A long and tireless career Tribute: For 60 years, Roddy McDowall was a Hollywood actor, never turning down a part, never forgetting a friend.

Radio and Television

October 07, 1998|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

Roddy McDowall may never have achieved superstar status, but his death Saturday at his Los Angeles home deprives us of one of the last, and most active, links to Hollywood's Golden Age.

Today on AMC, you can get a hint of how expansive McDowall's career was. A tribute to the former child star begins at noon with his appearance on the cable channel's whimsical series about life at a fictional 1940s radio station, "Remember WENN." At 12: 30, McDowall stars in 1943's "My Friend Flicka," as a young boy struggling to raise a sickly horse; the sequel, 1945's "Thunderhead, Son of Flicka," follows at 2 p.m. At 3: 30, McDowall and Doris Day star in "Midnight Lace." At 5: 30, it's McDowall as narrator and featured player in "Behind the Planet of the Apes," a documentary on the "Apes" films that debuted on AMC just last month.

A second tribute, this one on TCM, is set for Monday beginning at 8 p.m. and will feature four films, beginning with 1944's "Lassie Comes Home," also starring Edmund Gwenn, Dame Mae Whitty and Donald Crisp. After that, it's 1944's "The White Cliffs of Dover," with Irene Dunne, at 9: 45 p.m., 1966's "Lord Love a Duck," with Tuesday Weld, at midnight, and 1965's "The Loved One," an adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's novel with Robert Morse, Jonathan Winters and Rod Steiger, at 2 a.m.

A tireless actor who claimed to have never willingly turned down a part (he appeared in more than 140 films, not to mention stage and TV work), the 70-year-old McDowall was one of the few stars to bring a fan's passion to movie-making. His collection of old films and movie memorabilia was said to be unsurpassed. On his first day on a movie set, as a 10-year-old child still living in his native England, he collected the autographs of everyone there, from star to best boy. He reportedly continued that practice throughout his career.

He even became a photographer of some renown, publishing several books featuring his delightfully flattering portraits of Hollywood royalty.

But more important, thanks to a career that brought him to Hollywood in 1940, McDowall was a vital link to the glory days of the Hollywood studio. Almost universally liked and admired, he became a friend and confidant to everyone from Louise Brooks and Jean Arthur to Elizabeth Taylor, George Cukor and Vincent Price. As recently as March, he was at the Academy Awards, basking in the reflected glory of the dozens of friends who returned to Hollywood in celebration of Oscar's 50th anniversary.

He never stopped working. From his child star days, with featured roles in "How Green Was My Valley" and "Lassie Come Home," through his portrayal of the chimpanzee Cornelius in "Planet of the Apes" and its sequels, right up to his voice work in Disney's coming "A Bug's Life," McDowall never ceased loving his craft.

He was nearly as ubiquitous on television, popping up on everything from "Batman" (as the Bookworm) and "Wonder Woman" to "Night Gallery" (playing a spoiled, egotistical heir who gets his grisly comeuppance in the series pilot) and "Murder, She Wrote," with longtime friend Angela Lansbury.

"He recognized and remembered the roles we played," Lansbury was quoted as saying after hearing of McDowall's death after a repeat bout with cancer. "He was there for us. He was the best friend you could possibly have had."

Maryland veterans

A substantial number of Maryland war veterans are included in "Vietnam: The Soldiers Story," a six-part, three-night documentary premiering on The Learning Channel Sunday and continuing on successive nights through Tuesday.

The series' six episodes are "Ambush, the Battle of Ia Drang," documenting the 1965 battle in which more than 200 Americans were killed; "Under Siege at Khe Sanh," detailing North Vietnam's 77-day siege of a military base that was the only thing standing in the way of a major invasion of the South; "Tet: The Battle for Hearts and Minds," about the 1968 battle that convinced many Americans the war was unwinnable; "War In the Skies," focusing on the soldiers who flew, and the toll it took on them; "Secret Wars, Secret Men," spotlighting covert operations during the war; and "Last Chopper Out: The Fall of Saigon."

Marylanders appearing in the series include John Herren, a company commander during Ia Drang; Vo Suu, an NBC cameraman who captured the famous image of a South Vietnamese general executing a North Vietnamese prisoner; retired Colonel Fred Cherry, a combat veteran and Air Force fighter who was a POW from 1965 to 1973; Colonel John Cook, an Army intelligence officer involved in the controversial Operation Phoenix, a CIA operation designed to rid South Vietnamese villages of Viet Cong; Nelson Brickham, an early architect of Project Phoenix; Sedgwick Tourison, a former intelligence officer and Senate investigator; and Colonel Harry Summers Jr, a military negotiator during the war and current editor of Vietnam magazine.

"Vietnam: The Soldiers Story," commemorating the 15th anniversary of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, will air nightly from 9 p.m.-11 p.m.

Scofflaw videos

For those who can't get enough of the guys and gals of "NYPD Blue," be sure and check out MTV Saturday, as cast members Kim Delaney, Dennis Franz, Sharon Lawrence, Gordon Clapp and James McDaniel will count down the 15 music videos showcasing the most blatant disregard for the law. The two-hour "Breakin' the Law" is slated for 1 p.m.

Pub Date: 10/07/98

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