Roddy McDowall

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His performance as a nasty lawyer in ‘The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean’ (1972) was lauded and he followed with John Hough's horror film ‘The Legend of Hell House’. An admirer of Barbara Streisand, he played her assistant in ‘Funny Lady’ (1975), and he did a cameo as an old gypsy woman in ‘Rabbit Test’ (1978) as a favour to its director, his close friend Joan Rivers.

Then is 1985 he turned to comedy horror as the parodied vampire hunter in the film ‘Fright Night’. A personal favourite of mine, not least for the development of his character from fearful to hopeful, he was excellent in the slight nuances of the initially timid vampire killer 'Peter Vincent'. The film introduced Roddy to children of the eighties (of which I was one) and hence into his other work. For those of you who have seen the film; the second reprise of the scene where Chris Sarandon (the vampire) confronts him is the best; just watch his changing facial expressions after Chris says:

‘You need faith for that to work on me Mr Vincent…’

He then returned to the same role in the sequel in 1988 as both films became cult favourites. Throughout the 1980's and for much of the 1990's Roddy continued working feverishly although cinematic roles became rarer and he appeared more and more on TV. He appeared as Dr. Jervis Tetch in the TV version of Batman between 1992 and 1994 and then again in the 'New adventures of Batman in 1998. His last film role was as the voice of Mr Soil in the very sucessful kids films 'A Bug's Life'(1998).

An accomplished photographer, McDowall was honored by having his photos of Taylor and other celebrities frequently published in the leading magazines of the era. He was briefly an advising photographic editor of Harper's Bazaar, and in 1966 published the first of several collections of his camera work, Double Exposure.

The list of celebrities that Roddy could count as genuine friends is endless and includes such people as Elizabeth Taylor, Ava Gardner, Katharine Hepburn, Paul Newman, Cary Grant and Charlton Heston

One of Hollywood's last links to its golden age and much-loved by old and new stars alike, McDowell was famed for his kindness, generosity and loyalty (friends could tell McDowall any secret and be sure of its safety) -- McDowall's announcement that he was suffering from terminal cancer a few weeks before he died rocked the film community, and many visited the ailing actor in his Studio City home. Shortly before he was diagnosed with cancer, McDowall had provided the voiceover for Disney/Pixar's animated feature A Bug's Life. A few days prior to McDowall's passing, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences named its photo archive after him.

He never married and said that his commitment was to his career, his friends, and his voracious collecting of movie memorabilia. That said, it was was well known in Hollywood circles that he was gay. It is a tribute to his characteristic discretion and the respect with which 'Hollywood's Best Friend' was regarded by his peers that his homosexuality was never really an issue or used against him in his six decades in the entertainment business.

McDowall died of cancer at his home in Studio City, California, on October 3, 1998. At the time of his death, he held several elected posts in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and was a generous benefactor of many film-related charities

One of the most popular of actors, he maintained lifelong friendships with several of his co-stars. Al last word by the actress Ruth Gordon

‘He has more friends than anyone I know’


I really liked Lassie, but that horse, Flicka, was a nasty animal with a terrible disposition. All the Flickas-all six of them-were awful.

Intellectually I'd love to play Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire Can't you just imagine me down in the streets yelling "Stella! Stella!" God, the critics would have a lot of fun with that one.


Suggested films to see:

Fright Night (1985)
Planet of the Apes (1967






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