Roderick Andrew Anthony Jude McDowall (17 September 1928 – 3 October 1998) was an English-American actor, voice artist, film director and photographer. He is best known for portraying Cornelius and Caesar in the original Planet of the Apes film series, as well as Galen in the spin-off television series. He began his acting career as a child in England, and then in the United States, in How Green Was My Valley (1941), My Friend Flicka (1943) and Lassie Come Home (1943).

As an adult, McDowall appeared most frequently as a character actor on radio, stage, film, and television. For portraying Augustus in the historical drama Cleopatra (1963), he was nominated for a Golden Globe Award. Other titles include The Longest Day (1962), The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), That Darn Cat! (1965), Inside Daisy Clover (1965), Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971), The Poseidon Adventure (1972), Funny Lady (1975), The Black Hole (1979), Class of 1984 (1982), Fright Night (1985), Overboard (1987), Fright Night Part 2 (1988) and A Bug's Life (1998). He also served in various positions on the Board of Governors for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Selection Committee for the Kennedy Center Honors, further contributing to various charities related to the film industry and film preservation. He was a founding Member of the National Film Preservation Board in 1989, and represented the Screen Actors Guild on this Board until his death.


Early life

McDowall was born at 204 Herne Hill Road, Herne Hill, London, the son of Winifriede Lucinda (née Corcoran), an aspiring actress originally from Ireland, and Thomas Andrew McDowall, a merchant seaman of Scottish descent.[1] Both of his parents were enthusiastic about the theatre. He and his elder sister, Virginia, were raised in their mother's Catholic faith. He attended St Joseph's College, Beulah Hill, Upper Norwood, a Roman Catholic secondary school in London.[2]

British Films

Appearing as a child model as a baby, McDowall appeared in several British films as a boy. After winning an acting prize in a school play at age nine, he started appearing in films: Murder in the Family (1938), I See Ice (1938) with George Formby, John Halifax (1938) and Scruffy (1938).[3]

McDowall could be seen in Convict 99 (1938) and Hey! Hey! USA (1938) with Will Hay, Yellow Sands (1938), The Outsider (1939), Murder Will Out (1939), Dead Man's Shoes (1940), Just William (1940), Saloon Bar (1940), You Will Remember (1941), and This England (1941).

Early US Films: Boy Stardom

His family moved to the United States in 1940 after the outbreak of World War II. McDowall became a naturalized United States citizen on 9 December 1949,[3] and lived in the United States for the rest of his life.

McDowall's American career began well with a good part in a thriller directed by Fritz Lang, Man Hunt (1941). It was made by 20th Century Fox who also produced McDowall's next film, the one that really established his reputation: playing Huw Morgan in How Green Was My Valley (1941), where he met and became lifelong friends with Maureen O'Hara. The film won the Academy Award for Best Picture, and made him a household name.[3]

Fox put him in another war movie, Confirm or Deny (1941), then he played Tyrone Power as a boy in Son of Fury: The Story of Benjamin Blake (1942).


McDowall in Lassie Come Home (1943)

Fox promoted McDowall to top billing for On the Sunny Side (1942). He was billed second to Monty Woolley in The Pied Piper (1942), playing a war orphan, then he had top billing again for an adaptation of My Friend Flicka (1942).

MGM borrowed McDowall for the star role in Lassie Come Home (1943), a film that introduced an actress who would become another lifelong friend, Elizabeth Taylor. It was a huge box office success. That studio kept him on to play a leading role in The White Cliffs of Dover (1944), Peter Lawford as a young man, and another big hit.

Back at Fox he played Gregory Peck as a young man in The Keys of the Kingdom (1944). In 1944, exhibitors voted McDowall the number one "star of tomorrow".[4]

Fox gave McDowall another starring vehicle, Thunderhead – Son of Flicka (1945). They reunited him with Woolley in Molly and Me (1945), an attempt to turn Gracie Fields into a Hollywood star.

McDowall went back to MGM to support Walter Pidgeon in Holiday in Mexico (1946), a huge hit.


McDowall turned to the theater, taking the title role of Young Woodley (1946) in a summer stock production in Westport, Connecticut in July 1946.[5]

In 1947, he played Malcolm in Orson Welles's stage production of Macbeth in Salt Lake City, Utah, and played the same role in the actor-director's film version in 1948.[3]

Monogram Pictures

Roddy McDowall and Roland Winters in Killer Shark (1950)

McDowall then signed a three-year contract with Monogram Pictures, a low-budget studio that welcomed established stars, to make two films a year.[6]

McDowall starred in seven films for them, for which he also worked as associate producer: Rocky (1948), a boy and dog story directed by Phil Karlson; Kidnapped (1948), an adaptation of the Robert Louis Stevenson story, where he played David Balfour, directed by William Beaudine; Tuna Clipper (1949), a fishing tale, again directed by Beaudine; Black Midnight (1949), a horse story directed by Budd Boetticher; Killer Shark (1950), a shark hunting tale, again with Boetticher; Big Timber (1950), as a logger; The Steel Fist (1952), an anti-communist drama.

1950s: Television and Theatre

McDowall left Hollywood to relocate in New York. He began appearing on television, notably shows like Celanese Theatre, Broadway Television Theatre, Medallion Theatre, Campbell Summer Soundstage, Armstrong Circle Theatre, Encounter, Robert Montgomery Presents (including an adaptation of Great Expectations where he played Pip), The Elgin Hour, Ponds Theater, General Electric Theater, The Kaiser Aluminum Hour, Lux Video Theatre, Goodyear Playhouse, The Alcoa Hour, Kraft Theatre, Matinee Theatre, Suspicion, Playhouse 90 (in an adaptation of Heart of Darkness), The United States Steel Hour, The DuPont Show of the Month (an adaptation of Billy Budd) and The Twilight Zone (the episode "People Are Alike All Over").

McDowall also had significant success on the Broadway stage. He was in a production of Misalliance (1953) that ran for 130 performances and which McDowall said "broke the mould" in how he was judged as an actor.[7]

He followed it with Escapade (1953) with Carroll Baker and Brian Aherne; Ira Levin's No Time for Sergeants (1955–57), which was a huge hit;[8] Diary of a Scoundrel (1956); and Good as Gold (1957).

He had a big critical success with Compulsion (1957–58) based on Leopold and Loeb – although McDowall was not cast in the film version. He followed it with Handful of Fire (1958), Noel Coward's Look After Lulu (1959) and Peter Brook's The Fighting Cock (1960). The latter earned him a Tony Award.

1960: Return to Hollywood

McDowall as Mordred in the musical Camelot on Broadway (1960)

McDowall was in another big Broadway hit when he played Modred in the musical Camelot (1960–63) with Julie Andrews and Richard Burton.[9]

He was Ariel in a TV production of The Tempest (1960) with Richard Burton and Maurice Evans,[10] then appeared in his first Hollywood movie in almost a decade, The Subterraneans (1960). He followed it with Midnight Lace (1960).

McDowall continued to work on television in shows such as Sunday Showcase, Naked City, and Play of the Week. He was in a TV production of The Power and the Glory (1961) with Laurence Olivier, George C. Scott and Julie Harris.


McDowall was given his best film role in a long time, as Octavius in Cleopatra (1963). While filming in Europe, he appeared in Fox's blockbuster war movie The Longest Day (1963). He continued to guest on television series such as Arrest and Trial, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, The Eleventh Hour, Kraft Suspense Theatre, Combat!, Ben Casey, Twelve O'Clock High, Run for Your Life, and The Invaders.

He had a support role in Fox's Shock Treatment (1964) and United Artists' The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965). He was third billed in The Third Day (1965) and one of many names in The Loved One (1965). McDowall went to Disney for That Darn Cat! (1965) and had a good part in Inside Daisy Clover (1965).

Return to Leading Roles

McDowall returned to leading man parts in films with Lord Love a Duck (1966) but the film was not a success. He appeared several times as The Bookworm on Batman and could be seen in The Defector (1966).

McDowall returned briefly to Broadway for The Astrakhan Coat (1967).

Disney gave him the star part in The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin (1967) and he was top billed in The Cool Ones (1967) and It! (1967). He was in a TV production of Saint Joan (1967) and provided the voice for Cricket on the Hearth (1967). He guest-starred in The Felony Squad.

Planet of the Apes

McDowall in full costume, with co-stars Ron Harper (front) and James Naughton (back), in the Planet of the Apes TV series (1974)

McDowall's career took a new twist when cast in Planet of the Apes (1968).

He was Prince John in The Legend of Robin Hood (1968) for TV, and appeared in 5 Card Stud (1968), Journey to the Unknown, It Takes a Thief, Midas Run (1969), Hello Down There (1969), Angel, Angel, Down We Go (1969), Night Gallery (1969), The Name of the Game and Medical Center.


McDowall made his debut as director with The Ballad of Tam Lin (1970).[11]

As an actor he was in Pretty Maids All in a Row (1971). McDowall was not in the first Apes sequel but was in the second, Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971). He was in the TV movies Terror in the Sky (1971), What's a Nice Girl Like You...? (1971) and A Taste of Evil (1971) and Disney's Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971).

He guest starred on Ironside, The Carol Burnett Show, Columbo (1972, "Short Fuse"), The Delphi Bureau, The Rookies, Mission: Impossible, Barnaby Jones and McCloud.

McDowall reprised his Apes part in Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972). He had support roles in The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972) and The Poseidon Adventure (1972) and starred in a pilot that did not go to series, Topper Returns (1973) and The Legend of Hell House (1973).[12]

His final Apes movie was Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973). He was in McMillan & Wife, Love, American Style, Arnold (1973), a remake of Miracle on 34th Street (1973), The Elevator (1974), and The Snoop Sisters.

He was in the short lived TV series of Planet of the Apes (1974). During one guest appearance on The Carol Burnett Show, he came onstage in his Planet of the Apes makeup and performed a love duet with Burnett.[13]

Asked about his career in a 1975 interview, McDowall said "I just hope to keep working and in interesting things."[14]

Late 1970s

For the rest of the 1970s, McDowall alternated between features, TV films and TV series. Features included Funny Lady (1975), Mean Johnny Barrows (1976), Embryo (1976), Sixth and Main (1977),Laserblast (1978), Rabbit Test (1978), The Cat from Outer Space (1978) for Disney, Circle of Iron (1978), Nutcracker Fantasy (1979) (doing voice over for the English language edition), The Black Hole (1979) and Scavenger Hunt (1979).

TV series included Police Woman, Mowgli's Brothers, Harry O, The Feather and Father Gang, Wonder Woman, Flying High, The Love Boat, $weepstake$, Supertrain, Hart to Hart, A Man Called Sloane, Trapper John, M.D. (the pilot), Buck Rogers in the 25th Century ("Planet of the Slave Girls") and Mork & Mindy. He also had a regular role in a short lived series The Fantastic Journey (1977).

The TV movies included Flood! (1977), The Rhinemann Exchange (1978), The Immigrants (1978), and The Thief of Baghdad (1978).

Early 1980s

McDowall's TV movie/mini series work in the 1980s included The Martian Chronicles (1980), The Memory of Eva Ryker (1980), The Return of the King (1980) (on which he did voice over work), The Million Dollar Face (1981), Judgement Day (1981), Twilight Theatre (1982), Mae West (1982), This Girl for Hire (1983), The Zany Adventures of Robin Hood (1984), London and Davis in New York (1984), Hollywood Wives (1985), and Alice in Wonderland (1985).

TV series included Boomer and Miss 21st Century, Fantasy Island (several times), Faerie Tale Theatre, Tales of the Gold Monkey (a series regular), Small and Frye, Hotel, and George Burns Comedy Week.

McDowall's features included Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen (1981), Evil Under the Sun (1982), Class of 1984 (1984), and Fright Night (1985), which became a cult classic.

Voice-over work and late 1980s

McDowall began to play many voice over roles, such as Zoo Ship (1985), GoBots: Battle of the Rock Lords (1986), and The Wind in the Willows (1987). TV series included Bridges to Cross (1986) (in which McDowall was a regular), The Wizard, Murder, She Wrote, Matlock, and Nightmare Classics, and TV movies included Remo Williams: The Prophecy and Around the World in 80 Days (1989).

In 1987, he had supporting roles in Dead of Winter and Overboard, on which he also served as executive producer. Other features included Doin' Time on Planet Earth (1988), Fright Night Part 2 (1989), The Big Picture (1989), Cutting Class (1989), and Heroes Stand Alone (1989).

In 1989 he said "I feel as Henry Fonda did that every job I get may be my last. I'm one of those creatures born to be working. I feel better when I'm working. I don't like it when I'm not working and I've never worked as much as I want to."[15]


McDowall's 1990s work included The Color of Evening (1990), Shakma (1990), Going Under (1990), An Inconvenient Woman (1991), Earth Angel (1991), Deadly Game (1991), The Naked Target (1992), Double Trouble (1992), The New Lassie (1992), Quantum Leap, The Sands of Time (1992), The Evil Inside Me (1993), Dream On, Heads (1994), Hart to Hart: Home Is Where the Hart Is (1994), Mirror, Mirror 2: Raven Dance (1994), Burke's Law, Angel 4: Undercover (1994), The Alien Within (1995), The Grass Harp (1995), Last Summer in the Hamptons (1995), Bullet Hearts (1996), Star Hunter (1996), It's My Party (1996), Tracey Takes On..., Dead Man's Island, Remember WENN, Unlikely Angel (1996), The Second Jungle Book: Mowgli & Baloo (1997), Something to Believe In (1998), and Loss of Faith (1998).

He did voices for The Pirates of Dark Water (1991–92), Timmy's Gift: A Precious Moments Christmas (1992), Camp Candy, The Legend of Prince Valiant (1992), Darkwing Duck (1992), 2 Stupid Dogs, Swat Kats: The Radical Squadron, Batman: The Animated Series, Red Planet, The Tick, Galaxy Beat, Gargoyles, Duckman: Private Dick/Family Man, Pinky and the Brain, The New Batman Adventures, Superman, A Bug's Life (1998), and Godzilla: The Series.

In 1997, McDowall hosted the MGM Musicals Tribute at Carnegie Hall.

Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

McDowall served for several years in various capacities on the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the organisation that presents the Oscar Awards, and on the selection committee for the Kennedy Center Awards. He was Chairman of the Actors' Branch for five terms. He was elected President of the Academy Foundation in 1998, the year that he died. He worked tirelessly to support the Motion Pictures Retirement Home, where a rose garden named in his honour was officially dedicated on 9 October 2001 and remains a part of the campus.[16]

Photographer and Author

McDowall received recognition as a photographer, working with Look, Vogue, Collier's, and Life. His work includes a cover story on Mae West for Life.

He published five books of photographs, each featuring photos and profile interviews of his celebrity friends interviewing each other, such as Elizabeth Taylor, Judy Garland, Judy Holliday, Maureen O'Hara, Katharine Hepburn, Lauren Bacall, and others. It started with Double Exposure in 1968.[17][18]

Personal life

Although McDowall made no public statements about his sexual orientation during his lifetime, several authors have claimed that he was discreetly gay.[19][20]

In 1974, the FBI raided McDowall's home and seized his collection of films and television series in the course of an investigation into film piracy and copyright infringement. His collection consisted of 160 16-mm prints and more than 1,000 video cassettes, at a time before the era of commercial videotapes, when there was no legal aftermarket for films. McDowall had purchased Errol Flynn's home cinema films and transferred them all to tape for longer-lasting archival storage. No charges were filed.[21]


On 3 October 1998, at age 70, McDowall died of lung cancer at his home in Studio City.[22] He was cremated and his ashes were scattered at sea on 7 October, off Los Angeles County.[23] Dennis Osborne, a screenwriter, had cared for the actor in his final months. The media quoted Osborne as having said, "It was very peaceful. It was just as he wanted it. It was exactly the way he planned."[24]





Radio appearances

Year Program Episode/source
1943 Lux Radio Theatre My Friend Flicka[25]
1947 Suspense (radio drama) One Way Street[26]
1952 Family Theater A Lullaby for Christmas[27]


  1. ^ Vallance, Tom (5 October 1998). "Obituary: Roddy McDowall". The Independent. London, UK. 
  2. ^ Gussow, Mel (4 October 1998), "Roddy McDowall, 70, Dies; Child Star and Versatile Actor", New York Times, retrieved 16 March 2010 
  3. ^ a b c d Biography Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, Boston University
  4. ^ "SAGA OF THE HIGH SEAS". The Mercury. Hobart, Tasmania. 11 November 1944. p. 9. Retrieved 24 April 2012 – via National Library of Australia. 
  5. ^ Roddy McDowall as guest. (1946, Jul 11). The Christian Science Monitor (1908-Current File) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.sl.nsw.gov.au/docview/515875397?accountid=13902
  6. ^ Schallert, E. (1947, Mar 12). DRAMA AND FILM. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.sl.nsw.gov.au/docview/165760532?accountid=13902
  7. ^ Steinmetz, J. (1987, Feb 10). RODDY MCDOWALL'S BEST FRIEND: CAMERA. Chicago Tribune (Pre-1997 Fulltext) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.sl.nsw.gov.au/docview/291006412?accountid=13902
  8. ^ Roddy McDowall, stage actor. (1955, Sep 21). The Christian Science Monitor (1908-Current File) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.sl.nsw.gov.au/docview/509302561?accountid=13902
  9. ^ Roddy McDowall at the Internet Broadway Database
  10. ^ By, J. G. (1960, Feb 04). Television: 'the tempest'. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.sl.nsw.gov.au/docview/115172815?accountid=13902
  11. ^ Reed, R. (1971, Nov 28). Roddy McDowall: Survival of the fittest. Chicago Tribune (1963-Current File) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.sl.nsw.gov.au/docview/169150031?accountid=13902
  12. ^ Haber, J. (1973, Dec 09). Superfan roddy, everybody's turn-on. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.sl.nsw.gov.au/docview/157355170?accountid=13902
  13. ^ The Carol Burnett Show with Roddy McDowall, 14 March 2017
  14. ^ By, D. S. (1975, Aug 21). Movie talk with roddy McDowall. The Christian Science Monitor (1908-Current File) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.sl.nsw.gov.au/docview/511800731?accountid=13902
  15. ^ Champlin, C. (1989, Oct 19). Roddy McDowall pulls out all the F-stops. Los Angeles Times (Pre-1997 Fulltext) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.sl.nsw.gov.au/docview/280917936?accountid=13902
  16. ^ "A Tribute to Roddy McDowall". The Roddy McDowall Memorial Rose Garden. 19 September 2016. 
  17. ^ McDowall, Roddy. Double Exposure; William Morrow & Co; 2 edition: 1 November 1990; ISBN 978-0688100629
  18. ^ Brady, J. (1992, Dec 13). Roddy McDowall. The Washington Post (1974-Current File) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.sl.nsw.gov.au/docview/140574938?accountid=13902
  19. ^ Smith, Patricia Juliana (2002), Claude J. Summers, ed., "McDowall, Roddy", glbtq.com, archived from the original on 2 December 2009, retrieved 15 March 2010 
  20. ^ Simpson, Mark (2002), Sex terror: erotic misadventures in pop culture, Routledge, p. 69, ISBN 1560233761 
  21. ^ "When Roddy McDowall Was Busted by the FBI for Pirating Films". Retrieved 18 January 2017. 
  22. ^ "Roddy McDowall, 70, Dies; Child Star and Versatile Actor". The New York Times. Retrieved 2 November 2016. 
  23. ^ Wilson, Scott. Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons, 3d ed.: 2 (Kindle Locations 31331-31332). McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. Kindle Edition.
  24. ^ "Actor Roddy McDowall dies of cancer", deseretnews.com, 4 October 1998.
  25. ^ "Lux Theatre Guest". Harrisburg Telegraph. 5 June 1943. p. 17. Retrieved 23 December 2015 – via Newspapers.com.  open access publication – free to read
  26. ^ Miller, Christine. "Suspense – One Way Street". Escape and Suspense!. Retrieved 23 January 2017. 
  27. ^ Kirby, Walter (14 December 1952). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. p. 54. 


  • Best, Marc. Those Endearing Young Charms: Child Performers of the Screen (South Brunswick and New York: Barnes & Co., 1971), pp. 176–181.
  • Dye, David. Child and Youth Actors: Filmography of Their Entire Careers, 1914–1985. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., 1988, pp. 140–144.
  • Holmstrom, John. The Moving Picture Boy: An International Encyclopaedia from 1895 to 1995, Norwich, Michael Russell, 1996, pp. 158–159.

External links