in portraying supercilious yet amusing cads and villains.

The close and loyal friend of many in the film industry, McDowall was universally loved and often trusted with the most intimate secrets of his famous pals. As a photographer, he captured many of his friends in striking portraits and published several books of his photos, which also appeared in such publications as Look, Life and Vogue. A friend of TCM, he was devoted to movie history and worked closely with the National Film Preservation Board.

Roderick Andrew Anthony Jude McDowall was born September 17, 1928, in the Herne Hill district of London, to an Irish mother who was an aspiring actress and a father of Scottish descent who worked as a merchant seaman. Roddy worked as a child model and began appearing in British films at the age of 10. By the time he moved with his family to the U.S. in 1940, he had appeared in more than a dozen movies.

McDowall's first film in the U.S. was the thriller Man Hunt (1941), but his breakthrough came in John Ford's How Green Was My Valley (1941), which won an OscarĀ® for Best Picture and established McDowall as one of the screen's leading juveniles. This position was reinforced by appearances in such movies as My Friend Flicka (1943) and, most famously, Lassie Come Home (1943).

In 1951, McDowall relocated to New York and began appearing in stage and television productions. He won a Best Supporting Actor Emmy for his role in NBC's Our American Heritage, and a Tony in the same category for the Jean Anouilh play Time's Fool. He returned to feature films in the 1960s and gave an outstanding performance as Octavian in Cleopatra (1963) with close friend Elizabeth Taylor. For that role he was nominated for a Golden Globe, again as Best Supporting Actor.

McDowall played a chimpanzee archaeologist in Planet of the Apes (1968) and would don the makeup again for several movie sequels and a CBS series that aired in 1974. He continued playing numerous roles and doing voiceovers through the 1980s and much of the '90s, scoring a particular success with the horror comedy Fright Night (1985), which earned him a Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actor.

McDowall, who was never married, died of lung cancer on October 3, 1998. A touching tribute came from Peggy Webber, artistic director of the California Artists Radio Theatre. She had worked with McDowall and called him "one of my most favorite people. His sensitivity and fairness, his honorable behavior and his dedication to his work will always be the hallmark of his beautiful spirit."

Below are the films in TCM's birthday tribute:
The White Cliffs of Dover (1944) was McDowall's second film at MGM after his triumph in Lassie Come Home. Irene Dunne stars as an American woman who sees her husband serve in one World War and her son (Peter Lawford) in another. McDowall plays Lawford as a child, and his young pal Elizabeth Taylor is also in the cast.

Kidnapped (1948), one of many film versions of the Robert Louis Stevenson novel, has McDowall in the starring role of David Balfour, the young man cheated out of his birthright and taken hostage aboard a ship. Dan O'Herlihy costars as David's rescuer, the swashbuckling Alan Breck. During filming, McDowall also served as an associate producer at the tender age of 19.

Midnight Lace (1960) is a suspense thriller starring Doris Day as a terrorized American wife in London. McDowall plays a suspicious opportunist in a cast that also includes Rex Harrison, John Gavin, Myrna Loy and Herbert Marshall.

The Loved One (1965) is the film version of Evelyn Waugh's satirical novel about the funeral business in Los Angeles. Also appearing in the large and eclectic cast are Robert Morse, Rod Steiger, Jonathan Winters, Milton Berle and Liberace.

The Third Day (1965) is a suspense thriller featuring an excellent example of a McDowall villain starring alongside George Peppard, as a man suffering from amnesia who may have killed his mistress (Sally Kellerman).

The Defector (1966), another thriller, is set in Germany during the Cold War. This film marks Montgomery Clift's final role, where he plays a physicist who is blackmailed by a CIA agent (McDowall) to obtain secrets from a Russian spy. The film, featuring another of McDowall's shady characters, was shot in Munich shortly before Clift's death.

The Cool Ones (1967) is a comedy set in the world of 1960s rock 'n' roll and casts McDowall as an eccentric music producer who attempts to break up a blossoming romance between singing partners. Debbie Watson costars as a go-go dancer who finds fame on a Hullabaloo-type teen dance show.

by Roger Fristoe

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