Saturday, August 07, 2010

Roddy McDowall's Best Friend: HOLLYWOOD!

Back in the mid-90's I was friends with Roddy McDowall.  We used to go to breakfasts, and he'd invite me to his salons with Bryan Singer, Helen Mirren, Taylor Hackford, the widow of Gene Kelly.  We'd eat dinner and then watch movies in his private viewing room.  It was one of the most memorable moments of my life to be watching this little boy on screen in "How Green Was My Valley" and then turn to my right and see the old man who was once that little boy.

His papers have just been made public up at Boston University.  A writer called me up to talk about Roddy, because he's doing a piece for Vanity Fair on the man: "Hollywood's Best Friend" set to come out next February.  Apparently, there were cards from me in Roddy's stash.  Birthday cards, and a thank-you for dinner. Clearly, Roddy kept everything.

He was a child star (a moppet -- his license plate read: "ex-moppet") smitten with Hollywood from the very beginning.  As a child, he collected autographs of silent film stars we've all long-since forgotten.  He was best friends with Liz Taylor, had reputed dalliances with Montgomery Clift; he knew everyone and though he never came out publicly, I don't believe he'd ever say he wasn't out.

We talked about old Hollywood for hours and hours and he was always thrilled that I, being so young (at 21 -- an age he told me to remain as long as humanly possible) was interested in classic film and the old stars.  Though he was sentimental to the core, Roddy had a way of blasting through my illusions.


On Cyd Charisse: If you met her you wouldn't know you'd met her.
On Gene Kelly: Too competitive.  You'd always want him to win the Volleyball match in his backyard.
On Shelly Winters: Like talking to a vaccuum!
On Gene Tierney: She got really fat at the end.
On Vivien Leigh: That woman was mad as a march hare!

There's more, so much more, and one day I'll write a piece about him myself.  Here we are circa 1996:
The truth about Hollywood and its stars is something I really can't get enough of.  I recently finished a 1975 tell-all called "Gable & Lombard & Powell & Harlow" which basically tells about the terrific sluts known as Clark Gable, Carole Lombard, William Powell, and Jean Harlow!  At one point, there's a photo of Eleanor Roosevelt and Jean Harlow. The caption beneath reads:

Harlow with Eleanor Roosevelt.  Jean wore underwear for this event

I love this book!  I'm sure Eleanor wouldn't have minded if Jean wore no underwear, since she was a big ol' cottage dwelling lesbian!!  But that little climbing hooker Harlow married about 4-6 times (I can't remember) and it's hard for me to read knowing she was only 26 and just about to die.  Harlow died at 26 because her gall bladder was exploding and her mother (a terrific slut in her own right) was a strict Christian Scientist who refused to let her see a doctor before it was too late.  Please don't get me started (again) on the anti-human affair we call religion...

Gable, on the other hand, was such a climber he couldn't stop dating women 20 years old than himself.  Until he got to the top, and then he couldn't keep his hands off of the young women.  Of course this didn't stop him from having a love child with co-star Loretta Young (which I've written about here, but could only be hinted at and not disclosed in 1975 - Young was still alive) and when he wasn't up fishing in Oregon or being stingy with his money, he went about with women all over the place, even after he married Carole Lombard.

Lombard comes off the best of all of them.  She had a mouth like a truck-driver and constantly played practical jokes with everyone.  She knew about her husband's affairs, knew she couldn't stop them, and dealt with it.  As the book notes, she was "a woman decades ahead of her time"!!  She played her last practical joke just before her plane flew into a mountain and she died in a fiery crash.  Carole Lombard died a hero, as she had been selling war bonds, at the beginning of World War 2.  They say Clark Gable never got over her death.  Maybe we know why:

It had been rumored Clark Gable was doing it with his 21 year old co-star Lana Turner.  Just before she left on her fatal trip, Carole bought a department store mannequin, and tucked it into their bed.  On it, she attached a note: Hi, I'm Lana Turner's stand-in.  I'm just as good a lay, with none of the guilt.  

14 comments:

Auntie M said...

I'm interested in knowing how you met these people back then.

Jesse Archer said...

I lived in a house with director Bryan Singer. He knew I was enamored with old hollywood and introduced me to Roddy. I was a prude back then and it was all very innocent. I never did anything with Bryan or Roddy...

Jesse Archer said...

Wouldn't even let Roddy take photos of me, because I thought it might lead to something salacious.

DUMB!!

Bob Frank said...

I really enjoyed this blog (as I do all the others(. I didn't know that Gene Kelly had remarried after his wife, Jeanne Coyne died (You remember her as one of the dancers in the "From This Moment On" number from "Kiss Me Kate"). I liked Roddy McDowell; he was some handsome man.

Jesse Archer said...

Bob, I love Kiss Me Kate --nice cameo by another Bob (Fosse) in that one too! Not sure what happened to Jeanne, but Gene's last wife was Patricia and she was around 35 years old at the time of his death ("He was not stupid" she remarked to me of their age difference).
He had just died when we met and she was kind enough to invite me to their Beverly Hills home and show me all around...I was in heaven.

Anonymous said...

I grew up (figuratively) with Roderick, Andrew, Anthony, Jude, McDowall. I felt a jolt when my age passed by his at death. After all, I had accompanied him through The Green Valley, Lassie Come Home, My Friend Flicka, Thunderhead, the Son of Flicka, Keys to the Kingdom, White Cliffs of Dover, not to mention those two very bizarre films The Loved One and Inside Daisy Clover. He appeared with innumerable big Hollywood stars and traversed Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Alfred Hitchcock and finally "evolved" into a very intelligent ape more than a few times.

He somehow contributed between 200 and 300 entertainment productions on stage screen and TV. How did he manage all that in 70 years? You are so fortunate to have known and been a friend of Roddy. Movienut.

Anonymous said...

Roddy McDowall does not seem like he was gay at all. I guess that is why I have a hard time believing it. He's a very good actor, one I admire very much. I know it doesn't matter, but I really think he liked women either exclusively or in addition.

-Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Thanks man. Reminds me of the good times these wonderful crazy people created, Different realities to get ius through our own. Roddy McD was a gent on screen. Love to you for remembering. Keep it up.

da90027 said...

Did he ever give up smoking?

Jesse Archer said...

I don't recall him ever smoking when I knew him...

Denise said...

So sad he passed from lung cancer. ��
As a kid, I always loved Roddy as a person and as an actor. He was one of my dads absolute favorites besides Vincent Price. I wish my dad was still here to tell him all the things I found out about Roddy. He would be delighted.

Bill Dejean said...

Are you kidding? He seemed very gay. Plus Annette funicello hated him! 😎

Drea said...

Hi there, did he ever talk about Montgomery Clift??

Jesse Archer said...

Yes well he of course was very fond of Montgomery Clift and when I asked if they slept together he told me, "I'm not going to tell, and if I did tell anyone it wouldn't be you." Oh, snap!