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TV Close-Ups, January, 1975
Book Cover
Roddy McDowall on the Planet of the Apes
by Peggy Herz
When he was a child, Roddy McDowall often played parts in films in which animals had star roles. There was Lassie Come Home (a dog), My Friend Flicka (a horse), and Killer Shark. Working with animal stars was part of his job, and “Now I’ve become one myself!” Roddy joked.
Roddy stars in the CBS series Planet of the Apes. He plays Galen, a chimpanzee. “I’ve never done a TV series,” Roddy explained. “It’s something new. I’ve always enjoyed character parts, though, and this is one of the best. It’s a real acting challenge.”
The makeup for his ape role takes 3 hours to apply, but “I like doing parts that require makeup,” Roddy says.
There are some actors who wouldn’t like playing a chimpanzee. They prefer to have their own faces appear on the TV screen. Roddy doesn’t worry about it. “My reputation depends on elements other than my beauty,” he said. “Besides, I’m reaching an age (46) when it might be better to cover up!
“I feel I’m well enough known as an actor. I’m not concerned about being a ‘personality.’ I like doing things that require makeup. Costume parts are really favourites of mine and some are the most exciting things I’ve ever done.”
It takes three hours every morning for Roddy’s ape makeup to be put on. “It’s difficult to sit still that long,” Roddy said, “but there’s a great sense of adventure in working on a project this unusual. It’s not just as simple as putting on a beard, however; you have to do a good acting job too. Makeup alone doesn’t make a good series!”
When he’s in costume all day, Roddy must eat a liquid lunch — he drinks it through a straw, or he eats yoghurt with a long spoon. “The mask itself is so thin around the edges that it comes apart when it is taken off,” Roddy explained, “so a new one must be made every day. The ears are more durable. They’re made of foam rubber and may last the whole season. It takes 45 minutes to take the makeup off!”
Could the makeup hurt Roddy’s own face? 20th Century-Fox isn’t taking any chances. The studio has taken out a $100,000 insurance policy on Roddy’s looks, and it covers any possible damage to his face from being encased in ape makeup for 10 hours a day.
Playing an ape isn’t new to Roddy. “At least I knew what I was letting myself in for!” he laughed. He played similar roles in four of the five movies about the Planet of the Apes.
As Galen in the TV series, he befriends two humans (Ron Harper and James Naughton) and shares their adventures in a hostile ape society.
James Naughton and Mark Lenard in a scene from THE TRAP
In the land where apes are the rulers and men are the ruled, actor Ron Harper gets a lesson in obedience!
Roddy was born in London, England. He began acting when he was five. When he was eight he made his first movie, and during the next four years, he appeared in 15 English films. He made his American debut in the movie Man Hunt.
At the age of 12, he got the role of a young boy in the famous How Green Was My Valley. It was a tremendous success and from then on, Roddy had his pick of movie roles.
All was going well for him in Hollywood, but the years were speeding by. Roddy began to fear that he’d be stuck in juvenile roles forever. “I played 14 year olds until I was 23,” he recalled. It was time for a change. He decided to go to New York and begin a new career as a stage actor.
Since then, he has appeared in a number of stage productions, in 40 movies, and in numerous TV shows. His slim face has been smoothed out so that he could play very young men, and twisted up to play psychotic killers. One TV critic says, “His playing of TV villains has made many a dull TV show more bearable!” Roddy has never shed his youthful image, though. When he was 32, he played a high school senior in Lord Luva Duck.
Roddy laughs about one acting award he received. It happened in 1962, when he was playing Alexander Hamilton’s son in a drama called Not Without Honor. Arthur Kennedy played Hamilton. “One scene called for Kennedy to put his hands on my head during an emotional moment,” Roddy recalled. “Kennedy got carried away and grabbed my wig. It was almost ready to fall off. I spent several minutes trying to pull Kennedy’s hand from my head so that I could straighten my wig. But the Emmy judges thought it was good, honest emotion, and I won a best supporting actor award!”
Lately Roddy has been as busy behind the camera as in front of it. He is an expert photographer and has published portraits of stage and screen stars, many of them his friends, in magazines and in his own book, Double Exposure. He is also one of the biggest film buffs around. He thinks nothing of seeing two or three different movies a day when he isn’t working. His personal record, he says, was six movies in one day when he was in Boston several years ago.
Gorillas patrol the ruins of Oakland in THE LEGACY
As Roddy points out, it’s a world turned upside-down on the hit TV series, Planet of the Apes.
There’s little doubt that the Planet of the Apes idea has been a popular one. The original movie was shown on TV in the 1973-74 season and was the second highest rated movie of the entire season. Only Airport attracted more viewers.
The basic story of Planet of the Apes is really far out. In the TV series, two astronauts have crash landed on Earth of the future, where apes rule humans and regard the men as enemies. In their society, gorillas are the enforcers of the ape laws, and orangutans are the rulers.
The chimpanzee, Galen, found the astronauts and defied his own ape culture to learn more about them. The three become friends and shared a number of adventures in the strange world.
Roddy sees the idea of Planet of the Apes as a fascinating one. “I’d be intrigued by the idea even if I weren’t in the series,” he said. The story can be looked at as entertainment or as a serious criticism of our society. You can watch Planet of the Apes, have a good time, and that’s all. But it also has things to say about man and his love for authority, his vanity, and his ambition. As Roddy points out, the world is upside down. There are clothes that could have been made by Paris tailors, fancy manners, intellectual conversations — all in the ape culture, not man’s.
Even time is mixed up. The astronauts crashed on a new Earth in a new time and there’s no time tunnel to use for an escape.
Roddy’s had great fun doing the show. One thing he’s learned is that people treat him differently when he is wearing the ape costume. “You really are treated like an animal!” he said. “There’s a tremendous loss of identity. People stare at you and laugh. They want to feel you. They want to touch you. It’s very understandable to me now why monkeys spit at people in the zoo.”
He doesn’t really mind it, though. “I guess I’m not very sentimental about my career. I’ve done well. I’ve made a pretty good living and have no regrets. But in the long run, you know, it’s just a business.”
How does anyone survive so many years as a successful actor? Roddy smiled and answered: “With a sense of humour, of course.”
BELOW: The feature as it originally appeared.
page 85
pages 86 and 87
pages 88 and 89
pages 90 and 91
page 92
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