Roddy McDowall: Celebrity Photographer

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Roddy McDowall surrounded by some of the celebrity portraits he took

On Monday, Aug. 15, Roddy McDowall will be headlining TCM’s Summer Under the Stars line-up. McDowell spent most of his life in the spotlight after landing his first film role in the British children’s film Scruffy (1938) when he was only 10-years-old. In 1940 his family relocated to Los Angeles to escape the London Blitz following the outbreak of WW2 and soon afterward he appeared in the Oscar-winning drama How Green Was My Valley (1941) directed by John Ford. The film made McDowell a household name and the acclaimed child actor quickly landed parts in a number of family friendly films including My Friend Flicka (1943) and Lassie Come Home (1943). In the 1950s, McDowall took a break from Hollywood and practiced his craft on stage but he returned in 1960 and continued to act in movies and television until his death in 1998.

During his long career, McDowall developed a passion for photography and Hollywood history. He revered his fellow actors and began snapping candid pictures of his costars on and off set when he was just a teenager. As he got older, McDowall’s obsession developed into a serious artistic pursuit and he became a highly respected professional photographer. His photos appeared in many prestigious magazines including LIFE, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Architectural Digest, Premiere and Playboy and his work was displayed in galleries. He also shot album covers and book jacket portraits for a number of famous friends.

rmp000McDowall’s portraits of fellow performers are often very intimate and his subjects typically appear relaxed and at ease in front of his camera. Their faces are animated, seemingly in mid-thought and they smile effortlessly. These are not artless pictures of random celebrities; these are personal studies of dear friends, coworkers and admired acquaintances.

McDowall was an accomplished and respected actor in his own right but throughout his life he remained an ardent film fan who filled his home with movie memorabilia and he worked tirelessly for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences championing film preservation. He loved the movies and he obviously loved the people who made them and you can detect that love in many of his photos, which represent decades of Hollywood history.

When he died in 1998 at age 70 following a battle with lung cancer, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences honored his memory by renaming their extensive collection of photos the Roddy McDowall Photograph Archive.

To celebrate this unique aspect of McDowall’s career and highlight some of the actors you’ll be seeing during Summer Under the Stars, I’ve compiled a selection of his star portraits to share that I came across during my research.

Many of these photos can be found in magazines as well as a series of books Roddy McDowall released under the title Double Exposure 1-4. If you enjoy his photos I highly recommend seeking out McDowall’s books, which also include short accommodating essays written by his celebrity friends. The books are currently out of print but you can find used copies selling cheaply online.

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Elizabeth Taylor (1964)

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Elizabeth Taylor & Richard Burton with their children (date unknown)
 

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Alfred Hitchcock (1965)
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Charlie Chaplin (1967)
 

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Jean Simmons (date unknown)
 

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Bette Davis (1960)

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Marlon Brando (1960)
 

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Montgomery Clift (date unknown)
 

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Frank Sinatra (1960)
 

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Frank Sinatra & Mia Farrow (1967)
 

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Mia Farrow (1967)
 

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Vincent Price (1973)
 

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Vincent Price & Mary Grant (date unknown)
 

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Anthony Perkins (1963)
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Paul Newman (1965)
 

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Jane Russell (1951)
 

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Lauren Bacall (1961)
 

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Dennis Hopper (1955)
 

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Sal Mineo (date unknown)

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Laurence Olivier & Maggie Smith (1965)
 

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Liza Minnelli (1960)
 

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Judy Garland (1963)
 

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Dirk Bogarde (1967)
 

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David Hemmings (1967)
 

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Sharon Tate (1966)
 

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Marlene Dietrich (1962)
 

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Spencer Tracey & Katharine Hepburn (1967)
 

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Katharine Hepburn (1967)
 

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John Candy (1990)
 

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Alec Guinness (1964)
 

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Claude Rains (1967)
 

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Buster Keaton (1965)
 

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Louise Brooks (1965)
 

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Jane Fonda & Roger Vadim (1965)
 

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Warren Beatty (1960)
 

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Rock Hudson (1950)
 

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Myrna Loy (1959)
 

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Robert Mitchum (1990)
 

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Henry Fonda (1965)
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19 Responses Roddy McDowall: Celebrity Photographer
Posted By Doug : August 11, 2016 9:06 pm

Quite an eye he had; thank you for sharing his pictures here, Kimberly.
I’ve mentioned here at Morlocks that the Coen brother’s fine film “Hail Caesar!” echoes/honors the 1965 film “The Loved One” with their ‘cowboy star in a drawing room’ bit. In “The Loved One” McDowall plays the producer trying to change ‘Dusty Acres’ image by putting him in a Brit foxhunting movie. John Gielgud is the studio’s go-to Brit tasked with teaching Dusty how to pass for British. Good times.

Posted By SpellChecker : August 11, 2016 9:24 pm

I think that’s Dennis Hopper rather than Hooper.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : August 11, 2016 9:34 pm

Doug – Glad you liked the photos. I love The Loved One but I still need to see the new Coen film. When I do I’ll be sure to keep an eye out for the reference.

Posted By Qalice : August 11, 2016 9:57 pm

I love Roddy McDowall for three reasons: he was a fine actor even in less-than-fine material, he was an excellent photographer and he never wrote anything like a tell-all book.

Posted By Susan Doll : August 11, 2016 10:44 pm

These are amazing photos. Thanks for the post.

Posted By Doug : August 11, 2016 11:46 pm

Kimberly-I lent out the Coen film to a friend, and she loved it. She has my copy of “The Loved One” right now. It’s all good!

Posted By Bill : August 12, 2016 12:14 am

RM’s unheralded tour de force is LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE, where he brings his own subtext, with his turtlenecks, Elton John hair and glasses. The climax finds him taunting a guy for lying about his size.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : August 12, 2016 12:27 am

Qualice – I must agree with you. Considering everyone McDowall knew, partied with and was intimate with, he probably could have written the most salacious tell-all imaginable. It takes character to resist the easy and sleazy way to fame and fortune.

Susan – Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it.

Bill – The Legend of Hell House is a longtime favorite of mine and it has been heralded by the Morlocks in the past. McDowall is really terrific in it! I also love him in Lord Love a Duck, Fright Night and the British B-horror, IT!

Posted By Bill : August 12, 2016 12:37 am

Think early on he took the mantle of The Man Who Kept The Secrets. In his last days he invited friends to take one piece from his home for remembrance.
He also had one of the biggest private library of Hollywood films, which caught the notice of the FBI. One print he never could acquire was the uncut Star Is Born ’54. Spent thousands on searches.

Posted By tdraicer : August 12, 2016 4:38 am

Let us also not forget his brilliant performance as Octavian (the future Augustus) in Cleopatra. “Is that how one says it? The soup is hot, the soup is cold, Marc Antony is dead.”

Posted By Bill : August 12, 2016 6:38 am

He missed out on a probable Supporting Oscar nom for Cleo – the ballots mistakenly listed him under Best Actor.

Posted By Debi Guenzel : August 12, 2016 3:58 pm

does he have a book published of his photos?

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : August 12, 2016 4:06 pm

Debi – If you read this piece you will find your answer.

Posted By rick gould : August 12, 2016 6:17 pm

Imagine the number of photos he took of Elizabeth Taylor alone!

I love watching Roddy’s Malibu home movies on YouTube, all of his Hollywood pals looking relaxed and acting silly. Sweet nostalgia!

Posted By swac44 : August 13, 2016 11:02 am

The photo of Lulu breaks my heart. Her whole story seems writ large in the emulsion.

Posted By robbushblog : August 30, 2016 7:52 pm

Great photos.

Posted By Silver Screen Suppers : January 14, 2017 1:51 am

Hi Kimberly – a wonderful piece and fab collection of Roddy’s lovely photographs. Roddy’s character in the brilliant Columbo episode called “Short Fuse” is a keen photographer. You can tell he can handle a camera! Jenny x

Posted By Bill : January 16, 2017 2:28 am

Also had one of the largest private libraries of Hollywood films. So much that he was pressured by the FBI to reveal other collectors. Never could get an uncut STAR IS BORN ’54. Spent thousands looking.

Posted By Muir Hewitt : August 12, 2017 5:40 am

Thank you very much for sharing these superb photographs I hope that Roddy McDowall’s photographs might be celebrated in a new book it’s certainly a book which would find a good audience and there seems to be a wealth of great images of great importance! I’m astounded that nothing has been published since his death! I would be happy to hear from people who are fans of this talented photographer’s work!

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