Dr. Bob's minions tire away endlessly to help the good Doctor in the name of science,
but with what little downtime they get they would like to share with you fine people!
Roddy McDowall isn’t as known for his horror acting as the other actors I have already written about but no one can question his inclusion in the Sci-Fi world, thanks to 1968's Planet of the Apes and its multiple sequels.
In the Planet of the Apes movies and the (mostly forgotten) TV series, he played 3 different roles: Cornelius, Caesar, and Galen. I have not watched these films in many years though I did watch them as a child. My father loved the films, so much so that he even has the TV series. Though Cornelius is not as impressive of a character as Zira, the pair of them made for wonderful movies. Cornelius was far meeker then Zira, who was always willing to stick her neck out and was dedicated to proving her theories of ape evolution. As a child, I loved Cornelius. Now, I know a big part of what I loved about him was the voice of McDowall. I find he has the most soothing and intelligent voice. Though the prosthetics they wore were amazing marvels of their time, I can’t imagine they would have been comfortable for the leads. After playing Cornelius for 3 movies, he played his own son. McDowall played Caesar, the son of Cornelius and Zira after they went back in time. After this point, the story becomes rather ... complicated. Just go watch the movies; they are worth the time! McDowall is wonderful in all of these roles. He made these characters incredibly real for me when I was young and I will always recommend watching these films.
Roddy McDowall also appeared in two Rod Sterling TV shows: The Twilight Zone episode “People Are Alike All Over” and the Night Gallery episode “Night Gallery.” I do not really remember the episode of Night Gallery as I have not seen it since I was a teen but I do remember “People Are Alike All Over.” In this episode, McDowall who plays Sam Conrad. He and another astronaut, Mark Marcusson, crash on Mars. Conrad is pessimistic and worried about what they will find there; Marcusson, the optimist, assures him that everything will be fine and that people are alike all over. Unfortunately, Marcusson dies shortly after the crash and a fearful Conrad is left alone on the ship where he starts hearing something pounding on the ship. He eventually finds that there are very human-looking beings on Mars who seem so kind that he begins to relax. They lead him to a home that looks very much like a house on Earth and he is made comfortable. Just as he begins to relax, he discovers the horrible truth that the walls are fake and he is in a Martian zoo when he cries out "Marcusson! Marcusson, you were right! You were right. People are alike.... people are alike everywhere!" Like most episodes of The Twilight Zone, this is a wonderful episode with a great twist. McDowall is sympathetic as Sam Conrad and plays the role incredibly well.
McDowall played a wonderful villain in the 1960s Batman television series, The Bookworm. This villain was created just for the TV series but was eventually brought into the comics for a few stories. The Bookworm appeared in the two-part episodes "The Bookworm Turns" and "While Gotham City Burns." Though not considered the most memorable villain in the series, I loved this villain. The Bookworm wanted to write the greatest book of all time but he was unable to do so. His crimes were all based off of classics stories and he even left clues to draw Batman and Robin to him just like my favorite Batman villain, The Riddler. The Bookworm was well-read and wonderfully civilized until he got angry, then he turned into a small child through a tantrum. The calm voice and temperament of McDowall played perfectly into this villain. I loved the suit worn by The Bookworm (this may be the costume designers best work); it looked soft leather books were used to make the suit.
In the 1990s, he once again played a Batman villain in Batman: The Animated Series where he played Jervis Tetch, a.k.a The Mad Hatter. I had not seen this show as a child and, when watching it with my husband years later, you can only imagine my surprise in hearing the very distinctive voice. Again, he played a genius villain and mostly good-tempered, until he became angry. He was a wonderful worthy foe, mentally, for Batman but once a fight broke out you knew Tetch had no chance.
McDowall’s foray into horror was in Fright Night and Fright Night Part 2 as Peter Vincent. Peter Vincent was original written for the legendary Vincent Price whose health, unfortunately, left him unable to do this role. McDowall described Peter Vincent in an interview with Monster Land as “a moderate success in an isolated film here and there, but all very bad product. Basically, he played one character for 8 or 10 films, for which he probably got paid next to nothing” and that “this poor sonofabitch just played the same character all the time, which was awful." I don’t often quote the actors but I came across this trying to find out if the character was named for Vincent Price and Peter Lorre or Peter Cushing and loved it too much to not include it. Peter Vincent was a hilarious character; he had the intelligent, sophisticated front and, by the end of the film, he really came into his own as a hero.
McDowall played the role of V.I.N.CENT in The Black Hole perfectly as the intelligent, kind, funny robot. He also voiced Mr. Soil in A Bug's Life, though he is not a memorable role in that movie, besides him getting the other ants around the leaf, but I still love him in it. He played Sir Quackmire Mallard in the Darkwing Duck episode “Inherit the Wimp” and The March Hare in an Alice in Wonderland adaptation made for TV. Both of these are good but not as memorable.
He also appeared in one episode (“Don't Act Like That") of the mostly forgotten series Remember WENN as Giles Aldwych. Remember WENN takes place in a radio station and revolves around running the station and the (very few) actors that perform there. To bring in more people cheaply, they join forces with a theatre school nearby for some free interns. Roddy McDowall’s character is the teacher and owner of that school who is desperate for money. Aldwych is charming beyond measure but he also treats everything like a role or as if he is teaching how to act, in a way that would have seemed hammy if given to someone without McDowall’s charm and charisma. He discovers one of his old students works at the station and, with some convincing, he gives everyone acting lessons after complaining that they are all standing around reading their scripts instead of acting. This backfires as now the cast is moving around the studio and the microphones are not picking up the actors dialog. It is a funny, charming performance.
Roddy McDowall had a charm unlike most actors and one of the most distinctive voices I have ever heard. I find him immensely enjoyable to watch or listen to.
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